Friday, 6 April 2012

My ZOOM Thoughts

ZOOM has been available for a few weeks now (in beta) and I've been playing a lot of it. In fact, since it's release, 99% of my play has been at the ZOOM tables. So I would like to share my ZOOM thoughts with you guys.

(if you don't know what ZOOM is then check me out on YouTube explaining how it works)

Hands Per Hour

Playing ZOOM is really fast. The increase in the number of hands dealt compared to regular cash games is in the 3-4x range. This depends on how tight you play. The tightest players will naturally be dealt more hands than the loosest players.

4-tabling ZOOM can produce the same volume of hands as 16-tabling regular cash games, but it is much easier to do. If you want to 16-table regular cash games you either need an expensive setup with multiple monitors, or to stack your tables on top of each other which can be tough and confusing. With ZOOM you can play the maximum number of tables, tiled, on a small laptop and still get in some massive volume of hands.

If you 4-table ZOOM you will always be involved in 4 hands. If you 16-table the regular games there will variance in how much action you have to deal with at any one time. There will be periods of time when you have no decisions to make on any table, and then there will be times when you are involved in hands on all 16-tables at once - making it tough to play optimally. This type of variance in how much action you have to deal with is smoothed out completely by playing ZOOM, making it easier and more enjoyable to play.

Table Selection

Table selection has always been a huge pain in the ass for me.

In the regular cash games it is common for every table to have a long waiting list consisting mostly of mass-tabling slightly winning or break-even Supernova/Supernova Elite grinders. These players don't like to start new tables because they are playing too many tables to concentrate on Heads Up or short handed play to get tables started.

I usually start my own tables and they fill up with mostly recreational players. Shortly after, there is a waiting list with a whole bunch of the aforementioned grinders. What generally happens is that the recreational players quickly lose their buyin and leave, or double their buyin and leave. Whatever happens they don't stick around that long, and the table soon becomes 100% winning or break-even players.
So I constantly have to make sure that I figure out who the regulars are (by their stats and number of hands), evaluate the quality of my tables, quit bad tables and start new ones. This table selection process, while necessary, is mentally draining and distracting, and results in me playing less hands per hour that I potentially otherwise could.

With ZOOM the ability to table select just does not exist. Your opponents and their seating position are different for every hand. Sometimes this results in hands being played in situations that I would not allow to occur in the regular cash games, such as a table entirely consisting of good winning players, or having a deep-stacked player to my my direct left who has a high 3-bet frequency and is going to make my life miserable. On the other hand sometimes the allocation of opponents and their position will be entirely favourable. It's just another type of variance, and as poker players we are used to that. This variance does even out quickly, due to the number of hands being dealt, to what I believe are softer games than the average regular cash game table provides. The main reason being the better 'professional : recreational player' ratio in ZOOM.

Pro:Casual Player Ratio

In regular cash games it's fairly standard for professionals to play as many as 12-24 tables at a time. Recreational players generally play 1 or 2 tables simultaneously. So the presence of one winning grinder can be 12-24 times that of a casual player at the tables. This is one of the main reasons for what are perceived as tough games in the current climate.

Over the years PokerStars software has gotten steadily better, along with the release of third-party software such as TableNinja which is "designed to automate the repetitive and annoying parts of online poker so that you can focus on the tough decisions, play more tables, and take your game to the next level.", making it easier for professionals to play more tables and play well when doing it. Needless to say that casual players aren't purchasing TableNinja and upping their own number of tables, so the ratio of pros to casual players at the tables has increased as a result.

Each ZOOM game currently allows a maximum of four instances that one individual player can participate in that ZOOM game.

That means that the presence of someone playing the maximum number of tables (mostly professional grinders) can only have, at most, a 4:1 impact compared to a casual player.

Tighter Games

ZOOM games are certainly tighter than the loosest regular cash game tables. Players have less reason to play trash or even marginal hands when they can just click FAST FOLD and get dealt into a new hand instantly. That doesn't necessarily result in tougher games though. It's not just playing a poor starting hand selection that makes a bad player bad. They still play terrible postflop with good starting hands, stacking off with AA on a JT9 flop for a bazillion big blinds and such.

If certain players are playing tighter than they should in certain situations then a good player can pick up on this and exploit it. For example, players folding their blinds at too high a frequency can be exploited by stealing more, raising with a looser range from late position. Players with a tight preflop range can be outplayed easier on boards with low cards. 3-betting a player to your right can be more profitable as they are less likely to make a stand and play back at you than if it was a regular game, because with the random distribution of players each hand you won't be on their left 3-betting them much over the course of a session.

There are all sorts of situations to look out for an profit from as a result of players playing too tight in ZOOM. Good players adjust to new game formats, bad players don't. If you are a good poker player then you should welcome new games and innovations in online poker that give you a chance to adjust better than your weaker opponents.

Short Sessions

I've already talked about how in regular cash games there are waiting lists to get onto each table, and a reluctance for players to start new tables. This makes playing short sessions difficult because it can easily take half an hour to get the number of tables you want to play up and running.

With ZOOM, you are playing instantly. There have been times when I've had a spare 20 minutes before I have to go and do something. Previously I never would have considered attempting to play a session of poker during such a short time. I'd have wasted that time doing something non-productive like playing a video game. With ZOOM I can now play very short sessions of poker and play a significantly meaningful number of hands in those sessions.

ZOOM just makes life easier for poker players in general. Situations where you get disturbed in life, which for those poor guys with a nagging wife and screaming kids is likely to be a lot, are easy to deal with when playing ZOOM. Just sit out next hand, deal with whatever situation has cropped up, then get back to playing. Compare that to regular cash games where sitting out for a short period of time can cause you to be kicked from the tables, then you need to spend another half hour getting through waiting lists and starting tables again.

Making Reads

One of the concerns that people had about playing ZOOM was that it would be a game that would have to be played readless, because one's opponents are always changing. However in my experience I have found that because hands are being played so quickly, I'm constantly being sat with the same players again and again, so I can make reads based on previous hands played with those players.

In regular games, after a hand is completed, I like to make notes if a player did anything non-standard. In ZOOM games, after the hand is completed, there are instantly different players at my table, so taking notes related to the previous hand may seem very tough to do. What I do is click the replayer button to view the last hand, and use the replayer to double-click on the player and write a note, then close it.

There is an option to fold but view the remainder of the hand, just hold down CTRL and click FOLD. This is useful if you are in a large, interesting multi-way pot and want to fold. You can still see how your opponents play the remainder of the hand. Even if you do FAST FOLD, the whole hand history is recorded, so you can use the replayer to go back and find out what happened.

Poker Tracker and Holdem Manager have already developed HUDs for ZOOM. These work very well, especially with the fact that the whole hand history is recorded even when you FAST FOLD, and are essential for any serious player to use. In ZOOM you will see a lot of players playing too tight, and a lot of players playing looser to abuse the players that are playing too tight.

You really need to use a HUD to know which players are which and play accordingly against them, otherwise you are just stumbling around in the dark.

No Tracking

It is impossible to observe ZOOM hands that you are not involved in. In some ways this is bad, as your friends or fans can't rail you when you play. On the other hand, tracking sites which do bad things such as selling hand histories or compiling stats that show losing players how much they have lost are unable to do those bad things with ZOOM.

Future of ZOOM

[X] Higher Stakes

The highest stakes being run right now (remember it's still officially "beta") are NLHE-200 and PLO-100. I believe it's pretty much certain that it will be rolled out to higher stakes in the future.

A big consideration PokerStars has when deciding where to roll ZOOM out to is that there should be enough liquidity in that game and stake to support both ZOOM (with enough players in the pool so that it runs as fast and smooth as it should) and regular cash games (with enough tables running for those players that don't want to play ZOOM).

I believe that it is even being considered to make all of the highest stakes games ZOOM only, as a way to generate action.

[X] Other Games

In addition to the NLHE and PLO the ZOOM offering has been recently expanded and there are now games at microstakes FLHE and NLO8. I've never seen the FLHE game running, but this may be because people don't know about it yet. The NLO8 game does run, even at offpeak times.

The ZOOM tab in the lobby has 3 sub-tabs. HOLDEM, OMAHA, OTHER. It's safe to assume that OTHER is there because intentions are to roll out ZOOM across the wide array of 'other' games that PokerStars offers (stud variations, draw games and the like). At the very least they will be offered at microstakes initially to test the water.

I actually think the games where the functionality of Zoom will give the most benefit are games such as the stud variants. These games have many streets of betting and are fixed limit. Compared to NLHE, a single hand of stud takes forever. The longer a hand takes to play out in any game format, the more useful ZOOM functionality becomes for the players of that game. To be dealt a new hand instantly instead of waiting over a minute for 4 players to minbet and minraise their way to seventh-street is huge.

Whether there is the liquidity of players playing some of these niche games to support ZOOM I'm not so sure about. A 6-max ZOOM pool needs at least roughly 50 players to be optimally fast. When the numbers dip significantly below that you start having to wait for new hands and the whole point of playing ZOOM is lost.

[?] More Tables

Right now, during the beta release, the maximum number of tables anyone can play of one ZOOM game is 4. There has been some speculation that this would be increased to 6 for the full release. I haven't heard anything official regarding this though.

My gut feeling is that PokerStars probably will increase the maximum to 6. If we assume that a fast competent player can play 4x as many hands per ZOOM table compared to a regular cash game table, then 6 tables x 4 times as fast = 24, which is the same number as the current default maximum number of tables permitted at regular cash games. A player would have to 6-table ZOOM to get the same volume as 24-tabling regular cash games.

Personally I would like to see the tables capped at 4, due to quality of game considerations that I addressed in the 'Pro:Casual Player Ratio' section above. If 6-tabling a single ZOOM game were permitted it would only be the professional grinders that take advantage of it, and the games would be worse as a result.
If anyone does want to play more than 4 tables of ZOOM right now they can do that by just opening more tables at a different ZOOM. I have seen people 8-tabling ZOOM by playing 4 tables of PLO-100 and another 4 tables of PLO-50 simultaneously.


The word is that there are no current plans to roll out ZOOM CAP games.

[?] Heads Up

Nothing has been announced with regards to ZOOM at heads up tables.

I think it is something that should be considered since a major problem with the heads up games is that there are so many people sitting out, not wanting to play each other, just waiting for action versus a weak opponent. If all players were put in a ZOOM pool and matched up randomly each hand it would create a lot more action.

[?] Mobile Gaming

The UK and Italy already have access to some very slick PokerStars software on their smartphones and tablets. The attributes of ZOOM as a game format, being able to play fast and short sessions of poker on a small number of tables, fit perfectly into mobile gaming.

No announcements have been made regarding Mobile ZOOM but I will eat my hat if it doesn't happen at some point.

[?] Tournaments

The word is that there's no immediate plans for ZOOM tournaments but that it is something that could be considered in the future.

In my opinion ZOOM would be ideal for large field tournaments and multi-table-SNGs such as '180 mans'. Because PokerStars is the world's largest poker site, the MTT fields are generally huge and the tournaments take a long time to play out. This can put a lot of players (including myself) off from playing them, because they don't want to commit their whole day.

ZOOM tournaments would give players the opportunity to play a large field, large prizepool tournament in around 1/3 of the time, but still get to play as many hands as a regular tournament. Then if there were tournaments that were ZOOM and TURBO, well.... that would just be crazy. A very, very good kind of crazy.


Overall I am very happy that ZOOM is here, to the degree that I can't imagine playing non-ZOOM cash games ever again. Now everyone please send a million emails to PokerStars begging for ZOOM tourneys and 180man SNGs so I can be even happier :)


  1. Good summary dude. No ZOOM 180s though plsssss, that would suck.

  2. Good summary dude. Bring on the ZOOM 180s though plsssss, that would rock.

  3. Hi Dale,

    thanks for your detailed post. A short time ago, IntelliPoker trainer Felix Schneiders gave a short list of hints how to handle Zoom on my blog. Although it's not the kind of game I'd like to play most of my poker time, it made fun.

    Beste Gröten, Nic

  4. Replies
    1. I think overall Zoom has been bad for professional players - the evidence is in the winrates.