World Poker Tour Hands-On

We cross fifth street, come over the top, double up, and end up with a dead man's hand in our hands-on look at World Poker Tour for PSP.


It seems like you can't flip through the channels these days without running into televised poker. Truly, the casino card game is riding a wave of popularity that's been previously unmatched, thanks to the wonders of cable TV. While the casual viewer might be content to simply watch the first match they see that includes a D-list celebrity, real poker fans know that one of the biggest poker licenses around is the World Poker Tour, which airs weekly on the Travel Channel and features some of the biggest names on the pro circuit. The first WPT game was released back in October of 2005, and the series is now making its way to handheld form on the PSP. We checked out the latest build of the game with 2K Sports producers to see how the game has progressed since its announcement.

Take on PS2 and PSP players alike in World Poker Tour for PSP's online multiplayer mode.
Take on PS2 and PSP players alike in World Poker Tour for PSP's online multiplayer mode.

Because WPT is so focused on the personalities that make up the game of poker, one of the first things you'll want to do when playing the game for the first time is explore the game's in-depth character creation mode. Here, you can trick out your poker-playing avatar with a massive number of attributes including hair style, facial shape, and so on. Then there's the clothing and accessories to pick from--hats, pants, T-shirts, vests--it's all there for the choosing.

The main modes in WPT allow you to dive right into a match of your choosing, create your own custom game type from a number of different rule sets, or head into the season mode and test your mettle against some of the best virtual poker minds around. Quick-draw matches include 15 different game types, including the requisite variations on Omaha, Hold 'Em, Pineapple, Stud, and Draw. You can also choose the type of limits you want to place on the game, and the location you wish play the game in, many of which are based on real-life locales. The create-a-game option lets you get even more in-depth with the type of match you wish to play--you can specify wild cards, drawing rounds, whether players pass cards between rounds and in which direction, and so forth--and it even lets you save that match type for play later, either offline or online.

At the heart of WPT is the career mode. Here, you'll take your created poker player (complete with $10,000 in starting money, as opposed to a mere one grand on the console and PC versions) and enter the amateur tour, looking to move up the rankings and eventually face the pros. Should you not have enough cash for the buy-in, you can enter any of a number of satellite tournaments that have a smaller barrier of entry and just might earn you enough cash to get into the big tourneys. At the end of the season, your goal will be to finish in the top six of all players; do so, and you'll move on to the pro ranks, where the likes of Evelyn Ng, Phil Laak, and Lyle Berman will be waiting for you.

The biggest knock on the console and PC versions of WPT was a suspect artificial intelligence that wasn't always as aggressive as it could be. Producers for the PSP version of the game told us they've focused much of their effort on improving the game's AI, and you can expect to see some smarter play at the table this time around. Specifically, the AI will now be more reluctant to call large all-in bets with marginal hands, and will now bluff more often at lower skill level.

Statistics are a big part of the poker game and the PSP version of WPT will feature a host of hard data figures at your fingertips. You can access statistics on each player in a match, including data on how often he or she folds, the frequency of calls, the numbers of flops seen, and so on. By keeping an eye on this type of data, you can get a fairly accurate picture of any opponent you face in the game and, if you're smart, use it to your advantage on the table.

You know, sometimes we just want to slap Phil Laak.
You know, sometimes we just want to slap Phil Laak.

For those new to poker, the WPT boot camp feature is a series of videos that will teach you more about the game of poker, as well as offer you a number of tips on how to improve your game the next time you sit down with a deck of cards (or with your PSP). If you can't tell the difference between a flop and fifth street, handy pop-up poker lingo tips will have you speaking the language like a pro after just a few sessions.

Other PSP enhancements include a number of exclusive tournaments, a trophy case to display your online character's achievements, new player table locations, new AI-controlled opponents to play against, exclusive taunts and pro audio recorded by WPT pros, and, most importantly, the ability to play online against both PS2 and PSP WPT players. World Poker Tour for PSP is set for a March release, and we'll have our full review of the game when it hits store shelves, so stay tuned.

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