Here are the first three candidates. In no particular order.
Unibet is one of the many major online European sportbooks that could easily consider online poker as much as a liability as an opportunity. While stile a likely must-have game, they could settle for the low-maintenance network poker room solution where sound rules ensures that the value of their players is being reasonably protected. Unibet had such a setup with Microgaming. But they didn’t settle for it.
Instead the teamed up with Finnish studio Relax Gaming, split with the network and set up their own operation. They shed the shackles of shared liquidity and decided to pursue the casual player on their own. A daunting move in the current market – even if Unibet had been a poker-first brand. I rarely run into that level of optimism amongst poker operators.
I don’t know Unibet’s software or their business well enough to make a call on whether the risk is paying off (I’ve heard through the grapevine that it has) but Unibet deserves a tip of the hat regardless. For staying committed to a game that they did not have to stay committed to and for believing in the need to truly invest in software and the game experience to capture the hearts of the casual players.
When I think of re-entry tournaments, I think of Matt Savage. I may be wrong thinking that Matt actually introduced re-entry tournaments to the live poker world, but he’s certainly responsible for bringing them to the masses. Now, re-entry tournaments has been around for quite a while so how does re-entry tournaments put Matt on this list?
Because when I think of efforts to stem the over-use and sometimes cynical exploitation of re-entry tournaments I also think of Matt Savage. It takes the right (for this list anyway) character and commitment to the betterment of the game to stand up against your own innovations. Re-entries have their place and Matt has done a great job this year of trying to make sure they stay in that place.
Lottery style Sit & Go tournaments is the new orange. Or Black. Or whatever color is the new color. Pokerstars offers them. Full Tilt Poker offers them. iPoker offers them. But none of those sites invented them. French online poker site Winamax did. Or rather, they were the first to assemble the product now referred to as Lottery style Sit & Go. In most articles I read about this product I see Pokerstars ”Spin & Go” version being referenced – not Winamax’s Expresso game. Fair enough I guess. But credit where credit is due. It was Winamax who figured out that a random prize pool feature made sense in poker and that three-handed Sit & Gos (not in itself new) was the perfect context for such a prize pool innovation. There are other potentially great uses of a random prize pool feature but Winamax hit the nail with their version. Minor adjustments aside, the rest of the online poker world has launched me-too versions. The form first introduced by Winamax in 2013 was the form everyone went with in 2014. And that means Winamax qualifies for this list even though Expresso was launched in 2013.