'World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets'

Is poker still a viable game when there’s no actual money at stake – your pride maybe but not your money? Like most good Americans, I’d much rather give up my pride than my money. That absence of fiscal commitment in video-game poker makes for a lack of the risk that imbues the real-life card game with excitement and strategy.

Recognizing this, World Series of Poker smartly plays like practice for the real thing rather than futilely attempting to fill the void that money’s absence leaves in the souls of free-video-poker players. The tutorials range from the basic/instructional to the advanced: The Same Hand Jam allows you to play one hand from all nine positions at the table. Branding all over the game is the World Series of Poker with videos listing amenities of real-life host hotels and showcasing the insufferable personalities of poker’s big names.

The stars of the WSOP sit across from you, usually in trademark sunglasses, and the in-game display looks very similar to what you see on televised games, making some of the smaller numbers difficult to read but will still be appreciated by number-cruncher types. Lounge music and insipid trash-talking come with the territory, but thankfully both can be turned off in the options menu.

The online play puts some icing on a mediocre cake. Most helpful are the player stats you’ll need to tell a newbie from an expert. Most hands played online will include at least one unreasonably risky bettor. Then again, with no money at stake, people play differently than when you have your kid’s college tuition on the line.

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