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(More) Texas Hold 'Em Anyone?

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- Episode 36 - March 11th, 2005

I told you about iPoker by Scenario Software in Episode 24 of this column, way back in August of last year, and raved about Tournament Poker No Limit Texas Hold 'Em by Donohoe Digital in Episode 25. The biggest difference between those two programs was that iPoker offers over 100 variations on the game of poker while Tournament Poker No Limit Texas Hold 'Em is a one trick pony, offering your choice of one game: Texas Hold 'Em.

I liked both programs a lot, but didn't feel that either one was helping me improve my poker skills. Don't get me wrong—both are great fun, and inexpensive to boot. But both are both rather easy to master; after playing for a while I was usually able to anticipate what my computerized opponents were going to do in a given situation.

For example, in both games I can make a large raise or go "all-in" and feel pretty sure that my computerized opponents will fold unless they're holding a premium hand. So whenever I do that and the computerized player calls me, I can be almost certain he or she has a strong hand. 

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I received yet another poker program, Poker Academy Pro: Texas Hold 'Em.  I expected more of the same but was pleasantly surprised to discover that it pretty much lives up to its own hype: "The world's most advanced poker software."

Now I can't speak for the Windows side of things (since I don't do Windows anymore), but there's little question in my mind that Poker Academy Pro is the most advanced poker program for Mac OS X I've seen to date.

It's not hard to understand why; the program bases its logic on more than ten years of artificial intelligence research performed at the University of Alberta:

The artificial intelligence researchers have moved one step closer to creating an unbeatable computer poker program. An account of their most recent program, called PsOpti  - for pseudo-optimal poker program - will receive the top paper award at the world's premier AI meeting in August."

 - National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, June 2003

And so, unlike the mostly predictable opponents found in other poker software, Poker Academy Pro's computerized opponents actually adjust to my style of play. My big raise trick worked two or three times before one of my computerized opponents came back at me with an even bigger reraise.

My experience with other programs caused me to assume that the 'bot' had the goodies (and you know what happens when you assume...). I did the prudent thing and folded my hand. But then, when I peeked at his hole cards, I was shocked to find he had absolutely nothing. His hole cards were a pair of "rags" (low cards), and they weren't even rags of the same suit. In other words, the computerized opponent won a substantial pot with a very risky bluff. When a similar situation occurred a few hands later I thought I'd call his bluff. So I raised him back; a big mistake since he had "the nuts," (the best possible hand that can be made given the five common cards on the table). Grrrrr.

Poker Academy Pro has many features not found in other poker games including calculated-on-the-fly pot odds, hand strength and potential ratings, and a coach that advises you whether to call, raise or fold. All this and more is shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1: The Hand Evaluator (seen on the right) provides much useful information as well as advice on your best course of action: fold, call, or raise.
(Click the image for a larger version)

There's also an in-depth hand evaluator window (see Figure 2) that offers information about your hand's strength, possible "outs" you could draw to, and more.


Figure 2: The Hand Evaluator window provides even more useful information.
(Click the image for a larger version)

And if you think you'll figure out how to think like the artificially intelligent opponent players, guess again -- there are nearly a dozen different AI engines to choose from for each opponent (see Figure 3), which makes it harder to peg the way any opponent will respond to a given situation.


Figure 3: Each opponent could be assigned a different artificial intelligence engine, making it nearly impossible to predict what an opponent is likely to do in a particular situation.

Another thing I love about Poker Academy Pro is that you can choose to play a head-to-head showdown.  That lets you simulates the final throes of tournament play, and it gives you a showdown calculator (see Figure 4) to calculate the chance of winning with any given set of cards.

I like playing in 10-person "sit-and-go" one-table tournaments (usually at www.pokerroom.com), 'cause they're usually over in under an hour, which suits my short attention span just fine. I've found this feature especially helpful. While I can't promise it'll help you win tournaments, I placed first and second in the two sit-and-go tournaments I've played in since Poker Academy Pro landed on my doorstep.


Figure 4: Each opponent could be assigned a different artificial intelligence engine, making it nearly impossible to predict what an opponent is likely to do in a particular situation.
(Click the image for a larger version)

Poker Academy comes in two versions -- regular and pro. The regular version retails for $39; Poker Academy Pro's S.R.P is $99. Since I've only used the Pro version, and that's what I've been writing about, here's a feature comparison provided by the developer (and reproduced here with their permission).

Features

Poker Academy
MSRP $29

Poker Academy Pro
MSRP $99

Strong computer AI based on neural networking,
machine learning and game theory

Advanced AI's; Vexbot & Sparbot

 

Advanced Simbot for ring games

 

Computer players adapt and learn to play versus you

Limit Hold'em

No-Limit Hold'em

Advice on how to play hands and starting cards

Pop-up advisor suggests how to improve play and limit mistakes

Hand strength, potential and pot odds on screen.

Tournament Mode


(Single Table)

Showdown Calculator

Player Statistics

Hand Evaluator

 

Luckometer

 

Play all card face up

 

Automatic Updates

Configurable Table Graphics

Edit Opponents

Edit Advisor

Filter stats by tables size, position, or starting hands

 

Break down performance by starting hand type

 

Compare player versus player results

 

In a nutshell, if you're serious about learning to play Texas Hold 'Em, or to improve your game of Texas Hold 'Em, Poker Academy is the way to go.

NOTE: I haven't actually used Poker Academy (non-Pro) myself.

Poker Academy and Poker Academy Pro are from Poker Academy of Edminton, Alberta, Canada. Contact them at 780-423-1133 or visit http://www.poker-academy.com for more info.

And that's all he wrote...

[Correction: The price for the standard version of Poker Academy has been corrected to $39. - Editor]

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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