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Top-10 observations of Ultimate Poker play

22 July 2013

As I was preparing for my trip to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker's $111,111 One Drop High Roller event, one of the things that I was excited about (outside of the time I was going to be spending inside the Amazon Room at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino covering the tournament) was the opportunity to play online poker at a site licensed and regulated by the state of Nevada during my downtime.

Ultimate Poker has been operating in the state of Nevada for a couple months now, and based on the enthusiasm shown by WSOP officials during a conference call prior to the start of the series, and the shots those same officials took at Ultimate Poker, which was already up and running, I thought I'd have a chance to play at two different sites.

It turned out that WSOP.com wasn't ready for prime time while I was there, and the launch date is still up in the air. But Ultimate Poker, owned and operated by Station Casinos, was happy to take my deposit and let me play.

Here are my top-10 observations about Ultimate Poker.

10. Making a deposit was easy
I thought depositing money on Ultimate Poker would be harder than other online poker deposits I've made as it's the first online poker room licensed and regulated in the United States. In reality, it only took a minute to two for me to deposit $50 into my account and be ready to play. The transaction was similar to and just as easy as almost any online purchase I've made.

9. Location verification close to instant
I was worried that verifying that I was within Nevada's borders, which Ultimate Poker is required to do, would be a real hassle. Instead it turned out to be a fairly simple process. After logging in to the Ultimate Poker software, I was prompted to provide my cell phone number and was sent a text message. After replying to that message, my location was verified. The whole process took about a minute. I had to wait another minute or two before I could start playing, but all in all it was an easy process that worked well.

I did not have to verify my location via cell phone during subsequent logins.

8. Game play is a little slow
If you're used to playing Rush Poker at Full Tilt Poker, the games at Ultimate Poker are going to seem very slow. The dealing of cards and the reveal of the next community card take a beat longer than most online poker rooms I've played at. Add up all those seconds I'd estimate that the number of hands per hour played at Ultimate Poker is probably 10-15 percent lower than what you'd see at PokerStars.

7. Still a few glitches that need ironing out
None of these glitches is more serious than the error that occurred earlier this summer where two nines of spades were revealed on a flop (Ultimate Poker says that glitch has been dealt with), but there are some situations that needs to be addressed. I was playing in a cash game hand where the player who would have been the button in the next hand left the table, and instead of having a dead button, the button moved on to me and I got to skip my small blind, and the player to my left got to skip his big blind. This error did not occur in a tournament I played in, but regardless of whether it's a cash game or a tournament, players shouldn't be able to skip a blind just because a player left the table.

There have also been reports that some players have taken advantage of the Ultimate Poker software in heads-up games by sitting out when it was going to be their big blind, then sitting back in, as the button is determined randomly when a new table is formed. In effect, these players get a 50 percent chance of skipping their big blind.

6. No frills
Ultimate Poker is really a bare-bones online poker experience. It's what I would have expected when I downloaded an online poker room in 2005. The tables aren't resizable, there's no option to show a winning hand at showdown, and avatars consist of stock images and are not customizable. These upgrades may be available in future versions of the software.

5. Only Hold'em games at this point
The only games available at Ultimate Poker at this point are Texas Hold'em games at various stakes. It's probably a smart move to start, but I hope that the software will be upgraded very soon to include other games.

4. Outstanding value in the depositor's freeroll
I was lucky enough to be in Las Vegas when Ultimate Poker held its $10,000 depositor's freeroll on June 29. The tournament drew 1,584 players and paid out 667 players, or more than a third of the field, with the winner taking home over $1,000. Unfortunately for me, the tournament started an hour before the final four in the One Drop High Roller were scheduled to resume play and determine a winner.

Since I was going to have to be in the Amazon Room to cover the final table, I figured "What better place to play this tournament than right here where the final table is going to take place?" I was on my own up in the press area for most of the time I was playing, but one WSOP official saw the software open on my computer and said, "Are you playing Ultimate Poker at the World Series of Poker?"

"Well," I replied, "I'd be playing at WSOP.com if it was up and running."

"Fair enough," he said and walked away.

Anyway, as a result of my limited time to play, I had to try to accumulate chips as quickly as possible in the freeroll, as I would probably only be able to play for 40-45 minutes. I busted out about 100 places shy of the money when I ran pocket sixes into 8-9 suited preflop and lost the coin flip. Obviously this turbo tournament runs fast and loose and I could have easily coasted to the money and won $0.50, but I wanted to see how many chips I could get and then log off and be surprised by my final finishing position.

A $10,000 depositor's freeroll is a pretty good promotion for a poker room that only allows people in Nevada's borders to play. I don't know how often they run (I don't see any more scheduled in the tournament lobby), but there are daily $100 freerolls that draw roughly 400 players and take just two hours to play.

3. Funky blind structure
I'm not sure if this is the standard structure in every tournament or if it's just the one used in the $10,000 depositor's freeroll, but I've never seen a tournament structure quite like the one the Ultimate Poker employed.

After a standard 10-20 and 15-30 start, the tournament jumped to 25-50 (skipping a possible 20-40 level). The next two levels were standard 50-100 and 75-150, but instead of going to 100-200, the blinds instead jumped to 125-250, an increase of 100 to the big blind. But in the next level, the big blind only grew 50 chips, as it was 150-300. This was also the level antes were introduced, but I still have to say it was one of the most bizarre structures I've seen yet.

2. No loyalty program … yet
Most online poker rooms have a loyalty program where players are given points based on how much rake they generate, with several different calculation models. When I played at Ultimate Poker, there was no such loyalty program, and that surprised me. It's not going to stay that way much longer, however, as PokerFuse is reporting that Ultimate Poker has unveiled a rather untraditional rake generation calculation whereby players are rewarded based on the amount of rake taken out of pots that they have won. Most sites now use a calculation that rewards players for a hand played when they see a flop, while others reward every player that was dealt a hand.

A loyalty program will be a great addition to the poker room, especially if online play is integrated into Station Casinos' Boarding Pass loyalty program.

1. Limited options, but quick cashout
When my trip came to an end, I decided to cash out as I won't be back in Vegas until at least the fall. I'd managed to turn my $50 deposit into a whopping $52.55, but a profit is better than a loss any day. I was given the option of getting a check at any Stations Casino location, or having a check mailed to the address I provided upon registration. I had the check mailed to my address and got it a week later. Not as instantaneous as I would have liked (still not sure why they couldn't just send the money right to my account), but faster than I was expecting.
Top-10 observations of Ultimate Poker play is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Aaron Todd
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.