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PokerStars recently announced Power Up Poker, a new poker variant that’s really a poker-esport hybrid game. Since the dawn of online poker, various operators have introduced new variants and resurrected old ones in an attempt to grow their sites and the game of poker.

In recent years, there’s been a bit of controversy over the direction than newer variants have taken. Some argue that they are good for the game while others believe that online poker is going down a slippery slope they can never recover from.

The Quest to Bring in New Blood (Recreationals)

Online poker operators presently are weighing most everything they do against how it will influence recreationals. The industry has shifted focus entirely to part-time poker players, widely leaving pro players and “regulars” frustrated and angry.

If one thinks about it, this makes sense financially. Online poker pros and “regulars” by and large have already signed up and chosen their online poker home. The battle over their dollars was largely won years ago and operators know that players are going to go where they have the best advantage, often regardless of promotions outside of rakeback.

It’s different for recreationals. Poker attracts new part-time or infrequent players daily and operators have to find a way to bring in these players. Most part-time players aren’t really worried about “skillful” games, but rather they want a chance to win money.

Various flavors and variants of Spin & Gos are trashed due to their lottery nature. However, this is almost the perfect game for the average recreational that is looking for the chance to hit “big money” in a short amount of time.

From personal experience, when I first started playing poker online, I stuck with games and limits that I felt I could win at. I also stayed away from the majority of multi-table tournaments because they simply took too long.

While I wasn’t a big fan of Texas Hold’em, had Spin & Go tournaments been available then, I would have tried my hand at turning a few bucks into $100,000 or more. Also, keep in mind that hitting the “jackpot” isn’t the only appeal to those games. If you buy-in, spin a 10x or 20x multiplier and take down the event in a few minutes, that’s a solid score for a recreational.

If you still don’t understand the mentality of a recreational poker player, just go to a live casino and walk around. Check out the number of players trying to hit a jackpot on slot machine or various table games. They aren’t worried about “skillful” play but rather the big payouts associate when they get lucky.

Can We Really Claim Online Poker is a Skill Game?

One of the top arguments of those supporting online poker is that it is a “skill game.” Traditional poker and the majority of poker games spread online are indeed skillful games, but notice that the word majority is used.

Thanks to the industry shift of catering to recreationals, the overall skill level of online poker has dropped. It is impossible to claim that certain “poker” games are skillful due to their setup.

Examples of this are Spin & Gos as well as All-In or Fold variants. These tournaments either have very little to no skill involved as a general rule, thus negating the “luck vs. skill” argument for poker.

Just look at how certain games are structured or promoted and it is clear that they are not intended to be games of skill but basically a poker-themed slot machine or poker hybrid.

This is one reason that outside of very specific definitions similar to the language in New York’s present iPoker bill, online poker will likely never be legalized based on a “skill” argument.

The thinking is that the skill in online poker is slowly being sucked out and this leaves paths for lawmakers to prove it is simply a gambling game.

Games Like Power Up Are Steps in the Right Direction

As mentioned earlier, PokerStars launched their new Power Up variant of poker for testing. This game is Texas Hold’em with various “Power Ups” that allow one to influence the outcome of a hand.

This is very similar to Hold’em X put out by the GPL last year. Like many innovations in online poker not developed by the giant red spade, PokerStars has taken the game and made it their own.

While I’ve spent a large amount of this article talking about lottery style games, it deserves pointing out that PokerStars and others have taken steps in the past to improve online poker in their introduction of various new poker variants, some that have changed the poker world.

For example, mixed games enjoyed a resurrection in popularity thanks to online poker. As I have often pointed out, the $50,000 Poker Player’s Championship is a direct result of online poker and the influence it had on mixed games.

This year, a $10k PL Omaha Hi-Lo is being offered at the World Series of Poker. Online poker started offering this variant close to a decade ago and now it has a championship event on poker’s largest stage.

The addition of other variants like Power Up Poker is something I personally approve of in terms of adding more skill to online poker. While more of an e-sport than traditional poker, one cannot argue against the added skill needed to master this variant.

One thing that will benefit this new variant is that it incorporates elements of online gaming that recreational players are familiar with and will want to try out. That’s not to say they will be incredibly skillful, but the prospect of using these power ups to win at online poker will be too enticing to pass on.

Do New Online Formats Help or Hurt Online Poker? It Depends

Don’t you hate the “it depends” answer when asking a question about poker? Sorry, that’s the answer to this question. Depending on how one looks at the issue, the answer can fall on either side.

One can easily argue that new variants help the game because it brings in a fresh influx of money and fish. At the same time, you can argue that this influx is the result of “dumbing down” online poker.

Adversely, one can also look at online poker’s past and see the dramatic influence that new variants have had on the game. They can look forward to the future for games like Power Up Poker and argue that operators are trying to increase the overall skill of the game.

It’s all about perspective. Either online poker has a bright future or it is going down the toilet. What’s your take?

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.