Is PokerStars decieving Zoom observers with cherrypicked hands?

100billion-hand_orig_full_sidebarPokerStars introduced its Zoom games back in March 2012 and added observer functionality a year later, in March 2013. Players observing the games and thinking about whether to give this format a try should be warned that what you see is most definitely not what you get.

What is Zoom?

Zoom poker is a low-downtime format designed to boost both the hourly revenue of grinders and the rake collected by PokerStars. Rather than staying at the same table with the same opponents, players in a Zoom game are moved to a new table and dealt new cards immediately upon folding a hand.

Given the low time cost involved in folding a marginal hand, one would expect that play would overall be tighter than at regular games, but the impression one gets on observing a Zoom game in action is quite the opposite. And yet, not all is as it seems.

Huge disparity between observed play and actual play

The “lobby” area of the PokerStars software lists available tables and gives statistics for hands-per-hour, average pot size and rake to assist players in table selection. The stats for most Zoom games are consistent with those for a tight-aggressive regular table: 16% players-to-flop and an average pot size of 16 BB for a 6-max game, for instance.

What you see upon observing a game is nothing like that at all. Even watching dozens upon dozens of hands, you’ll find no pots won preflop, and the vast majority of them going to showdown with 200 BB or more in the pot.

It quickly becomes clear that you’re not watching live play at all, but a set of hands cherry-picked for their loose action and huge pots, presumably to entice observers to sit down more readily.

There is, shamefully, no pop-up warning or on-screen indication to observers that they are not receiving the same information they would in railing a regular game. PokerStars does, however, acknowledge this fact in their initial announcement of the Zoom observation feature:

“[W]e have now rolled out the ability to observe a Zoom group. Once you select a Zoom group you will notice an ‘Observe Game’ button. What actually happens is that observers see a selection of hands that have been recently played, to allow them to get a feel for Zoom. There are multiple factors that determine which hands are picked and shown to observers, but the goal is to pick the most interesting hands.”

Zoom poker is nonetheless an interesting and viable format, but let the player beware: the actual play is far tighter than what you’ll see in the supposed preview.

Alex Weldon is a game designer by day and poker tournament wizard by night. You can read more from Alex at www.benefactum.ca and follow him on Twitter at @benefactumgames

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