Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Crashing the Free Games

Playing on South Point PokerYou might have heard something about two weeks ago about how the Las Vegas-based South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa had started an online poker site where they planned -- among other offerings -- to run some freeroll qualifiers to next year’s World Series of Poker Main Event.

I looked into the site a little last week prior to its official launch yesterday. It’s actually on that same Zen Entertainment Network on which one finds Rise Poker, UFC Poker, WWE Poker, the National League of Poker (NLOP), and others. That meant that since I already signed up for a Rise account before, I didn’t need to again in order to log into the South Point Poker software.

All of these sites not only share player bases but the same software, too, so I really didn’t need to download the South Point Poker client at all as the only difference between it and Rise was “SP” on the backs of the cards. But I did, anyway.

Last night I noticed some tweets about South Point Poker finally going live and that first WSOP ME satellite freeroll happening, and so I ended up registering and playing. Was kind of fun for a while, then more than a little frustrating. But the frustration part was mostly on my end (I explain below).

I’d played a little on the Rise Poker site before. Also earlier in the evening, before the tourney started, I messed around on the South Point version, too. I chatted with players to discover they were logged in via Rise. So I was already somewhat familiar with where things were.

Those of you who’ve taken a look at the Rise site know that it’s not the greatest interface, especially when compared to what a lot of us are used to. But it is somewhat manageable. The ads around the sides of the table aren’t really that distracting to me, nor are the commercials they run during breaks. (Sucker does seem to use a lot of computing power, though, when compared to the PokerStars client or others.)

The slider for betting is a little awkward to use, and it is actually hard sometimes to tell how much others have bet. Particularly for the player sitting in the seat on the left side of the table, near the “Rise” logo (which appears even with the South Point client).

Can't see amountFor instance, here’s a shot of a bet in which the total was obscured by the logo. You can kind of count the chips here, but there was one hand later on last night when this design flaw posed a genuine problem for me.

I had opened with a raise from middle position and it had folded back to a relative short stack in the big blind who like this guy reraised all in, and I could not tell how much his bet was for. The total pot amount is displayed at the top of the table, so I guess I could have done some math to figure out the total of the shove, but I didn’t and just ended up letting the hand go.

Speaking of this whole freerollin’-ZEN experience, I mentioned a few months back that I knew someone who had a lot of fun playing on the NLOP site. She’d won a couple of tourneys and had checks for $10 or $20 mailed to her, which added to her enjoyment. I could see perhaps spending more time on the network and exploring a bit more, especially if the software were more palatable.

This is making me think a bit of the posts Kim of Infinite Edge Gaming is currently working on regarding the “de-gamification of poker.” I was reading through his latest installment in the series last night prior to playing in the South Point Poker tourney, including looking at the very cool and informative presentation by Sebastian Deterding called “Pawned. Gamification and Its Discontents” which Kim recommends along the way.

I don’t want to sidetrack this post too greatly, so I am not going to get into everything Kim is talking about. Also, I am still pondering Kim’s observations about the way those who have run online poker over the last decade gradually managed to take the “game” out of the game and make it something else. (Read his posts -- Part 1 and Part 2 -- and maybe that last sentence will make more sense.)

But I did want to note that I think Kim is onto something... both in his analysis of what has happened in the past with online poker and his ideas regarding what should happen in the future when the whole industry is remade here in the United States. As Kim notes, the game has to be fun, despite the fact that more than 90% of those playing aren’t going to be consistent “winners.”

Which brings me back to last night’s tournament. Like I said, it was free to play. Or actually, it “cost” 500 pts. to play, but you get 1,500 or something just for signing up. (And it isn’t hard to win more points, if you need them.)

And there was a real prize there at the end, an expense-paid trip out to Vegas next month to play a live one-table satellite the winner of which gets a seat in the 2012 WSOP ME. By the way, the freerolls are continuing nightly all week -- click here for more details.

South Point PokerAlso, folks finishing in the top 120 or so did win points that can be used in other tourneys and sit-n-gos on the network. I’ve played a few of those before. There are a number of free events one can play, but more that “cost” points with prizes consisting of either more points or even actual cash. And, of course, if you get the $20/month thing you are allowed to play even more events with real money prizes. (Upgrading like that also allows you to change your avatar and do other stuff, too, I believe.)

The tourney had a fast structure and we only began with 1,000 chips, so as might be expected it was super-gambly early on. Took me a while to realize play was eight-handed, not nine. I hit a couple of hands during the first few orbits, then kept chipping up before winning a big one. I’d opened with Td8d and had a couple of callers, then the big blind reraised small and we all called. The flop brought three diamonds and all three of the others were happy enough to put their stacks in with me. My hand held, and just like that I was first with 800 players left.

I was either first or second over the next hour or so as the field got trimmed down to less than 200. Then I finally fell back a little to the bottom of the top 20. That’s when my computer -- a desktop PC running Windows Vista -- shut down unexpectedly on me.

I say “unexpectedly” because there is no warning beforehand the shut down is going to occur, but I have experienced the problem occasionally in the past. I am pretty sure it is a driver-related issue -- in fact, I think it began not long after I bought a new keyboard some months ago. Could also be a temperature thing, but I’m not really sure. (That will be one of the puzzles I try to solve today.)

In any case, I rebooted and rejoined the game, played a few hands, and had another shut down. Went through the same sequence and by the time I was logged back in I found I was 33/74. It happened a couple more times, though, and so eventually I fired up another desktop we have, installed the client, and got back in just in time to play two more hands with what had become a less-than-3BB stack. Finished 31st, for which I won a few thousand more points with which to play other tourneys and sit-n-gos.

Zen Entertainment Network tourney schedule screenSetting aside my computer troubles, the tourney was fun enough, especially for that short stretch where it looked like I might actually be positioned to make a run at winning the thing. Might have to take another shot in one of these WSOP ME sattys. And like I say I think I am reasonably intrigued enough to try to negotiate that schedule of tourneys and sit-n-gos to see what else might be on offer.

Would love to be able to play on my Mac laptop, though. That thing always works.

(EDIT [added 10/25/11]: Feel obligated to add a note here regarding those crashes I experienced while playing at South Point Poker. I’ve noticed others referring to the Zen Entertainment client using a ton of computing power, with some also reporting encountering the dreaded “blue screen of death” while playing. While I have no idea whether my problems were entirely related to running the SPP program, I eventually had to replace my hard disk as I could no longer run anything without the crashes occurring. I may have just had a hard drive go bad on me, but I am now somewhat reluctant to load the Zen program back onto my newly installed hard disk.)

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