Game combines poker and esports, looking to make game more fun while retaining skill

PokerStars ‘Power Up’ In Second Round Of Testing, Could Be Next Big Thing In Poker

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In early July, PokerStars introduced its poker-esports crossover product Power Up to the world.

The product appeared in the PokerStars play-money lobby out of nowhere, and a mere two weeks after its debut Power Up simply disappeared.

But now it’s back.

After a few tweaks and enhancements, PokerStars reintroduced Power Up on Thursday, in a second round of alpha testing before a tentatively planned Q4 real-money launch.

Unlike its alpha test, which came and went with no notice and little fanfare, PokerStars is hyping Power Up this time around, a sign that the company is confident that it might be sitting on the next big thing in poker… A game that has the perfect balance of skill and fun.

After getting a chance to test drive Power Up, I might very well agree with PokerStars. The product is fun to play, strategically interesting, and really polished, evidenced by the screenshot below.

The genesis of Power Up

On Sunday, during the PokerStars Championship Barcelona series, PokerStars hosted a presentation and live demonstration of Power Up in Barcelona for select members of the media.

The presentation not only showcased Power Up, it explained a lot of the rationale behind the project and how it would fit into the company’s larger vision of poker moving forward.


During the presentation, Severin Rasset, the Director of Poker Innovation and Operations at Stars Group explained that an internal survey conducted by PokerStars indicated 42 percent of lapsed poker players found the game of poker boring and not engaging.

PokerStars is banking on Power Up reigniting their passion for poker.

The goal laid at the feet of the Power Up developers was to make the game fun, but stay true to poker’s skillfulness roots. After two-plus years, PokerStars felt it was ready to unveil the fruits of its labors to the world.

In order to make sure they were able to walk this tightrope, PokerStars brought in a team of highly skilled poker players and professional gamers, who worked 40 hours a week for six months playing Power Up and offering their own input.

The result is a really innovative, complex and fun game.

What exactly is Power Up?

First and foremost, Power Up is poker.

At its core, Power Up is a three-player no-limit Texas Holdem tournament.

Each player starts with 2,500 chips and the blinds increase every seven hands.

That’s where the similarities end. From there Power Up deviates from traditional poker in that it incorporates a secondary deck of special power cards.

Players begin the match with three randomly selected special powers, and a total of 10 energy points.

Throughout the match players receive two additional energy points, up to a maximum of 20, and have one of their special power cards replenished at the end of each hand. Players cannot have more than three special power cards at any given time.

Because of the special power cards (there are currently nine) Power Up has additional layers of complexity that make Power Up an incredibly skillful form of poker. So much so that PokerStars provides an on-boarding tutorial all new players must watch before playing Power Up.

The current list of special power cards are:

  1. EMP – prevent all powers on this street – Cost 3 energy points
  2. X-Ray – Force all opponents to expose one random hole card to the entire table – Cost 2 energy points
  3. Disintegrate – Destroy a targeted board card on this street – Cost 4 energy points
  4. Upgrade – draw a third hole card and discard 1 – Cost 5 energy points
  5. Scanner – view the top two cards in the deck, decide to discard them – Cost 4 energy points
  6. Clone – Receive a copy of the last power played – Cost 2 energy points
  7. Engineer – Choose the deck’s next card from three options (opponents see choices) – Cost 5 energy points
  8. Reload – Redraw selected hole cards – Cost 5 energy points
  9. Intel – View the deck’s top card for the rest of the hand – Cost 3 energy points

Special powers give players some control over their destiny

The special power cards not only add complexity, they also allow players to ask what if?

What if that ace didn’t come when I had pocket kings?

Disintegrate it.

What if I could see what the river card would have been?

Play your Intel card.

Essentially, the special power cards are rabbit-hunting on steroids.

Power Up is more than a poker game

In addition to the new special power cards, Power Up shares other key elements with esports.

Like World of Warcraft (which turned into a movie) Power Up isn’t simply a game you play, it’s an immersive experience designed to make the player feel like they have been transported into the universe the game resides in.

To develop this universe, PokerStars hired a writer to create the Power Up back-story, which helped guided the developers as they set out to create a fun experience that will appeal to both casual and serious players.

Power Up matches take place in arena located in a not too distant utopian world called the Neutrino. Each character (avatar) also has his, her, or its own backstory that fits into this future universe and helps set the stage for every Power Up match.

Instead of playing poker, Power Up players are playing poker in what sort of resembles an RPG universe.
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A fluid product

The special power cards are certainly impactful, and game-changing, but PokerStars was careful to not make them too powerful.

As Associate Director of Poker Product Chris Straghalis put it during the presentation, the goal was to make sure the special power cards didn’t create any, “I win moments.”

One of the situations in whichPokerStars quickly realized it needed to limit the strength of special power cards was to disable them once a player was all-in.

Straghalis also noted that if players create push/fold charts or develop an unexploitable strategy, the special power cards can be easily tweaked, which would make the strategies completely obsolete.

On that note, PokerStars is capable of increasing or decreasing the skillfulness as needed, without radically changing the way the game is played.

That can be accomplished in a number of different ways:

  • Changing the cost of certain special powers.
  • Adding new or eliminating existing special power cards.
  • Increasing a player’s starting stack, beginning energy, the number of hands until the blinds increase, the number of special power cards a player can possess at any given time.
  • Randomly assigning three new Power cards every hand.

With just some small tweaks, Power Up can constantly adjust to maintain the perfect skill vs. fun balance.

Down the road, PokerStars could also create different categories of Power Up incorporating different combinations from the list above. Each of these Power Up variants would possess varying levels of skill.

Final thoughts

Power Up is an intriguing, polished product.

PokerStars has obviously spent a lot of time and energy (and money) developing this product, and really believes it is sitting on a winner.

The question is, what will poker players — pros, casual players, and lapsed players —  think of it?

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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