PokerPro Electronic Table Review
A few weeks back I threatened to write a review of the PokerPro electronic poker tables that I was planning to try on my Alaska cruise. The cruise has been over for a couple of weeks and here I am delivering on that threat.
Ahhh, Alaska Ė food, wine, glaciers, food, beer, eagles, and shore excursions. Did I mention the food? Oh yeah, the poker.
It was a Princess Cruise Lines ship and the casino had a single PokerPro table. I played the table in two tournaments and probably 6 to 8 hours in ring games, maybe more.
There were a few things specific to poker on the cruise that would make it different from a B&M poker room. Iíll get those out of the way first.
Itís a cruise so there are no ďregularsĒ at the tables. Everybody has spent a lot of money to get on the cruise so youíre not going to find someone gambling away his last $10. Everybodyís there for a good time, which I believe everyone had. There was the usual mix of players at all skill levels.
The casino manager was a really really nice guy from the Netherlands. He knew his way around the slots and the table games. Now, those of you who live in the USA have probably seen the Geico commercials with the tag line ďEven a cave man can do itĒ. Well, PokerTek could take that tag line and substitute this guyís name and have a winning commercial. He couldnít tell us about the rake, the blinds in the tournaments, and was weak on table operation. I seriously doubt that he ever played poker. Still, he managed to make it work. Most of us early players figured it out on our own and helped the new players as they showed up. I suppose that added to the social atmosphere.
With one exception the table is very easy to play. That exception relates to, of all things, looking at your cards. There is a knack to looking at your cards. Iím still not exactly sure what the mechanism is in the table. The computer display shows your card face down. It seems that if you put your hands around your cards and apply pressure to the bottom (the part thatís away from you), the display shows your cards as if you curled them up by the corners. In a B&M poker room, I can just hear the regulars groan as a PokerPro newbie sits down and canít operate the display. It seemed that nobody on the cruise had ever played on this type of table, meaning that everybody was a newbie at some point in time. We were all tolerant of new newbies.
Now that the environment-specific stuff is out of the way, on to the rest of the review.
The process started with me going to the casino cage and giving them my cash and shipís ID. They opened an account for me, had me enter a pin number on a keypad, and handed me a card just like the one you use at your ATM. This card is used to put money on the table for a ring game or pay for your seat in a single table tournament. Iím sure MTTs are also possible but with only one table Ö
Sitting Down / Getting Up
When you sit down you swipe your card and enter the pin number. For ring games, you specify how much you want to put into play and that amount is deducted from your account. When you leave the table, you tell the system that youíre leaving and the money in front of you, if any, is put back in your account. For tournaments, you enter the pin number and join the tournament. If you cash, that money is put back into your account. Simple.
Basic Table Operation
The table consists of a large common screen which takes up most of the table surrounded by individual computer screens. The large screen is for display only, no interaction. The individual computer screens contain what I will call hotspots which are best activated by tapping them with the corner of the plastic card. I am a pre-retirement geek and hitting what is presumably a soft screen with a hard object felt wrong, but itís what worked. When you are in a hand, there is one hotspot for each chip denomination. There are also hotspots for check, fold, call, raise, and allin. One thing I did not like is that the fold button is a very large button most of the time; however, if you are the last one with the option to fold, the large fold button turns into two buttons Ė a much smaller fold button and a similar sized button for showing your hand and then folding. Everybody made the mistake of showing and folding their cards at least once. When you win, you also have the option to show none, one, or both of your cards.
If you wish to make a bet or specific raise you tap the chips on the screen once for each one you want to bet. While you are doing this, the chips you are betting appear on the large screen immediately in front of you. When you are satisfied with your bet you tap the CONFIRM button and the bet is made. If you make a mistake or wish to change your mind there is also a reset button. Putting the chips on the large screen is probably the equivalent of stacking real chips in a B&M casino as if getting ready to make a bet. This activity allows you to check out the other players and see them respond to your actions. On the PokerPro it looked more like a string bet was being made, but Iím sure thatís just me.
The ring games on the ship were $1/$2 NL. The chip denominations are $1, $5, $25, and $100, depending of course on how much money you have in front of you. I donít think we ever figured out the specifics of the rake but, based on what I saw, that machine was a cash cow for the casino when the ring games were going. They didnít operate at the hands/hour of Internet poker but they were still pretty fast. Most of us at the tables played online poker and were a bit frustrated with the pauses between hands which seemed long, but probably were not.
Single Table Tournaments
On the $30 buyin tournament, I believe that we started with 10/20 blinds with 1500 in chips. On the $60 buyin it was 25/50 and 3000 chips. The top two players get paid. In the $30 tournament the payouts were $175/$75 leaving $20 for the fee. The $60 tournament had exactly double the payouts at $350/$150. I believe there were only four tournaments during the entire cruise. The two I saw/played were both full tables. I can understand why they only had the four tournaments. The rake on the ring games was a lot higher than the $20/$40 fee that the casino collected from the STTs.
My results (Moderator: feel free to delete this if it is not appropriate for this section)
I had a great time. I won the $30 STT because I got a little lucky at the end. I finished 4th in the $60 STT because I got a little unlucky at the end Ė allin with the short but decent stack, my AJ vs AT. In the ring games I ended up losing only about $40. Iíd like to think that the guy who finished me off was lucky but, truth be told, he was a regular winner at the game. My losing record at non-online NL games is unblemished. I guess I have to concede that Iím a fish Ė a wiley fish, but a fish nonetheless.
I ran into my ring game nemisis at the end of the cruise and we were laughing. He said ďIt was nice doing business with youĒ. I laughed because I knew that I walked away from the poker adventure with about 21 big ones (dollars, that is) of someone elseís money.
Would I play these machines again? Absolutely
Would I prefer a human dealer? Absolutely, as long as the dealer knows what he/she is doing.