“So it’s like poker and Uno?” asked my housemate as I sat playing HoldemX. Kind of I thought, my mouse hovering over a ‘Pair Hole Card’ XCard, as I tried to remember which XCard my opponent played on the flop.
Late Tuesday evening, the free Holdemx Alpha was finally released and since then I’ve spent a great deal of time playing the game and watching people play. The game format is simple to pick up: It’s poker with power-ups. 15 ‘XCards’ with names like ‘Re-deal Flop’, ‘Hole-card +1’ and ‘6th Street’ for you to use during normal heads-up poker play.
(Ed. note: For a brief, more formal, introduction to HoldemX, we suggest you watch the video below… Props to Laura Cornelius on the vocals)
A Bit of a Mixed Bag
Let me make one thing clear: I love the game. I think it’s clever, new and addictive – up to a point. If there’s one thing we’ve come to learn from the Global Poker Index, it’s that they don’t half-ass things. You want a poker World Cup? Boom, congratulations Italy. You want an international poker league? Boom, the draft is at the end of the month.
I’ve been trying to come up with an anecdote to describe my experience with HoldemX to those who perhaps haven’t had a chance to play it yet. Firstly, it’s certainly not like ordinary free casino games. So, imagine hearing that this year’s must-have Christmas present is a trampoline, and that you’ve heard that it’s amazing from several people who’ve received their Christmas present early. And then imagine opening your present on Christmas day to find a trampette. Sure you can bounce up and down and play around on it, but there’s no space to do flips or grab your friends to play with you on it and it’s just not as exciting as you expected it to be.
Before its release, the game was much-lauded on Twitter by pros who had been invited to try it out, yet the game feels half-finished. Granted, it is currently in alpha, but features you would have expected to have after all this hype, such as chat, levelling up and opponent selection, are missing. Real-money play, something which is apparently a goal for HoldemX seems to be a long way off.
Important Differences from “Regular” Poker
Nevertheless, with the game at such an early stage there are opportunities for you to get to grips with some game strategy before the pool of players gets any bigger. Firstly, flushes are bad, regardless of the suit-changing XCards, because if your opponent notices you changing the suit of a card, you are sending a clear and obvious message to your opponent what your hole cards are and subsequently how strong your hand is. Straights are also bad, in that by adjusting one card you leave it open for your opponent to just change it again. Therefore it’s much more worth your while to aim for sets and full houses in order to conceal your holdings.
— Jonathan Little (@JonathanLittle) February 4, 2016
Another important thing to keep an eye on is your time-bank. Currently set at three minutes for each player, I’d wager that more than two thirds of my games have ended due to a player timing out rather than someone winning all the chips. It’s infuriating that at such an early stage in the game, where no one really knows how to play, I’m being punished for deliberating on my decisions. Hopefully in the future this will be increased.
My final piece of advice is to experiment with the combinations of picks and bans to use. I’ve already started coming up with ‘Decks’ to try out! There’s the ‘Modifier Deck’, which uses the Board Card +1/-1 and Hole Card +1/-1 XCards to give the most flexibility to your play. Similarly, there’s the ‘Board Manipulator Deck’, with Re-deal Flop/Turn/River, 6th Street and Board +1/-1, which is a more defensive deck against your opponent.
However, in my experience the best deck to play right now (ban-permitting) is the ‘Set-Hunter Deck’. XCards like Pair Top Card, Pair Bottom Card as well as Hole Card +1/-1 have the benefit of concealing any changes you make exclusively to your hole cards, making it harder for your opponent to develop a counter strategy.
Like I said, I love playing HoldemX. But recently I found myself only manging a couple of games before reverting back to my university assignments. The reason? There is no incentive for me to play. Yet, I am sure there are many ideas in the pipeline to expand the game, and I eagerly await them. If you want to play the Alpha, and provide the Global Poker Index with feedback, then head to www.holdemx.com to try it out… and, of course, you can always let Alex Dreyfus know what you think on Twitter :-).