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Gaming Guru

Jeff Haney

Jeff Haney checks out a heads-up computer game that gives poker players 'a chance to settle old scores'

13 December 2006

I've seen the needling and the damage done.

I've seen it in high-stakes games, as hothead Mike Matusow's opponents goad him mercilessly, waiting for the inevitable meltdown.

I've seen it at lower limits, as the unfortunate victim of a draw-out on the river lets loose with a stream of insults against the winner (or vice versa).

I've seen it online, as the likes of "luvthenuts69" and "sukout4u" go at it in the chat box.

Without fail, the verbal jousting culminates in a challenge, which is invariably accepted:

I'd take you apart piece by piece in a heads-up match!

Oh, yeah? Any time! Let's go for it!

Also without fail, at least in live casino poker, the big mano a mano game never materializes. It's just not logistically feasible. Meanwhile, the table has to contend with the needler's relentless jabbering.

This is why I was so intrigued by a two-seat, computerized poker game called "PokerPro2," the latest offering from PokerTek Inc. of Matthews, N.C.

Like PokerTek's original 10-player table, the heads-up version is computer-dealt and fully automated. This eliminates dealer mistakes (by getting rid of the dealer) and increases the speed of the game, according to PokerTek.

But because PokerPro2 is designed for heads-up play only, perhaps its best feature is that it "offers players a chance to settle old scores," according to the company.

Both tables have a large screen in the center for images of community cards and betting graphics along with smaller private screens visible only to individual players.

The full-size computer-dealt tables have been installed in at least 14 casinos worldwide, according to PokerTek. In the United States, the computer-dealt tables can be found in casinos in Arkansas, California, Florida and Oklahoma; overseas in casinos in Australia, England and Italy.

"I think that it couldn't have been a more opportune moment for this product than right now, with Internet gambling (being cracked down on) in the U.S.," said Doug Dalton, director of poker operations for the Bellagio. "These tables have monitors; the benefit to it is you're playing like you would on a computer, but you're getting the same kind of hospitality that you would in a regular poker game, where you're sitting there with all the other people around you. So you have the conversations; it's not as boring as sitting and just looking at your computer. You get that social activity, but you are still playing on a computer."

If he ever did bring any computer-dealt tables to the Bellagio, they would enhance - not replace - the casino's existing offerings, Dalton said.

"I wouldn't get myself in a position where I would terminate people and replace them with this table," Dalton said. "What you want to do is add it as another dimension to your poker room."

While I'm not opposed to having some full-size computerized poker tables in the mix, I would definitely like to see PokerPro2 - the heads-up version - catch on in Las Vegas casinos.

Set up a couple of them right by the poker room. That would give the needling loudmouths an opportunity to put up or shut up for a while.

You know, so the rest of us can play poker.

Also noted

The World Poker Tour's Doyle Brunson North American Poker Classic, a $15,000 entry fee, no-limit Texas hold 'em tournament, begins at noon Thursday at the Bellagio.

The final table is scheduled to take place Tuesday.

The tournament - one of 22 nationally televised events (The Travel Channel, Cox cable channel 66) filmed in casinos around the world in the World Poker Tour's fifth season - serves as the main event of the Bellagio's fifth annual Five Diamond World Poker Classic, a series of tournaments that began Dec. 1.

Last December's Five Diamond main event attracted a World Poker Tour record 555 entrants and generated a prize pool of more than $8 million. Denmark's Rehne Pedersen collected more than $2 million for winning, and runner-up Patrik Antonius of Finland earned more than $1 million. Brunson, a longtime Las Vegan and the crowd favorite, placed third ($563,485).

The winner of this year's tournament will receive first-place prize money to be determined by the size of the field as well as an entry worth $25,000 into the World Poker Tour Championship at the Bellagio in April.

Registration for the tournament, open to all professional and amateur players, is available at the Bellagio poker room.

Jeff Haney checks out a heads-up computer game that gives poker players 'a chance to settle old scores' is republished from