As the holidays approach, there are a slew of poker video games that are rushing to the local stores to meet the needs of poker players who want to meet the challenges of the game on the XBox, PlayStation or GameCube platforms. Daniel Negreanu's STACKED is set for a December or January release (according to Daniel himself, after I asked him about it at the Doyle Brunson NAPC) as they amplify the multi table aspect of the game and both "World Championship Poker featuring Howard Lederer" and the World Poker Tour video games are out now as we speak. Another current entry into the mix, the World Series of Poker's effort, has had a great marketing campaign but lacks the true accuracy of game play that most would want from a game with the WSOP logo on it.
The game, currently out at any department or video game store for around $29.99 and available on any of the popular platforms, is an attempt to place the video game player in the high pressure world of poker. It does attempt to capture the feeling of going to the World Series, as in the career mode you start off with a $10,000 bankroll and a list of events to choose from. Every form of poker is represented here, from Limit and No-Limit Hold 'Em to Omaha, Seven Card and Razz (very interesting that this is here, but a welcome addition). You can buy into the events that range from $1,000 to the Main Event's $10,000, but it is suggested that you try to either satellite into the Championship Event (for free!) or you build your bankroll through working your way through the preliminary events.
Once into the tournament mode, some of the problems become evident with the game. It's not in the field starting sizes (quite comparable to the 2005 event), but in the actual play of the game. Rarely is there a hand that isn't contested, and not just by two or three players. It is quite common for the game to actually have the entirety of the table enter into the hand, which is something you virtually never see in an actual game. This is an aspect of poker that the programmers of the game seem to have forgotten about.
Card selection by the computerized players is also suspect. Players will come in for large raises early in events with very suspect hands such as 6-4 off-suit or the like. Even the most aggressive players in the world would be hard-pressed to make some of the plays that the CG players come up with! It is obvious that there was little in the realm of poker strategy that was put into either the AI or into the game itself.
Another problem with the game is that, when an opposing player moves in, they normally have the hand made. I found this out through the play of the game that you don't call an opponent's all in move as they normally have you beaten at that point. However, as with the real game, there are those draw outs that happen!
In Seven Card, another flaw popped up. When the betting of the round ends, your next card will pop up for a split second just as the screen gets ready to cut to the dealer handing out the next street. You have to look very closely after the end of the betting and, while it doesn't have an effect on your play of the hand at that moment, it can give you a clue as to what to do on the next round.
An area I was particularly disappointed in was the re-creation of the professional players in the game. While the depictions of Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Dennis Waterman are fairly close, some of the other players, such as Chip Jett, Men "The Master" Nguyen, Max Pescatori and John Phan, should look into defamation of character suits! There are a couple of female "professionals" added as well but "Carrie Lew" is very much an invented person (as I couldn't find a listing for her in ANY poker database or list) and Beth Fischman, while being the sister of Scott, hasn't exactly been a force at the tables. A little more effort should have been made to get a recognizable female player into the game.
Overall, I expected more from the World Series of Poker game. While the game play was relatively simple and there was a good range of poker disciplines to choose from, the game just didn't give me the same "feel" as being in the midst of the world's greatest poker tournament. With several games already out or soon to be, it is extremely possible that the WSOP video game will fall far behind the rest of the pack.
Ed Note: No need to play a video game. Play for real at Pacific Poker