New Projects - Fresh from the Labs

PokerTH—Quality Texas Hold'em (www.pokerth.net)

During this decade, Texas Hold'em rapidly has become one of the most popular variants of poker across the globe. Taking center stage in such films as Casino Royale and being the main feature in the World Series of Poker, Texas Hold'em is now the coolest game around. However, unless you want to use some kind of tacky on-line game, it's hard to find a sim that feels any good. Well, PokerTH steps up to the plate quite nicely indeed. According to its Web site: “PokerTH is a poker game written in C++/Qt4. You can play the popular Texas Hold'em poker variant against up to nine computer opponents or play network games with people all over the world. This poker engine is available for Linux, Windows and Mac OS.”

Installation

The PokerTH downloads page has a number of binary packages, and PokerTH also is included in a number of repositories. A distro-neutral binary package also is available as a tarball, along with a binary installer and source.

For those going with source, grab the latest tarball, extract it and open a terminal in the new folder. Chances are, you won't have all the needed libraries, so install the following as recommended by the PokerTH Web site:

  • Qt version >= 4.4.3, 4.5.1 recommended.

  • zlib version 1.2.3.

  • libcurl version >= 7.16.

  • gnutls (version 2.2.2).

  • libboost_thread, libboost_filesystem, libboost_datetime, libboost_program_options, libboost_iostreams, libboost_asio and libboost_regex (version >= 1.36, 1.38.0 recommended).

  • libSDL_mixer and libSDL.

I also had to install libqt4-dev. Once you have all the needed dependencies, enter the following commands:

$ qmake-qt4 pokerth.pro
$ make
$ sudo make install

When the installation is over, run PokerTH with this command:

$ pokerth

If you're lucky, it will be in your system's menu, and there also may be a new desktop icon.

Usage

The starting screen will have the options to start a local game, an Internet game, create a network game or join a network game. Obviously, you'll want to learn the game's interface before playing anyone else, so choose Start Local Game. A screen appears with a default number of players, starting cash, blind settings and game speed. Unless you really know what you're doing, stick with the given defaults.

I'm assuming you know the basics of Texas Hold'em here, but even if you don't, the game goes to some lengths to make the learning process fairly intuitive. As soon as you're in the actual game screen, you'll be right in the action with two cards dealt. Here you can bet for more cash on the table, check/call or fold. As soon as you make your choice, things move on to the next player and the round continues.

As the game moves on, more bets can be placed before everyone has called/checked, more cards are revealed, and the round finishes with someone winning the pot. Above the Raise, Call and Fold buttons is also the option to go all-in. The field with the numbers next to the All-In button with the slider below lets you adjust how much you want to bet/raise, rather than being stuck with the game's defaults.

A helpful feature for new players is that it actually displays what hands you should play for on the left, along with the terminology. On the right are some tabs with brilliant features.

The first tab contains a log of all that's happened so far. The second tab has what actions to choose when you're away from the computer. And best of all, the last tab has a dynamically updated chance section, telling the mathematical chance you have of getting each kind of hand.

This last feature is particularly of use for new players, because it tells what chance you have of getting the hand you're after, so you don't need to be a mathematical savant. This is great for getting a feel for the game and avoiding stupid errors. Once you've played for a while, the dynamics and mathematics of Texas Hold'em should start to come more intuitively.

Note the helpful guide of possible hands for new players on the left and a chance meter on the right.

Playing the computer becomes tedious after a while (the computer is all math and no instinct), and you'll be wanting to play some humans soon. Close the game, go back to the PokerTH main screen, and choose Internet Game. You'll be taken to a screen with lots of games from which to choose. Pick an open game that has a decent number of players, and when the host is ready to start, the game will proceed.

Playing on-line, you get a time limit and a chat window. Note the four color suits—great for avoiding mixups in quick situations like this.

The first major difference you'll notice between on-line play and local play is that a timer bar is applied in on-line mode, which takes care of tardy players. If you are going to be away from the computer for any amount of time, it's worth changing your settings in the Away tab on your right. An on-line chat tab also is available—great for a social game like poker. When you're ready to leave, press the Lobby button on the bottom-right corner. I'll let you work out the rest of the game from here.

It's definitely worth having a look at the game's Web site, where users have made a number of themes and additions. I find the default theme a little bland, but some other themes are quite snazzy. Some card themes have four different colors as well, which really helps you differentiate between suits quickly when it's midnight and you have a head full of whiskey!

Some of the themes, such as Stardust (shown here), look snazzy and make PokerTH a real class act.

I'm sure Texas Hold'em fans will love PokerTH. Its use of open protocols, such as IRC, should help its longevity, and its large fan base is testament to this (I've never once had trouble finding a game on-line). It's a great poker sim for newbies and veterans alike, and I highly recommend it.

______________________

John Knight is the New Projects columnist for Linux Journal.

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