I remember where I first learned how to play poker, and from whom. When I was a kid, my mom taught me the basics of the game so that we could play it to pass the time in the airport while waiting for a flight to a now long-forgotten destination. I seem to recall reacting with some modicum of surprise that my mom, of all people, knew how to play poker! But neither one of us, naturally, could play to a competitive level. This was a purely recreational pursuit.
Since then I’ve rarely picked up a deck of cards, but I’ve played countless hands of poker anyway — in the videogame world. I’m not actually talking about online poker houses where you can play on the Internet — click here for one such example, which also handily offers up some basic competitive poker tips for the true beginner — but rather about console games that on their face appear to have nothing to do with poker, but actually contain some very entertaining poker minigames built in.
Since it’s relatively trivial to build a poker videogame compared to the open-world adventure games, shooters and simulators that abound today, sometimes you will find a really good poker game in the most unusual places. One example is Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 on the Xbox 360, where each in-game evening offered the option to visit the Zack Island Casino for a suite of Vegas-style games, including poker. I often looked forward more to putting the smackdown on Tina or Hitomi at the poker table than kicking their bikini-clad butts off the volleyball court, which was the central focus of the game. I found, however, that playing poker in DOAX2 was often incredibly unforgiving, unpleasant and too difficult to win any actual money in. (I guess you might say that makes it realistic?)
If you’re more interested in playing electronic poker against actual people, you could hit up an online poker house (though you’d be advised to first click here to learn some strategies about bluffing, bonuses and researching professional strategies). Or you could try a risk-free poker fix in the least likely of places: Red Dead Redemption, a video game about violence and deception in the Old West. There’s a poker minigame in Red Dead that is simply tons of fun, and will have you going up against a whole myriad of opponents who are just as good at calling your bluff as they can be at bluffing you out.
What’s really cathartic about Red Dead’s poker minigame is how, if things are going really badly for you and you just can’t take it anymore, you can jump out of your chair, unholster a pistol and fill your opponents with lead in true Old West Bad-Guy style. You’ll then get in a lot of trouble with the law, but you can just reload your last saved game to clear away your impropriety — you were probably going to do that anyway, if you were losing your shirt at the poker table!
I’m perfectly content to stay with Red Dead’s idea of a poker simulation, but anyone wanting to take the challenge of electronic poker to the real world (where you don’t need a poker face, per se, but you will still need a cool head) could click here to get some beginner’s tips at PokerInsider.com and register to play online with others via their online poker provider.
But don’t try to pull a John Marston if things don’t go your way. You’ll just wind up putting a hole in your computer screen.