partypoker MILLIONS Beats $20 Million Guarantee To Produce The Richest Online Poker Tournament In History

partypoker millions

After the fourth starting flight Dec. 4, partypoker succeeded in putting together the richest online poker tournament ever.

There were a total of 4,367 entries. The event attracted 2,190 unique entries; the rest came from re-entries.

At a $5,300 buy-in, it added up to a record-breaking prize pool of $21,835,000.

PokerStars set the previous record in 2011. The 10th anniversary Sunday Million set a $10 million guaranteed prize. That was enough to convince 62,000 players to sign up and create a $12.4 million prize pool.

Partypoker has smashed that record.

The partypoker Millions was a hugely ambitious undertaking

When the partypoker Millions event was announced, many doubted that the guarantee would hit. Doubters can now take a back seat and watch the final day of the event as partypoker triumphs.

The payout structure is relatively flat. Twenty-nine players survived Day 2 to make it to the final day. Each will receive a minimum of $65,000.

The winner is set to secure $2.7 million and second place will take home $1.9 million.

Third place merits a prize of $1.3 million with a little more than $1 million going to fourth.

Partypoker has set its cap at competing with PokerStars. The industry leader uses the tagline “PokerStars makes millionaires.”

Well, so does partypoker!

The message of four millionaires in one online poker tournament is one for the record books.

Satellites and overlays make for an expensive marketing pitch

No one can take away from partypoker’s achievement here, but it was not accomplished by merely posting a tournament in the lobby.

Since the event was announced in December 2017, partypoker has been handing out free seats.

Partypoker used every trick in the book to fill the event.

  • Leaderboard prizes throughout 2018 included seats to partypoker Millions.
  • Satellites with buy-ins as low as $2.20 guaranteed seats to the Millions.
  • Millions event tickets were won as sit-and-go jackpot prizes.
  • Partypoker Live tournaments offered Millions’ event seats as extra prizes.

The cost of putting on partypoker Millions must have made a dent in the marketing budget. But what a prize.

The secondary marketing impact is likely to exceed partypoker’s most optimistic forecasts.

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Partypoker has tried for $20 million before

In what must now count as ancient history in the fast-moving world of online gaming, it’s worth remembering partypoker’s last attempt at a giant tournament prize pool.

In summer 2006, partypoker launched the “Monster.”

The Monster tournament consisted of 32 $100,000 weekly freerolls, eight monthly $1,000,000 tournaments and a final tournament with more than $5 million in prize money.

Partypoker put up $16 million to seed the events, so rack it all up, and you get close to a $20 million prize pool.

Sadly in 2006, the US passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and partypoker exited the US market midway through the tournament. All players were paid out an amount equivalent to their expected value at their respective stages of progress.

The world online poker market is smaller than it was back in 2006 because US online poker remains forbidden outside of New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware.

Pennsylvania will soon join that elite band of states when it launches state-regulated online poker in the first quarter of 2019.

The smaller global market only serves to accentuate partypoker’s achievement with the Millions. It has out-monstered the Monster.

GVC leadership has transformed partypoker

GVC completed its acquisition of partypoker on Feb. 1, 2016. Under the direction of GVC CEO Kenny Alexander, the online poker room has flourished.

The truth is the former management paid little attention to partypoker. Sports betting and online casino were much larger business verticals.

Alexander gave partypoker much more management focus and in the first year of GVC ownership, partypoker returned to growth.

In July this year, partypoker global cash-game traffic surged ahead of 888poker. Partypoker traffic had been greater than 888’s right up until June 2013. From then until August this year, 888 was the clear leader.

WSOP and 888 share a network in New Jersey. In that market, partypoker remains behind its competitor, but the rest of the world experience may well translate across the Atlantic.

Now that GVC has a US partner in the form of MGM, sports betting is its main focus in the US market. However, the deal between the two companies includes launching more partypoker branded poker rooms in any state that allows online poker.

Partypoker can enjoy its day in the sun with the superb achievement of the Millions event. But 2019 will bring a lot more work, and the market remains extremely competitive.

The $3.5 Million GTD Good Game Series Is GGN’s First Network Wide Online Poker Tournament Series


The Good Game Series (GGS) is the GGNetwork’s (GGN) first network-wide online tournament series. It isn’t starting small.

Starting on November 18, the network will host 129 events with over $3.5 million in guaranteed prize money. The series closes on December 2, when there will be a $25,000 buy-in Super High Roller with a $500,000 guarantee.

On days without a six-figure guaranteed event, GGN offers a $200 buy-in Daily Main with a $50,000 guarantee.

In addition, there is $220,000 in guarantees for satellites to the series tournaments and a $100,000 GGS Giveaway promotion which runs through November.

No-Limit Hold’em, No-Limit Hold’em Bounty, Pot Limit Omaha, Pot Limit Omaha Bounty

Skins on the GGN offer four versions of Texas Hold’em and Omaha. All four are included in the GGS.

Buy-ins range from $10 to $25,000. That Super High Roller figure is a challenging target and represents a lot of confidence that there will be enough players willing to stump up the cash.

US players are not allowed on the network, so GGN is banking on interest from high stakes Asian players and maybe some Europeans and Russians who can set up accounts.

One factor that might help is that December 2 sees three big guarantee events:

  • #124 Championship $250K GTD–$500 buy-in, Start time 16:00 (UTC)
  • #125: High Roller $250K GTD–$5,000 buy-in, Start time 17:00 (UTC)
  • #126: Super High Roller $500K GTD–$25,000 buy-in, Start time 17:00 (UTC)

Putting these three events together is either a big risk, or a real incentive to high rollers who are confident playing multiple tables.

GGN claims to be the largest online poker network in Asia

The GGN poker rooms are not well known in the West. Their market is Asia and Russia where they now boast the same 7 day average of cash game players as 888. That makes them the 7th largest poker room in the world.

There are 16 skins on the network including:

  • LotosPoker—former 888 skin licensed in the UK targeting the Russian market
  •—licensed in the UK and one of several English language rooms on the GGN
  • Natural8—targeting the Asian markets

GGN skins differentiate themselves from some of the major rooms with game enhancing software features:

  • Play all-in hands three separate times
  • Blind raise regardless of position
  • Reveal your hand
  • Tell the table what you need to win
  • After you’ve folded, you can even see which cards would’ve come up next

The poker room also offers special bankroll builder rake-free tournaments. The T$ builder tournaments have buy-ins from $1 to $8 with all the entry fees going to the prize pool.

Tournaments kick off every 30 minutes. There is one catch; all prizes are paid in tournament dollars which can only be used to enter real money tournaments.

The extra expected value should more than make up for this restriction, and looks like a great marketing concept to attract new players to the tournament format.

GGN prohibits HUDs but offers its own

As part of its strategy to protect recreational players, GGN doesn’t allow third party tracking software or Head Up Displays (HUD).

However, it does give all players a proprietary stripped down HUD. The new feature was introduced at the beginning of October (paywall) this year.

Instead of the standard stats such as VPIP, the GGN HUD shows stats such as Luck Factor and Heat Index which show how well a player is running during his or her session.

Cash game players will see their opponents’ lifetime win/loss and the three biggest hands played against each.

A seven day moving average of 1,150 cash game players is no mean achievement in the current online poker environment. Peak players can hit close to 2,000 and there are normally over 10,000 players online at any particular time.

The GGS is a reach-out to a broader market

GGN certainly looks ready to reach out to a global market. Poker software is excellent, promotions and special offers are comparable with all major operators.

The GSS is definitely competitive with the tournament series offered by PokerStars, 888 or partypoker. It just might encourage a lot of new players to give them a go.

The GSS may mark the network’s magic moment when the GGN sites begin to be more widely known in the global poker community. A couple of big name European or Russian winners would be a real marketing coup for GGN.

Review: Phil Galfond’s New Run It Once Poker Room In Beta Test

Shortly after the 2016 WSOP, Phil Galfond announced that he would launch his own online poker room.

Two years later and the site is in beta test where a few players and poker journalists have managed to try out the new software.

First, a quick recap on how Galfond got to this point.

The 2016 VIP scheme changes at PokerStars had angered many professional or high volume online poker players. These arose because the company had made the decision to move to a recreational player poker model.

Galfond felt that the changes weren’t in the best interests of poker or poker players:

“A poker site needs to believe in the dream of poker as a career. It shouldn’t cater to professionals over other players, but it must make every policy change with the viability of the dream in mind.”

“It should seek to build a fun and engaging environment that all types of players enjoy playing in.”

Run It Once is the embodiment of his dream to create the perfect online poker room.

Run It Once will release cash games first

Technical delays have pushed back the launch date and led to a decision to launch the site in two phases:

“Our Phase 1 platform will provide cash games that (we think) look and feel great and include some exciting and innovative features.”

Phase 2 will release tournaments, SNGs, an “awesome nosebleed stakes offering,” and software enhancements to improve the user experience.

The beta test software is a ring game only poker platform with very few bells and whistles. The VIP scheme is not yet in place, but Galfond promises:

“We will have an innovative player rewards system that I believe will make both pros and recreational players happy. One which will give slightly more rewards to dedicated pros while not leaving recreational players behind, will engage recreational players and pros alike, and will make it impossible for players to leave their rewards unclaimed – a big savings for many poker sites at the expense of uninformed amateurs and aloof pros like me!”

All this we take on trust, for now.

Setting up an account

Game play is in Euros, with four deposit options available; Skrill, Neteller, Visa and ecoPayz. I failed miserably to make my first deposit simply because I couldn’t see the right action button.

A quick and very rapidly answered query to support showed that I had failed to scroll down to where the button was visible.

Vince from the support team managed to fix the issue without pointing out my stupidity.

Once up and running the lobby showed that almost 40 players were online. Only a NLHE €0.05/€0.10 stake level was available for the beta test.

Nothing too radical about the table design

The table design and background were familiar. The standard palette made for a dark background with green baize table, although there are a limited number of options to change colors.

Tables are not yet re-sizable and the text at the top of the table window was very small. Older players will need to use their reading glasses to see the leave/sitout options at the top right, and the hand history tool at top left.

On sitting you get an option to play straight away or wait for the big blind.

Action buttons for check, raise and fold are simple with a bet slider that can be clicked or used with a mouse wheel.

On the other hand the avatars are something else

One of the first things that players from other online poker rooms will notice are the avatars. The head and shoulders view works well, and click on the avatar brings up options to send emoticons or simple pre-set messages to other players at the table.

But look more closely, and you will see that the avatars have an additional characteristic. Their expression changes depending on how the player is playing.

The avatar of a player who is very tight and only entering a few hands will change to look like he is sleeping. An angry expression implies that the player is aggressive, and so on.

Run It Once looks after the recreational player

This is all you will get about other players apart from your own impressions of their play. Run It Once poker will not allow HUDs. The only exception will be at the nosebleed tables.

Galfond is determined to stop predatory play:

“We will protect recreational players by eliminating or severely disincentivizing multiple forms of predatory behavior in many different ways, including some original concepts. As new threats arise, as they inevitably will over time, we’ll find a way to fight back. We have been and will remain dedicated to making Run It Once a level playing field.”

This extends to protecting player identity. The avatar shown in the images above is the one I could see. My opponents saw something different.

Game play could be faster

The game play was fast with smooth transitions for graphics. The flop was dealt as quickly as possible consistent with players being able to see the cards hitting the table.

Timebanks are available, but the exact timings players will be allowed will probably change before launch.

The only weakness that I found irritating was the gap between one hand and the next. It felt like the software was taking a big breath after each hand was finished. One long gasp and then the next hand was dealt.

This isn’t the sort of thing multi-tablers will notice, but recreational players sitting at only one table will.

When will Run It Once launch?

What Galfond and the Run It Once team have put together is a perfectly competent online poker platform.

Many of the features of PokerStars or partypoker are missing, but the software is usable and the innovative avatars really did make my session more enjoyable.

In April, Galfond announced a Summer launch for phase 1. It is now well past Summer and in this tester’s opinion, there is still a lot of work to be done before the site will be good enough to attract casual players.

If Mr. Galfond can get this poker room to market by the New Year he will be doing well. The software may not have tournaments or SNGs and it may not offer all the customization of the major sites, but it was fun to play and it worked.

888poker XL Eclipse Championships Make Most Of Opportunities To Win

XL Eclipse

888poker has finally released details of its Fall XL Eclipse Championships. Events begin on Sept. 13 and run through to Sept. 23.

This is a critical time of the year for poker operators. The end of the Summer slump when long sunny days take players away from their screens signals the beginning of the Fall program of tournament series.

Success in attracting players back from their Summer breaks is a major factor in retaining players through the winter months when online poker is most popular. It’s also one of the best times to attract new players, and big money tournament headlines are an important marketing tool in getting poker novices on-board.

The headlines 888poker is offering for the XL Eclipse are nicely targeted. The magic $1 million number is up there not just in the Main Event guarantee, but also as part of a side promotion.

Players can win cash bonuses for winning more than one tournament. Two tournaments merits a $1,000 bonus, three gets $10,000, but win four tournaments and the bonus leaps to $100,000 and hitting five victories secures a jackpot payout of $1 million.

Winning five events is an outside chance for any player, but with 34 events scheduled it’s definitely within the realms of possibility.

Event #32 is the $1,050 buy-in Main Event and it comes with the $1 million guarantee so essential to pull in a large field. The high buy-in is a deterrent to casual players, but there are a vast range of satellites scheduled between now and the event starting.

There is even a mega satellite that begins less than three hours before the Main Event itself. The Main Event Mega Satellite – 50 seats GTD comes with a $215 entry fee and kicks off at 15:05 just in advance of the Main Event start at 18:00 on Sunday, September 23.

The numbers to look for to see if 888 can surpass its performance in 2017 are 1,149 entries, 413 rebuys and a total prize pool of $1,562,000.

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All tournament winners get an extra prize

888 is handing out extra prizes to all the top tournament winners. Each winner receives entry to the XL Inferno Champion of Champions Event which offers a WSOP Main Event package for first place. Full prize list is:

  • 1st $12,600 WSOP Vegas Main Event package
  • 2nd $2,700 Crazy 8s WSOP Side Event package + $1,050 tournament ticket
  • 3rd $2,700 Crazy 8s WSOP package
  • 4th – 5th $1,050 tournament ticket
  • 6th – 9th $215 tournament ticket
  • 10th – 34th $55 tournament ticket

As there will be a maximum of 34 entries, less if any players win multiple events in the main series, every player is guaranteed a prize.

XL Eclipse Schedule has lower guarantees but wide choice

In 2017 888 experimented with a schedule that offered lower individual tournament guarantees spread across a larger number of events. This let them offer an XL series with the highest amount in guarantees in its history, $9.2 million.

For 2018, the schedule is more like the 2016 version. The total offered in guarantees is down to $2.8 million but the average guarantee has almost doubled compared to last year.

Writing for the 888 magazine, Chad Holloway explained:

“Last year’s XL Eclipse Series was comprised of 197 events, and while it was a success, players let it be known they prefer quality over quantity.”

The schedule includes events with buy-ins from $5 for the XL Eclipse #15 – $15,000 Mini R&A up to the prestigious $2,600 buy-in XL Eclipse #16 – $200,000 High Roller.

As always, 888’s main competitors have competing tournament series running in September, but both PokerStars and partypoker have set their start dates a little earlier than 888. PokerStars’ World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) and partypoker’s Powerfest both hold their first events on Sep. 2.

PokerStars Joins The Parade Of Poker Rooms Hit By Latest DDoS Attacks

PokerStars DDOS

Any feelings of schadenfreude the regulated industry felt when Americas Cardroom got hit by Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS attacks) at the beginning of last week have completely evaporated as the weekend saw new attacks on PartyPoker and PokerStars.

Industry observers might feel that an offshore poker room that continues to serve the US market in defiance of state law can be expected to get hit by ransom demanding hackers.

Any players that have taken the risk of playing there shouldn’t complain if their game is interrupted, but when it comes to the law-abiding sites such as PartyPoker and PokerStars it’s an altogether more serious situation.

The current wave of outages began on Sunday, Aug. 5 with an attack that saw Americas Cardroom’s flagship MOSS tournament series’ first event cancelled:

Then on Aug.what 9 and 10, PartyPoker got hit:

PartyPoker put out a statement acknowledging that the interruption to play was caused by a DDoS attack.

Tom Waters, PartyPoker Managing Director apologized:

“The unfortunate events of 9 August were understandably frustrating for our players. After consideration, the decision was taken to pause and then subsequently cancel all affected tournaments.

Our team worked hard to try to resolve the key issues. As poker players ourselves, we fully understand how frustrating it can be when an online poker room suffers technical issues, and we fully appreciate the considerable patience and understanding shown by our players in light of these difficulties.“

Finally, on Aug. 12, with a second set of attacks on Aug. 13 it was PokerStars’ turn:

Tournament cancellations always cause some unfairness

Highlighting the difficulty online poker rooms face in responding fairly to DDoS attacks, PokerStars’ response didn’t meet with universal approval.

It took PokerStars a couple of hours to react to the attack by pausing and cancelling its tournaments. They then credited the affected players with an amount equal to their equity in the tournament when it was paused:

Online poker rooms are in a catch-22 position with whatever method they use to reimburse players, because some will always be disadvantaged.

In advance of the tournament being paused some players will be affected by disconnection problems, and it is extremely difficult if not impossible to compensate them for what might have happened. In the events of the last two days, some players complained that the disruption caused them to blind out before the tournament was paused, entitling them to no recompense.

PokerStars has a flexible cancellation policy

PokerStars cancellation policy sets out three methods of compensating players depending on the reason why a tournament has been cancelled.

  • Option 1: Rollback—Acts as if the tournament never happened; “ if you were registered for the tournament, you get your buy-in and fees (including rebuys, add-ons, and knockout entry if any) refunded. Also, the buy-in is refunded in exactly the same format with which you bought in. For instance, if you bought into a tournament using T$10 and $15 cash, then you would get back T$10 and $15 cash.”
  • Option 2: Roll Forward (no players are in the money)—“we refund each remaining player his tournament fee (and knockout bounty if appropriate), and then divide up the prize pool based on the following formula:
    • 50% of the award pool is distributed evenly among all remaining players
    • 50% of the award pool is distributed proportionally according to the chip count”
  • Option 3: Roll Forward (players are in the money)—“ we refund each remaining player his tournament fee (and knockout bounty if appropriate), and then divide up the prize pool based on the following formula:
    • Each player receives the minimum prize not yet awarded at the time of cancellation
    • The remainder of the award pool distributed is distributed proportionally according to the chip count

On top of this, PokerStars looks at the individual circumstances of the cancellation and exercises its own discretion if it feels the policy has resulted in unfairness, and it will be doing the same in this case:

DDoS attacks are not a new problem

It is difficult to see what more poker rooms can do after the fact. What is perhaps more worrying is that the poker sites remain open to this type of attack. It is not as if it hasn’t happened before.

In April, 2015 several sites including PokerStars , Betfair , Unibet and Tonybet suffered downtime that appeared to be the result of similar attacks.

Then in July 2015 the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enfocement (DGE) launched a criminal investigation after attacks on the state’s regulated casinos. DGE Director David Rebuck said:

“At least four casinos were impacted and experienced downtime. The attack was followed by the threat of a more powerful and sustained attack.”

Rebuck explained that the motive for the attacks was financial with the hackers demanding a ransom to be paid in Bitcoin otherwise the disruption would continue.

Since then, it has been in the self-interest of the industry for poker rooms to jack-up their security levels, and this they have done.

However, this war is an arms race. Whenever the operators introduce more protection, the hackers develop more powerful weapons. The best defense may be deterrence; to take the pain and decide as an industry to never, ever pay the hackers off.

Italy Vote To End All Gambling Advertising Will Be Counter-Productive


Italy’s Senate has voted in favor of the “Dignity Decree” which includes provisions to ban all gambling advertising absolutely.

In the short term, the impact is likely to be:

  • a reduction in the percentage of players choosing to play at nationally regulated poker rooms;
  • an increase in customers choosing black market sites;
  • a reduction in revenues for both government and industry,
  • and potentially an increase in problem gambling.

In other words, the new laws are likely to have exactly the opposite effect to that which is intended.

A new populist government is in power

The government is a coalition of the nationalist and euro-sceptic “Lega Nord,” Northern League, run by Matteo Salvini, and the anti-establishment “Movimento 5 Stelle,” 5 Star Movement run by Luigi Di Maio.

Their coalition is considered to be part of a populist movement spreading throughout Europe. The Italian Prime Minister, law professor Giuseppe Conte was appointed as a figure head after 88 days of negotiations between the two parties.

Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio commented on the vote:

“After decades, we have the first decree that was not written by economic lobbyists and vested interests. Today Italy sets a record in Europe: The first country to have abolished gambling advertising.”

Italian gambling advertising was well regulated until now

Italy has had nationally regulated online poker open to international companies since 2010, with tournament poker first to be permitted, followed by cash game poker a year later.

The market was heavily taxed initially, but taxes have now been equalized at 20 percent of Gross Gaming Revenue for all forms of online gambling, and restrictive lists of permissible sports matches for betting have now been all but eradicated.

There has always been a vocal opposition to gambling advertising, but the laws governing advertising were strengthened in 2012 with the Balduzzi Decree and again in 2016 when responsibility for enforcing the regulations switched from the gambling regulator AAMS to advertising regulator AGCOM.

The black market will be the first beneficiaries

One of the difficulties in a nationally segregated market like Italy is encouraging players to switch from unlicensed sites to the state regulated poker rooms.

This is exacerbated in Italy by the gambling law provisions which make winnings liable to income taxes with the operators required to cooperate with the Italian tax authorities in disclosing information on player data.

The fact that the market is segregated also means that larger tournament guarantees are often available at the black market sites. Italy is considering joining the shared liquidity pool established by Spain, France and Portugal, but it has not yet done so.

Add all the factors and a large proportion of the Italian market does not play at regulated poker rooms. Advertising was the main tool that officially authorized operators such as PokerStars.IT could use to attract this market.

Now that that tool is unavailable, it is inevitable that fewer players will be able to tell the difference between what sites are and are not regulated.

And Italy has a problem with organised crime involvement in online gambling. In July 2015 the price seized €2 billion ($2.3 billion) in raids targeting gambling operations run by the ‘Ndrangheta mafia organization.

The scope of the problem can be seen in the range of police targets: 1,500 betting shops, 82 gambling websites, 45 Italian companies and 11 foreign firms, as well as “innumerable” property assets.

Tax revenues will take a dive

Paddy Power Betfair published their half year results on August 8, and during the earnings call CEO Peter Jackson was asked about the prospects for growth in the Italian market. The ban on advertising was clearly at the front of his mind when he replied without hesitation:

“It’s tough to grow when you can’t advertise.”

If state regulated and taxed online poker operators see revenues falling, then it follows that government tax receipts will fall too.

According to a report by Poker Industry PRO (paywall) the impact is already visible:

“Unlicensed and unauthorized offshore sites have started appearing at the top of the search results, while Italian-licensed sites have dropped down below.”

Reducing gambling doesn’t necessarily mean reducing problem gambling

The government’s aim is simple. It wants to reduce the harm done by gambling by reducing the amount of gambling. They are prepared to take a revenue drop if that’s the price to be paid.

And their aims are laudable. A government report released in October 2015 indicated that around 1.3 million people in Italy are gambling addicts or presenting behaviors associated with problem gambling.

However, the international experience is indisputable.

The best way to reduce problem gambling is to bring players into a regulated environment where problems can be identified early and interventions can be mandated. Players at risk of problem gambling can then be encouraged to seek help within a locally responsive system.

Italy has gone the wrong way in addressing the problem and will probably exacerbate rather than reduce it.

Industry association LOGiCO, whose members include The Stars Group, Bwin, Bet365, William Hill, and the Kindred Group , and the European Betting and Gaming Association (EGBA) have immediately announced their opposition to the ban. In a letter to Italian ministers they state:

“While fully sharing the concerns of the institutions with regard to problem gambling, LOGiCO does not believe that this ban can produce positive effects in terms of player protection or reduce—and certainly not eliminate—the risks derived from an uncontrolled practice of the games themselves.

But while a total blanket ban on advertising may seem like an obvious measure, it is not a “silver bullet” and will actually have a counterproductive effect.”

The EU may intervene but don’t hold your breath

In the EU, all government legislation must be notified to the EU Commission before it can be enacted. In the case of this advertising ban, the Italian government has failed to follow the rules.

This failure could lead to intervention by the EU Commission that might at least delay the new laws. Similarly there is some scope for a challenge based on the rights businesses have to operate fairly, but this is stretching the treaties probably further than they can go.

There may be some hope of legal challenge, but the harsh reality is that the industry will probably just have to put up with the restrictions for the foreseeable future.

PokerStars Unfold Gives Players Two Chances To Win Each Hand

PokerStars Unfold

UPDATE August 6: PokerStars has given Unfold a permanent place in the poker client. The game was planned to take its turn in a rotation of similar innovations, but now the poker room has decided that Unfold will be popular enough to justify more than a temporary promotion. 

The latest in a series of game innovations at PokerStars was added to the poker client today. “Unfold” tweaks the traditional No Limit Hold’em cash game by giving players the option to unfold their hand after seeing the flop.

How Unfold works

The game changes work as follows:

  • At the beginning of the hand each player pays an ante into a separate Unfold pot. The ante is a fixed percentage of the big blind.
  • When the flop has been dealt players who have folded have the option to unfold their hand by making a bet equal to the size of the Unfold pot.
  • Players who unfold do not take any further part in the betting.
  • At the end of the pot, the unfold pot is awarded to the Unfold player with the strongest five card poker hand after the river is dealt.
  • If the hand ends before the river, the remaining streets are dealt to determine the winner of the Unfold pot.

There are three circumstances where the Unfold antes are returned to all players. If:

  • The main pot is decided pre-flop
  • Fewer than two players fold pre-flop
  • No players choose to Unfold

The game has been released for players at PokerStars sites in the .COM, .NET .UK, .EU and .DK markets with more promised, so, for example, New Jersey players might also get access to the new game.

In the incarnation of the game at the site in Denmark, the game is played at an eight seat table with a minimum of four players in each hand needed to trigger the unfold option.

The size of the ante varies according to the stakes. At the $0.01/0.02 stake level, the ante is 100 percent percent of the small blind. At the $0.25/$0.50 tables, the ante has been set at $0.15, 60 percent of the small blind. Notably, PokerStars does not take rake from the Unfold pot.

Players don’t get the option to table select, instead PokerStars is using its “Seat Me” option where players choose the stake they want to play at and are randomly seated at the first available table.

There’s no short-stacking available in the new game. Players must buy-in for between 60 and 80 big blinds.

How does Unfold change strategy?

The most obvious impact of the new game is that players get a second chance to win a pot. The size of that pot will depend on how many players are sat at the table and therefore contribute an ante, and how many players decide to Unfold their hand.

If only one player decides to Unfold, then that player will automatically win the Unfold pot.

The game neatly targets player psychology. Every poker player has experienced the angst of folding an apparently weak hand and then seen a flop which turns their worthless cards into a monster.

Unfold relieves that feeling of regret, and allows players to get back into the action with the chance to win a small pot. Of course if several players choose to unfold that small pot can become more meaningful.

Even when players choose to unfold on the flop, turn and river cards have still to be dealt which adds an element of chance to the outcome.

An apparently powerful flopped flush can easily turn into a losing hand if the board pairs and another player who has unfolded shows down with a full house.

Aggressive players will begin to unfold a higher percentage of their hands which aren’t “made” on the flop, but which have a good potential for improving when the last two community cards are dealt.

Position remains critical with players in later-to-act seats able to take advantage of the Unfold option knowing how many players have either exercised the option or let it pass.

Players who love doing poker math will get to calculate their expected value and begin to define what hand ranges are most profitable to unfold.

Will PokerStars Unfold take off?

Put the different aspects together, and the new game looks like it will appeal to both recreational players who will enjoy winning some money with a previously folded hand, and the more studious players who will be able to gain a small edge by developing a winning strategy.

On the downside, the game inevitably means that hands where the Unfold pot is in play will take a little longer. The industry trend has been to speed up games, not slow them down, so this will be a factor in the game’s success.

The fact that a player who chooses the unfold option isn’t guaranteed to win since the luck element remains, means that the decision to unfold or not is not necessarily automatic.

In game design theory this makes Unfold much more interesting and more likely to be popular. It is the mix of skill and luck which defines poker as a “mind sport” and that makes the game so attractive to such a large audience.

Players who can judge that it will be profitable to unfold with relatively weak hands, such as middle pair will enjoy plaudits for their prescience and judgment when they win.

When recreational players see other players win with weaker hands, they may well increase their use of the unfold option. While they will be relying more on luck than judgment, the positive effect when the decision leads to a win is one of the psychological factors which encourages them to keep playing.

Even though Unfold leaves the primary game unchanged, the option to give players a second chance looks to be a winner. It adds a dimension to the game that many players will enjoy.

MGM And GVC Partner For “Once In A Lifetime” Market Opportunity


MGM and GVC have announced a new joint venture to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the expansion of state regulated online sports betting in the US. Poker comes along with the deal.

The news of the agreement broke over the weekend, and on Monday, July 30, MGM and GVC released more details about the partnership and its ambitions.

The new business will be a 50/50 joint venture with each company contributing assets on an exclusive basis. The business will primarily use the playMGM and PartyPoker brands and extend for a period of 25 years.

Each company will seed the business with $100 million of capital as the basis for their activities in US sports betting and interactive gaming.

There will be a four person board of directors with equal “governance and decision making rights, and an independent leadership team will be selected “from best-in-class talent from each company and additional new hires.”

The new business will locate in an as yet to be decided “major U.S. technology hub.”

Joint venture deal highlights

The deal presentation sets out the joint venture highlights as:

  • Opportunity to leverage each company’s unique and complementary assets to capture a once-in-a-lifetime new market opportunity
  • Creates a leading platform with world class content, state-of-the-art proprietary technology, and broad reach and distribution
  • Significantly increases speed to market for both parties and creates meaningful early mover advantages
  • Lowers execution risk due to strong existing relationship, complementary capabilities, and both companies’ track records of successful partnerships
  • Complete alignment of interests with a 50/50 joint venture structure
    Ample liquidity with total upfront capital commitments from partners of $200 million

MGM’s new deal with Boyd Gaming is part of the venture

Monday morning also saw the announcement of a deal between MGM and Boyd Gaming.

Under the deal with Boyd, MGM Resorts and Boyd Gaming will each have the opportunity to offer “online and mobile gaming platforms – including sports betting, casino gaming and poker – in jurisdictions where either Boyd Gaming or MGM Resorts operate physical casino resorts and online licenses are available.”

MGM Chairman and CEO Jim Murren commented:

“We are excited to team yet again with Boyd Gaming on this unprecedented partnership, which allows us to fully engage with the almost 30 million M life Rewards members throughout the country.”

Gaming President and CEO Keith Smith chipped in with:

“Thanks to our partnership with MGM Resorts, Boyd Gaming will have the opportunity to potentially add an online presence in five additional states, positioning us for significant future growth as our respective companies take a leadership role in our industry’s evolution.”

The Boyd MGM deal PR did not mention the separate deal with GVC, but tucked in the joint venture presentation slides, one of the assets that MGM lists that it is bringing to the deal is its agreement with Boyd Gaming.

Boyd AND MGM get GVC into 15 state markets

MGM on its own may be the largest US casino operator, but it is only present in Nevada, Michigan, Maryland, Mississippi and New Jersey with two more casinos opening in New York and Massachusetts.

The deal with Boyd expands the list of states where the joint venture will partner to 15:

  • Nevada (MGM & Boyd)
  • Maryland (MGM)
  • Massachusetts (MGM – upon opening of MGM Springfield)
  • Michigan (MGM)
  • Mississippi (MGM & Boyd)
  • New York (MGM – pending closure of Empire City purchase)
  • Illinois (Boyd – MGM pending sale of Grand Victoria)
  • Indiana (Boyd)
  • Iowa (Boyd)
  • Kansas (Boyd)
  • Louisiana (Boyd)
  • Pennsylvania (Boyd – pending closure of purchase of Valley Forge)
  • Ohio (Boyd – pending closure of purchase from Pinnacle)
  • Missouri (Boyd – pending closure of purchase from Pinnacle)
  • New Jersey – (MGM)

New Jersey, Nevada, and Pennsylvania already have state regulated online gambling, including poker.

Mississippi will soon have state regulated sports betting, at least at land-based casinos, and New York has semi-legalized sports betting which means it’s allowed at the four licensed commercial casinos.

New York isn’t likely to get to it this year, mid-term elections have disrupted the legislative timetable, but it is still one of the states most likely to legalize online poker.

The deal adds impetus to lobbying for online poker

Putting all of this together makes for a heady mix of ambition and capability that MGM, GVC and Boyd are bringing to the US online gaming space.

As more states find that sports betting generates valuable tax revenues for their cash-strapped budgets, the idea that sports betting is legal but online poker is not may begin to seem even more anomalous.

Online poker’s re-emergence as a legal state regulated pastime in the US has taken a long time, and there’s a long way to go before it will be as ubiquitous as it once was.

The deal that MGM and GVC have put together is a very bright spot for the future of legal US online gambling. As more land based casinos get into the online space, the lobbying pressure to allow online poker will only get stronger.

MPN Launches New Poker Software Platform


July 26 is a big day for online poker network MPN. The network is launching a completely new poker client which will be available on several skins including; RedKings, RedStar, Guts, Betsafe, Nordicbet, and Betsson.

The new platform has been given the name “Prima,” a reference back to the early days of Microgaming when it was known as the Prima Poker Network.

It is up to each skin to decide how they will promote the new platform, so at the moment MPN doesn’t know precisely how the deployment will pan out. Some poker rooms will want to migrate players immediately, while others will keep open the option to play on the old poker client, at least for some time.

6 months development to replace 6 poker platforms

The new poker client has been developed in only six months, and is designed to provide a single base of code that works across all platforms.

The old client came in as many as six different versions suited to different operating systems, so upgrading to add a new feature was a major project. The six were reduced to two in the last software release, but now there is just one common platform for all devices.

The speedy development cycle has been possible because the new client won’t launch with all the features of the old software.

MPN is using a new approach to software development that begins with the launch of a simple poker client with additional features added rapidly:

“In the past, we would design new features to accommodate everybody, but now we will design a feature that we think is viable, release it to market quickly, and test it. If people like it, we’ll build on it, taking into account their feedback. If people don’t like it, we’ll drop the feature or deprioritise any further development of it. (This is why we have built a feedback mechanism into the client, which players can use to send feedback directly to the team).”

Alex Scott, Head of Product (Network Games) at Microgaming told Poker Industry PRO:

“By the end of the year, this new Prima client will have significant new features that the old one doesn’t have. At that point I want to be really pushing it to players over the old one.”

Lesson learned from the experience of others

Some players will recall when partypoker released its own new platform in September 2013. The new client came fully equipped with all the bells and whistles, adding new features such as missions, buddy lists and a redesigned lobby.

The software was a clear improvement, but the following few months were plagued by technical glitches and cash game traffic suffered until the company could fix the problems.

MPN’s plan avoids these risks. The old client will remain available if the new client doesn’t meet players’ initial expectations, and the new development process means that the changes that players do want can be quickly implemented.

Slim build client drops several features

One of the features that has been left out of the new client is the player chat. MPN accepts that these decisions will be controversial, but it remains open to reincorporating them rapidly if player demand is there:

“This has meant we’ve dropped some features that might be controversial – like chat, the tournament lobby, and the Bad Beat Jackpot. Upon release, we’ll measure the success or failure of the new client very carefully, and adapt our roadmap to ensure that we deliver what is important to players, with a healthy amount of innovation mixed in.”

Alex Scott explained that many players won’t even be aware of many of the features which have been left out:

“Our current download client is full of features that nobody uses. Did you know that you can configure the bet slider to raise in three different ways, with 5 different shortcut buttons, with custom profiles for pre-flop and post-flop, separate profiles for NL and PL, and separate profiles for flop games versus Stud or Draw games? Did you know we have three types of hand history (not counting the database file that tracking software uses)?”

“Our new download client simplifies the experience greatly and goes back to basics. We’ve kept the stuff that people actually use – like the loyalty, bonus and achievements features – and got rid of the things that they don’t – like 5 Card Stud, the mini view table and, perhaps controversially, the chat feature.”

New features incorporate MPN’s responsible gaming philosophy

One new feature that really does set an example to other operators is the new “Player History” tool.

This really goes against the grain of traditional gambling consumer theory. Letting players have an easily accessible account of their wins and losses is a big step in the direction of encouraging responsible gambling.

The most visible measure of the success of the new software will come from the cash game traffic numbers.

MPN currently averages around 450 occupied seats at its cash game tables. This is a far cry from the heady days pre-Black Friday when traffic was as high as 2,300 occupied seats.

Those glory days of the poker boom may not be coming back, but the changes MPN is making may well give it the boost it needs to regain some of the ground it has lost.

PokerStars Enigmatically Introduces ‘Unfold’ As Its Newest Online Poker Variant

PokerStars Unfold

The latest in a line of innovative online poker variants from PokerStars looks like it will be called “Unfold.”

Details on how Unfold will work are scanty, but as it says on the box, it looks like the game will give players an option to unfold their hand at some point in the action.

The existence of the new game was alluded to in a PokerStars tweet early on Monday morning

A few hours later, the PokerStars blog announced the retirement of Showtime Hold’em from the cash game lobby, concluding with another enigmatic hint:

“But, as one game steps down, the crew of poker remixologists at PokerStars finish cooking up something new to add to the rotation. No comment for now, but we reserve the right to reverse that statement – or Unfold it, if you will – very soon.”

And then kudos to Pokerfuse, it did some digging and was able to make some educated guesses about how the new game will work.

Variations on a theme

The previous new games that PokerStars has released in this way have all taken the basic game of Texas Hold’em and added a minor tweak to make things more interesting.

The simple tweak that created Showtime was to leave all folded cards face up for the duration of the hand.

At the time, Dan Price, PokerStars ring games manager explained:

“Will conservative players be forced to loosen up to avoid being labelled as nits? Will aggressive players still be able to represent strong hands with multiple cards exposed? Will you keep bluffing the opponent folding big hands… until they catch on?”

So with Unfold, the tweak should be in giving a player who has folded the option to get back into the hand.

Based on a look at the images and file names, Pokerfuse speculates that the new game will add an extra street which will be an “Unfold round.” Exactly when the extra round will appear, whether it will be available in every hand or be randomly allocated is unknown.

What price the option to unfold?

The option to be able to unfold after seeing the flop or any other street, is an incredibly valuable advantage. That’s the sort of option valuation that investment bankers struggle over even with some pretty advanced math tools.

It will be interesting to see how PokerStars handles the quid pro quo—for surely players won’t just be given the option for free. There may be a cash payment required to be allowed to unfold, or perhaps some handicap is imposed such as restricting the possible winnings to bets taken after the hand is unfolded.

The uncertainty and bluffing that makes poker such a fascinating game looks to be preserved with the unfold option.

Players will quickly work out that in order to maximize their value, they will have to mix in bluffs as well as made hands when deciding to unfold. There should be a game theoretical solution to how often a player should unfold as a bluff.

More innovations on the way

One of the advantages that online poker has over live poker is that operators can use technology to change the game in ways which would be impossible in a live game.

Perhaps the two biggest game innovations brought to market by the poker operators have been fast fold games and lottery style sit and go tournaments.

Fast fold games automatically move a player to a new table and new hand as soon as he folds a hand. A physical impossibility in a casino.

Games like the PokerStars Spin & Go offer random prize pools with games lasting only a few minutes. They work because the statistics work for large volumes of games.

Both poker variants have made the operators substantial profits. More importantly, they have served to introduce poker to a broader audience that doesn’t have the patience to sit through several hours of a traditional online multi-table tournament.

PokerStars is actively looking to find the next blockbuster poker game that will have real mass appeal.

PokerStars Director of Poker Innovation and Operation, Severin Rasset explained:

“The common goal of these innovations is [to] continue to maintain a high level of engagement from our active players, to reactivate players that may be tired of playing poker as it is today, and to speak to potential players that haven’t discovered the game yet.”.

VIP Changes promised investment in innovation

When PokerStars revamped its VIP program a couple of years ago, high volume regular players lost a lot of value when benefits were refocused towards recreational players.

At the time, PokerStars explained that part of the savings would be spent on game innovation. That didn’t look like much compensation to players who were making their living from playing online poker.

However, those same regular players should now be benefiting from their ability to work out profitable strategies that give them an early advantage in the new variants that PokerStars is putting out.

Unfold is coming soon, but a full launch will probably have to wait for the next rotation of the cash game offer. Showtime Hold’em retires today, Fusion will probably replace it, with Unfold following after that.