Non-Standard Games Back in the Spotlight

Pokerstars has trialled a new non-standard poker game called Split Hold’em. This has once again brought into the spotlight the question of how important new games are for the future of poker, or if they are needed at all.


Split Hold’em

Split Hold’em isn’t like the other split pot variants, it actually runs two boards during a single hand. One of the main facets of hold’em is that most hands will miss most flops leading to a cat and mouse battle to take down the pot. But what if people want to see more strong hands made more often?

This idea of not polluting the rulebook too much will certainly give people a little more of the action that they crave. This is, after all, exactly why pot limit Omaha enjoyed a surge of popularity over the last few years. In this case there isn’t a hi/lo split, as you might have expected, but in effect two hands being played for a single pot.

“Split Hold'em will be immediately familiar to No Limit Hold'em players, with one single powerful twist-- two Flops, two Turns, two Rivers, and two halves of the pot to win. If the hand goes to showdown you must make the best hand on both boards to win the whole pot.”


Ulterior Motive

After bringing out the Spin & Go and Beat the Clock formats Pokerstars rightly took a lot of flak for changing direction towards games where the possible skill edge is minimal and more rake turnover can be expected. Is Split Hold’em in the same category? Almost certainly so, the forum experts are saying.

One of the characteristics of split pot games is that they are low variance because the pot is often divided between two players playing a heads-up pot. A problem arises when players lock up half of the pot and start putting a ton of chips in the middle. Now the average pot size compared to NL hold’em is suddenly a lot larger with, of course, a lot more rake being paid. You see where we’re heading now?

Is Split Hold’em another rake trap designed to milk Pokerstars’ customers for all they are worth?

Something else that is being tried with the launch of this game is the “Seat Me” feature that was talked about during 2017. For the 20 years that real money online poker has been a thing, game selection and seat selection has been incredibly important to maximise your edge. Now, for the first time, we will see that part of the game being taken away. It’s not a huge factor compared to other factors such as rake changes, but it still makes a difference to the skilled player. It’s also the same as getting seated in a live card room, so maybe some people will actually prefer it.

As it turns out, this might not be a permanent addition to the lobby after all, according to Dan Price, Pokerstars’ Ring Game Manager. This is, of course, unless the rake figures spike dramatically higher than what were projected.

Something New

It’s difficult to argue that new games being introduced have the possibility to pique the interest of new players, and to encourage those who haven’t played for some time to return and have a go at something new. It’s also important that the intentions of the platform spreading the game are honourable too.

Take, for example, 888poker’s Flopomania. This is a perfect illustration of how to produce something which is fresh and exciting, but also not drifting too far from traditional. The idea is basically NL Hold’em but without the pre-flop part.

The recreational players are taken straight to where the action is; the flop. Post flop is by far the most interesting part of the game, so why not give the fun seekers what they crave. While pros are happy that they have the part of the game where the edge is. Everybody is happy.

888poker brand ambassador Dominik Nitsche was thrilled to try out the new format.

“The first day of Flopomania was a blast, no pun intended. The timing was perfect as players logged on to play online tournaments like the Mega Deep and Whale had the opportunity to check out a new game - one with a unique twist. I know I had a lot of fun going straight to the flop and putting my skills to the test.”

This difference in attitude compared to Pokerstars shows just how committed 888poker is to doing whatever is best for the long-term health of the online game.


Mixed Games?

Ever since Black Friday decimated real money online poker the less popular games have seen their player pools dwindle, below the high stakes level anyway. Many people, Daniel Negreanu included, are saying that mixed games are vital for the future of the game. For too long now we have seen NL hold’em and PLO dominate the landscape, surely there’s a lot to be gained by pushing the other games of the 8-Game format.

Negreanu opined on his blog

“Changing up the mix of games is essential to poker’s future and growth. As games like no limit hold’em near closer to being solved, we need to always be innovative and think of new game formats that are both fun and interesting.”

 As ridiculous as it may sound to some, the games that were more popular back in the day are probably less solved than where we stand with NL and PLO today. We’ve all been guilty as novice players of being attracted to the thought of jamming all our chips in the middle in one fell swoop, but now as skilled players we should be looking at these other limit games.

As the elite players continue to get better, it is common knowledge now that Phil Ivey is no longer the best NL or PLO player in the world, but it’s highly likely that he’s still the best all-rounder due to his prowess at the limit games.

Food for thought. New games and bringing back some old favourites can’t be a bad idea can it now.