Poker players are patient. Video game players are impatient. Which one are you?
Poker looks like it's easy when you see it on television. When I got in the new World Series of Poker video game for Wii, I figured I would clean up without much trouble. It's just a card game, right? If I play the odds, I'll come out ahead, I thought. Well, as I “played the odds" I kept losing every tournament I entered. I never got close to the final table in any of them. It was frustrating, so I decided to change my strategy a little.
I started by watching some of the tutorial videos with poker pro Chris Ferguson (unrelated to our own Stan Ferguson) to see when and how much I should bet with my hand and current position on the table. I stayed away from the no-limit events, trying smaller limit or pot-limit games to prevent me from pushing in all of my chips at a moment's notice. I turned down the game speed so that I could have some time to think a little bit, instead of make judgments based off of my hand alone. Finally, I went into the game's character customization mode and made my likeness put his green cabbie hat on backwards.
I'm pretty sure flipping the hat around was the key to my success, because after an hour or so of picking my battles and winning some pots, I was the chip leader halfway through an event. I stuck around long enough to see some poker players I recognized from the TV broadcasts join my table. In fact, the two commentators for the World Series of Poker events are in the game. At least, shiny plastic replicas of them are there.
Anyway, I was about an hour and a half into the current event when I started to get bored. I was going five or six hands at a time without anything decent to play, being forced to watch the other eight CPU players at my table go through the slow process of betting, raising, flopping and folding. I had enough of waiting around, so I turned the game up to its fastest speed, where every action but my own was skipped. I was going through a dozen of hands in the time it took one or two full hands at normal speed to be completed. Yeah, that was better. Oh hey, I think I can win this hand. I have some pretty good cards. Yeah, I'll put all my chips in, that'll scare him away. I'll be doubled up in no ti...oh, he had a flush?
Game over. Just like that, I was back where I started. Two hours of work, gone. And for what? The opportunity to try again from the beginning, and a lesson learned: Don't be hasty when playing poker. Be patient.
I thought about that for a moment. Am I playing poker, or am I playing a video game? Am I playing the card game where you need to sit around and be patient for hours on end, or am I playing something on a game console that is supposed to be fun? That's my problem with the World Series of Poker video game. It's not something that someone would play for fun.
But it is something that's worth playing, albeit barely. After staying with the game for a few more days, I started to learn that that poker is a science. There's a lot more to it than betting when you have a good hand. How much do you bet? How good is your hand? A good hand when you're first to bet isn't as good as the same hand if you're last to bet. Conversely, the same bet when you act first isn't the same as placing down the same amount of chips when you're the last to bet. I didn't understand any of that until I studied what the game had to offer. I have a little more respect for professional poker players now, because they know all of the variables and the nuances of a system that a guy like me thought was nothing more than a game of chance.
WSOP:TOC 2007 has many good poker learning tools inside. You could say that the game itself is a tool. A swiss army knife of tools, even. There are tutorial videos, odds charts, special cues to alert you to hand ranks, and a ticker at the bottom of the screen that supplies you with so much helpful information that it may overwhelm novices. If you want to learn and practice poker, the game will do a great job of teaching you the basic do's and don'ts. I learned quite a bit, and I could probably learn a lot more if I wanted to stick around.
I didn't want to learn, though. I wanted to play a video game. WSOP is a good way learn poker, but not so good if you want to win first and ask questions later, like most gamers do. That tells me that poker doesn't have the substance to hold up a video game on its own (unless there are 41 other games and online play to support it). If you look at Tournament of Champions 2007 as an aid on your quest to become the next multi-millionaire, then it's worth a little something. If not, dump the $40 you would have spent on it in the slots the next time you hit up Vegas. You'll have better a better chance of winning that way.