Although the recent Texas Hold 'Em boom in the United States has certainly slowed, there still is quite a bit of interest in the poker space. Games continue to be played both legally in casinos and illegally in people's garages, and the dedicated players are always looking to get better by playing more hands. While electronic poker machines have been around for a long time, few are as handy for a quick game as Apple's Texas Hold 'Em for iPhone.
To start a single player game, you first must chose the venue. The first is simply labeled "Garage." This venue is free to play and you can win up to $1,250 for placing first. The garage is what you would expect to see if you somehow stumbled into Infinite Loop contributor Erik Kennedy's dwelling: Apple computer models strewn about the shelves and old Apple posters on the walls. As you bring in more money, you can choose to play at more lavish casinos all the way up to Dubai, which has a buy-in of $100,000 and a payout of $1.25 million.
While most applications we've seen thus far have not taken advantage of the iPhone's multiple screen orientations, Texas Hold 'Em does a great job of using both the landscape and portrait modes. When the iPhone is vertical, you get a face-to-face view of the game. You can see each player's face, their reactions when it is their turn to act, and the look when they slide their chips into the middle of the table. While I have now played over 40 games, thus far, I spend the majority of my time in the other mode so I haven't yet seen the "secret tells" that the developer says are included. In this mode, you simply tap on your pile or on the pot to see just how much money you have or what is at stake.
In portrait mode, you get an overhead view of the table, including how much money each player currently has and what they did on the current hand (raise, call, fold). Since you can't see their animated faces in this view, you can tap on any one of their avatars and view vital statistics, like how many times each player has won, lost, checked, called, folded, and raised in the current game. This comes in handy deep into the game when someone goes all-in; you can tell right away whether that player plays every hand or has folded 16 of the last 17.
The controls are very good; the entire game can be played with a single finger while holding the device with one hand. Folding can be done simply by flipping your cards into the pot, and going all-in is similarly simple. To bet or call, you simply tap your chips or chip count and a right-to-left wheel pops up, allowing you to easily raise and lower your bet with a simple spin. One small issue with the otherwise very good system is that, when you spin the wheel, it just goes and is imprecise. If you want to bet $500, you are more likely to get $503 or $517 than exactly $500.
While it certainly helps to know what you are doing, the game caters to beginners by putting a hand ratings list in the help menu, and by using a clever system for rating your current hand. To activate this system, all you need to do is tap on your current cards and a meter that goes all the way around your cards will light up. If you have pocket aces before the flop, your meter will be lit up like Vegas at night. 7-2 off suit? Not so much.
While the game is very well done and certainly a lot of fun, there are a few downfalls. The multiplayer function allows only for multiplayer play on the same WiFi network. If you have a buddy you want to play across the country in Portland, and you are in Baltimore, you had better have one hell of an omni-directional WiFi antenna. The statistics tracked by the application could also be significantly improved. It is nice to see your winnings, the biggest pot you have won, your best hand, and games played, but it would be even nicer if the developers added the number of hands played, number of all-ins, and other relevant poker stats. Last, but certainly not least, is the game's affect on battery life. All I can say is that if you intend on playing a lot, you might want to invest in some sort of awkward battery life extender.
For anyone who enjoys the occasional game of poker, for $4.99 this really isn't a bad price. With the ability to tap through animations, you can finish a game very quickly. It really is a handy little poker game to have with you all the time.
Name: Texas Hold 'Em for iPhone (iTunes Link)