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
The eagle-eyed among you have noticed something new. We don’t comment on potential, unannounced future game features. However, we reserve the right to reverse this statement — or unfold it, if you will — in the near future.
— PokerStars (@PokerStars) July 23, 2018
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.