Gadgetorama reviews Aces Texas Hold’em – No Limit by Concrete Software

 

Introduction

It seems that everywhere I look, someone is playing Texas Hold’em poker. Like SuDoku, this game has caught the world by storm. Just how popular is it? It is estimated that 70 million Americans play or are familiar with poker and its rules. But before you set out on your quest to become world champion, plenty of practice is recommended. Having Concrete Software’s Aces Texas Hold’em – No Limit on your Pocket PC device might just give you the chance to hone your skills a little more.

A little history

Games similar to poker with its principles of ranked card combinations and the concept of ‘bluffing’ to deceive opponents have roots that go back as China in 969 AD and Egypt in the 12th and 13th centuries. One of the earliest references to poker can be traced back to 1834 when Jonathan H. Green described a ‘cheating game’ played on Mississippi riverboats. Green named it Poker. A classic game was born.

Texas Hold’em began its rise to its current prominence in the 1970s when it was the title game in the World Series of Poker. Today, it is possible that it is the most frequently played poker game in the world. In a nutshell, each player only gets two cards. 5 more cards (known as the river) are then played in 3 rounds but they are dealt face-up and all players use any three of these cards as well as their two to come up with the best hand possible. The game also introduces the concept of blinds – essentially, 2 players (on a rotating basis) are required to put bets down for each hand before it even starts. Like that, there is always at least a little incentive to play the cards you’ve been given.

Beginning a new game Winning a hand
Figure 1: Starting a new game Figure 2: Winning a hand

If you’ve watched the game on television, you’ve probably seen the players push all their chips into the pot. Here’s your chance to do the same. No Limit simply means that there is no betting amount limit. There is absolutely nothing stopping you from going ‘All in’ where you bet everything you have on that pair of twos if you feel that you have enough to win!

Installation

There is not much to tell here – It’s a simple installation through ActiveSync. I installed the game on a storage card with no issues.

Time to lay down some bets

It’s time to lay down some virtual chips. After a splash page, you begin at the main menu. The game comes with a preset configuration so that you can start playing immediately (You will be playing the role of Ace until you change names). Figure 1 shows a new game.

The screen layout is intuitive and well done. All the information needed is readily available. At any time, you will see up to 3 opponents and you can scroll through all the other players to see how much money they still have. You will also see everything you need to know about the current game: Who the dealer is, the amount of money in the pot, the current bet amount and what the blind is set at.

Aces Texas Hold’em – No Limit is an easy game to learn (but difficult to master). Each hand begins with the blinds where two players put up money. The game handles that automatically and also controls the increase of the blinds (if you enabled that setting) as the game goes on. Then the dealer will hand out two cards to each player. The first round of betting follows. The game will scroll through the players so that you can see exactly what they are doing during their turn. During betting, you have the choice to fold, check (if no one has bet), call (match the current bet), bet, raise or go All In. Three more turns follow where the cards are dealt face up and used by all the players. Each of these turns is accompanied by a round of betting. The goal is to build the best hand possible using your two cards and any three of the five cards on the table.

As you can see, the mechanics of the game are simple; its challenge lies in understanding the odds and coming up with a winning strategy against your opponents. The game comes with five preset intelligence levels (See Figure 3). The different AI levels is a nice feature in that it allows you to play against opponents of your own strength. As you get better, you can make your opposition tougher. This will help prevent those games where you are constantly blown out because you’re a minnow at a table of card sharks. You can also set the AI level for each player so you can have a mix of strong and poor players. The nice thing about this game (and other computer versions) is that, if you misplay a hand, unlike poker parties with your buddies, no one will laugh at you. But they will still gladly take your money!

I found that the different levels of AI worked well. At lower levels, players tended to bluff a lot or go ‘All in’ with poor hands. As the AI increased, the level of play improved noticeably. At the top level, I found it very hard to win and found myself folding a lot.

Figure 3: Player configuration Figure 4: Game settings

Two game modes are available. In Tournament, players who lose it all are eliminated, setting the stage for a showdown between the best two players at the end. If you enable Full Table, eliminated players will be replaced by new ones.

You also control the pace of the game. It comes with four speeds. Beginners can play on ‘Slow’ to see all the moves whereas more experienced users can ratchet up the speed so that gameplay moves along more quickly. You can also control the pace of the game by having the game pause at the end of each hand or just deal out the next one immediately.

There are plenty of other game settings to customize as well (See Figure 4). You can face up to 22 opponents, each with his own name, one of five preset intelligence levels (as indicated earlier) and amount of money. Version 1.2 also introduced pictures for your opponents.

Another nice touch is that it’s very easy to stop the game at any point. Even if you close it, you will be returned to that exact point when you return and select ‘Continue Game’. This is very useful when you have just enough time for a couple hands but not enough for a complete game.

You can also change the screen orientation from portrait to landscape (both right and left orientations are offered). Playing in landscape mode allows you to see four opponents at a time (instead of 3 in portait mode). The benefit is less scrolling. Personally, I did not have a preference; I found myself switching back and forth depending on circumstances (if my iPAQ was in a case or not, for example).

Game statistics
Figure 5: Game statistics

There are still more settings as well (Figure 4). Settings such as ‘Go fast after I fold’, ‘Raise at least last bet’ either give you additional control over the pace of the game or allow you to make small changes. For example, settings for the blind are quite flexible. You have the choice of 13 amounts and the timer offers 10 different increment options.

One thing that I did not like is that you can change settings in the middle of a game. For example, I can go in during a game and give myself more money or take money away from another player. I can also change the AI levels. The game in progress will simply continue with the new settings. Settings that affect gameplay like that ought to be locked during a game.

The game keeps track of your game statistics (Figure 5). You will see how many hands you’ve played as well as the number of wins, folds and raises. The statistics are limited and they could be improved. For example, converting the information into percentages or some graphs of the data might provide players with more relevant information. More advanced statistics that look at how you did during different games so that you could try different strategies could also have been useful. For example, if I bluffed more, would it lead to more wins?

Poker purists may have an issue with the fact that winning hands are revealed (As in Figure 2). With all the other game configuration available, I was surprised that I could not disable this feature.

Controls

Playing the game is straightforward. When it is your turn, you will see an ‘Action’ button in the bottom left of the screen (Figure 6). Clicking on it will show you your available moves. I found it annoying that I had to click on ‘Actions’ each time it was my turn. Fortunately, there is a game setting where you can enable ‘Auto-popup Actions’. The only downside to this feature is that the information about the pot and the blind is then automatically obscured. Moving the window to a less busy area of the screen would resolve this issue though.

Actions menu
Figure 6: The Actions menu
Betting widget
Figure 7: The Bet/Raise Widget
Card types
Figure 8: Card types

When you decide to bet, the raise/bet widget (as Concrete Software calls it) will come up (Figure 7). Like the other controls in the game, using this keypad is intuitive. For example, if you want to bet $50, simply click on $25 twice. Click on ‘Ok’ to confirm your bet or ‘Clear’ if you enter the wrong amount. If you enabled the setting where bets need to cover the blind amounts, the input pad will automatically update your bet amount to the required amount if your bet is too low.

Graphics, Sounds and Music

The graphics are not going to take your breath away (it is a card game after all!) but they work well for the game. A nice touch is that you can enable a ‘Large cards’ flag to get cards that feature larger numbers and suite graphics (Figure 8). The game also supports both QVGA and VGA modes.

The sound effects are very sparse. I found that they felt like an afterthought. If there is a bright side to this though, it’s that the sounds will not annoy you. But you still have the option to turn them off completely.

What I liked

  • Great translation of the card game
  • AI levels to match opponents to your strength
  • Lots of customization possible

What I did not like

  • Some game settings (like how much money you have) can be changed during a game
  • Revealing hands at end of round should be a configurable option

Summary

There is not much missing in Aces Texas Hold’em – No Limit by Concrete Software except for the cigars, the drinks, the smoky room and the banter of your friends. The game lends itself well to playing a few quick hands when you have a little spare time and simply honing your poker skills. Its high level of customization will let you set up the game exactly as you like it and its five levels of opponent intelligence will keep you on your toes, no matter how good you are at Texas Hold’em poker.

Rating

4 out of 5

Where can I get it?

You can purchase Aces Texas Hold’em – No Limit for $14.99 USD from our affiliate Clickgamer. A trial version is also available.