NJ iGaming Weekly: The Case for and Against UltimatePoker.com, and Why it Might be Worth a Second Look

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UltimatePoker.com will forever be known as the first regulated poker site in the United States. But at the rate it’s going, it may be unjustly remembered as a front-page example of how not to operate an online poker venture.

I say unjustly because there is a virtual laundry list of categories where Ultimate Poker excels over its New Jersey counterparts, not the least of which is its exemplary customer service.

However, its failings remind us of the reasons why today’s hardcore poker players are “ultimately” attracted to a site, most of them having to do with technology.

In this week’s segment I’ll be taking an introspective look at what New Jersey’s perennial fourth place finisher is doing right, wrong, and argue as to why poker players who have all but written it off might want to give it another go.

Ultimate Poker: the good

Despite the lambasting Ultimate Poker takes on their dedicated Two Plus Two forum thread, the site has arguably done more for NJ-based poker players than any of its closest competitors: 888poker, WSOPNJ Party Poker and Borgata Poker.

Specifically, it offers players incredible bang for their buck, evidenced by its recent NO-verlay promotion.

NO-Verlays are a win-win for players

Whereas other online poker sites tend to lower or cancel guaranteed tournaments that fail to exceed projected turnouts, Ultimate Poker went a decidedly different direction by introducing the aptly titled NO-verlays.

As stated on Ultimate Poker’s website, the NO-verlay promotion offers tournament junkets the “best value in NJ.” And at this juncture, there’s little evidence to dispute its claim.

A true win-win situation, NO-verlay tournaments that fail to surpass their guarantee function identically to regular guaranteed tournaments. Namely, it’s the site’s responsibility to cover the difference.

That being said, should a NO-verlay tournament draw enough players to outshine its guarantee, players receive their initial buy-in back in the form U-Dollars, Ultimate Poker’s tournament currency.

NO-verlays are a testament to Ultimate Gaming’s commitment to concoct creative, player-friendly solutions to difficult situations.

For more, check out resident OPR contributor Steve Ruddock’s post on the subject.

Ultimate Poker bucks the trend

Speaking of creativity, Ultimate is readying itself to launch a brand-spanking new variety of Hold’em.

Two weeks ago, several guests, including OPR co-founder Chris Grove, were invited to Ultimate Poker’s headquarters to trial Two Street Hold’em.

A game targeted towards casual players, and presumably action junkies, Two Street Hold’em is nearly identical to NLHE except that all five cards are dealt at once, thus eliminating two betting rounds. That, and each player is required to put up a hefty ante proportional to the blinds. Nits beware.

And while Two Street Hold’em may or may not become the next big thing, it as least proves that the Ultimate Gaming team is willing to experiment with different formats.

It reminds me a bit of how Full Tilt Poker used to introduce a new poker variant nearly every month, creating a “What will they do next?” type buzz that drew new customers to its site.

More importantly, given the wealth of knowledgeable online NLHE players out there, it’s nice to see Ultimate Poker introduce a game that reduces the amount of difficult post-flop decisions. If anything, Two Street Hold’em will give the casual player a fighting chance.

John Mehaffey relayed his experience at UP’s headquarters on USPoker.com.

Ultimate Poker’s team genuinely cares

It’s rare to find an iGaming company that actually values its customers’ opinions more than it does the all-mighty dollar.

But based on its stellar customer service department, wide variety of depositing options, and the frequency in which Poker Product Manager Chris Danek replies to player issues and requests, the Ultimate Poker team seems to genuinely want to create a poker atmosphere players enjoy.

There’s just something that feels right about a group of American born and raised individuals trying to strike out on their own, despite facing nearly insurmountable odds.

Remember, two of the three companies Ultimate Poker is competing against are among the largest iGaming providers in all the world.

The other bears the WSOP brand. That’s not exactly the easiest group of foes to combat, even for a company whose co-founders launched the UFC.

Granted, Ultimate Poker’s higher-ups have been successful in the casino industry for quite some time. But keep in mind, Ultimate Poker was built from the ground up, and some allowances should be granted for its initial failings.

Which leads us up to the primary reason why Ultimate Poker has had tremendous difficulty staying afloat in New Jersey – its software.

Ultimate Poker’s software issues: the bad and the ugly

Ultimate Poker’s biggest flaw is also the one that’s hardest to ignore. Namely, its client does not offer the stability and standard array of features poker players have come to expect.

More closely resembling the best online poker had to offer in 2003, a quick rummaging through the Two Plus Two forums and my own personal experience playing on the site raised the following concerns:

  • There is no iOS or Android version of the software available for smartphone and tablet devices. Ultimate Poker’s software is not Mac friendly.
  • Software bugs, including those related to MTT table draws, re-buying into a tournament using U-Dollars and geolocation plague the site.
  • Hand histories are not readily available. Players must go through a laborious process that includes emailing support to access them.
  • Players do not have the ability to take notes on other players.
  • There are no synchronized breaks, although it appears that some progress has been made in this area.
  • Tournament lobbies are unnecessarily spartan, lacking pertinent information such as the number of rebuys/addons.
  • The interface looks antiquated.

The tech guys over at UP are undoubtedly working vigorously to rectify the software’s maladies, evidenced by a recent patch that significantly reduced the number of geocomply failings and helped to stabilize the server.

Yet, it may be a case of “too little, too late” for players who have already written off the site.

That is a shame really, because should Ultimate Poker work out its technological issues, it would provide players with a rare blend of personalized attention, exciting gameplay, excellent promos and non-cringe worthy software.

Don’t disregard Ultimate Poker just yet

Even if you are obstinately opposed to ever logging into UP again, I’d advise that you at least check the Two Plus Two forums once a month to see what improvements have been made.

Why? Because, in addition to the aforementioned merits, Ultimate Poker also offers:

  • At 4.50% for all No Limit and Pot Limit games, Ultimate Poker offers the best rake in the Garden State. For more details, click here.
  • Ultimate’s Color Up VIP program offers a wide variety of monthly and years tiers, many of them easily attainable. At top levels, players will earn nearly 18% rakeback. Compare that to most other US regulated sites, which cap out at 15%.
  • UP will match any first time deposit up to $500 – among the better deals I’ve seen.
  • The team at UP appears committed to and excited about upcoming changes, many of which could instantly change the way players perceive the software.
  • UP is still new to the iGaming world. PokerStars wasn’t built in a day.

They’re also offering a $500 reload bonus through March 4th.

What will be interesting to see is if the generous giveaways begin to dry up once Ultimate Poker begins drawing in more traffic, but my gut feeling is that they won’t, at least not entirely.

Of course, in order for that to happen, the software desperately needs to improve.

- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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