2021 World Series of Poker

Review: What is PokerStars Power Up?

PokerStars is betting big on 'Power Up,' the new game they intend on launching sometime in the fourth quarter of 2017. A second public Alpha has just gone live, so you can give it a try if you're in one of the four regions it's being offered.

As part of the PokerStars Championship Barcelona, the world's biggest poker room invited some members of the poker media to give the game a try. After a presentation by Severin Rasset and Chris Straghalis, I was ready to give it a go myself. I faced off against PokerStars photographer Neil Stoddart and PokerStars Team Pro Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier. Here's my take on the new game.

What is Power Up?

Power Up isn't the first new game PokerStars has launched. Zoom, Spin & Go, Spin & Go Max are just a few examples of new games PokerStars introduced in recent years. But Power Up is different, and you'll know in what way as soon as you see it.

"Ah, if only I had done this..."

"Ah, if only that hadn't happened"

Every poker player can get frustrated when an ace appears while playing kings, or wishing they would've called had they known that the turn would have brought their flush. PokerStars played with the exact same thing and started development of a new game, a game that would end up being named Power Up.

Power Up is poker with a twist — you have extra options you don't have in regular poker games. These extra options, so called Power Ups, range from changing one of your hole cards to seeing the next card of the deck. You buy these power ups with energy points, and you gain energy by playing hands. You can hold a maximum of three power ups and can play multiple per street.

With that, Power Up looks similar to a digital card game of the modern age like Hearthstone. The dynamics are similar, but Power Up still has no-limit hold'em poker as the basis. It's a three-handed game where the winner takes all.

Here are the nine Power Ups that are available upon launch, but PokerStars promised many more. They will gradually introduce these over time, as they don't want to start with an information overload for new players to learn.

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Receive a copy of the last power played this handDestroy a targeted board card dealt this streetPrevent powers on this street
2 energy4 energy3 energy
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Choose the deck's next card from three optionsView the deck's top card for the rest of the handRedraw selected hole cards
5 energy3 energy5 energy
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View the top two cards in the deck; choose whether to discard themDraw a third hole card, then discard oneForce all opponents to expose one hole card
4 energy5 energy2 energy

PokerStars also created a back story to Power Up, to give it even more the look and feel of a video game. Set in the year 2047, a utopian future where everything is well organized and the No. 1 way to compete with others is the game of Power Up. There's a limited set of avatars one can choose from, all with their own backstory. The table looks futuristic, with lightning bolts that come from the sky any time to eliminate a card. It's dynamic, it's new, it's futuristic.

Will People Like It?

This game is sure going to polarize the poker community. You'll have the poker purists who, I imagine, don't like any gimmicks touching "their" game. I'm sure there are going to be threads on TwoPlusTwo and other poker forums asking why PokerStars invested in this type of game.

This new game won't do a great deal for professional poker players. When the Spin & Go's hit the client, Sit & Go and short handed experts quickly figured out a way to turn a profit. The same won't go for Power Up as the game is a bit slower and playing more than two tables is close to impossible.

This game is incredibly deep. The already countless options you had in no-limit hold'em now have an extra set to just multiply what's possible. This is without a doubt a skill game, and where skill is involved, you can beat other players in the long run. But still, I don't see this making a huge impact on professional poker players' bottom line. People unhappy with PokerStars' recent changes won't be given a new way of making money.

Is It Fun?

I enjoyed myself a great deal with this game. Power Up was a lot of fun!

These days, I'm writing about poker more than I play. But sitting behind the laptop battling in a game against two others with a whole new set of options was incredibly interesting and fun. I've seen hundreds of thousands of hands in my poker career, not a whole lot of surprises me anymore. But with Power Up, I constantly had to be ready for anything. Making my flush was anything but a guarantee I'd win, someone could just undo one of the cards, or change their own to beat mine.

Power Up was a lot of fun!

One of the tricks I learned early on was looking for the EMP in combination with another power up. Locking down the board so no other power ups could be used, proved an easy way of securing a win. At the same time, sometimes a bluff this way worked as well. 'Disintegrate, EMP, all in!' was my move — I'll name it the Webjoker from here on out. Patent pending.

Something interesting as well was that ElkY and I constantly used our power ups and energy to buy new power ups, while Neil Stoddart hoarded energy like there was no tomorrow. He would fold mostly and not play many power ups, getting the energy points and saving his strong power ups. Unfortunately for him, he didn't have enough time to reap the rewards of the fortune of energy he had saved. Before he really got to use them, he was eliminated and it was me versus ElkY heads up.

ElkY had a bit more experience playing the game, having been part of the earlier testing and having given his feedback throughout development. And, to be honest, there wasn't a whole lot of time to find good strategies as we were just playing this one game. Me eventually winning was pure randomness, but boy, did it feel good!

Even having only played a single game, which took 15 minutes max, has made me enthusiastic enough to really looking forward playing it again. Looking for strong combinations, good ways of combating power ups from your opponents, and generally finding a correct strategy for saving or spending your energy points, is challenging and interesting.

The graphics are on a whole new level when compared to what online poker looks like today

PokerStars has a whole lot more power ups ready to go, and they'll implement them when they feel the community is ready. They think changing the rules of the game, introducing new power ups and new energy point values, is one of the strong suits of their game.

The way they see it, they can constantly change the landscape of the game as soon as players get closer to solving specific game situations. With other games, this has proved to be a great concept. Introducing new cards and characters has kept the game challenging for the hardcore base. At the same time, I predict that it might get harder to get really into the game if you're a new player and the number of power ups is much bigger than the nine the game starts with. Or, if you haven't played for some time, it might be tough to really get going again if the game has changed too much from the last time you've played.

Whatever your thoughts are about this new form of poker, PokerStars has certainly put time and effort in it. The game looks great, the graphics are on a whole new level when compared to what online poker looks like today, and there's even a backstory for all the characters.

Professional poker players might just ignore Power Up, but for a whole lot of the recreational players, this just might be what they've been looking for. This is online poker, but more exciting. And it's certainly more exciting to look at when other players play, the graphics and all the options guarantee it.

I can see myself playing this game against my non-poker-playing friends, or even watching Lex Veldhuis play this game online via Twitch. It's engaging and interesting. I don't think this game will lose its appeal anytime soon.

Is it for you? Download the beta software and give it a try. The Power Up beta is available on PokerStars.com, PokerStars.eu, and PokerStars.uk. For now, Power Up can only be played for play money, but real money games are planned for the end of the year.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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