By Jack M. Germain
Oct 6, 2020 4:40 AM PT
Mandatory stay-at-home restrictions and bans on small-group gatherings indoors are easing in some locales, but social distancing and face coverings are still a reality that makes card playing among friends a bit risky.
Welcome to the new phenomenon of playing Zoom poker. It is a novel idea that is catching on as the pandemic continues.
The Zoom video platform has become a popular solution for friends who miss their regular in-person poker games. It adds a missing element of banter and social interactions that playing cards and other table games alone on a computer just cannot provide.
Playing Zoom poker is not something Los Angeles-based insurance agent Kenneth Madick would have done on his own. He is not an online poker player.
“I’m just a casual for-fun poker player by nature. I don’t do this as a hobby, as a habit, or for a living. I do it strictly to have a good time with people that I know,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Masks Not Required
Madick used to play cards on a once or twice-monthly basis with a small group of friends at somebody’s house. They would talk about the world and play cards. COVID-19 ended that, and he missed it.
“During COVID-19 I was looking for a way to play cards with some of my friends. I stumbled on Zoom but couldn’t figure it out on my own,” Madick added.
Others in his card-playing group of friends started playing on the PokerStars website, but that experience fell short for him. It was no better than playing computer poker alone. Without the missing component of social interaction, there was no way to banter with his friends while playing.
“To me that’s not enjoyment. I enjoy the conversation,” he bemoaned.
A friend later invited Madick to a poker game on Zoom. He replied, “What does that mean?”
That scenario comes close to describing the recreational card playing attraction that Barry Cohen, a senior sales executive at TechNewsWorld’s parent company ECT News Network, misses since the pandemic curtailed his poker playing with a group of friends once a month. His other card-playing friends wanted to get together to continue their weekly live games.
“But I wasn’t comfortable sitting around in a screened porch wearing face masks. One of the main benefits [of playing Zoom poker] is it is safe,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Your Game, Your Rules
Steve Zeal, who is retired and an avid card player on multiple levels, got involved with Zoom poker when a card-playing group asked him to join their poker sessions on Zoom.
Zeal finds Zoom poker to be a fun way to skirt two barriers. One is the rigidity of online card-playing websites. The other is the social interaction that makes poker fun.
Pre-COVID his eight poker friends would play in person once a week. When COVID hit, the problem with playing online was that there was no platform he knew where you could play the crazy card games his group enjoyed.
“What we needed was a platform where we are given a deck of cards and we can do what we want with them, unlike most poker sites where you have to play a specific game and the computer takes care of the rules and how its dealt. A few months ago, I found the solution,” Zeal told TechNewsWorld.
That solution was Zoom.
A Game for His Hand
Zeal played poker for about 20 years in two categories. One he described as low stakes, as in a quarter, 50 cents, or a dollar stuff that allowed dealer’s choice. His group played crazy, somewhat made up games. They also played some standard games like five-card and seven-card stud. Most are forced betting games where the betting increases on each card and you either call the bet or have to fold (no checking).
The second category of playing in which he gained experience was higher stakes casino games. That included mostly No-Limit Hold ’em or Omaha.
He described his poker skills as “a decent amateur,” playing cash games and tournaments. He has gone to the World Series of Poker each year for the past 10 years or so, playing in mostly US$300-$500 tournaments and several $1,500 tournaments.
Zeal fell in love with the familiar feel of playing poker on the Zoom video platform. The dealer calls a game and deals the cards.
“We go around the table and state our bet and enter it into the chip site. It keeps track of the ‘pot’. When the game ends, the winner, or winners if a split pot, can take from the pot. Now the pot is zero, the next player is the dealer and, repeat,” said Zeal.
Another aspect of poker-playing on Zoom is its flexibility, he noted. Many games his group plays are high/low style and require a “declare.” Zoom is ideal for that.
When they play in person, they use zero chips in their hands for low, one chip for high, and two chips for both. They can do the same with Zoom, holding their closed fists up in front of the camera and then showing what is in their hand: zero, one, or two chips.
“It takes a bit to get used to, but it works,” he declared.
How It Works
Zoom is not a stand-alone platform for playing poker. It might fit that bill for other table games when a few people are involved, and no other functionality is needed aside from audio and video. Zoom is the delivery system for the human interaction. At least two hoops are needed to make it work for poker players. One is a mechanism for the card game itself. The other is a chip and money mechanism.
So, to be clear, we are not playing poker “on Zoom.” The process involves using three platforms for Zoom poker, noted Zeal.
Zoom lets the group of players see each other and talk. The playing table comes from a website called playingcards.io, in the games Zeal’s group plays. Madick and Cohen’s groups use PokerStars. Other similar websites include 888 Poker, Poker Now, and Easy Poker.
A specific “code” is assigned to a table, and each player goes to the coded website where everyone is seeing the same thing on their screens. This platform provides a table where you can set up players, and a deck of cards.
A nice feature is that you can set up automation buttons to auto-deal cards to each player. Then, by dragging and dropping, you can put community cards face down on the center of the table. Players drag their cards down to the bottom of the screen to an area where only they can see their cards.
“Our games are set up with two additional links on the Zoom screen. One link shows you the table. You see your name and your spot at the table. The other link shows you the dealer dealing the round of cards, said Cohen.
There are two deal buttons. The first deals all five cards at once. The second deals one card at a time for each press of the button, he added.
Madick said he does not worry about security issues with playing Zoom poker. Despite publicized incidents of uninvited visitors crashing into Zoom business meetings, that’s unlikely to happen with the poker sites linked into Zoom.
Players have to be invited and need a password to enter the actual playing room. Only the invited participants to the poker session have access to the Zoom meeting. The host of the meeting room must approve invites and send the entry credentials, explained Cohen.
Two things need to happen. In addition to getting passwords to enter the private Zoom meeting, you have to be invited to become a member of the private poker club, Madick added. When it is time for a scheduled game, members can log on and register that they are going to play.
Each player needs multiple computers as well. So that makes hacking into a poker session even more challenging.
Cohen uses a laptop for the Zoom visuals and audio. He has another two computer screens for each of the links, one for the table and one for the chips.
“For me that works out perfectly. It is not too difficult. Other players just use two screens. They split views to see chips on one half of the screen and the table on the other half. So technically, you need at least two computers, and obviously you need video capability,” he said.
You can keep tabs of your chip count and the total chip count on the table. You can see where you stand compared to the other players, Cohen explained.
Players maintain an account on a poker chip platform which is linked to their card-playing website the group uses. The person in charge of the group handles all the arrangements. Players just have to log on.
Zeal’s group uses a website called pokerchips.io. That chip platform creates a code, and everybody goes to the coded chips website. When you enter, it shows your name and assigns you 1,000 chips. Everyone buys in for $50 so each chip is five cents (or 5 chips are a quarter), he explained.
Madick’s initial email invitation came with directions to join Poker Stars and pay the $2.99 fee. That gave him access to 20,000 chips for a tournament round. Players in his group pay and receive losses and wins via Venmo.
The game is a tournament structure. If you lose all your chips in the first hour, you can pay another $40 to get another round of chips. It is a reasonably priced tournament, according to Madick.
The winner gets 50 percent of the house. Second place gets 30 percent, and third place gets 20 percent. All the money gets redistributed to the players.
“If you lose all your chips in the first hour, you can buy in for another $40. So the most you can lose on any Wednesday night game is $80. You won’t get rich playing poker tournaments. For me it is worth $80 bucks for the socialization,” said Madick.
If you don’t feel like buying a second round of chips, you can hang around and watch the action and talk to the players, he added. Games take a maximum of four hours. If you hang around but don’t play, you can watch other tables play as well.
Cohen’s group handles the money a little differently. There is not a lot of money at stake. Each player starts out with 1,000 chips. Each chip is a nickel. So players are not fettered with playing for big steaks.
“One guy at the table controls all of the money. No one puts in money at the start. At the very end, we tally up, and we Venmo the guy handling the money what we owe,” explained Cohen.