Photo by Lyncconf Games / CC BY 2.0

Caption – Features aimed at keeping us online are coming thick and fast

If you’ve ever played poker, you’ll know only too well the absolute pain and gut-wrenching agony that comes when you realize that the hand you just folded on would have beaten the flop. It’s one of those decisions that gnaws away at your mind for hours after, especially if you missed out on a chance at a considerable pot. Thankfully, there’s now an option that could ease your post-flop pains.

This new feature sees a side pot established at the start of a regular game of Texas Hold’em that only players who fold pre-flop can contest. As far as innovative features go, it’s not what you’d call rocket science. In fact, side pots in poker have existed for decades, but with this new feature, PokerStars are offering something new to the everyday online poker player.

The idea is that players can choose to join an Unfold Hold’em game, agreeing to pay an Unfold Ante that goes straight to the side pot. As players continue their regular game, those who folded pre-flop then get a chance to unfold after the flop. They then watch the rest of the game, and when all is done, the unfold player with the strongest hand after the river is dealt wins the side pot.

Simple yet effective

As we said earlier, this is not rocket science, but it’s a feature that is brilliant in its simplicity. The chance to ‘play on’ after folding adds a little excitement to an otherwise boring scenario. After all, watching other players play for your money is rarely a fun thing to do. But by being involved in a side pot, you’re still in the game, although in a non-playing way.

By introducing this feature, PokerStars no doubt hope to keep more players online for longer, and we can see how it will work. But that’s not all there is to it. With the UK online gambling market increasing by 3.7%, poker providers are eager to not only keep hold of the current crop of players but to also attract new players and features such as these could be the way to do so. As the competition for players heats up, we can only imagine what other innovative features industry heavyweight will come up with in response.

What’s next for the online poker industry?

The online gaming landscape is changing fast, and with major developments in technology seemingly coming on a daily basis, we can expect to see some much more significant changes to the way we play poker. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) are of course the big ones. While we have had a few attempts at VR poker in the past, none have really hit the right note. Could one of the major players somehow integrate VR into their platform? That’s probably a little way off, but the use of AI is probably much closer than we think.

Photo by JEShootscom / CCO 1.0

Caption – VR poker is a possibility

We now know that AI can win at poker and it seems possible or even likely that poker providers will at some point try to make use of it. Instead of having players on a waiting list for tables, they could play a few poker bots instead. This would virtually eliminate wait times and mean that players would be playing 100% of the time. A scenario that would no doubt appeal to both players and providers.

While PokerStars has garnered some interest with this new feature, we’re eagerly awaiting the response of their counterparts. The chances of a poker bot hitting the online rooms in the near future are slim so the next big feature will likely be something just as simple as the Unfold side pot. And the truth is we’re still excited. After all, sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones.