Review: World Series of Poker (Playstation 2)

In this review, we get dealt in in the Playstation 2 game World Series of Poker. We find out it this gambling game is worth a play.

This game was released in 2005. It is the first of a number of poker games released for this console generation.

There really isn’t much of a story for this game. It’s pretty much what you would expect. You are a rookie entering the World Series of Poker hoping to make it big. Just like the hopes and dreams of many rookie hopefuls in this event.

You start the game with the chance to make a customized character. You can choose from a wide variety of different features that can be customized. Give yourself a shirt, change the colours, throw on some shoes, shades, or ear phones. In addition to this, you are able to change your characters skin tone, hair colour, voice, facial hair, and more.

From there, you start with a bank roll of $10,000 dollars and a basic hotel room. While it sounds like you might not be able to enter very many events, the only events you will not be able to enter right away are the invitational events – and there is only one you can enter. Beyond that, the most expensive events you can enter will set you back your whole $10,000 bankroll. The costs drop down from there. One event is free to enter – the satellite hold ’em tournament. While the payoff isn’t high if you do well, there is no risk of losing any of your bank roll.

There are a number of events throughout the World Series. Some events have their similarities to each other while others are different. In all, there is over 20 events to choose from. Some of them are pot limit Texas Hold ’em, no limit Hold ’em, 7 Card Stud, Omaha High, Omaha Hi-Low Split, Razz, and, of course, the Hold ’em main event. Some events have multiple events with varying entry fee’s. Other’s simply have one event.

Regardless, unless you quit, you only have one shot at each event. Win or get eliminated in the event and that event is over. Finish playing in every event to earn the maximum cash and awards before you advance to the next year (via career options). You start in the year 2005 and end on the year 2014. You can advance a year at any time you wish.

Different poker games obviously demand different strategies. However, the most common poker game is, naturally, Texas Hold ’em. If there is an ante, each player places an ante on the table. After that, the small blind makes a bet and the big blind makes a larger bet (typically double that of the small blind). After that, each player receives two cards face down (AKA hole cards). The player in the position after the big blind can then choose to fold, call, bet, or (in the case of no-limit games) move all in.

Once players either fold or call, unless there is only one player left in the pot, the game then goes to “the flop”. This is where the dealer shows 3 cards face up. These cards are the community cards. From there, an additional round of betting takes place.

At the end of that round, a fourth card is dealt into the community cards. This is called the turn card. An additional round of betting takes place. After that, a final card is dealt. This is known as the river card. It is the final card to be dealt out. From there, a final round of betting takes place.

If there is more than one player left at the end, then there is a show down where players reveal their hole cards. This is known as a showdown. The best hand being made with five cards utilizing their hole cards and community cards wins the pot.

Since all of the games are tournaments, there are multiple tables involved. The exception of this is the invitational events, but we’ll get to this later. Each table can hold 9 players. Each tournament starts you off with a 9 player table. After a while, players do get eliminated from the table. This narrows not only the overall field, but also the number of opponents you are directly facing. The minimum number of players per table is 5. As soon as someone is eliminated from a 5 player table, new players join the table to fill the table back up to 9 again.

For obvious strategic reasons, the number of players on a table matters. The more players that are on the table, the more likely someone has a very strong hand. So, when it comes to number of opponents in general, the tightest you are going to play is when the table has all 9 players. This basically means that you are only going to play with the strongest cards in your strategic range. This means just about anything to anyone, but you are less likely to make it to the flop with jack seven off-suit on a 9 player table. If, however, you make the final table and are heads up, you would probably be more likely to call with such a hand.

To make things more interesting, as the tournament progresses, blinds and antes gradually increase over time. This is based on the number of hands played. So, while the blinds are no big deal at first, you’ll eventually want to start winning some tournament money to at least keep up with the blinds. Otherwise, you’ll get “blinded out” meaning you are forced to move all-in simply because your blinds are as high as your stack. So, you need some kind of strategy to stay ahead of the blinds at least.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there will always be new player joining your table sooner or later (save for the final table). So, even if you manage to obtain the chip lead on your table, there is always the chance that the people who join your table will basically have the same size stack as you. This more or less places you back to square one from a strategic perspective. It is also one reason why tournament poker is so difficult.

If activated, you’ll also have a ticker running along the bottom of your screen (on by default). This ticker tells you things like the top 3 chip leaders, when blinds are moving up, and what place an eliminated person places. There is more information in the pause menu, however, but it does give a small snapshot of what is going on.

As you advance throughout the tournament, you’ll eventually come face to face with a poker celebrity. These celebrities generally play more aggressively and have no problem moving in more often then other players. They can, however, be beaten. In fact, if you manage to eliminate one, you’ll get a special chip that says as much. Not only will you add the special chip to your collection, but you’ll also unlock the character for other modes of play. There’s no advantage of playing them, it’s just for looks.

Your overall goal is to make it into a place where you enter the prize money. If you check the pause menu, there is information there indicating what you must place before making it into the prize money. Obtaining a chip leader status is good, but the ultimate goal is to earn cash, so this is your ultimate first priority. Besides, if you manage to get the chip lead part way through the tournament, don’t count on keeping it for very long. It’s a positive sign, but it’s no guarantee you’re going to make it very far.

If you manage to get the impressive achievement of making it into the prize money, your next goal is to just simply survive to the point of making the feature table. If you make it to this table, it means there are only two table left. By this stage, in most tournaments, you are going to be leaving the tournament with a sizable payout. This is a table you can really congratulate yourself making it to because it is very tough to make it this far.

From there, your next goal is to make it into the final table. While this game doesn’t really call it this, some refer to this as the “November 9”. Making it this far is an incredible achievement. After this, your goal is to see how high you can place. No more players will be joining your table at this stage, so the only thing standing between you and the ultimate prize are the other players on this table.

The final goal after this, of course, is to win. Winning most events will not only earn you the most prize money, but also some special chips and even a poker bracelet. At this stage, though, you’ll also be facing against almost exclusively with the poker pros, so winning here is a very difficult proposition. It’s doable, but hard.

After the tournament, you can survey your accomplishments. You can look at your poker bracelets, bankroll, and special chips. While the first two are straight forward, the third is a bit more involved. Special chips are basically various accomplishments you achieved during play.

In addition to the aforementioned pro knock outs, there are also general knock outs as well. There is the overall number of knock outs. In addition to this, you can also have a multi-knockout chip where you knock out more than one player in the same hand.

Also, there are chips that celebrate how much bank roll you managed to win. Additionally, there are chips you can earn by going all-in. This includes going all-in pre-flop and winning, all-in before the turn, all-in after the turn, and all-in after the river. As long as you win those hands, you get a chip.

You can also get a special chip for making certain hands and winning. This is basically almost every ranking you can make. These chips are one pair, two pair, three of a kind (trips), four of a kind (quads), full house, straight, flush, straight flush, and royal flush. As long as you win the pot with the hand, you get a special chip on the spot.

For Hold ’em, there is a lot of strategy involved. Different players have different ideas on what is optimal. Still, there are some general things to consider that will impact how you play.

When you start a hand, not all hole cards are created equal. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself folding before the flop a majority of the time because you want to play with cards that will give you the best chances of success. If you are able to fold before the flop, then you are basically cutting your losses in the most efficient way possible. You leave the hand with the least amount of information, but you also leave the hand with the least amount of money lost.

So, what hands are better than others? Well, the worst hand for most players is eight deuce off-suit. Almost anyone with a sensible strategy will fold this right away with eight other players at the table. Not only are they the lowest value cards, but they are also not close enough together to make a straight and they don’t match each other in a suit to make a flush.

Meanwhile, a hand like eight deuce suited is technically an improvement. This is because you have two in the same suit and you increase your chances of hitting a flush. If both cards are hearts, then all you need is three additional hearts to make your flush. This can even be achieved on the flop, though it is difficult. You’ll likely want to fold this hand as well because even if you make a pair of eights, you risk higher cards making it onto the board which will put you in a difficult spot.

Another somewhat weaker hand would be something like nine eight off suit. This is where we start getting into debates over whether or not you want to fold a hand like this. If the bets are low pre-flop, then some might argue to go ahead and see if you can hit something good on the flop. This is because you have an improved chance at hitting a straight. If the flop comes ten, jack, queen, then you make what is known as a “dummy” end of a straight. A straight is a good hand, but there is also the possibility an opponent might hold king nine off-suit or even an ace and a king for an even better straight. So, a good hand, but must be handled with care.

A better hand you can hope for is nine eight suited. Not only do you have a good possibility of making a straight, but you also have the possibility of hitting a flush. In addition to this, you can even give yourself the potential to hit one of the highest rankings in the game: the straight flush. This is where we get into hands where players are more likely to agree that if there are small bets out there, this is not a bad hand to try and catch something on the flop.

In a similar light, a great hand you can get is ace king. Even better if it is suited. Not only do you have the highest possibility of a straight, but also the possibility of a “nut” flush as well. As an added bonus, you can also catch an ace or a king on the flop which is the top two best pairs you can get. Some players are known to move all in with hands like that.

Pocket pairs are pretty strong hands in the grand scheme of things. This is where you get things like pocket eights or, even better, pocket aces. Pocket aces is the best hole cards you can get, but doesn’t guarantee success. The advantage is that even if your opponent catches a pair on the flop, that opponent will still be behind your hole cards and needs to catch an eve better hand to “crack” your aces. The best thing you can ask for is getting pocket aces while heads up.

The tricky thing with pocket pairs is when you get mid and low range pairs. For example, if you get pocket sevens, that is not a bad start. Things, however, tend to get complicated when cards higher than your pocket pair make the board (also known as “over cards”). When the flop comes ace, queen, jack, suddenly pocket sevens don’t seem to be the greatest thing in the world. Not only can anyone who pairs the board beat your hand, but there is also straight possibilities.

That’s not to say mid-range pocket pairs are always going to be bad either. If you call with pocket sevens and the flop comes seven, deuce, and deuce, you have the second best possible hand (full house). The only hand that beats you in this scenario is pocket deuces.

One final concept about cards to discuss is the concept of “blocker” cards. This more applies to a game like seven card stud and Omaha High, but you can apply it to hold ’em as well. This is where you use your hole cards to help determine what your opponent likely doesn’t have.

One example if you having pocket nines. If you go to the flop and the flop is jack ten eight, then the board technically has a straight possibility. In fact, it also gives you an up and down straight draw. Because you have two nines in your hand, the chances your opponent has made the straight is reduced because your opponent needs to have at least one of the last two remaining nines in the deck. Possible, but not very likely.

A second example is if you have two diamond cards in your hand. If, by the river, there are only three diamond cars on the board, the chances of your opponent completing their flush is lower. It’s possible, but your opponent needs two of eight remaining cards in the deck to complete that flush. It’s always possible, but the chances are definitely lower than if there are four diamonds on the board and you only have one diamond in your hand.

Improving your odds further, if you have a queen of diamonds in your hand and an ace of diamonds is one of three diamonds on the board, you are sitting in a very good position. This is because your opponent needs one of their hole cards to be a king of diamonds as well as another diamond to complete the flush and beat you. It is extremely unlikely at that stage.

Bet sizes also impact how you can play and improve your chances of success. Let’s take a look at one scenario. Let’s say you are 7 handed and you find yourself with a jack and ten of hearts. This isn’t a bad hand because it has potential. The problem is if an opponent ahead of you moves all in. Especially if you have a shorter chip stack than this opponent, then your hand may not look quite as good.

Many opponents move all in with hands like ac kind suited, pocket aces, or pocket kings. This is why your position pre-flop is now more difficult to play. It’s always possible your opponent is bluffing, but if you are wrong, you could easily be eliminated from the tournament because of that hand. So, it is always a good idea to assess your opponents betting patterns even pre-flop to help determine what your strategy should be.

Now, what is the best strategy to employ? That is one question you’ll never get a global consensus on. Some players like to play more loose while others swear by the “tight is right” mantra. It does depend on your opponents as well. Does your opponent bluff a lot or does your opponent move in only when they have a very strong hand? Is the table checking a lot on a particular hand? Maybe you might want to consider taking a stab at the pot and bluff all of your opponents off of your hand.

While there is a lot of strategy you can consider, there is one thing that does give you an advantage in this game. That is that your computer opponents are not actually adapting to your style of play. Instead, these opponents different styles of play on you. This means that you can adjust your play until you find an optimal style to give you a great chance at beating the odds.

For me, I found myself playing more loose than what my general play style is. These opponents do bluff a certain amount of time and call with low quality cards. Ironically, by calling some of these big bets, it has given be a better chance at success. Combined with keeping bets lower to reduce the cost of being wrong on a hand, I found myself making it pretty far into tournaments with this style of play.

Of course, this game isn’t just about Texas Hold ’em. There are other poker games to play as well. One game that I’m a bit familiar with is seven card stud. This game is also featured in games like Vegas Stakes both for the SNES and original Game Boy. Unlike those games, you are in a multi-table tournament with up to 7 players being featured on the table.

There are similarities between pot limit Seven Card Stud and pot limit Hold ’em, but here are some highlights on the differences.

After the blinds, each player gets three cards. The first two cards are face down while the third card is face up for all players to see. After a round of betting, a fourth card is dealt out face up to players (fourth street). An additional round of betting and the pattern increases for the fifth and sixth street. After the next round of betting, a seventh and final card is dealt out to players face down (seventh street). After the final round of betting, if there is more than one player left at this stage, then you go into a show down. Best 5 card hand wins and there are no community cards in this version of Seven Card Stud.

The strategy is a bit different in that you can see most of your opponents cards. This way, you can assess how well you are doing based on this information. If you have only made a pair of nines and your opponents face up cards are already showing a pair of queens, you already know you are either behind or drawing dead. This can make things easier should you decide to fold. Ultimately, you need to assess how good you are drawing and whether or not you’ll make the best hand by the time you reach the seventh street.

Next up is Omaha high games. Omaha plays just like Texas Hold ’em only you are dealt four cards instead of two. This, of course, increases the chances of getting a good hand. The rule to always keep in the back of your mind (and it can be easy to forget if you are new to the game and used to Hold ’em) is that you must use two of your hole cards.

In one easy to misread situation, say your hole cards are eight, nine, ten, jack, and queen. Let’s say the flop comes eight, queen, and king. Did you make a straight? The answer is “no”. This is because you can’t use three of your hole cards. You can only use two. As such, you actually have an interesting gut shot straight draw, but you didn’t actually make it yet.

Another example is if you have eight, five, nine, and king as your hole cards. Let’s say the flop comes eight, ten, and ten. Not a bad hand. If the turn comes another ten, it’s easy to think that you made a full house. The problem is that you cannot use just one of your hole cards. You have to use two. So, in reality, you only have two pair. All your opponent needs is a pocket pair to beat your hand.

The next game is Razz. This game plays just like Seven Card Stud. The only key difference is that the goal is to create the worst possible hand with five cards. Straights do not count. Also, aces count as one. So, the best possible hand you can possibly get in Razz is five, four, three, two, ace.

So, if you get a king, queen, and ten by the fifth street, you are definitely in a folding position. This is because you do not want high cards to begin with. Pairs are also bad because that increases the value of your hand.

Thrown into the mix are high-low split games. There are seven card stud and Omaha High variation of the high-low split games. The game rules apply as regular Seven Card Stud and Omaha high games. The key difference is that there is a mixture of Razz thrown in.

At the end of the round, the pot is split between two players. The first half is awarded to the player with the best possible hand. The other half is awarded to the player with the worst possible hand. A player needs to have a 5 card hand with the best card being eight or lower in order to qualify for the “low ball” pot. It is possible for one player to receive the whole pot as well.

The final thing about this game is the invitational games mentioned earlier on. This is basically an eight game ladder. You beat the first invitational game and you get to advance to the next round. Each attempt will set you back $15,000 – the most expensive games to enter into. If you win, you unlock the next invitational event and the room becomes available in quick play mode. You don’t win any money playing in this mode.

The invitational event pits you against an all pro line-up. The upside is that it is only one table with nine players. So, at least an attempt won’t last too long. Each game is also no limit Texas Hold ’em.

As you can tell, there are a lot of technicalities in the game. The strategy is also even harder to nail down. For me, this takes us to the first problem with this game: difficulty. Poker is a complex game of chance with a lot of rules and variances between games. With that, you’d think this game would come packed with a tutorial mode of some sort as well as a beginner round to allow new players to get a feel for the game.

This is not the case here.

Instead, you basically start straight into the different games available. Unless you are already familiar with the various forms of poker, chances are, you’ll find yourself looking up the various rules of the game to at least get a start. You can skate by on only a handful of events, but you are only experiencing part of the game by doing so.

To make matters even more difficult for new players, the opponents you face already have a fairly decent level of knowledge of the game and how to optimize success. Combined with the format of tournament style of play and new players are faced with a juggernaut of difficulty just to make it possible to not get eliminated on their first table.

As such, it is easy for new players to simply drop out of the game early and dismiss it as a game that is fixed and stacked against them. Opponents always have better hands and no matter what, you are going to lose. That obviously isn’t actually the case, but unless you have some level of expertise in the variations of poker, you’ll probably feel like you are punching a brick wall more than playing actual poker.

For me, I was able to do surprisingly well in some events. I even won the satellite tournament and snagged a bracelet in another tournament. Of course, I’m also one of those guys that has seen a bunch of YouTube videos on poker and even watched a few tournaments on TV. So, I came into this game armed with a bunch of expert analysis, tutorial video’s, and even a little bit of experience playing live heads up poker. I don’t count myself as an expert in Poker by any means, but I’m not exactly coming in cold either. So, I recognize that if you have experience playing Poker, then you can do well here. Just don’t come into the game knowing nothing and expecting to be winning in everything.

As such, the learning curve is quite steep. Even knowing a thing or two about Poker, even I had to adjust my game to suit the various tables I came to. If you have a lot of experience playing poker, then chances are, you’ll do fine in this game. At the same time, if you know a lot about Poker, you might be someone who would also rather play with real money instead of taking up a fantasy version of Poker anyway. So, ultimately, this game needs to be welcoming to new players. Unfortunately, it really isn’t.

A good feature in this game is the fast-forward button. This game features a lot of animations that try and give a sense of authenticity to the game. After a while, however, you’ll just want to skip the dramatics and know what the final play is leading up to your turn. So, you can tap the cross button to skip as much as possible. This is a great feature, but there is a catch to it.

That catch is that the fast forward button is partially unavailable in Omaha games. You can skip the dealer animations, but that is it. After that, you are forced to wait through everyone’s turn at normal speed. You can partially alleviate this by increasing the game speed through the pause menu options, but it’s still not quite as fast as the fast forward button in other games. As such, Omaha games are artificially lengthened for seemingly no real reason.

A strength in this game is that you can very easily experience tournament play to some degree of realism. You can watch your chip count rise and fall throughout the tournament. The challenge is not making any huge mistakes that costs you your stack and being able to survive droughts where your opponents seem to just be running ridiculously hot. So, it is able to test your patience in a pretty effective manner.

In one tournament, I found myself being dealt garbage hand after garbage hand after garbage hand. After continuously folding and losing a few pots, I found myself to be at 3 blinds left in my stack. I was really getting antsy to finally win something before being blinded out of the tournament. I finally hit big slick and tripled up on two other opponents. Two hands later, I won another big pot to extend my stay. Two additional pot steals and a whole lot of other hands later, I found myself to be a third place chip leader again. I was quite relieved, but was definitely nervous over the prospect of bubbling before the prize money.

One thing I do find a bit weird is how some of the opponents play. It wasn’t that obvious to me while playing Hold ’em, but it was much more obvious to me while playing stud. Some players make some pretty weird calls. I’ve had one hand where I had two visible queens by fifth street. My opponents kept calling. I managed to hit a second pair by seventh streets, so I made some gutsy bets. My opponents all called and the best hand against mine was a pair of sevens. Even if there was someone chasing a flush or a straight, why call on the end of the seventh street? The visible hands all looked like garbage to me with only one king to be nervous about. Otherwise, it was all rainbow garbage hands. So, they aren’t even good bluffs either.

The only theory I have is that bluffing is programmed into the computer players. The problem is that computer players have no sense of timing for when it comes to bluffs. As such, computer players will badly time their bluffs on occasion with things like queen high when other players so obviously have far superior hands.

Personally, I’m a little split on whether or not this is good or bad. On the one hand, it makes the game a bit less realistic when players make bizarre bets on occasion. On the other hand, do you really want to make this game that much more unapproachable by having master computer opponents sucking your every chip up out of your stack in every game? Not really. There has to be some kind of exploitable weakness that allows human players to get an edge. Otherwise, even fewer players will find this game enjoyable if they constantly lose.

Generally speaking, there is a nice amount of authenticity thrown into the game. You have highs and lows throughout the tournaments and the play is fairly realistic with different play styles being thrown at you. You even have small little extra achievements to help spice up the action. On the downside, the difficulty curve for newer players is pretty extreme and, as such, the game ends up being less approachable to players in general, limiting itself to those who come in with knowledge to guide them through each event.

Graphics are mercifully not a main focus for a general Poker game. That’s about the only advantage this game has. After this point, the game more or less starts to fall flat. For one, the setting for event games is almost always the same. You have about two general Poker rooms, a feature table, and a final table stage. It doesn’t matter the year or event, it is always the same setting which gives the game a very repetitive feel. The only exception is the invitational events where you find yourself in different and exotic locations. That’s about as varied as the game really gets.

On top of it all, the models are not exactly up to standards I would expect from a game from 2005. It may be suitable for a game made in 2001 or 2002 where games of this generation were starting to get higher polygon count models into the system. Unfortunately, this was released towards the end of the generation and games are starting to look pretty good. Even the audience members look bad. In fact, they almost look like aliens staring at the puny humans playing poker, waiting for the next human to get eliminated so they can conduct some scary experiments on the players after they leave the stage.

While the trademark looks of some pros are pretty decent, the animation sequences are pretty bad. The only time I’ve seen poker players in high stakes games jumping up and down in excitement is when there is a huge pot on the line and the player wins with a bad beat and double up. Beyond that, I don’t see players clapping their hands and boisterously laughing over picking up a pot with nothing but blind money. It happens on every pot win and it looks even more ridiculous when you see pros like Chris Ferguson clapping his hands on a win or Men Nguyen pounding the table in frustration on a small pot.

The fact that this is a long game (if you play well, this is a long game because you are trying to make final tables which can be an all day activity) makes the poor animations and repetitive scenes even worse. Instead of reliving them a few times, you get to relive these animations and setting over and over and over again for hours and days on end.

In addition to this, some of the animated sequences are a bit off. Sometimes, the cards aren’t actually touching the hand of the player folding them. In other cases, I’ve even seen the animations mix themselves up and cards end up moving on their own. Chips move around in a weird manner at times as well. For the most part, object manipulation is very hit and miss.

Probably the only upside is brief video clips of actual tournament play. This does add a bit to the overall presentation, but at the same time, they have a short life span. After that, you are stuck with sub-par graphics and bad animations.

The audio, meanwhile, it a mixed bag. The little bits of music thrown into this game is actually pretty decent. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much outside of a few tracks during the menu screens and cut scenes. After that, it’s all about the voice acting and sounds.

The good news is that Lon McEachern is actually present in this game to provide play by play sounds. The bad news is that it’s mainly just a few canned lines. He is joined by a poker pro who offers a few additional lines. This only adds a small level of authenticity to the game, but beyond that, it really doesn’t add too much to the game.

The players themselves have some lines of their own. A few of them are actually pretty funny like, “Just like my last date. All of my money is gone and I have nothing to show for it!” Others are pretty general. Some lines end up popping out of sync with the play. I’ve heard a few characters talk about going for a free card after the river is checked around.

There’s some background sound over top of this, but not much.

On the one hand, Poker doesn’t actually need a booming sound track. On the other hand, what is here is pretty generic and, at times, stereotypical. So, not the greatest addition to the game in my view.

Overall, this game offers a fairly limited experience in Poker. You get some authentic roller coaster experiences that is what to be expected in actual tournament play. There is even some variety in the play themselves with the different events being offered. Unfortunately, play can be quite repetitive and the learning curve is very steep for newer players. Only those with some Poker experience might find this games difficulty decent enough. The graphics are dated and repetitive and the animation sequences are pretty bad. The splashes of music is OK, though the sound is otherwise pretty generic. So, a game for people who are already into Poker, but something I would only play in small doses.

Furthest point in game: Obtained a $10,000,000 bankroll, won the Satellite tournament and even snagged a bracelet. Made it to the fourth invitational event, but never tried the game past the first year otherwise. Got eliminated early on a couple other tournaments as well.

General gameplay: 17/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 5/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 64%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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