With the holiday season upon us, there is definitely a wealth of poker merchandise out there to gift your favorite poker fan with. Whether they are a hardcore B&M player, an online whiz or a youngster that likes watching poker on television, they may be interested in a video game for one of the popular console out now. There have been three poker titles that have been delivered (the WSOP game and Howard Lederer's "World Championship Poker", which I'll be sure to be playing soon, are also out; Daniel Negreanu's "Stacked", unfortunately, will not hit the stores until February 2006) and, so far, "World Poker Tour 2006" has been one of the better games to come out for a video game console in quite some time.
Brought to you by 2KSports and available everywhere for around $19.99, the game does an excellent job of bringing the nuances of the WPT into your videogame console, be it XBox, PlayStation or GameCube. The visual presentation of the game opens up with the same montage that the television show uses to open up its programs and it doesn't stop there. Once you are by the setup screen does the true excellence of the game come through.
There are fifteen games available in the play of the game: Limit and No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em, Omaha, Seven Card Stud, Five Card Draw (the appropriate games also have a "Hi/Lo" option) and off games such as Crazy Pineapple and "Shanghai" Poker (give me some more time with the game and I might get into those deeper!). With such a wealth of variations, there is plenty to keep you occupied throughout the play of the game, whether you play alone or use the online mode.
The career mode is also very challenging. You can start out by either playing sit and goes (where you can set up a dream table of professionals against you, and more there in a moment), start your career at the amateur level with smaller buy-ins (but no pros) or jump right into the professional mode, where you will run into the cream of the WPT crop.
The game goes to the top of the video game list due to its excellent AI. Whereas the World Series of Poker game, with its nine player tables, will sometimes have hands that become "family pots", the WPT video game and its six handed tables actually shows that the AI has some semblance of control. If you bluff (and have been playing consistently), then your table opponents will drop their hands. There are even walkovers, which is something I never saw in the play of the World Series game. This makes for a realistic approach to tournament poker. When the computer players play, you can't always count on the factor that they are beating you, either. The AI allows for bluffing from the CG players and can push you off potential winners. Just as in real life, the game will have its share of drawouts as well.
This bluffing option isn't left to the computer players alone, however. Through manipulation of the left thumbstick, you can show different emotions in the play of a hand and attempt to put off false tells to draw your opponents in. This works fairly well I found, although it is something you have to think about and remember which way to work the joystick to make the proper reaction to push your bluff along. It's a nice touch that the World Series game doesn't have that separates the two games.
The lineup of professionals that have added their names, likenesses and even their voices to the game is also impressive. WPT hosts Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten are there (of course) as they call the action (Sexton will even step to the tables as well; not sure if Van Patten does or not) and professional players Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari, Erick Lindgren and Evelyn Ng are all featured players (I also found Lyle Berman and Mimi Rogers in the game as well) and it is a fun setup to go against the pros in a "sit and go" or ring game setup. Each pro has also leant their voices to the video game, so it does make it even more fun to hear the actual voice of someone such as Mizrachi or Esfandiari make comments on their play during the game.
Finally, "WPT 2006" actually drops you into the casinos that are stops on the World Poker Tour. If you play in the Paris tournament and are good (and lucky) enough to work your way to the final table, you will actually find your character sitting in the finely paneled Aviation Club de Paris poker room. If you play in the Commerce Casino event, you will be sitting in the Crowne Ballroom competing. This is truly a special touch for the game as the room reproductions are excellent across the board.
So far, "WPT 2006" is leading the class when it comes to video games for home consoles (although I still have to check out Howard Lederer's effort and will be calmly waiting for "Stacked"). It has faithfully stayed to the WPT style and the game play is very accurate to what would be, for lack of a better word, true poker. While it doesn't beat a trip online or to the casinos, "WPT 2006" is a nice way to get some practice in and have some fun at home.
Ed Note: WPT host Mike Sexton proudly endorses Party Poker ...Can the Ambassador of Poker be wrong?