Aaron Todd
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

More articles by Aaron Todd

PokerStars looks to revolutionize heads-up poker

11 February 2016
By Aaron Todd

There's been a lot of action at the heads-up poker tables at recently, and none of it involves cards or chips. PokerStars is changing the way heads-up poker will be played online, making it more fun and easily accessible to casual players through its mobile product, Duel.

Duel is a mobile app that gives PokerStars players the ability to play heads-up matches against anyone in the world at any time — or at least it will when it goes global; today's launch only includes a beta version in Norway.

Duel is a mobile app that gives PokerStars players the ability to play heads-up matches against anyone in the world at any time.

Duel is a mobile app that gives PokerStars players the ability to play heads-up matches against anyone in the world at any time.

The game is intended to be a social one, played between friends either with real money at stake, in jurisdictions where that is legal, or merely for bragging rights. Players will also be able to play against PokerStars sponsored pros like Daniel Negreanu and Chris Moneymaker.

Perhaps the most innovative part of the app is that players will be able to suspend their games at any point during game play. You can play on the train on the way to work, and when you get to your stop, you can put your phone away and leave it there until your train ride home. Even if it's your turn to act, your hand won't be folded because you took too much time.

PokerStars is marketing the game as "a broader strategy to introduce poker to new audiences" and is clearly an attempt to create the poker version of Words With Friends — the sixth-most-downloaded app on iOS, according to — which you also play against friends and can pick up and play at any point when it's your turn.

Meanwhile, players looking to jump into heads-up games on the desktop client at will find that they are limited to Zoom Poker games, where opponents are determined randomly and change after every hand.

The approaches appear to be in direct contrast with each other, but in fact, they actually complement each other perfectly.

Poker has traditionally been a social game. Internet poker, and PokerStars specifically, changed that. The emergence of the online grinder meant that players eschewed the social aspect of the game in favor of finding the highest possible profit margins. Nowhere was that more evident than the high-stakes heads-up tables, where players would sit out and refuse to play when someone they viewed as better than or equal to themselves in skill appeared. "Bum hunting" became commonplace, and it drew the ire of many in the poker community, perhaps most notably Phil Galfond.

Recreational players were scared away — it's not fun to feel preyed upon — and the games got even tougher for those trying to make a living playing the game. Removing the ability for players to hand-pick opponents gives recreational players a chance to face each other and at the very least, not feel preyed upon.

Meanwhile, Duel will give people around the world a way to play poker as a social game with friends. Most of these games likely won't be for real money, but a fair number will be. Along the way, PokerStars may find a few new players willing to jump into a Spin & Go, or even some cash games. That's great for PokerStars, and most likely great for poker, too.

PokerStars looks to revolutionize heads-up poker is republished from