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PokerStars may have found the perfect way to make poker exciting for the masses. It involves poker, drama, a mix of celebrities, and even incorporates some Team PokerStars Pros. The series of YouTube videos is called PokerStars Duels.

The heads-up matches take place in a warehouse with somewhat dark lighting, almost representative of the smoky backroom of a bar or similar to a gritty boxing match. There is an audience engrossed in the action, watching two celebrities dramatically step to the table for a friendly yet serious and intense poker game. Each player has a coach, with whom they can chat at various times throughout the match.

The results are videos that are exciting and dramatic, the kind of poker that the masses want to see.

Big Names and Big Pros

There is a range of celebrities involved in the videos. Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Neymar Jr of Brazil are football legends, Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad and John Boyega of Star Wars are internationally recognized actors, Sara Sampaio is a Victoria’s Secret model, and Mireia Lalaguna Royo is Miss World. What they have in common is that they all love playing poker.

Each celebrity is paired with a member of Team PokerStars before, during, and after the matches for coaching and support. Vanessa Selbst, Fatima Moreira de Melo, Andre Akkari, and Felipe Mojave are the ones who have participated in this video series.

In order to compete, the celebrities each had to agree to donate $5,000, which means the winner of each match wins $10,000. The cash prize then goes to the charity of the winning player’s choice.

For Ronaldo, it was Save the Children, an international organization promoting children’s rights, providing relief, and supporting children in developing countries. After his match, he noted, “I love the surge of excitement you get when challenging others, which is one of the reasons I love poker so much; it provides me with a thrill that I normally only feel on the football pitch. The duels were challenging but also really fun.”


The match between Neymar and Sampaio pitted two Brazilians against each other, and they alternated some English and Portuguese throughout the action. Everything was translated into English on the screen, though, and the competitive spirit in each of them came shining through.


The game involving Neymar and John Boyega was so intense that it was divided into two episodes and dove into the celebrities and pros involved to get the video started. This was more of a story than the others, more dramatic and detailed. The trailer gives a look into what the two videos offer:


Uniqueness of Duels

Some of this may sound like various poker television shows that have been done in the past decade, but there are a number of differences that indicate that PokerStars has been paying attention to new players and what is needed to create more of them.

And if the name “Duel” sounds familiar, the series seems to be based on the app, which was removed from its trials several months ago.

The aforementioned setting is different from most poker videos and shows of the past, as it doesn’t involve the typical backlit poker table covered in logos, and there is no massive structure of bright lights that focus on a stage. There is only one live commentator, but he or she is left unnamed and not a focus of any notoriety that might draw attention away from the players and their pro coaches.

While the hole cards and community cards are displayed on the screen, there are no percentages or screen-clogging information, no blinds or pot sizes, only the player’s name and the cards. This simplifies the game down to its most basic information and focuses solely on how the players are responding to the cards and each other. And the only commentary about the hands comes from the pros who give their players advice or feedback.

The players are timed, and the dealer calls the clock on any player who thinks for more than a few seconds. Extended thinking requires the player to use a time-out. The players can talk throughout the match, and their thoughts are broadcast during the action as well.

All of this trims the game down to the players and their cards. The pros are involved, but the main characters are the heads-up celebrities. It is basic poker, accentuated and dramatized in a skillful way to make poker as appealing as it can be.

Well done, PokerStars.

thumbs up

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.