Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Poker Academy Pro

So I got an email from Poker Academy the other day inviting me to try out their poker training software (Poker Academy Pro 2), evaluate and post my thoughts on it. I remember trying out this program 1.5 years ago coincidentally on recommendation from a comment on the blog as well. I thought it had potential back then but never explored it too much since it was just the trial version.

So what is it?

Well basically its an online poker simulator. The interface looks very similar to your standard online poker site with the action buttons and slider bar at the bottom. And rather than playing against human opponents, this program has set up a bunch of AI bots that play against you with varying degrees of aggression. One of the immediate differences from a regular poker interface that I noticed was a collection of statistics on the right side. Heres a screen shot.

The two most important things to look at are the Hand Evaluator and Advisor windows. They basically tell you your hands strength in an absolute sense (compared to all possible hands) and the advisor uses that information to determine the "correct" move. In this screen shot you see me with air, and the advisor recommends me to check based on my hands absolute strength.

You can play all the different types of Hold'em. Ring games, MTT's, SNG's are all represented as well as the option to play full table, short handed, heads up and even limit poker.

There is also a neat feature that allows you to click your opponents cards allowing you to see them. Or you can go all out and have all your opponents cards exposed. The ability to play vs your opponents with their cards exposed wont necessarily teach you how to play poker, but what it will do is give you a great understanding of what types of hands exist and how infrequently people actually pick up monsters. I ended up playing a whole MTT with my opponents hands exposed and while I obviously won, I really think that it is an important tool in evaluating why you should be betting in certain situations and probably the best feature of the program.

The hand evaluator and advisor do a decent job at recommending certain plays but it is certainly lacking in that "human" aspect of the betting lead and aggression. For example, if you raise KQ and you get one caller and miss the flop, often times it will recommend you to check (since your absolute hand strength is weak) disregarding the fact that you have the betting lead and will take the pot down with a continuation bet very often. Also the AI will tend to lead into you when they connect on the flops when you have the betting lead, making it a misrepresentation of the natural flow of most games.

The problem with ranking your hand based on its absolute hand strength is that it ignores all hand reading ability and just states that if you have x% hand strength facing the bet size you are facing you must do y. This is first level poker and doesn't take into account your opponents hand range at all. For example If the board is 4567 rainbow and your opponent bets big, it doesn't really matter what your hand strength is as long as you can beat a bluff since they are generally representing a straight or nothing. Relative hand strength is what you should be thinking about at all times.

However, this isn't to say there is nothing to be learned from playing the AI. They generally play a very solid, tight game that most beginners should try emulating. They also provide a decent representation of a typical tight/weak abc player (the type that make up the majority of low stakes players) to play against which will help beginners learn how to beat that player type.

Also you can tweak the opponent AI type. From the tightest of tight to aggressive as possible, you can play vs any of your choosing. This is especially useful if you want to experiment with ways to exploit certain player types.

One of my biggest concerns with the program is that it seems to have been designed with tournament play in mind, with ring games as an afterthought. In tournaments it is fairly standard to stack off with top pair or even 2nd pair depending on how deep the stacks are but in cash games it isn't. The AI seems to almost always play for stacks in the cash game when they hit top pair, where this just isn't correct play against most low stakes players. At the low stakes games it is mostly about pot control until you get more familiar with certain player types and their tenancies. The advisor makes the most errors in cash games advising to raise much too often, creating huge pots regardless of position or relative hand strength.

But I'm sort of nitpicking here as overall the software is a great tool for learning especially for players new to the game. Of course there is no substitute for real money play against real players, and obviously the AI is lacking those human qualities that you need to learn how to adjust against - but it is almost definitely a better substitute for learning than playing play money as at least your AI opponents are somewhat responsible with their chips. The ability to see your opponents cards as well as your absolute hand strength are amazing learning tools for beginners. But beyond the low stakes tournaments and cash games I'm not entirely sure how helpful this program would be.

You can download the fully functional demo here and test it out yourself. If you are new to the game or have been struggling to win for a while I highly recommend it as it will surely get you on the right track and at the very least open up your mind to new hold'em experiences.


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