The Mental Game of Power Up

Barry Carter looks at the features of the new PokerStars format that could convert gamers into poker players.

PokerStars Power Up

I was quite late to the party for PokerStars Power Up because it came out last on Mac, but I had the week off last week so I more than caught up. I’ve been particularly interested in the crossover appeal of poker and Hearthstone, especially in terms of recruiting gamers to poker, so PokerStars Power Up appears a very logical next step in that poker and gaming marriage.

The big caveat of course is that, so far, PokerStars Power Up is Play Money only, so a lot of the aspects of the game I can’t yet fully appreciate because there is a distinct difference between how Real Money and Play Money feels, but it was still enough to get the basic idea.

PokerStars Power Up is a three handed No Limit Hold’em SNG, but in addition to the usual action each round the players draw a Power Up card to be used whenever they want in the match (when it is their turn and before going all in). These Power Ups allow a number of advantages including changing hole cards, changing board cards, peeking at unseen cards and stopping others using their own Power Ups. You have an energy balance and each card uses up a certain amount of energy, so you have to pick your spots with the cards. 

More things to keep players interested

Hearthstone poker
A good bridge to poker for Hearthstone players

Power Up gives players more decisions on every street and more ways to win. At the very least, it is much harder to be bored with Power Up because there is more to do and more reason to play most hands. A poor starting hand can often still be worth playing because of how the Power Up cards influence the action. In this sense it is a great game for casual players who want to be involved in every hand. 

However, with more decisions comes more complexity, and I suspect that while many Power Up cards can trump a superior player’s standard Hold’em skills, for the most part if this game takes off the good players will have an even greater edge. In fact I have already argued with a few people about that I think a professional player would still have an edge over a recreational player if the professional was not allowed to use Power Ups. That’s a great prop bet for another time.

The stacks (so far) are quite shallow and the chosen three-handed format makes sense, any more players than that and there would be way too many moving parts to keep up with. In fact, I think that in the future Power Up will fair best as a heads-up format, much like Hearthstone itself.

The poker is still core

PokerStars Power Up

It may well be because I am so used to standard poker, but I found myself ‘forgetting’ to use my Power Up cards and for the most part doing ok without using them. In fact, unlike in Hearthstone, there wasn’t particularly a Power Up card that was a ‘game changer’ in that playing it would completely reverse the fortunes of the match. I suspect this was a deliberate choice by PokerStars, to ensure that the poker itself still was the most important element of the game.

The big question is whether Power Up will be a hit with recreational players and thus bring new blood to poker? The answer I think is complicated. I don’t think that Power Up would make a good introduction to poker for the typical casino gambler we usually try and convert, I think it would actually over complicate poker for them. However, gamers who are used to Hearthstone, Gwent or MTG would probably consider it an enjoyable bridge between the two disciplines.

More than anything I think the core audience for Power Up will actually be existing serious poker players, who will not only experience the smallest learning curve but might also appreciate the novel twist on their bread and butter game. If it launches heads-up, deeper and in cash game formats I think it might be popular in the same way Open Face Chinese Poker is with poker players as a fun side game.

Do you like Power Up? Share your views in the comments:

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Comments (4)

newest first
  • Cpwpoker


    I played some of this , did not like it ><
  • sabu22


    I just discovered this game about a week ago. I think its a great format because it adds another element and level of thinking. I actually took a break from the regular old cash games and tournaments to play this for awhile because i thought it was so different and intriguing. Poker can be boring sometimes when you play thousands of hands a day and Power Up poker makes the game fun again. The things i don't like about it is: 1) Only play money, i would like to play this for real money. 2) More game options, would be cool to see a cash game version with deeper stacks or even 6-max tables would be cool. Overall, i love it and would definitely play this for real money on a regular basis.
  • Xanham


    I tried it on my stream and I like it! It's still in testing and will launch for real money games for sure.
    The problem is - and will be - similar to Spin and Go MAX: Rake vs. possible edge. The number of hands is basically limited because the blinds go up every x hands (=pretty quickly).
  • tonypmm


    #3 - as far as I've seen, there's edge left even when the blinds go up because there are equity-enhancing powers (Engineer, Scanner) which are most efficient when the pot is large and aren't really sensitive to the pot odds. Due to those powers as well as the threat of EMP counterpower use, the Nash equilibrium probably involves a lot of clickbacks (minreraises), maybe even 4 bb 4-bets with 4.5 bb eff. stacks.