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Theta Poker for iPhone/Touch Review

ThetaSplash A couple months ago, while roaming the aisles of my local Best Buy, I happened upon the iPod Touch.  I turned on the display model and found a beautifully crafted poker game made by Apple.  This was so much more amazing than any poker game I’ve ever seen on any other device that I had to buy a Touch.  But beauty is only skin deep, as the game sucks.  The Artificial Intelligence (AI) is horrid, so I began my search for a good, fun Texas Hold’em game.

My needs are simple.  I don’t want an online poker game b/c my Touch is not always connected to the internet.  I want the game to be challenging, have decent graphics, and have as many computer players as possible.  Birdsoft’s Texas Hold’em for Windows Mobile is one of my favorites.  The poker game on my BlackBerry, called Texas Hold’em King 2 by Magmic, is also a good example.  The game features a tournament mode with 5000 players.  Though the AI is not the greatest, and the graphics are limited by the tiny BlackBerry screen, it’s a pretty good game that can last a long time and is challenging.  Both games feature a career mode that tracks your winnings to date.  I want something like that but with the graphics and user interface that an iPhone can provide.

I was about to buy THTouch Poker, but when I read the reviews, one stuck out.  It was written by the author of Theta Poker.  Basically it said the game was decent, but the user interface was a bit odd, and the AI wasn’t great, then it went on to explain why Theta Poker is better.  I thought it odd that one game developer could review another’s and rip it, then advertise their own game.  Apparently Apple did too, b/c I can’t find his review anymore.  Nevertheless, he made some appealing arguments so I changed my mind and plunked down $5 for Theta.

Theta Poker offers a game with up to 300 opponents.  Players start with $1000, and the blinds are $10/$20.   You can decide how many players per table in the settings.  You can also change the background and the cards, but where the Apple game is so beautiful, this is the polar opposite.  It’s just plain ugly.  But if the AI is good and it’s fun to play, I can live with that.  In fact, at the Theta Poker website it says,

“While other poker games focus on eye candy, THETA Poker was built from the ground up specifically for the iPhone and iPod touch with an emphasis on playability, playing ability, and customizability. If you prefer to spend your time watching fancy animation, you have better choices. But if you want to get better at playing Texas Hold ‘Em, THETA Poker is the game for you.”

So let’s take a closer look at the game.

IMG_0005

Settings and Options

At the top left corner you can see there are 289 players remaining, and I’m ranked 212.  I have $810 and a bad Q3 offsuit hand.  The top right features the letter “i”, for information.  This contains settings, such as game type (tournament, practice, ring game and shootout), your statistics, background colors, card colors, help and About. 

Settings

While playing, you can also get a recap of the game play, which you can email.  I have to admit that’s kind of cool, though I can’t see why I’d do that.

Recap

The game can be played in either portrait or landscape, and both are equally fugly.

The game settings allow for much customization.  You can decide how many players are in the tournament, with a maximum of 300, starting stack, ante size, players per table, computer skill and more.  You can make the game play fast or slow, pause after each hand, and skip to the end of the hand when you fold.  Indeed, the settings were well thought out.

Game Controls

Raise

The user interface is simple to use and quite intuitive.  To call simply tap your cards.  To fold you push your cards to the center and let go.  To raise, just touch the Theta icon to the right of your cards.  That brings up the following dialog box:

IMG_0006

Just choose the amount you want to raise, or press “Other” to enter a custom amount.

Game Play

I’ve set the AI at a moderate skill level.  At first, the game play is fairly slow.  It seems as though one player in every hand makes a raise, and hands are rarely played out to completion as other players fold.  Rather quickly players are eliminated and the blinds change every 12 hands (unless you change the settings).  So if you don’t start winning hands fairly regularly you’ll find yourself vulnerable as other players start raising to the point that you might as well go all in.  Combine this with players making raises that are 4 and 5 times the big blind or more, then others going over the top, and suddenly it seems that every hand forces you to dig deep into your stack just to call.  With blinds at $30/$60 and a chip stack of $1500, you can find yourself either folding good starting hands or going all in.  The computer players are relentless.  Virtually every hand is raised, and with so few going to completion, it’s difficult to get a feel whether players are bluffing. 

As players are eliminated from your table, new ones come in.  Your objective is to make it to the final table.  Easier said than done.

In the game I’m playing right now, I have $890, there are 265 players left, I’m ranked 194.  The blinds are $20/$40 and I have A-9 off suit.  It’s a decent staring hand.  The first player raises to $200, or 5 times the big blind.  One calls and one folds.  It’s up to me.  Do I call?  That’s 22.5% of my chips.  Hmmmm.  And if I call, what do I do if someone reraises me?  I call.  Four of us are in the hand and the flop is KK8.  The first player raises to $410.  I have to fold.  The winner had 8-10 off suit.  Now the blinds are $30/$60 and I have only $690.  So the big blind is almost 10% of my stack, making me a short stack.  A few hands later I’m the big blind with a pair of 10’s.  The dealer raises to $240.  I might as well go all in.   The raiser folds.  Pfew.  This game is about wild swings.  A few more hands pass and I have A-10 of hearts.  It’s raised from $60 to $210.  I call and the flop gives me two more hearts.  My lone opponent bets $410.  If I call and don’t hit a flush I’m dead.  But I hit it and find my opponent had Q-9 offsuit.  Why is he raising 3.5 times the blind to begin with, especially since his stack is only $1000?   The next hand is raised to 5 times the big blind and I fold.  Crazy. 

I find myself folding, folding, folding; waiting for a good hand b/c I don’t want to risk a huge percentage of my stack.  I’ve played in many home games and a few casino tournaments, and I’ve never seen such aggressive play. 

I have A-K offsuit, $2210, and am ranked 5th out of 239 players.  I’m in a good spot, right?  The blinds are now $40/$80 and I have a great hand.  But the player before me raises all in to $490.  I should call and do.  But two more players go all in and I have to call another $110.  I just put in 26% of my stack.  I hit an Ace and win.  And now I see what my opponents had:

AK

As you can see in the photo above, my opponents went all in with horrible hands and forced me to put a huge percentage of my chips in.  And with three opponents it’s easy to lose a hand like this. 

Making the right poker moves should reduce risk and increase the likelihood of wins, but the blinds are always very high in comparison to your chip stack and the raises are insane.  Poker players consider you a “short stack” if your chip stack is only 10 times the blind.  But no matter how far I’ve gotten in this game, and I’ve been in the top 10 a few times before being eliminated, I’ve never had more than 50 times the big blind.  Similarly, a raise before the flop is usually three times the big blind.  Higher raises do occur in real games, but they are not the norm as they are in this game.  Regardless, the huge raises and pressure your opponents put on you overtake any skill you may possess and turns this game into a lottery.  If you have the right number you win, otherwise you lose.   I’m going to try to adjust the blind schedule, and that may help.  But the players will still make outrageous monster raises.

 

Conclusion

I really want to like this game, but ultimately it’s less Hold’em Poker than Bingo.  Luck takes precedence over skill.  However, a few improvements can turn this game into a winner.  Have the computer players raise in realistic amounts, and raise when they have at least decent hands.  Improve the graphics.  Then improve the graphics even more.  Do you remember the old Atari home game console?  They had better graphics. 

When I bought the iPod Touch I was very excited about the 200,000 available apps.  And even more so about the many poker apps.  Unfortunately, I have yet to find a good one.  But Theta Poker has a chance to be good.  A few improvements can make a huge difference.   I hope the author keeps working on the program and listens to his customers.

Pros

– It’s possibly the best poker app

– excellent customization settings

– Lot’s of potential to become a great game

 

Cons

– No Career Mode

– Fugly graphics

– Overly aggressive computer opponents

– Unrealistic raises, especially with bad starting hands.

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May 20, 2010 - Posted by | Apple, iPod, Reviews, Software

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