Pokeraces seeks to balance online poker’s playing field with late 2022 launch

Haley Hintze
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Posted on: August 16, 2022 7:17 pm EDT

A new way of thinking about how to make online poker more entertaining and rewarding is at the core of an upcoming site, Pokeraces, that’s still under development but is planning to launch in the next several months. Based on immersive new Web3 technology developed by software startup that features plenty of experienced poker-industry talent, Pokeraces promises to upend the current state of online poker by taking on many of the game’s largest problems head on.

From the scourges of real-time assistance and botting software to the manufactured and pro-favoring edges that extended late registration and unlimited rebuys provide, online poker in particular has become the playground of those with plenty of resources, money and tools to bring to play. What’s gone for many players is the fun, the “poker” experience that drew millions of players to the game. Perhaps Pokeraces can restore some of that earlier balance.

At least that’s the plan. And in a twist on what might be a casual player’s expectations, how Pokeraces will deal with the proliferation of solvers and bots and other forms of AI is to embrace some of those tools, but to use these tools them in a way that’s markedly different from what today’s traditional online poker sites offer.

i3Soft chases the ‘online poker trifecta’

i3Soft, the platform behind the Pokeraces startup, is a development entity formed at the start of 2022 that already has 40 people working to bring its new online-poker concept to life. i3Soft was born from deep discussions between two of the poker industry’s old hands, former Full Tilt Poker programming executive Bob Williams and former PokerNews EIC and PokerStars marketing exec John Caldwell. The two were soon joined by Williams’ long-time associate at Parlay Games, Inc., Scott White, and the trio quickly began putting their plans into action.

Caldwell recently shared some stories about i3Soft’s search for online poker’s Holy Grail, or the trifecta, as Williams termed it. For online poker, as they saw it, the three vital variables are game speed, player skill, and big payouts. “For example,” Caldwell recently posted on LinkedIn, “you can have a skilled player hit a 10x payout, but it will take a while. Likewise, you can have a fast game that leverages skill, but it won’t pay much. So the question for Bob and I was, how do we solve all three while maintaining a fun-first mantra?”

Online poker itself had moved down pathways that catered to those top-of-the-mountain players who could contribute near endless amounts of rake to the site, such as late-registration periods that last for hours. Caldwell also wrote, “For us, online poker stopped being fun years ago. Five hours of late registration for a $50 poker tournament structured to last eight hours? C’mon man! Does our time as customers have no value?”

Add in the issues caused by solvers and botters and other software issues, and it’s clear that coming up with a new direction for online poker was no simple task. “There were times when Bob and I spent hours on Zoom problem-solving,” Caldwell added. “Sometimes we would have a massive breakthrough, and it felt like a real victory, complete with a sense of accomplishment and relief. I’d ask for a break to revel in our triumph; however, just as we were hanging up, Bob would say something like, ‘Wait! We also have to solve this other massive problem. Right now.’ Then I would want to punch Bob in the face :)”

The 40% solution

One of the near-intractable hurdles the i3Soft founders faced was the reality of how online poker tournament payouts are distributed. With their deep industry experience and contacts, they knew that how well an online tournament player performs over time is closely linked with how deep a player’s stack is, relative to his opponents, once a tourney reaches the money. Since deep-pocketed players have multiple chances to buy in, gamble it up, and build a deep stack, they are, according to an i3Soft source, going to cash for 40% larger payouts on average. That’s easily the difference between a profitable and a losing online tourney player.

In something of a one-fell-swoop approach, i3Soft is creating a new format that incorporates both in-house AI and the implementation of NFTs (non-fungible tokens). For most tournaments, if not all, as the approach will be implemented at Pokeraces, the late-registration period disappears. Each player who enters will choose virtual AI “players” from a large pool of AI profiles with equal overall skills.

How the NFT aspect fits into the equation hasn’t yet been fully detailed by i3Soft or Pokeraces, but at least part of that fits into authenticating the AI “player” as it enters and performs in Pokeraces tourneys. Within the poker world to date, NFTs have been little more than an adornment, a digital stamp added to also-digital collectibles in the hope of extracting static revenue from poker fans and consumers. Pokeraces recently partnered with Polygon Studios, a noted NFT developer that has also partnered with firms such as Disney and Mercedes-Benz.

A Tweet by Polygon announcing the partnership with Pokeraces offered a partial tease as well: “#Polygon has partnered with @Pokeraces_io , a platform deployed #onPolygon that’s bringing the fun back to online poker! #Pokeraces is minting up to 10k PokerACE #NFTs, which grant access to exclusive AI Hold’em races that take minutes to get to the money. But that’s not all!”

The phrase about taking just minutes “to get to the money” refers to getting rid of the late-registration imbalance. Instead, those site-assigned AI players will square off in several levels of computerized play against each other, which will take just a couple of minutes to process. The real-life players on whose behalf the AI players will battle wait for the results of those early levels, receiving what an i3Soft person termed a “highlight reel” featuring the most important hands.

Some players will make the money in a given tourney; most others won’t. But it will happen according to a random distribution, with deep stacks going to all players over time, not just those who could afford lots of buy-ins over a lengthy late-reg period. And then, once in the money, the player can choose to play it out. Control over the poker play can be turned over to the real users themselves, with plenty of poker play remaining and all of the money still to be awarded, meaning that there’s still a significant skill element involved. That skill element is present almost immediately, too, as viewed from a player’s time-invested perspective.

Overcoming the present online-poker status quo

Will it work for Pokeraces? It’s way too soon for any predictions regarding such a novel approach. The pending site will have some marketing work to do, as it attempts to sell the concept downstream in the poker world to the millions of recreational players who might agree with i3Soft’s founders that online poker isn’t much fun in modern times. Reconnecting with many of those millions will be another difficult task, since the industry channels that cater to poker players quite often really cater to the types of pro grinders that might view Pokeraces’ new approach as something to be challenged, rather than embraced.

Still, Pokeraces is one of the most interesting concepts to come to light in recent memory. Pokeraces has already launched a Discord server, too, where players and other poker people interested in the site’s pending birth can keep track of ongoing developments in the coming months.

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