Poker seems like a game that wouldn't be hard to transfer to the video game world, and yet somehow developers find ways to screw it up. Developer ImaginEngine has managed to royally break the game of poker not once, but twice. Admittedly, its latest effort, Chris Moneymaker's World Poker Championship, is an improvement over its first attempt, but only because it isn't the worst poker game ever produced, which the first effort most certainly was. Apart from the fact that it features the likeness of the one-hit wonder of the poker world, Chris Moneymaker, on the box and in the game, there's really nothing to this package. The offline play is completely dragged down by overly predictable and cheap AI, and there isn't a soul alive playing this game online, all but rendering that feature useless.
Chris Moneymaker's World Poker Championship is a Texas hold 'em-focused game that happens to feature a few other games like five-card draw, seven-card stud, and Omaha hold 'em. Those games are almost irrelevant, though, as the AI is so weirdly aggressive in most all of those games that your games will typically be over before they start. Players will just be eliminated in huge groups, leading to a brief, unsatisfying experience. As for Texas hold 'em, the AI is only slightly better. Basically, while the AI opponents seem to have a decent idea of when to fold before the flop, they are utterly incapable of folding postflop. Once any opponents bet into the flop, they're practically trapped. You can raise all day long, and they'll just keep raising on top of you until the hand is over. Likewise, if you check, they'll always bet on top of you, usually in fixed and very predictable amounts. You can basically bully any player to death once you've got a fix on how the AI bets, and it sucks pretty much all the challenge out of the game--that is, except on the higher-ranked tables, where the game seems to up the difficulty by giving your opponents significantly better cards rather than making them smarter.
The game boasts a few different modes, but they're really all the same mode structured differently. You can play in some single-elimination games, tournaments, and a season, which is a series of tournaments where you play head-to-head against Chris Moneymaker at the end. That's the extent of Moneymaker's involvement in the game; well, that and he gives you some fairly hackneyed poker tips with such amazing insight as "If you have a bad or even mediocre hand before the flop, you should probably fold." Thanks, Chris! We're glad to see that your World Series of Poker bracelet is based on some real poker expertise instead of a random fluke. It should be mentioned that there is LAN play--you know, for all those poker LAN parties the kids are throwing these days--and online play as well. Good luck finding anyone to play online against, however. We spent around a week trying to find a single online opponent, and we never ran into anybody online.
Chris Moneymaker's World Poker Championship does, at the very least, feature a decent poker interface that's easy to use and manage. The game itself isn't much to look at, with just a top-down view of an eight-player table that generally looks crusty and pixelated. The players rarely move or emote, and despite the fact that the back of the box boasts "10 exotic international casinos," the only time you see them is when you're choosing your game at the very beginning. There's very little audio, save for some annoying announcer chatter, some awful music, and some generally unassuming shuffling of cards and chips. It's bare-bones stuff that's probably best left turned off.
There's a certain irony to be noted in the fact that Chris Moneymaker, of all people, is the one hocking this half-baked poker game. This is, after all, the same guy who acts as the spokesperson for one of the better free poker sites on the Internet, one that features a ton of people playing online at any given time and costs absolutely nothing. Yet now he wants you to drop $20 on this slightly functional, altogether bad game of poker that features nobody playing online and atrocious computer opponents? Indeed, the choice in this case is quite clear. Stick to the free, online poker wherever you can get it, and leave Chris Moneymaker's World Poker Championship on the shelf. Or you could just, you know, buy a deck of cards.