Poker on the Mac (Part I)
by - Episode 24 - August 20th, 2004
I like to play poker, and I've played often for as long as I can remember in friendly low stakes games with my friends and family, in card clubs (not here in Texas but almost everywhere else), and in casinos. I'm not a world-class player but I do know a bit about the game and don't often lose (or, at least, I don't often lose big).
When I first started playing back in college, it wasn't a particularly popular game. There was no poker on television and most casinos didn't offer a single poker table. All that has changed over the past few years. Today, it's hip to play poker; big money poker tournaments get huge ratings on television; and casinos all around the world are adding poker tables and poker rooms as fast as they can build them.
So in this column (and the next) I'll introduce you to two poker simulation games that can not only teach you how the game is played and help you to play better, but also provide an element of fun while you're learning.
This week I'll show you iPoker by Scenario Software; in my next column (in two weeks) I'll show you Tournament Poker No Limit Texas Hold 'Em by Donohoe Digital (US$19.99 - Amazon). Note also that this title is also sometimes listed as "Tournament Poker No Limit Texas Hold 'Em by Eagle Games," but that it seems to be the same title.
The biggest difference between iPoker and Tournament Poker No Limit Texas Hold 'Em is that iPoker offers over 100 variations on the game of poker while Tournament Poker No Limit Texas Hold 'Em offers only a single flavor-Texas Hold 'Em (which happens to be the most popular variation these days and is the one they usually play on TV).
Both programs retail for US$30 (note the link to Amazon above for US$19.99), and can help you learn how the game of poker is played and/or hone your poker skills, all without risking another penny.
iPoker has been around since long before Mac OS X, so the latest versions - iPoker 3.2.5 for OS X and iPoker 2.2.1 for Mac OS 8 and 9 - have been improved time and time again by Scenario Software's Todd Ouzts. The game has a choice of more than100 different poker variations including the ubiquitous Texas Hold 'Em, Five Card Stud, Five Card Draw, Seven Card Stud, and Omaha, plus offbeat variations such as Anaconda (also known as "pass the trash," "screw your buddy," and several other names not fit for a family Web site), Baseball, Follow the Queen, and Low Chicago. There are also games where the highest (best) and lowest (worst) hand split the pot, and even some that use a joker or other wild cards.
iPoker is whimsical and fun to play, using QuickTime shill players that blurt out commentary like, "Too much for me," or "Raaaaiiiiise!" as the game progresses. You can adjust the shills' artificial intelligence to your liking, from Loose (meaning they rarely fold and call bets no sane person would call in a real money game) to Tight (which makes them play almost as if they have brains).
The artificial intelligence of the shills isn't as realistic as the ones in Tournament Poker No Limit Texas Hold 'Em, but they do occasionally bluff, which makes it harder to predict what cards they're holding based on their betting strategy.
Enough talk; let's take a look at iPoker's rendition of Texas Hold 'Em:
I'm the guy at the top of the window (Doctor Mac) and it's my turn to act. I have to do one of three things: "Call" (stay in the hand by putting the current bet amount of $240 into the pot), "raise" (call the bet and increase it by putting more than $240 into the pot), or "fold" (drop out of the hand without paying anything).
In a real game playing for real money, I might not call the bet, but since I'm playing for funny money, I will.
The first three cards (the "flop") are revealed; the Queen of Clubs, the Four of Hearts, and the Seven of Hearts. The Four of Hearts means I now have three-of-a-kind, a relatively strong hand at this point in the game.
I like the odds of winning with my three-of-a-kind, so when my turn to bet came around I raised it from the $120 bet by another player to $240.
Five players found it too rich for their blood and folded. So now I have only two opponents-Ben Dover and Victor Dinero, both of whom called my bet and threw another $120 each into the pot.
The fourth card (the "turn") was then revealed: the Eight of Hearts.
Ben Dover bet $120 and Victor Dinero raised $120, so after seeing four cards the bet to me was $240. Hmmm. If either of my opponents is holding two hearts, they've already got a flush, which would beat my three-of-a-kind.
On the other hand, if the fifth card turns out to be another four or any card that matches one of the other four cards on the table, I'll have a full house which beats a flush.
On the other other hand, if either opponent is holding the Five of Hearts and the Six of Hearts, they have a straight flush, which beats a full house.
I didn't think either of them had a flush, much less a straight flush, so I raised the limit ($240), which caused Victor Dinero to fold, muttering "too rich for my blood."
Ben Dover called my bet (but didn't raise).
With only two players left in the hand, the fifth card (the "river") was revealed: the Queen of Diamonds, which means there's a pair of queens on the table, giving me my full house with three fours and the two queens.
It's my turn to bet. Since I don't believe Ben has a flush, much less a straight flush (if he did, he'd have raised me back last round), I bet the limit of $240. (By the way, you can set the stakes in iPoker to whatever you like; this game has $120/$240 betting limits.) Ben calls my bet and the game is over. The moment of truth arrives and Ben's hole cards are revealed to me. To my relief, Ben has nothing in his hand but the pair of queens showing on the table, which means my full house wins the hand - and $4,080!
So there you have it - a typical game of iPoker (the variety was Texas Hold 'Em in this case, in case you'd forgotten).
There are other nice touches. There's a Standings window that shows you how you're doing compared to the other players:
You can choose the color of the tabletop and chips as well as the graphic on the back of the card (the one shown in figures 1-5 is Apple Panther).
You can choose to have games play out at a faster speed if you fold, which is a very good thing indeed. And last, but certainly not least is my favorite feature of all, the Analyze Hand window, which can tell you the odds of winning each hand as well as the odds that the next card you see will improve your hand.
iPoker is fun and a decent simulation of the betting action found in real games. The computerized players have artificial intelligence, but they're not particularly intelligent about their betting. Even so, they're not that different from some of the people I've played poker with over the years. So playing iPoker will almost certainly improve your real-world poker skills.
I've gotten a lot of hours of enjoyment from iPoker; if you like to play games other than Texas Hold 'Em, you're sure to have many hours of fun with it as well.
and that's all he wrote.
P.S. If Hold 'Em is your favorite and the only game you care to play, you'll probably prefer Tournament Poker No Limit Texas Hold 'Em. I'll show you how that one works in my next column.
Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit www.boblevitus.com.
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