Is this the future of poker? We test drive the new HoldemX game
We pick up pocket Kings and our heads-up opponent raises. We three-bet, he calls and we go to the 7-9-8 op. He bets out, we raise and he calls. Hmmm. That op’s looking dangerous so we play the ‘RE-DEAL FLOP’ card and get a much safer 2-T-4. We bet out on the turn and he folds. Welcome to HoldemX, the new game from the creators of the Global Poker League that aims to bridge the gap between poker and Hearthstone. It’s poker. But not as you know it.
That’s the tagline of the game and the enhancements come in the form of xDecks – cards that you can select and play during the game to alter the outcome. There’s only one xDeck available at the moment – the Discovery Deck – and it consists of 15 cards (turn the page for a description of all of them).
You can choose up to three to ban your opponent from using and six to use yourself, and then you enter the heads-up arena. All HoldemX games play out heads-up and with a time limit. Go over the time limit and you forfeit the game. When we started playing this was three minutes and loads of games were being decided on timeout. The limit has been upped to four minutes now, which seems fairer. There’s no time to tank though.
Starting stacks are 1,000 and it plays out exactly the same as a normal no-limit heads-up. However, after each betting round you’re given the option to play a suitable xCard from your deck.
The cards you can play on each street are revealed and you can either click to play one of them or xCheck to progress. These extra rounds play out in the same order as the betting rounds. If you’re rst to act you’ll be rst to play an xCard. Your opponent sees what card you’ve played and can play his own, to counter, or to improve his hand. If he xChecks and you play a card, he can counter.
The game is in alpha at the moment so you can expect a lot of changes before it moves into beta and then hits a final release. However, it’s a solid build and we didn’t encounter any problems. It’s easy to register and easy to find an opponent, and once you’ve got to grips with the mechanics it’s easy to learn the nuances. You can’t play real money games at the moment, but that’s in the plans and it’s also set for a release as an App for iOS and Android.
But is it any good? It’s definitely got a hook that makes you want to go back for another game. Successfully using an xCard to turn your set into quads and not being countered is a lot of fun. The big question is whether it will be adopted by the eSports community or real-money poker players. The juries still out on that. It’s tough to put it up against something as polished as Hearthstone and it’s tough to see it appealing to the same fantasy crowd or the hardcore poker player. It is better than we expected though and we appreciate it’s going to get more polished as time goes on.
The X Cards
The xDecks are where HoldemX comes into its own. There’s only one available to play with at the moment – the Discovery deck – but more will be introduced and we imagine that you’ll be able to earn/ purchase special cards in the future.
The Discovery deck consists of 15 xCards and each one comes with a points value. At the start of each game you select up to three cards that your opponent can’t use (up to a budget of 45) and up to six cards for you to use (up to a budget of 90 points).
After each betting round there’s an ‘x’ round where you can play a suitable card (cards can only be used on relevant streets) or ‘xCheck’. If you play an xCard your opponent has a chance to counter it. You get to see what card your opponent plays, so this should dictate your strategy for that hand. For example, if they use ‘Board +1’ you can counter with ‘Board -1. If they use the ‘Pair Top Card’ you can assume they now have Aces or Kings, and possibly a set. See right for a full description of all the available cards.