The Mental Game of Unfold

Will the new format from PokerStars appeal to recreational players? Barry Carter takes a look at this game within a game.

I'm back with my series on the new online poker formats and why they might appeal to recreational players. This week the new game where you can backtrack on a mucked hand, Unfold

It plays just like No Limit Hold'em except that at the start of the hand everybody pays an Unfold ante which creates a side pot. Then when the the flop is reached, players who have previously folded their hands have the option to 'Unfold' meaning betting they can make a single bet the size of the Unfold pot if they think the hand they folded would have been strong on that flop.

The regular hand plays out and is awarded to the usual winner, with the Unfold side pot being awarded afterwards. If the regular hand is won before the river, the board will run out for the Unfold pot.

The Unfold antes will be refunded to everyone at the table if the main pot is won preflop, less than two players fold preflop or no players choose to play the Unfold pot.


A game within a game

I’ve been doing this feature on new formats and their appeal to recreational players for a while now and one of the common themes is that they all have games within the game. In Spin & Go you get the ‘gamble’ of the variable prize pool, for example. In Unfold that game within the game is the most blatant, the Unfold pot is literally a side pot played between the players who folded preflop. There are two games taking place in each hand, between two separate groups of players. Few people are left out of the hand.

More than all the other new formats, this plays like a live cash game where table prop bets are involved, the sort you saw on shows like High Stakes Poker back in the day. In fact, I reckon Unfold would be a much more fun format to play live because everyone at the table would be chatting because more people have an interest in the pot (but it would be very hard to police people giving away the strength of their hand).

At the start, Unfold bored me to tears if I am being honest. The Unfold pot was perhaps a bit too small to get excited about and I was paying too much attention to it. In fact, while it is clearly a format designed to make the time between hands less tedious for recreational players, I found the action in general much slower because more people were making decisions in each hand after the flop.

The more interesting aspect of the game for me came when I was instead playing for the main pot, because you can actually make educated assumptions of what cards are removed from the deck based on how many people ‘Unfold’. When you find yourself with a medium strength hand, like a flopped top pair of tens with a medium kicker, and three players Unfold, you can somewhat assume that one of them Unfolded because they have a ten, making your top pair more likely to be strong in your pot. How many people Unfold on different board textures is new information that a good player can make use of. 

You also get to ‘rabbit hunt’ now and then in the main pot (seeing how the turn and river would have played out) if you fold on the flop when an Unfold pot is taking place.

Not revolutionary, but engaging

Jason Mercier
Do the Unfold pots stop you getting bored between hands?

It was when I started paying more attention to the main pots that I realised the appeal of Unfold. It’s not a revolutionary new format that will change the game, but it might be a slightly more fun version of No Limit Hold’em for the players who only play a handful of tables. Once I got into it, it basically was a No Limit Hold’em cash game with an extra decision now and then to keep me busy. The Unfold pots never got exciting or made much of a difference to my bottom line, but they did stop me from checking Facebook while I was playing.

PokerStars initially said that Unfold was not a trial format and that it would be a permanent part of the game offering in their client. If that is the case, I think it is because a new player is still getting the standard poker experience (rather than something like Showtime which only appeals if you are an experienced player because it’s an unusual twist on No Limit), the casual player is less likely to be bored between hands and the experienced player might find it’s a slightly softer game because of who it attracts.

The reason why it might work is because it’s not revolutionary, but instead because it’s a slightly more fun take on No Limit Hold’em for casual players.

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Comments (1)

  • VorpalF2F


    I played it for the first time live on stream last week. I was surprised to find that unfolding was just a side pot -- what would really be a game changer would be the ability to buy back in to the main pot by paying all the missed bets.
    As it is, you cannot lose any more once your unfold ante is gone, so there's no disincentive to unfold. If no-one else unfolds, you get the unfold pot.