I think there are two games that have been REALLY popular lately, even though it’s with different crowds: SuDoKu, and Poker. And while I think I’m a lot better at SuDoKu than at Poker, I do enjoy watching Texas Hold ‘Em on TV, and last week I also started playing it on my PPC. The benefit of playing on a PPC it that you only pay for the software once and playing is free after that – so there’s no real risk!
In this game you can play Texas Hold ‘Em as independent games, or in tournaments, and you can adjust gameplay with the great amount of options this game offers. You can play against very well designed computer opponents who all have a different character to give you a very realistic experience.
Installation and trial
Installation is easy, and can be done using either the .exe or .cab installer from this website. Nothing unusual here. The trial is limited to 10 days, limits your options for starting money (you can’t set it to any other amount than $250) and displays a “Trial” watermark across the playing table. After purchasing the full version, you can unlock the trial in the “Register” section of the “Settings” submenu.
Texas Hold ‘Em introduction
Many books have been written about poker, so it’s hard to give a real short introduction to the game which covers the basics, but is not too detailed. This game doesn’t contain a strong introduction to the game – the Help pages are really minimalistic and I think that for new players, it will be hard to pick up without some more detailed information. So I’d like to introduce you to the basics of Texas Hold ‘Em, the most popular poker variation, but be aware that it might be good to read some more on the internet.
In Texas Hold ‘Em, all players get 2 closed cards from the dealer. (The dealer is one of the players, each player gets to be the dealer, this position rotates clockwise). Later, 5 more cards (community cards) will be dealt open on the table, available for everyone. Each player has to combine these seven cards in total and form a combination of the 5 best cards. The hand rankings are as follows:
Royal Flush – A, K, Q, J, 10 from the same suit.
Straight Flush – 5 cards of the same suite in sequence, such as 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 of spades.
Four of a kind – All four cards of one value, such as the 7’s of each suit.
Full House – Three of a kind + a pair, such as three 8’s and a pair of Kings.
Flush – Five cards of the same suit, such as 4, 7, 8, J and A of diamonds.
Straight – Five cards in sequence, but not from the same suit.
Three of a kind – Three cards with the same value, such as three 9’s.
A pair – Two cards with the same value, such as two Queens.
High Card – When you have nothing of the above, the value of your highest card counts.
After you get your two cards and before any community cards are dealt, you analyze your chances. The player to the left of the dealer has to bet a certain, pre-defined, amount of chips, which is called the ‘small blind’. The next player has to bet the ‘big blind’, which is the double value of the small blind. This is to get the game going (if no-one would bet, nothing would happen, right?!). Now, the next person can do three things:
Check – Do nothing, if noone raised the bet before you.
Call – Match the bet or raise that has been done before you.
Raise – Not only match the amount of chips that has been bet by the other players, but even raise that amount. Now other players will have to Call to stay in the pot, or Fold to forfeit interest in the pot. There are often limits to the amount you can raise.
Fold – You discard your hands and don’t participate in that round anymore. The amount of money you put in the pot is lost to you, it will go to the winner of that pot.
After everyone has either called or folded, we know who will play on. (If only one player remains, that player automatically wins, and the round is over). If two or more players are left, three community cards are dealt, this is called ‘the flop’. New betting rounds begin, and again people get the chance to check, call, raise or fold. If one player remains, he wins; of two or more players remain, a fourth community called it dealt: the ‘turn’. Now, there are already 6 cards from which people can create their best hand (their own two cards and the 4 cards on the table). After another round of betting, if two or more people remain, the final card is dealt. This is ‘the river’, and now people will know what their best hand is, but they still don’t know if it’s better than the hand of their opponents! So, one final round of betting begins, and if there are still two or more people left, it’s time for the ‘showdown’: the remaining players flip their cards so that everyone can see who has the best hand, and that player wins the round, and the pot.
Starting the game presents you with the basic menu screen. Here you can start a new game by tapping Play Game, change the Settings, get some very basic information in the Help section, or Exit the game.
When you tap Play Game, you can specify what kind of game you’d like to play: Regular or Career.
In Regular mode, you will just start with the predefined Starting Money (which you can change in the Settings after registering), and play until you run out of money. I mostly played this mode, since this is the best way to get started and practise a lot, withouth (obviously) having a career to think about.
In Career mode, you start with $1000, and by competing in different kinds of tournaments you can try to earn a good amount of money.
You can choose to play a Ring Game, where you can play with the actual money you earned before. The options below specify the Small Blind and Big Blind betting amounts, as well as how your betting is limited. L means that your betting limit is based on the Blind amount, PL means that you can raise with the amount that’s currently in the pot, and NL means that the amount you can bet is only restricted by the amount of chips you have in front of you. (Again, when you want more detailed on poker rules and terms: internet is your friend!)
You can also play in a Single Table tourney, where you have to pay $100 or $250 of your $1000 (or whatever sum you have left or accumulated) in order to participate, and you can only spend that $100/250. The blinds here start at 5/10, but are doubled after 10 rounds.
Then there is the Crazy Poker Tour Event, where there are multiple tables with people playing poker, and at certain stages in the game people are switched to another table, or – if tables only have a couple of players left – tables are merged, so that for example people from table 1 and 3 continue playing together at the same table. This way you won’t run out of opponents as quickly, and when you’re the best player at your table you can suddenly be confronted by player from another table with just as much (or more!) chips than you have. And you haven’t been able to analyze this players’ past actions!
The settings in this game allow for lots of customization. The Game Setup first lets you set the betting limits. Play without betting limit, limit the amount you can raise by the amount that is in the pot, or by the blind amount. Then you can set your starting money (only after registering). In the other Game settings there are some confusing settings which I don’t understand, so here I miss some help – a tooltip when you tap on the setting, an online F.A.Q. or even a user manual. As always, I do value the clock/battery display. The ‘Hide career mode’ option is also useful if you only want to play Regular games. This setting hides the screen above where you select your game, so that “Play Game” just starts a Regular game immediately. The Hot/Cold hints can be useful for beginning players, I’ll deal with them later.
The Table setup allows for a lot of color customization. You can also switch the position of the Raise/Call/Fold buttons. By default they are on the left, but you can put them on the right if you want. Then, the “Hand Tips” will also switch positions. Hand tips give you a general suggestion about your action with a given hand. Also discussed later! You can turn of the game sounds here, which – in my opinion – didn’t even have to be included. If you don’t need to see the animated players, you can pick the ‘No characters’ option. In this view, the cards are displayed bigger, and you can see the amount of chips that each player has all the time, also when they’re not playing. This choice is a matter of funtionality vs. eyecandy/pleasure.
The Blind Setup screen let you change the way the blinds change over time. I have this set so that the blinds always stay the same ($5, as you can see in the bottom of the screen), but you can also let it double, or increase by 5 or 10 at certain intervals. These intervals can also be changed to your preference: this can be time based or round based.
Then, you can change the players. By default, the “Use random table” is selected, which gives you a random selection of the in-game players. You can also pick your opponents yourself, and assign them to a certain spot at the table. All players have their own personality, which shows in their game. You can set each player to play tight (only bet when he/she is pretty sure about his/her hand, a conservative player), regular, or loose (bet more easily).
Then, there are the Help pages. I think these illustrate the one weakness of the game: new players will probably have a really hard time understanding poker after reading these introduction pages. This brings the risk that possible customers don’t learn to appreciate the game, and just uninstall the trial. However, if you are in some way familiar with the Texas Hold ‘Em rules and gameplay, you will find yourself familiar with the gameplay pretty soon too, and then you will start to appreciate this game, it’s details, and how everything is displayed on the screen. But in order to get to know poker, you will probably really need an external source. The most problematic for me was that I didn’t understand all settings, and found no place where these were explained. I had to contact Birdsoft in order to find out that “auto rebuy” allows conputer players to rebuy their starting money after they lose, so that you can keep playing with a full table. “Muck unchallenged wins” means that if a computer player wins after everyone else folds (no showdown) they don’t show you their cards.
The game screen displays a lot of information, and it is worth the effort to get to know this view. Therefor I’ll just take you through some hands, and we’ll see how the screens look during actual gameplay.
The top left displays the Blind amount (Small Blind is 5, Big Blind is 10). The white dot next to the name Francis shows that Francis was the dealer in the (fictional) previous round, so as soon as you press Deal, Johhny becomes the dealer in this round and Slick and Tiny will have to bet the Small/Big blinds. In the top right we see a Minimize button (minimizes the game, returning you to the Today screen while the game keeps running in the background. The next button rotates the screen by 90 degrees, useful for landscape devices, or devices with a slide-out keyboard (you can use your keyboard keys for “c”all, “r”aise, “f”old). The X button closes this view, returning you to the main menu. Under that are the optional clock and battery status.
After pressing Deal with the styles, or pressing the D-Pad centre button, the action begins, Everyone gets dealed two cards, and as you can see mine are the 3 of hearts and 4 of diamonds.
At the table, you see your seven opponents. Their names are displayed, as well as their amount of money. In this situation, you can press Deal, and then the action begins. You will get your two cards, and people start betting. In this situation, the small and big blind need to get the game started, because all the other players (on the right side) folded. My hands are covered with ice, which is what happens if you have the “Hot / Cold Hint” enabled. Ice means that you have weak cards. With these cards, I can hope for a Straight (3, 4, 5, 6, 7) but the chances for that are really small. The other option is a pair of 3’s or a pair of 7’s, but there’s a pretty good chance that other players get a higher pair (J’s, for example). So in this situation it is suggested to “fold” this hand. We can also press the button in the bottom right (the question mark). This will show you a hint, but only after you get the first cards dealt (not when the flop is made, etc). In this situation, the message is “Hands: Rags. Probably fold.”. Rags means that these cards are crap, and as we could have known from the Ice mark, we should probably fold. But, these hints are just general suggestions for what you should normally do with this hand. There might be good reasons to act otherwise! In this situation, we have two people who HAD to bet, and the other players folded. So there already are quite some players eliminated for this round! I’m going to take my chances and Call, meaning that I match the highest bet made in this round: the $10 from Tiny. I can Call by pressing the blue button in the bottom left; available here are Raise, Call (or Check, if no raise was made), and Fold. Note that you can set these buttons to display on the right as well. I mostly played with my D-Pad, where UP raises, LEFT/RIGHT calls (or checkes) and DOWN folds.
After that, we see that Francis raises, meaning that she not only matches the initial $10, but raises the bet with another $10. Johnny, Slick, and Tiny all fold. Now I can either call, putting in another $10. Then the flop will be dealt, and play continues. I can also raise, but that would probably not be smart since I don’t have a strong hand (and therefor not a good chance at winning the pot). My last option is to Fold, discarding the $10 I already put in the pot, and then Francis will get the entire $45 pot (as you can see in the centre. Normally, I might not have played this hand in the first place, but let’s just Call in this situation to see what happens. In this situation, ‘thight’
players would probably fold (or have folded already in the first round), and ‘loose’ players would call.
After calling, the flop is displayed. This is almost the perfect situation for me! Ideal would be 4 5 6, but 4 5 8 isn’t bad either. Now, one of the two remaining cards would have to be a 6, and then I would have a straight: 4 5 6 7 8. (3-7 is also a straight, but 4-8 is higher). But, I’m not yet in a really good position, so I decide to check (not do anything), and wait for Francis’ move. Francis thinks a while, and then checks too. Now the ‘turn’ is dealt.
It’s a 7. This isn’t the card we hoped for (it’s not a 6), but now we do have
a pair of sevens. Francis started the game by raising, so maybe she has high cards, and the 4 public cards may be useless to her. (Or, she has a 6 and another random card, and she already has a Straight). Let’s check again, and hope for a six or a seven (another seven would give us Three of a kind). However, after checking, Francis raises again – this time by $40! Normally Id think again before betting more than 20% of my chips when only a 6 or 7 might save me, but now I’m willing to let it come to a showdown. So I call.
Now the river is dealt, and it turns out to be 10 of clubs.
This is bad news.
Now, there are 4 clubs on the table, if Francis also has a clubs she has a flush. With a random 6 and 10 she has a straight (small chance), and with a 10 or 8 she has a higher pair than I have.
If I fold, I just throw away my money without letting seeing what Francis might do. If raise, Francis might re-raise, and then I might lose a lot of money. But when I check and Francis checks too, we’ll have the showdown and – judging on Francis previous actions – she might have the winning hand. So I decide to just bluff. I pretend that this 10 is exactly what I needed, and I raise 40 chips. I hope that Francis now thinks that I have another clubs, which would give me a flush.
And she falls for it! Francis folds, which makes me the only remaining player. I automatically win the pot, adding $75 to my stack! Since she folded, we don’t get to see her cards, but I think that there’s a fair chance that she had better cards and we bluffed our way ‘to the top’. As you can see, it sometimes pays to ignore the Hints the game gives!
Now the next player gets to be the dealer, and the game continues. As soon as someone is out of chips, that player is out of the game. In the end you will find yourself with only a couple of players (if you manage to get that far!), and you can try to become the winner of the table.
The AI in this game is very well designed. In one situation, I was left with two other players. From one I noticed that he went “All In” a few times already (betting all his chips), so I knew he was prepared to take some risk. I was able to use that knowledge to get him to bet all his chips when I had a strong hand, and I made him lose. The other player was another story – when only the two of us were left, she folded often when she wasn’t sure about her hand. I had 4 times the amount of chips she had, so she couldn’t afford to take a lot of risk. I became impatient and wanted to see what would happen if I started to take more risk. She still often folded, but when she was sure about her hand she “called” my bet, and mostly won! That way, she was able to get even with me, and even beat me in the end. This proves two things: never let impatience get a hold of you if you play poker for real, and the different personalities and playing styles make the game very realistic. It’s defenitely worth the effort to observe your opponents!
One final screen I’d like to share with you is this screen, where I was very lucky (just the fact that this review contains three good hands doesn’t mean I win all the time!). I already had the highest amount of chips, and then also got four of a kind. The last two sevens were dealt on the turn and the river, so I could have never expected this on the flop, which just gave me a pair! Two players folded, but the other three players also had strong hands, so this tempted them to Call when I raised. I raised various times, every time letting another player getting all in. You can see this when you look at the pot in the centre. The $360 pot is the main pot, in which everyone participated. But when my bets started to raise above their chipcounts, these new bets and calls were placed in another pot, in which only 2 or 3 players participated.
As I’ve described above, I really like the realistic way your opponents play. The way the information is diplayed on the screen took a couple of rounds to get used to, because there is a lot of information on-screen all the time. However, considering that 8 players and their info have to be displayed, in addition to the cards at play, adding the “stuff in the screen corners” to it, I think the developers did a great job. I started to really appreciate the complete way everything was displayed. The help file wasn’t a great help at all, but luckily there’s no problem in finding on-line poker information so this shouldn’t really be a problem.
People who still need to learn the basics of poker, might first want to check some Poker books / internet sites. However, for a challenging, realistic, and very customizable game that offers various play modes, All-In Hold ‘Em is a great choice, and well worth the money. Would you rather spend $10-$20 in one hand in real life, learning only about that specific hand and your money being gone in a minute, or spend it once on a solid virtual poker game where you can practise for many hours without having the risk to lose any additional money?
All-In Hold ‘Em was at vesion 2.75.1 at the time of this review.
It is developed by Birdsoft, and available for $16.95.
This game is available for PC, Palm, Smartphone and Pocket PC, and for PPC 2002 to WM 5 are supported.
Square, QVGA and VGA screens are supported, and you can switch landscape/portrait in-game.
Get your PPC trial here!