"The idea is simple," said James Crawford, President of PokerTek. "Poker players love to play heads-up poker and casino operators are constantly looking for new ways to meet their customers' needs. In the past, it's been hard to find a casino that would deal a heads-up game for regular players. Now, PokerPro Heads-Up offers casinos a profitable way to spread heads-up poker."
This new 2-person automated poker table allows casinos to accommodate players wishing to go one-on-one without sacrificing profits, since there is no dealer required for the PokerPro tables. The smaller version of their PokerPro X tables, PokerPro Heads-Up can be configured for Texas Hold ‘Em or Omaha, and is available in tourney or cash game formats.
In a recent visit to PokerTek's headquarters in North Carolina, I got a chance to play on a prototype of the PokerPro Heads-Up and chat briefly about the future of automated poker tables. The new table uses the same software and interfaces as the larger tables, including the drink-proof surfaces and the same card-swipe technology that allows players to load money onto their PokerPro card and then play that at any PokerPro table in the casino.
Heads-up play is often considered to be the greatest test of skill in poker, and this certainly offers the opportunity for someone to play "King of the Mountain," taking on all comers and holding court at a table until they are defeated. It also offers the chance for players to settle scores one-on-one, as they try to "get back" at the player that just busted them in a larger tournament or a ring game.
The future of PokerPro Heads-Up is certainly not as a replacement for full tables with dealers and chips. I see it more as a "gateway drug" for poker players, letting casino visitors that are more comfortable with video poker and slots get their feet wet facing one opponent at a computerized game before venturing into the sometimes intimidating world of the Poker Room. I can certainly envision a ring of heads-up tables right outside the rail of the poker room, where people can sit down and get a feel for the game without having a full table of people waiting on them to act.
Currently the software is set up one way for the installation, but the watershed moment will come when the players get to choose their own game and stakes. Imagine, as we did sitting at the prototype, being able to sit there and play a quick Omaha SNG, followed by a Razz SNG, then a Hold ‘Em SNG, all for different stakes that the players determine sitting at the tables.
It becomes a win-win for players and casinos, as players get to play the games they want in the heads-up format they enjoy, and the casinos get to spread games virtually that they may not have demand enough for a full table with a live dealer for. "We believe there is strong player demand for heads-up poker in our casino," said Hashem Minaiy, CEO of The Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, California. "Unfortunately, this form of poker is too costly to be hand-dealt. With the advent of PokerPro Heads-Up, we can now offer this great game to our players."
The addition of Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo to the PokerPro tables is another new thing for PokerTek. The automation of Omaha Hi/Lo speeds that game up dramatically, as the high and low pots are calculated automatically and credited to the winners instantly, cutting down drastically on one of the greatest slowdowns in live Omaha play. The Omaha interface is identical to the Hold ‘Em interface, except (obviously) with four cards on the display in front of each player instead of two. I found the interface very quick and easy to adapt to, with no trouble dealing with the extra cards.