PokerStars has the need for speed
What's the most boring part of playing poker? Folding. Nobody sits down in a casino or poker room eagerly awaiting the opportunity to pass their hand and wait a couple of minutes before they get dealt more cards. When playing on PokerStars that process is much quicker - you'll play at least three times as many hands per hour online than you will live - but it's still frustrating.
However, folding and waiting for another hand is just part of the DNA of the game of poker. There's no way around it and it will always be an element of the game that justifies the idiom 'patience is a virtue'. Well, that was the theory before PokerStars changed the game on March 16, 2012; the day when Spaniard 'Doña Blasa' won the first ever hand of real money Zoom poker. A new, faster poker game was now here and it effectively eradicated the boredom of waiting for the next hand forever.
As you probably know by now, Zoom poker places you in a pool of players, instead of fixed opponents on one table. Every time you complete a hand - or fold - you'll be taken instantly to a new hand at a new table with new players. Speeding the game up even more is the ability to 'Fast Fold', where you can pass before it's your turn to act. So if you get dealt 7-2 off suit you don't have to wait for the heroes before you to raise, three-bet and four-bet before throwing your hand into the muck. Just do it straight away and move on to pastures new.
It's fair to say that Zoom poker has taken PokerStars by storm since it was launched four years ago. A substantial amount of cash game traffic is now played on Zoom tables, Zoom tournaments have been introduced and, just this month, PokerStars withdrew all of its regular heads-up ring games and replaced them with heads-up Zoom tables.
Zoom poker is an established part of the PokerStars experience now but expectations were mixed upon the launch of the format back in 2012. Team Online pro Roy 'GodlikeRoy' Bhasin says, 'I was intrigued at a new and different style of poker, and a bit sceptical. I didn't think your average recreational player would enjoy the extremely fast action and non-traditional feel of the tables.' It took Bhasin a bit of time to adjust to the different strategies required for Zoom poker too. As he says, 'I was very hesitant to move on [from normal poker]. I would play a small amount of Zoom poker here and there to try it out but my results were always far worse at Zoom, and I had trouble concentrating on the action.'
Within Team PokerStars Bhasin was a bit of an outlier - the general feeling towards Zoom poker was one of excitement and anticipation. Long-time Team Pro Bertrand 'ElkY' Grospellier thought, 'It would be really cool, because Zoom is perfect for when you are on the move and don't have much time.' Lex Veldhuis echoed a similar sentiment, saying, 'I loved it immediately. It felt like an innovative way to re-approach a game that is loved.'
Of course, with any new variant of poker comes a whole new set of tactics and strategies to learn too. On the surface, Zoom poker isn't too different to traditional poker but there are definite adjustments to consider. Due to the Fast Fold option Veldhuis says, 'recreational players play tighter because they want to get on to the next hand. You also need more dynamic ranges [play a wider selection of hands] because the tables are so different every time.' Overall though, Roy Bhasin found out that Zoom poker was more similar to a standard poker game than he expected. Bhasin says his playing style, 'didn't change significantly since it was always based on the players at the table and making my decisions based on them - I do that now, and just assign slightly tighter ranges to my opponents in certain spots.'
Zoom poker was always going to appeal to a certain audience of adrenaline junkies, but any time that an established game like poker undergoes a seismic shift it has to be considered a surprise. The launch of Zoom poker coordinated perfectly with PokerStars moving to mobile via its official app - see this story for more details on that milestone - and suddenly allowed players to get in dozens of hands while they were on their daily commute, bored at work or making an extended visit to the bathroom. According to ElkY Zoom poker was a case of perfect game at the perfect time; 'We live in a world where fast action is always prized, and it will be more and more [in the future].'
In the modern mobile world poker players are always striving for a combination of fast and exciting action that they can play on-the-move. It's one reason why Spin & Go's are so successful, why Duel poker is so eagerly anticipated in 2016 and why Zoom poker has continued to grow in importance since its launch four years ago. By removing one of the major obstacles of poker - the boredom of folding - a new and improved version of the game arrived and it shows no signs of slowing down now.
Other stories from this series:
Meet PokerStars' longest-serving player of all time
The ghosts of WCOOP
The Moneymaker Boom that almost wasn't
Alexander Stevic and the start of a new era in poker
The PokerStars Sunday Million Two-Timer Club
Smile! You're on Kid Poker Camera!
Biggest poker tournament ever? Check!
So who was that first winner on PokerStars mobile?
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Ross Jarvis is a writer for PokerStars