PokerStars unveiled a new, fast-paced game this week that has revived an argument over the current direction of online poker, most notably, PokerStars attempts to create new, “gamble-friendly” poker variants and its new emphasis on cross-selling casino, poker, and sports.

The new game, a timed tournament called Beat The Clock, is an interesting concept, and the latest in a line of new products (created by PokerStars and others) designed to make the game more appealing for so-called fun players; players who may only have 10 or 15 minutes minutes to kill.

Here’s how Beat The Clock works:

New, fast-paced “Beat The Clock” tournaments are now available at the world’s largest online poker site, PokerStars, an Amaya Inc. (Nasdaq: AYA; TSX: AYA) brand. “Beat The Clock” games are Zoom tournaments that last just five minutes, making for a fun, adrenaline-induced experience for players looking for some rapid-fire poker action.

All players have to do to win cash is remain in the game until the timer runs out, with the prizes then distributed in proportion to the players’ chip stacks at the end of the tournament.

Beat The Clock seems like a perfect product for the poker player looking to kill a little bit of time waiting at the Doctor’s office or on their commute to work.

But not everyone sees the Beat The Clock tournaments as a useful product. In fact, some see it as just another cash grab by PokerStars, designed to drive new and recreational players towards games with higher rakes and larger house edges.

Haxton and other pros dwell on rake, but as James Hartigan noted, rake is only one of the aspects a recreational player pays attention to, and the new Beat The Clock format is the type of format he prefers. Pros need to understand what’s going on in the mind of regular people like Ken Bone, and why their views and thoughts on what is a good poker game doesn’t always align with recreational players.

PokerNews writer Lane Anderson – another “fun” player – summed up the disconnect between professional players and the hoi polloi that makes up the bulk of the poker community as an inability to view things from others point of view. As Anderson intimated, there is a lack of understanding in the professional community  when it comes to what motivates fun players play poker, and what type of product they are looking for.

For fun players, value is a tertiary consideration

Professional poker players have a hard time putting themselves in the mind of casual players. They project their own motivations onto everyone else, and assume everyone would like to be a professional poker player. The assume the knowledge that poker is beatable, coupled with seeing people beating the game, inspires fun players to work hard and improve as players… and pay attention to details like rake.

This may be true of some casual players, but the majority, the players PokerStars and other sites are trying to engage with through Beat The Clock type games, treat poker the same way they treat Blackjack.

Some pros don’t seem to understand that when it comes to the motivations of “fun” players, a high rake, or even an “unbeatable” game, aren’t always the most important factor. This is anathema to professional players, who rightly look at the expected value of every facet of a game, but quite frankly, a lot of recreational players aren’t concerned with this.

This divergence makes sense because if you’re a professional player you’re expecting to win. So, pro players look at all the small details in order to maximize their expected return.

But if you’re a fun player, you’re only really hoping to win. You’re hoping you have enough skill to play decently and that if things go your way you could even beat the best players in the world.

Basically, you’re hoping that if you’re competent enough you can leave with more money than you sat down with provided luck is also on your side – Conversely, a lot fun players tend to blame bad luck for their losses.

This happens because recreational players don’t play enough to really hit the long-run, so theirr biggest concern isn’t things evening out and absolute skill carrying the day, it’s being on the good side of variance.

When this is the case, it doesn’t matter if you’re paying eight percent or 10 percent or 12 percent in rake. It’s simply not something most fun players look at.

This is the key to understanding a recreational “fun” poker player’s motivations: we don’t necessarily expect to win because we’re more skilled than everyone else, we’re hoping to win. And many of us aren’t trying to maximize value or time; we’re trying to maximize our enjoyment.

A good game is the biggest attractant

As I’ve argued in the past, a high rake – high enough to keep serious-minded players out of the game – doesn’t mean recreational players will lose at a faster rate.

Loose play can also improve the enjoyment of the game.

Even if you get stacked twice in 20 minutes, if people are calling all-in bets with straight draws and middle pair the game is fun, and if you’re playing a high variance game a few times a month, the rake isn’t really a factor; the rake kills people who play day in and day out.


Beat The Clock, or Spin & Go’s may not be your cup of tea, but this doesn’t mean the game structure is inherently bad. If it brings people into the poker folds that’s good for the game’s long-term survival, and it’s good for a professional player’s bottom line, since money flows upwards in poker. Pros may never square off against most of the people playing these games, but that money does become part of the poker economy, and will eventually trickle up to the games pros are participating in.

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