Review – Tournament Texas Hold’em

by john on December 21, 2003

I recently purchased Tournament Texas Holdem from Wilson Software as a way to hone my tournament skills. I don’t get the chance to play too often but when I do I want to make the most of it. There doesn’t seem to be many providers of poker software currently and Wilson is probably the most recommended software on so I gave it and Turbo Texas Hold’em a try. This is my review of Tournament Texas Holdem v4.0 (TTH).

I have broken my review into three key sections: application robustness, gameplay and skill.

Application Robustness
What I look for here is how well the application feels from a usability standpoint, how well it handles the ability to set options and what sort of reporting options it has. In my opinion TTH falls down in most of these topics.

The application itself feels like old DOS software that I happen to be running in Windows. That annoys me. I feel as though I have purchased old software and considering this software isn’t cheap, that isn’t a good thing.

There is minimal reporting available in TTH. You do have a History view but it’s aggregated at a very high level which makes it’s usefulness minimal. I would like to see a running history of my finish positions so I can gauge improvement, show how I fare differently at different competition levels and in general just be given more data to report on.

There is a variety of options you can set but not nearly enough. I should be allowed to build up a tournament almost from scratch, if I choose to do so, and TTH doesn’t allow that. It does have a pretty impressive list of “pre-built” tournament structures available, including one based off the 2002 WSOP format, but this is software – I should have full control.

By this I mean how well does the program flow – it is replicating in some cases days long tournaments and and one of the advantages of using this practice software is that I can play many, many more hands per hour than I could at a real table. I’d like the application to help make that as simple as possible.

TTH does a pretty decent job of helping to speed up play. There are options to reduce the lag time in between each players bet and there is a Zip option which automatically takes you to the end of the hand if you wish to fold.

There are, however, a number of irritating quirks. Perhaps the biggest is how the program handles side pots. There is no way to tell the program to automatically handle side pots so when any hand includes a side pot, even one you are not involved in, the program requires you to hit a couple of keys to walk through the results. For multi-player sidepots you may be required to hit 4 or more keystrokes to view the results. There should be an option to allow me to turn that off.

TTH allows you to view the tournament statistics as at any time but personally I would like to see it always available, something that looks like The Clock showing up in the corner. It would also be a neat feature to have chip leader alerts. TTH allows me to see where I stand with my chip-stack but I have to choose Stats to see it and of course I’m not going to do that every hand. Having an announcement when the player has won or loss the chip lead would be a nice feature.

Another problem is that you can’t see the chip counts at your table at all times. During the play of a hand you can only see how many chips the players in that hand have, not everyone sitting at your table. Often times you will want to make decisions based on that and there is no way to do so.

TTH is setup to support a max of 9 player tables. Unfortunately that makes it difficult for me to replicate the feel of my local cardroom where we start with 11 player tables for tournaments.

In one rebuy tournament I played I was allowed to rebuy twice despite having the tournament set to allow only one rebuy. I don’t think this is a bug, though, as based on the limited instruction manual there does appear to always be one final add-on rebuy despite what you have set. I know that’s not how it works at my cardroom, anyway.

TTH allows you to select three levels of skills for the computer players – Average, Above Average and Tough. After trying a couple of tournaments at Average I moved immediately to Tough. Unfortunately Tough just isn’t Tough. Empirically I know that Tough isn’t Tough enough because I make way too many final tables – I’ve played the World Series of Poker format nine times and made the final table 4 times, winning it twice. I’m not that good – Tough isn’t Tough.

I’ve seen some truly horrid play by the computers that frankly I wouldn’t even expect at the Average level. A $4,000 pot where I bet $200 at the turn and I get 4 people to fold? Please. Why would I only bet $200 you ask? Because I had noticed that behavior quickly. In general there is way too much checking going on at the Tough level. I didn’t play too much at the Average level but it feels to me as though Tough is nothing more than Average with the computer players just being more likely to raise over the top all-in.

I could easily ignore most of the problems I have with the application and gameplay if the skills level was a good test. Then it would be worth it. Regrettably I find that not to be the case.

Bottom line rating – 2/5 stars. Based on the information in this review it probably only deserves one star but since I do find myself still playing it some I have to concede there must be something about it I like and that is worth the extra star. There doesn’t appear to be many other options out there now but with the proliferation of poker this year I suspect it won’t be a long wait for some modern software developer to come out with a robust, tough poker program. I’ll buy it when it comes out.

Wilson does provide software demos on their website. If you are considering making an investment in poker software I highly suggest you take advantage of those demos to help make your purchase decision.

Good luck, and I’ll see you on the river.

[UPDATE – Here’s a great example of what I mean about the play. I just played three times, making the final table twice and winning once. Take a look at the screenshot below. That’s the final hand of the tourney, I had $6.x Million and opponent had $3.x Million going into the hand. Limped in to see a flop, I made about a $500,000 bet post-flop that opponent called then after the turn I went all in and he called with bottom pair and no kicker! That’s simply insane, I’ve barely seen worse play on celebrity poker.]


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