Thursday, January 3, 2008

PUREPLAY: SITE USES MEMBERSHIP TO OFFER 'GOOD PLAY, GREAT PRIZES'

San Francisco Chronicle

Matt Villano

Since the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006, "online poker" has become a bit of a misnomer. Sure, gamblers can play it, but in most cases, the play is unrealistic, as most sites pit players against one another for fake money that can be replenished at any time.

PurePlay, a site from the San Francisco company with the same name, changes everything. The site, at www.pureplay.com, enables poker players to play competitively and win real prizes without requiring them to risk hard-earned cash. So far, more than 2 million players have signed up, making it the largest play-for-cash site in the United States.

Similar sites exist elsewhere on the Internet (one of them, the National League of Poker, has been profiled in this column), but most require players to interact in one way or another with sponsors. PurePlay bases the bulk of its profit model on an entirely different concept: membership.

For $20 a month, players can compete in as many as 1,500 tournaments for a total of $150,000 in prizes. Co-founder and CEO Jason Kellerman says the company has given away $2.8 million in prizes since the Web site launched in November 2005.

"Good play and great prizes," he says. "That's what we're all about."

As Kellerman suggests, playing on PurePlay is simple. After visiting the Web site, users download a Win32 client to their computer. This software program, which is smaller than most MP3 files, is the gaming interface; it provides users with the only way to compete in the site's regular No Limit Texas Hold 'Em, Omaha, and 7-Card Stud poker tournaments.

For those users who wish to try PurePlay before they buy it, a basic membership is available for free. This membership enables users to compete in dozens of tournaments for a daily prize that totals $20,000. The downside? As at other poker sites, users see a barrage of ads at the periphery of the gaming interface.

As an alternative, PurePlay touts its premium membership, known simply as the Players Club. To join, users sign up for the monthly subscription and can play immediately. The site gives every user 1,000 virtual chips every 24 hours, and users can spend this fake money to bankroll their play in as many as 50 tournaments a day.

Top finishers in each tournament are paid with real cash. Payouts range from $10 to $20,000. Over time, players receive a ranking based upon their performance; this information is displayed in the gaming interface at all times. PurePlay also uses it to invite players of certain caliber to compete in special tournaments.

PurePlay plans to add other games to the stable, expanding tournament play to include other card and dice games. Ultimately, Kellerman says the site could offer just as much gaming variety as many of the most popular Las Vegas casinos. Local cardrooms, beware.

- Matt Villano, 96hours@sfchronicle.com

This article appeared on page G - 30 of the San Francisco Chronicle