Sometimes it can feel like poker is mainly folding and waiting around. Patience is important, but sometimes we just want to play more hands. And that's where fast-fold poker like PokerStars Zoom comes in.
Let's look at what PokerStars Zoom is, how profitable it can be, and what strategies you should use.
PokerStars Zoom Explained
PokerStars Zoom is PokerStars' version of fast-fold poker. PokerStars didn't invent fast-fold - and most poker sites offer a form of fast-fold - but their version is certainly the most popular. Other sites' versions include 888's Snap and Party Poker's Fast Forward poker.
Fast-fold poker is a form of poker where instead of waiting around to watch the rest of the hand play out after you fold, you can "fast-fold" and immediately move to a new table of random players.
PokerStars Zoom is available for both cash and tournament formats. To find a cash Zoom game then just go to Quick Seat, select your stakes and table size, check the Zoom box and click "Play Now". PokerStars Zoom blinds range from .01/0.02 (2NL) all the way up to 10/20 (2kNL) for 6-max and 50/100 (10kNL) heads-up.
You can also find the PokerStars Zoom cash game tables via "All Games" - but as you cannot table select there isn't much reason to do this, apart from to check how big the pools are.
Zoom tournaments are a little trickier to find. PokerStars offers Zoom versions of both Sit & Gos and scheduled tournaments. The easiest way to find them is to go to the relevant tab in All Games and then use the little search box (it has a green eye next to it) to search for "Zoom".
If you don't want to try PokerStars Zoom for real money, there is a play money version too. It's fine to practice on this to get the hang of the format - but bear in mind that play money poker will not help your game at all. In fact it will make it worse. Once you understand how the PokerStars Zoom format works, move to the real money tables ASAP!
The Profitability of PokerStars Zoom
PokerStars Zoom can be very profitable. Win rates will be lower, you can't table select, it's hard to get reads on players as the pools are big and you get put on a random table each hand and even the fish play a lot tighter.
But all of these downsides are negated by one very big upside: you can play many more hands-on Zoom than you can on a regular table. This means that although your win rate (measured in bb/100) is lower, your hourly rate (measured in bb/hr) can be higher.
You might be able to play 60-90 hands per hour on a regular table, depending on whether it's 6-max or full ring. But on a Zoom table, you can easily see 200-300 hands an hour. A 10bb/100 win-rate on a regular table will win you around 6-9bb per hour.
On a Zoom table, even if your win-rate drops by 50% to 5bb/100, that works out at 10-15bb per hour. So PokerStars Zoom profitability is higher than regular table profitability, even if your win-rate is lower.
And that's before rakeback is taken into account. The more hands you play, the quicker you will earn PokerStars reward points. The points earn you chests and in the chests, you get StarsCoins that you can exchange for cash.
PokerStars also sometimes offers bonus challenges, such as winning with certain hands in a limited time period. Zoom makes achieving these a lot easier.
Now, you can obviously play multiple regular tables to get your hourly profit up - but you can do that with Zoom too. Just two Zoom tables will give you a similar hands-per-hour as 5 regular tables. It's also a lot easier to sit out of Zoom tables when you need time to think, and you won't be forced to pay an extra blind.
Now, as is often the case, the potential for an increase in reward comes with an increased risk. You can improve your poker hourly rate by playing Zoom - but that's only if you are a winning player even after switching to the Zoom format. If you can't beat a Zoom game you are going to go bust much quicker than on a regular table. It's possible to lose many buy-ins in a very short period of time on Zoom because you see so many more hands and there's no time for reflection before the next one.
Make sure you have a stop-loss system in place where you quit for the day after losing a certain number of buy-ins - between 1 and 5 is usually reasonable. Decide this before your session and stick to it! Your bankroll will thank you for it.
PokerStars Zoom Strategies
Fast-fold poker is a very different beast from your usual cash game. Indeed, you will need to massively adapt your poker playing strategy in order to become profitable with PokerStars Zoom.
Consistent Blind Steals
Zoom makes people play tight. Even fish will play tight because they know if they fold then they won't have to wait around - they'll be dealt another hand immediately. The ones that don't play tight go broke extremely quickly.
One consistent source of profit against tight players is to steal their blinds. The button and the cut-off are prime positions for this strategy. You can also get away with using smaller raise sizes if you want to increase the profitability of this play.
Of course, regular players know this and will 3-bet you lighter from the blinds in order to resteal. This isn't all bad - after all, there's nothing better than getting 4-bet when you do have a hand!
Pay Attention to Each Hand
It's easy to get into a kind of non-thinking autopilot state of mind when you're playing Zoom - kind of like playing the slots, you just keep clicking fast-fold over and over while you wait for playable hole cards.
And then when you do finally get a good poker starting hand, it's easy to just play it automatically because you don't really have any reads on your opponents. Who cares anyway - you'll move on to the next one right away with no time for reflection or regret.
It's fine to deal with basic "bread-and-butter" poker decisions automatically - for example, you don't really need to expend energy thinking about whether to fold a trash hand or 3-bet a premium hand.
But most post-flop spots in poker are not so black-and-white. Poker is a complex game and it's bad for your development as a player if you don't take the time to think about the "why" behind any plays you make.
You should always be able to justify any action you make at the poker table - and outside of the bread-and-butter spots it's rarely enough to justify a play by saying "that's just what I'm supposed to do here."
Pay attention to each hand. It will improve your results in the short term, and in the long term, it will make you a better poker player.
Be Familiar with Winning Ranges
Your win-rate in Zoom will usually be lower, but your volume is much higher. This is where mathematical edges come into play. Your strategy for PokerStars Zoom should be to use starting hand ranges that play well against the tighter ranges most of the pool will be using.
In the previous section, we talked about bread-and-butter spots. These are the standard situations you will see over and over again, and so you need to have an idea of the range of cards you will play and how you will play them.
Examples of bread-and-butter spots at PokerStars Zoom include:
- Pre-flop open ranges
- 3-Betting/4-betting Ranges
- Big blind defense range v late position opens
- C-betting common flop textures and situations
You need to have a solid understanding of how to deal with these situations because they come up a lot and will have a big impact on your overall profit.
Watch for New Players Automatically Folding
Poker is a game of incomplete information - and that means any source of information is valuable.
In Zoom poker, it's harder to get reads because you are on a random table for each hand.
But there is one key advantage when it comes to Zoom: players fast-fold their trash hands - so if they don't there is a reason for it.
Complete trash they fold right away. Marginal hands might wait to see if there is any action before folding them.
If someone is calling or raising your UTG open-raise from the cut-off, that means they looked at their cards when they were dealt and decided not to fast-fold - and then made a second decision not to fast-fold when there was a raise.
You don't do that unless you have something pretty good. It's not like a regular cash game where you have no choice but to wait around for the hand to play out. You can move on with the click of a button.
Keep it Simple
Perhaps the best bit of advice for low-stakes poker is to avoid marginal situations and instead wait for spots that are clearly profitable. Yes, you could sometimes be folding the best hand - but there are so many better opportunities out there that it's usually not worth it.
This is doubly true for the Zoom format. Time spent obsessing over a marginal decision could be spent folding until you get to a clearly profitable situation. Is it +EV over the long run to open-raise pocket threes from an early position? Who cares! Just fold!
You also don't need to mix up your play, because you won't see the same players often enough to worry about them getting a good read on you.
Fancy play is never a good idea at the lower limits, and on Zoom it's especially pointless. There is no need to get trappy or run complicated bluffs.
Stick to the three fundamentals of winning poker: aggression, position and initiative. Fast fold poker strategy is all about keeping it simple and putting in volume.
Pros and Cons of PokerStars Zoom
PokerStars Zoom presents many unique advantages and disadvantages for the serious poker player. Let's take a look at the main pros and cons.
Advantages of PokerStars Zoom
Play many more hands per hour
This is the big one. You can play three times as many hands per hour as regular online tables and ten times as many as at a live table.
For many players, this benefit well outweighs all the cons. It's better for profitability and rakeback, but it's also better as a learning tool. You are basically able to condense a decade's worth of live poker experience into a few months, giving you a feel for many of the common spots very quickly.
It's a great way to work on the theoretical side of poker, in particular game theory.
This is also massively important. You can just fire up a Zoom table and play - no need to wait to post the blind before you're dealt in or wait until you've completed an orbit before sitting out so you get your money's worth.
You can play Zoom for five minutes or five hours, and if you want to dip in and out then you can just sit out without having to pay another blind when you want to play again.
PokerStars Zoom makes it easy to control the length of your sessions down to the minute.
Your opponents won't have reads on you
Pokerstars Zoom isn't completely anonymous, and HUDs are allowed - but the player pools are so big that you are unlikely to come to see the same players more than a few times each session.
Players tend to give their opponents the benefit of the doubt, at least the first few times. You can get away with a lot more on Zoom!
Take advantage of the nits
The Zoom format encourages tight play. Luckily, tight play is easy to exploit. There's nothing better in poker than pushing nitty players around, stealing their blinds, and three-betting them lightly.
And the best thing about Zoom is not only are there more nits, but they are also more likely to roll over and take it - because they can just fast-fold and move on to another hand!
Better for rakeback (Stars Rewards)
Even if you only break even at Zoom, you can put in such a high volume that it's easy to rack up the stars points and earn rewards chests. PokerStars challenges are also a lot easier with Zoom.
Disadvantages of PokerStars Zoom
Hard to build reads on players so you have to "play against the pool"
Exploitative poker is profitable poker, but you can't really exploit random players who you've hardly played any hands with.
Even if you play with a HUD, it's going to take you a long time to build up reliable stats on your opponents - and even then, the Zoom pools are so big that there'll usually be several unknowns on any table.
You can't exploit table dynamics to tilt your opponents either, because you just don't know when you'll see anyone again.
It's not the end of the world, though. Instead of exploiting individual players' weaknesses, you have to concentrate on theoretically sound poker that works against the general population's tendencies. If you want to learn Game Theory Optimal (GTO) poker, Zoom is the place for it. If you prefer exploitative poker, stick to regular tables.
Can't table select
The importance of table selection on win rate can't be understated - although it's often overlooked. Why play on a table full of tough regulars when you can find one that's full of fish?
But there's no table selecting with Zoom. You get put on a random table with random opponents every hand and there is nothing you can do to influence who you are up against.
But look on the bright side - you won't pick up as many bad habits as you would just be bum hunting all the time!
The Zoom format is tailor-made for grinders. And this means there are a lot more serious regular players (aka regs) in Zoom. They play thousands of hands every day and for the most part, they know how to play competent poker.
PokerStars Zoom rake is much lower than most competitor sites, so it definitely attracts a lot of regs. Zoom can be significantly tougher than some of PokerStars' competitor's fast-fold offerings.
After a while, you'll get an idea of who the regs are so you can adjust your play when you get put on a table with a couple of tough regs. It's just not worth getting into reg-wars for marginal gains when you can fold and wait for a chance to stack a recreational player.
Even the fish play tighter
There are still plenty of recreational players on PokerStars Zoom. But the nature of Zoom means they will play far better than on regular tables because unlike regular tables they won't get bored and start playing ridiculous starting hands.
Of course, fish will still play inappropriate hands from silly positions. They just won't be showing up with complete trash quite as often.
Coolers, coolers everywhere
One of the consequences of fast-fold making everyone play tighter is that you are going to run into a lot of cooler situations. A cooler is where you have a very good hand, but you run into a better hand - so by playing the hand correctly you lose a lot of chips.
Think getting all-in with KK v AA preflop, or a full house losing to quads. Coolers are just part of poker and shouldn't affect your win-rate because the shoe will always be on the other foot eventually.
With PokerStars Zoom, you just have to accept that people will show up with stronger ranges than in regular games. Just don't lie to yourself by calling it a cooler when you play like an idiot and run into a better hand!
Love it or hate it, fast-fold poker is here to stay. PokerStars Zoom is the biggest game in town. It's the best way to put in the volume you need to become a great player - and it's definitely never boring!
This article was published on April 8, 2021, and last updated on February 16, 2022.