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Thursday, January 21, 2010
Updated: January 22, 2:08 PM ET
Feeling the Rush


The further along an industry gets, the more it all seems to blend together. I've been in the poker industry for some six years now. When I first entered, I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Now I seem to take every new change with a few grains of salt, with half-closed eyed enthusiasm and often with a dismissive wave of the hand. Been there, done that.

Andy Bloch
Andy Bloch and the rest of Team Full Tilt are thrilled with the early response to Rush Poker.

It was with that mindset I started my day on Tuesday as I do every other day: reading my RSS feeds and headlines while wiping the sleep from my objectively indifferent eyes when I came upon my first mentions of Full Tilt Poker's latest new toy, Rush Poker. It was explained to me that Rush Poker was a new online-exclusive form of poker in which one joins a pool of players and is randomly seated at a table. Cards are dealt as normal and you're given the options you normally would along with a "quick fold" button. Hands play out as they always have in online cash games, but once you're out of the hand, you, along with enough other freshly folded players, are transferred to a brand new table where the process starts all over again. In other words, there's no down time between folded hands. In other words again, you're playing 300 hands an hour without the overlap of multiple tables.

"It's the difference between watching TV and watching TiVo," said FTP's Andy Bloch. "You get to skip the commercials."

This phenomenal innovation, along with the revelation that FTP had increased the standard minimum buy-in on cash game tables from 20 big blinds to 35, prompted one of the most unanimously positive responses the online poker community has seen in years. One player, Michael "BraveJayhawk" Jenson, a non-FTP affiliated professional player, coach and sometimes-backer, declared this "the best software update since Party Poker went up to 100bbs and opened 2/4 NL and higher" on the twoplustwo forums. That was more than half a decade ago.

"I've been playing online since august 2003," Jenson explained to ESPN.com. "I've seen the game evolve quite a bit. As the years have passed, software has taken over and really dictated … and allowed a small group of players to really take advantage of the data and statistics available and take advantage. It's allowed people to game select to the point where people aren't playing most people. The games build around a couple of fish and the integrity of the game has been lost. It's more like a computer playing the game than an actual person. I think the game has lost its touch online.

"This update allows the new player a chance to win," he continued. "There's so much out there to allow the sharks to eat up the new players, so they can't move up like I did 5-6 years ago. The game is affected by not giving those players the chance to learn and succeed. Rush Poker brings back some of the instincts of the game. You have to use more of a general strategic approach. You don't have the data that proves you must three-bet a certain player in a certain situation. I use those programs myself, but not to the degree some of my opponents do. It's lethal to play against them and they definitely put their work in, but it's just not poker."

Rush, it's being said, is a uniquely online game (you can only imagine overweight players hustling from table to table in a live venue …) that simultaneously eliminates so many of the problems that have developed in that venue over the last few years.

"One of the big advantages of Rush Poker is that you can't just observe and watch hand histories," said Bloch, one of the members of Team Full Tilt, all of whom have been walking around with big smiles on their faces over the last few days. "People can't track or target you. You don't have to worry about particular players spotting a weakness in your game."

Bloch sees a big future emerging out of the lack of observers. "Something might come out of this. Some people might say 'We don't want to be observed, or to play Rush' and tables could emerge that provide that option."

"Any time we make a decision to do something like this, we'll poke and prod it and think about the impact on everything," said Howard Lederer from Australia. "Collusion? Impossible. Data mining? Impossible. Those are nice bonuses. Five times more hands an hour are pretty nice too."

That's not an exaggeration. When I gave Rush a try to prepare for this article, I played 130 hands in my first 20-minute go at it. It required my full attention, but wasn't burdensome the way multi-table play can be when multiple decisions need to be made simultaneously.

The amazing thing is that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. Omaha has been released and over the next few weeks we should see something in the realm of limit hold 'em. There may even be potential for Rush tournaments in the future. Phil Gordon, the Dean of the Full Tilt Poker Academy and co-host of ESPN's Poker Edge podcast, hosted FTP's initial tutorial videos regarding Rush was optimistic.

"I think its going to reinvigorate the hold 'em games," he said. "For a lot of people, hold 'em had gotten a little stale. This breathes new life into the game, but you know what? I played Omaha with it yesterday and I think Omaha may be the better game for the Rush format. It's just so easy to fold the 2-2-9-J hands from any position and move on to the next table."

Part of what's made this such an important innovation for FTP is how universally beneficial it is.

"Seeing something totally innovative was great," offered longtime online pro Taylor Caby. "It's brilliant for everyone. For FTP, people can play more raked hands. For players, they can get more of the action they're looking for. It's a great thing."

Throw in the removal of data-mining/collusion paranoia for casuals and yet another discipline of poker to excel at and exploit for pros and you have a community that so often fears change applauding this one in one voice.

So now, an old cycle renews itself. Now that Rush is out there, the inevitable analysis looking for optimal methods of play begins. Players who thought they had things figured out have a new puzzle to solve and new problems and approaches to ponder. Of course, when they finally manage to wrap their heads around this one, new problems will arise. After all, Rush Poker is a significant step in that it may become the first uniquely online poker variant to go viral. If it does, every player on the planet will be trying to figure out the next way to use the online format to vary the parameters of the game. It's a potential chain of events that has these half-closed eyes wide open for the first time in a long time.