With poker fans’ ever-increasing hunger for new content exacerbated by the increased time staying at home due to the pandemic, new initiatives in the industry are praiseworthy and certainly being encouraged. Enter POKERithm. My attention was first drawn to it by recent Tweets from a number of veteran poker pros, including Matt Waxman and Tristan Wade.  In a nutshell, POKERithm takes the concept of duplicate poker, incorporates the idea of teams, and harnesses the power of live streaming with expert commentary to form a unique type of poker attraction. Some additional details are provided in the promotional video below.

There’s been a good deal of buzz in the poker community about POKERithm’s debut, both from players who participated in Season 0 of the league as well as from curious viewers and casual poker fans. A total of 8 teams with 9 or 10 players apiece form the current league. Team names include The Archers, Grit, Hooligang, Moxie, Pioneers, The Positives, The Soulvers, and VikingX, and dozens of recognizable professional players are taking part in the proceedings. With 75 in total, there are too many to name here, but just to illustrate the star power, rosters include powerhouses like Joe Cada, Andrew Lichtenberger, Kelly Minkin, and Felipe Ramos.

The polished production intrigued me, too, so I struck up a conversation with Waxman, the main force behind the venture, to learn more about it. He was kind enough to answer all my questions and give us the scoop regarding how POKERithm came to be, what his goals are with the production, and what sort of unique poker programming we can expect from him and his team in the near and longer-term future.

What first gave you the idea to try out this unique concept?

This concept has been getting tweaked ever since I won WPT Paris in 2011. I used to have my friends come over, order us a bunch of pizzas, and ask everyone to test new poker formats with me with the intention of making poker into a timed sport and less like gambling.

My first variation for a poker team sport consisted of multiple super turbo tournaments crammed into one match, and the winners received points added to a scoreboard based on where they placed in the multiple tournaments played during the given time period. When time ran out we ICM’d the remaining chips and added those points to the scoreboard, but we realized after some tests that the optimal strategy was to just waste your full clock every hand when you got a reasonable lead, and the end of games ended up being a bit boring with all the stalling.

Another downfall with our first approach was that some players would be sitting out some of the time. The concept eventually evolved into the team format we have now, which is simply duplicate poker where the chips won or lost are immediately added to a running scoreboard and stacks reset every hand.

As we’re in the midst of a pandemic, it doesn’t seem possible that you filmed all this footage recently. How long has this project been in the works for?

Well, my production company that owns POKERithm was incorporated maybe 4 or 5 years ago. And our patent for my platform’s player ranking algorithm as well as our game format was filed not too long after. The first pilot I ever shot for a poker league was probably before I even made my company, around 2014. In 2018 we shot a pilot episode at Solve For Why studios, thanks to some help from my friend Matt Berkey, and then once we realized we could pull off a match, we organized a league and shot all our footage during the 2019 WSOP.

How were the teams picked?

We had a beta testing for my online platform (getting released soon) back in January of 2019. I asked  about 250 of my poker friends if they wanted to play a new poker format that gave them rankings as a player. Just over 100 of them actually played, which was a surprisingly good turnout! They seemed to really enjoy the software, and we invited the top ranked players to compete in the league.

I asked seven other people who I knew I could count on to captain teams in our first season. We then took all the players from the platform and had an auction draft for our teams. I also told every captain that they could invite 4 additional people to play on their teams because asking poker players to do anything but play tournaments during the summer is a tall order. In other words, we knew we’d need more people to fill seats in case players made day 2s of the WSOP bracelet events.

How did you decide on the name POKERithm?

The name originates from POKER + algorithm. One of the main draws to our free playing platform is that players will get rankings based on their results at the table. We use an algorithm that weighs 4 key factors to determine those rankings:

  • total games played (experience)
  • value (hand results from showdown pots)
  • aggression (hand results from non-showdown pots)
  • average points per match (the average amount of chips a player finishes their matches with)

There’s more detailed descriptions on our website, but the best way to learn our game is of course to just get in there and start playing, just like most video games these days.

What is the overarching idea here? Are you trying to prove something about the game of poker to the mainstream?

Absolutely. I’m trying to prove that people love to play poker because it challenges their minds, not only for the financial motivation. I’d like to make poker better understood and embraced by the general public.

I want to create a league that appreciates professionals and pays them to compete instead of making them fly around the country, paying excessive rake fees and costly hotel reservations. Poker players are skilled individuals, just like any other great competitors, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t get salaries based on their skill sets as opposed to simply their brand and likability.

Who would you say is your target audience: the existing poker community or new people outside of poker?

My target audience is of course poker fans, but more importantly fans who love watching streams and are craving the opportunity to prove their skills without risking their hard-earned cash. After we find our base in poker, I’d like to introduce our game to people outside of poker, especially those who love video games, more specifically strategic games. And if everything goes to plan, I’d like our target audience to be anyone in the world with an internet connection.

What’s at stake for the participating players?

Well there’s no gambling, but players are paid bonus incentives based on how well they compete individually and as a team. Eventually a player’s reputation will be at stake, just like any other great competition. But for Season 0 currently streaming on Twitch and YouTube, it was mostly a learning process and a mission to prove our concept. Everyone was just having fun playing, and the footage we captured as the season develops will certainly illustrate that.

An idea involving this many people and moving parts obviously takes a good deal of funding. In what way(s) are you hoping to monetize POKERithm and have it continue to expand?

Advertisements, sponsorships, in-game purchases, affiliate deals and maybe even merchandising are the main ways we plan to generate revenue, but right now it’s simply a growth game. We’re just focused on sharing our product with the poker community, getting eyes watching Season 0 and having as many players as we can competing in our online games. We’d love if poker fans reading this article could head over to our YouTube channel and Subscribe. They won’t be disappointed!

Where to Watch

POKERithm streams every Tuesday on Twitch, YouTube, and Twitter starting at 4pm Eastern. For a better idea of what you can expect to see, check out the first episode below.