Fast fold poker – it’s here to stay, but should you play?

Fast-fold poker is a relatively new innovation to online poker, but its impact to the industry has been meteoric

The fast-fold game of Texas hold’em was first introduced as ‘Rush Poker’ by Full Tilt Poker in 2010 (just months before Black Friday closed the site down). PokerStars’ fast-fold variant, ‘Zoom Poker,’ debuted in May 2012 and is by far the most popular fast-fold game today. Other sites, like Party Poker (Fast-Forward), Titan Poker (Speed Poker), and 888Poker (Snap Poker) also offer fast fold. It’s safe to say that if your site doesn’t offer fast-fold poker, it’s probably not a viable site.

What is fast-fold poker?

If you were at the poker room of your local casino for a game of $1/$2 no-limit hold’em, it would go something like this. Your session starts and you get your hand in the small blind – it’s 7-2 offsuit. As soon as you see your cards, you know you’re done with the hand. But now you wait for the UTG player to put in a raise, then the guy in mid-position is daydreaming, then a drink is spilled onto the table by the buzzed player in the cut-out seat, then the big blind hems and haws while looking at his handy-dandy starting hand chart before three-betting. By the time the hand gets to showdown, you have been watching the basketball game on TV for several minutes. A lot of time wasted just to fold two rags.

Now imagine that same scenario if the casino offered fast fold. Instead of a chair, you are sitting in one of those motorized scooter chairs. As soon as you know you are folding that 7-2 off at Table 30, you wheel yourself to another $1/$2 game at Table 26, where you immediately fold J-3, then scoot over to Table 12 and wake up with Pocket Aces. As you are raking in a big pot, the hand from Table 30 just concluded. So, in the time it took to play out the hand on Table 30, your $2 lost became a gain of $40 because you were able to play two additional hands in the same time frame.

That’s almost exactly how fast fold plays out in cyberspace. Zoom Poker and other variants use very sophisticated software. They can instantly marshal players out of tables they have just folded their hands on, moving them in real time into newly formed tables with different opponents. Each hand offers a big red ‘Fast Fold’ button, which you can select as rapidly as you want until you settle into a playable situation. This is because you are no longer playing the same nine or ten opponents at the ‘Canberra’ table for hours. Instead, you are playing against a virtual pool of hundreds, even thousands of players, moving instantly into newly forming tables. For you, that means an increase in total hands per hour – up from 70 (based on typical posted lobby averages) to over 200!

Not just for hold’em cash games

On Zoom Poker, Omaha and Draw Poker are also offered as a fast-fold game, as are MTTs and heads-up play. As this format is so revolutionary to the centuries-old notion of playing on a real (or virtual) poker table, there are obviously many radical changes. These new paradigms effect both the individual grinders and the online poker industry itself.

For the online poker entities, there is a significant migration of traffic, away from traditional cash game tables, to fast-fold tables. That is a boon to the poker rooms, because the more hands that are dealt per hour at fast-fold games (estimates are three times more than the traditional ring game construct), the more rake per hour generated.

Based on analysis of monthly PokerStars traffic, by the industry watchdog PokerScout, the numbers are staggering. When Zoom Poker was first introduced, player traffic for cash games was declining a bit, in favor of MTTs, heads-up, and sit & gos. However, as people tried and liked playing Zoom Poker, almost 30% of PokerStars’ cash game hands were being dealt using the Zoom format. With the trebled hand rate, one Zoom Poker player equaled three regular cash game players, in terms of rake generated. As a result, while actual gain in players might remain stagnant, the virtual gain in cash game player traffic, as measured by hands played over unit of time, actually increased by 50%.

Pros and cons

For the individual player, there are both pros and cons to playing Zoom Poker and other fast-fold games. Let´s start with the pros:

  • By not having to wait for hands to play out, you can increase your win rate over unit of time. This is simply by virtue of good players having more opportunities to outplay opponents
  • Fast-fold poker eliminates or reduces the need for multi-tabling. Seasoned ring game grinders can play as many as 16 concurrent cash games. The potential for profit increases through multi-tabling, but only to a point. As the number of tables increases linearly, the level of concentration required increases exponentially. Eventually, all players will hit an inflection point, where they actually lose money because they can’t play their A-Game all the time with so many games going on at once. With fast fold, you can almost get the same level of action as you would by multi-tabling three tables. While grinders will still multi-table fast fold, they only need to have three games running, instead of nine or ten conventional ring games
  • A beginner – even a fish – has a fighting chance with fast-fold poker. It is impossible for online cutthroats to ‘bum hunt’ for weak players and soft games, using online tools like Sharkscope. Collusion at a table is impossible. This is good for everyone. That’s because before fast fold, many new players would typically give up the game forever after incurring massive losses while getting fleeced in tough (and possibly unleveled) cash games. With fast fold, they are more likely to stay around
  • These games favour more simplistic play. Related to the above, players who play a solid TAG game are rewarded. (If you read Harrington on Hold’em Vol.1, you will have a near-perfect fast fold strategy.) Good hand selection and solid ABC play postflop is the most profitable way to play. In contrast, poker ingénues who try ‘tricksies’ like limping pocket Aces UTG to trap, because they played them aggressively in earlier hands, is not going to work. That’s because no one knows what you did previously
  • Fast fold is a new frontier. Tactical and strategic considerations are not yet written in granite. The majority of fast-fold poker regulars frankly don’t know all the dynamics of the game. Having no knowledge of your opponents also means that opponents have no knowledge on you. You can be the one to devise a killer fast-fold strategy that could crush the competition
  • Playing more hands per hour means more frequent player points for you. With fast-fold poker, getting points faster means it’s easier to achieve Bronze, Silver, Gold, and VIP levels. Such goodies as tickets to private freerolls and bigger items to score at the online store are more quickly achievable

Now that we looked at all the good points, you might have surmised that the fast-fold poker landscape is not totally a gambler’s utopia. Here are some of the cons to fast-fold poker:

  • One very essential element of poker is taken away from us. As poker pros will insist, knowing your opponent’s leaks and tendencies is just as valuable as getting good cards. In in a hand of fast fold, there is very little time to call, raise, or fold, let alone catalog opponents. And why bother, as you may never see that opponent again! Preparation for table selection based on how juicy the fish are is now a non-factor. The only information you still have is the opponents’ stack size
  • As you play more hands per unit time, you will have to post blinds more often. While you can opt to fast fold often, at some point you are going to have to stop and play poker, or else the blinds will eat you alive
  • Be prepared for huge swings to your bankroll due to the heightened level of volume and action. With more action, there’s more variance. No matter how good you think you are, you will need a bigger bankroll (between 50 to 100 buy-ins) to survive, than you typically would for traditional ring games of similar stake levels
  • While not a dealbreaker for many, it has to be mentioned that the entire social aspect of poker is lost. The ability to chat with people from all over the world can make a long session of grinding somewhat more tolerable. In fast fold, you have no one to chat with, because all of you will be off in the ether to new tables in seconds

Now that you’ve looked at the pros and cons of fast-play poker, is it the right game for you? It all depends on why you play online poker in the first place. Zoom Poker and other fast-fold poker games are fun to play. The added element of the enhanced action alone is worth giving it a try. If you have good knowledge of hold’em in terms of position and starting hand strength, but were previously apprehensive of playing in tough ring games, you now have the edge over the majority of more inexperienced players in your fast-fold pool. The added potential of generating more profit per hour, along with the fringe benefits of accruing more Frequent Player Points are also valid selling points.

That said, if you are a serious grinder, stick with traditional ring games. You need to master all aspects of ‘playing the player,’ an element absent in fast-fold poker, if you ever want to progress to mid- and high-stakes online, live cash games, and major buy-in tournaments (both live and virtual). In the end, the decision to play fast-fold poker is the same as when we choose any poker game. Players must balance bankroll management, whether online poker is for business or pleasure, their knowledge and experience in the game, and personal poker goals.

Al is a poker writer at sportswriters.us/poker


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