Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, right from your cellphone.
Poker is so hot, betting away your second mortgage wouldn't even put out the fire.
More specifically, the ubiquitous game of Texas Hold 'Em is blowing up. First popularized by the 1998 Matt Damon flick Rounders, it's now garnered more attention than, well, Matt Damon, thanks to televised broadcasts of the World Series Of Poker (WSOP) and Rosario Dawson's heaving breasts on Celebrity Poker.
The online gambling world further fanned the flames by offering seats at the WSOP to the average person. In 2003, amateur gambler Chris Moneymaker, his real name, shook the community by stealing the $2.5 million grand prize from seasoned pros, with only a $40 entrance fee and three years of playing online. Now everyone thinks a full-time poker-playing career is right around the corner.
In the time it takes you to read this article, $1.3 million will have been wagered on online poker sites.
PokerRoom.com, the fifth-largest poker website in the world, is about to bank some of your hard-earned coin. It's devised a way for you to play without such inconveniences as the Internet or real-life friends. Poker, as of April 11, has now invaded our cellphones.
Set-up is a cinch. I register at www.pokerroom.com , and the free software is sent directly to my cellphone. Once it's installed, I choose a limit, from 25 cents to $1,000 per hand, the number of players at a table and to use play money rather than real. The system lists all the current tables within those parameters for me to join. With 3.5 million registered users, several hundred games come up.
I was worried that online poker wouldn't translate well visually to the small screen of a cellular phone since the action in Hold 'Em can get complex.
The technology tackles this obstacle with effective pan-and-scan animation and three different interfaces to choose from: normal (great graphics comparable to online poker), symbol (simple icons representing players and action) and the completely useless text version. This last scrolls too fast, and for most people, poker's a visual game. The text option is kind of like playing chess by saying, "white rook to A-13" and trying to keep track.
The data transfer rate is fast enough to accommodate the table action. There's virtually no difference between playing on a website and playing from your cellphone except that you can now lose your life savings on the streetcar.
The downside is that you'll lose money before you even get to the gambling. Mobile Internet access via Rogers wireless isn't free. The largest plan is $12 per month for 2MB data transfer. According to the log on the phone, each hand amounted 23KB, so the $12 plan gives you roughly 87 hands at 14 cents each. Once you're over that limit, you're charged 1 cent per KB, or 23 cents per hand.
So even if you use play money and win, you'll be losing real dough while Rogers ends up the winner.
Currently, the PokerRoom.com service is only available on select cellular phones, mostly Nokia, that have the bells and whistles to accommodate the fancy-pants software. It also doesn't work with CDMA or non-GPRS networks, which in plain language means you're shit out of luck if you're with Telus or Bell Mobility.
If you have the right combination of cellphone model, mobile carrier and rate plan, on top of a poker addiction that can't wait until you get home, you're well on your way to making PokerRoom.com, Rogers Wireless and the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health very happy.
What you pay
Phone : Nokia 6620, $129 with three-year term from Rogers wireless.
Internet access : $12 per month extra for Rogers wireless GPRS service.
PokerRoom.com : free