Texas Hold ‘Em by Phil Hellmuth (THEPH from this point forward) lets you play Texas Hold ‘Em poker anywhere you carry your cell phone. The game is playable on a large variety of phones from CellularOne, Verizon Wireless, and a handful of other carriers. I used a Motorola V810 phone, with service from Verizon, for my tests of the game.
For those of you who have not had the chance to see him in person or on TV, Phil Hellmuth is a great player to watch. He’s not just a solid player (he won his first WSOP championship at age 24), but he brings a lot of… personality to the table as well. When I first heard Phil was lending his persona to a cell phone-based poker game, I was quite surprised by it. Hopefully he won’t have the same bad luck the sports pros get when they hit the covers of the EA Sports games (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, to keep it short, many of the players who end up on the box covers of EA Sports’ great video games tend to get injured in their next season – weird, but there is quite a bit of coincidental truth to it).
The first gameplay mode of THEPH lets you play solo against some virtual opponents. Solo play consists of four modes: limit hold ’em, pot limit play, no limit play, and “Play Phil No-Limit” mode. The first three work as expected, and the fourth is a fun twist on a computer-driven no limit hold’em game: it comes with a very aggressive computer player. I didn’t quite figure out the formula, but basically the “Phil” player had a strong tendency to check-raise, or put in massive raises on the turn or river. Between me and Phil, we muscled out the other computer characters time and time again. It reminded me of Doyle Brunson’s comment about how he could win most ‘home games’ without ever looking at his cards.
The multiplayer mode worked extremely smoothly, much to my delight. Once you select a type of game (limit, no-limit, etc), you simply browse a list of tables by number of players, select a table, and go. The gameplay was quite fast, fast enough that the action resembled a real poker game. Not only that, there were a lot of people playing, so there was never a delay in waiting for a game. The multiplayer system has some well-designed features for finding your friends or inviting new players to the game. Also, a “Find Phil” option lets you play with Phil Hellmuth himself, but alas, he was not around to point out the massive flaws in my game.
While I can’t say the solo play mode was a competent technical “trainer”, it was definitely fun, and something I’d continue to play from time to time. I did find myself trying to make sure I was always doing better than “virtual Hellmuth”, and had some satisfaction picturing him tilt on a lucky draw here and there.
For THEPH’s multiplayer mode, it was definitely a good experience, and if I had no airtime considerations, I think I’d end up playing a decent amount. It was just… fun! I found it especially rewarding when I made the Top 10 list on the company’s Web site – a huge perk (although some cash would be nice).
If I have to point out a downside to the game, I was a bit disappointed with a few aspects of the GUI. Most important, the game never made it clear as to how much it was to call the current bet – if I looked away for even a moment, I’d often be completely unaware as to whether I was calling a big blind or an all-in. Huge problem, but easily fixable. Some other irritations included not knowing who had bet, and a poorly implemented timeout for betting. Again, all fixable issues, and only the first one was a major obstacle for the game.
The other problem I had with the game was related to my connection. Maybe it was the phone I was using. Maybe it was Verizon. Maybe it was the game. I have no idea, but my phone kept getting disconnected from the network. Normally this would be a showstopper in my books, but the programmers at Summus were clearly aware this could happen. When the phone disconnected, a few seconds later the game would cause it to reconnect, and the gameplay continued without missing a beat. Nice recovery to a potentially disastrous situation.
For $2.99/mo, there are very few games or applications available today on cell phones that are a better value than this one. Unless, of course, you intensely dislike poker (in which case, I am impressed you’ve read this far). It’s definitely a better use of your money than downloading another ringtone by Chingy, Usher, or Outkast. Trust me on that one.