PokerStars Announces Turn-Based “Duel” Poker Game

pokerstars duel

PokerStars has revealed a new heads-up format for mobile devices that allows players to take as long as they want between hands. It’s called Duel and instead of 30-second time banks, you and your opponent can each take as long as you want (well, up to a day or two) to make your decisions. You can hop on, make a few decisions and then check back later when it’s your turn to act.

The app has only been released in the Norwegian market so far and details are scarce. Other poker news websites are reporting that matches take place over a set number of hands. Whoever has won the most chips over the course of those hands wins the prize. It sounds like an extended version of heads-up SNGs.

A landing page on the PokerStars website offers this by way of explanation:

Welcome to Duel by PokerStars – the new app that lets you challenge your friends to poker 1 v 1, wherever you are. It’s a fast, new way to play against poker fans from around the world – once you’ve made your moves, just wait for your rivals to respond. You can pick up and play at your own pace, and you’ll never lose a hand or your seat in the game if you have to leave the app in a hurry.

A video posted by goes on to explain that the app will allow users to challenge their friends and PokerStars pros to heads up contests.

What’s not clear is how this will work, exactly. The closest thing to a description of the game comes from this quote from PokerUpdate:

Let’s say that you each start with 500 units apiece. You could thus win a total of 5,000 chips from your opponent. Therefore, you might in principle succeed in winning a few (e.g., 50) chips off your opponent in each of nine separate hands (for a total of 450 chips), but your opponent could still win the duel if he/she stacks you in the tenth hand (i.e., takes your entire stack of 500 chips).

I’m not sure if they have the details right or not, because this doesn’t make much sense on its face. The part about 5,000 chips is confusing. The only way that would make sense is if each player begins each individual hand with a new stack of 500 chips. If you were to win every hand all in, you would indeed end up with 5,000 chips after 10 hands.

It’s also hard to tell how PokerStars will stop people from simply gaining a small chip advantage early and then folding their way to victory. I’m sure PokerStars has thought of this and has a way to keep the games competitive, but the websites reporting on Duel seem to be waiting for more details as well.

The good people at the 2+2 forums are also expressing confusion. They haven’t taken the announcement too well as of the time of this posting. There has to be more to the story than what we’ve seen so far. I’ll just reserve my judgment for now and wait to see this in action before getting too worked up.

Hopefully, Duel ends up being a highly social and engaging game that appeals to recreational players. The best case outcome is it takes off and we get an influx of casual players. One thing the poker economy can always use is new money.

PokerStars Has Also Shut Down Heads Up Ring Games

Duel isn’t the only change coming to PokerStars’ heads up tables. On February 8th, PokerStars sent out an e-mail to all customers who had participated in heads-up cash games within the last three months informing them that all heads-up cash tables will be closed starting Friday, February 12th.

Replacing them will be heads-up Zoom pools. In Zoom Poker, you play against a whole pool of players and are matched with new opponents the instant you fold your current hand or play it to conclusion. Some sites call it “fast fold” poker and the whole point is to remove that annoying time you spend waiting between hands after you fold.

Zoom poker is nice and fast, but you pay for that in having less solid reads on your opponents and less of a table image that you can use to your benefit. The upside is that you get way more hands per hour.

In any case, it doesn’t much matter now because Zoom tables are all you have for heads up cash games now. PokerStars has finally killed the days of battling with one opponent back and forth until someone either cries uncle or runs out of money. Here’s the e-mail PokerStars sent to its customers on Monday as reported by “kamitis” of the 2+2 forums:

You are receiving this message because you have played Heads-Up cash games on PokerStars within the last 3 months.

We are writing to inform you that as of Friday 12th February No Limit Hold’em, Fixed Limit Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha Heads-Up regular tables will be removed and will be replaced with Zoom pools.

Heads-Up Zoom is already in place at most stakes and will be added at $50/$100. We will also be adding Zoom No Limit Hold’em Cap games at stakes up to $25/$50.

This change is part of our commitment to reducing predatory behaviour and improving the recreational player experience.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Kind Regards,


Although, to be fair, PokerStars isn’t solely responsible for killing heads-up cash games. Skilled players have been “bumhunting” for years and killing the action. If at any time in the past couple years you set the filter of your favourite poker software to show heads up tables only, you probably saw tons of tables with just one player seated.

In many cases, it was the same player sitting at a dozen tables. They would sit there all day long and wait for weak players to show up. If someone they knew to be skilled showed up, they would just sit out and wait for that person to leave.

Courting the Casuals

These recent changes at PokerStars are just the latest in the site’s new strategy to court casual players. The explosion of poker training websites and general dissemination of strategy have made the games tougher. New players are necessary to keep the poker economy strong, but it’s hard to keep newbies around if they just get ripped to shreds by the sharks the first time they play.

So, PokerStars is making changes to appeal to casuals. Some of these changes may be frustrating for us old-timers, but we have to admit that the games have gotten a lot tougher over the years.