Poker for Dummies Review

Poker is one of the most versatile games in the world, with hundreds of different variations, all with their own different strategies and methods of play. There are only, however, a handful that you will find played anywhere, and of those it is entirely down to personal preference which is most suited to your game. My brother, for example, is a traditionalist, favouring Seven-Card Stud (although he likes to play a horrible variation which has five revealed cards as opposed to four) while my game of choice is the version played on television, Texas Hold ‘Em. This form is now the world’s most popular version, the one all the big tournaments, including the World Series, use as standard. If you’re going to learn to play Poker properly, and not lose everything very quickly indeed, this is the version you have to be adept at.

That is the opinion taken by this DVD, released in conjunction with the Poker for Dummies book, with the majority of the time taken up with looking at Hold ‘Em. Although understandable, I’m not sure that this is entirely the best approach for beginners – I’m a firm believer that simple five card Draw Poker is the best tutor for newbies, at least until they’ve got their heads around various card rankings and probabilities. Here, Draw isn’t even mentioned until the last section, in which other forms of Poker are briefly covered (in addition to Draw, Omaha High and Seven-Card Stud are also illustrated), which seems a bit of an backwards way to go about it.

One of the advantages of having a DVD like this, however, is that it can be referenced as much as possible, and so although on an initial viewing I would imagine the poker virgin would be a little overwhelmed and confused with the amount of information being offered, there is certainly enough substance here to merit repeated study. All the basics you can think of are covered: from hand definitions, table placings and so on, right through to examining the various “tells” players give off at the table, which hopefully will give you an insight into whether they are bluffing or not. (Being rather smug about my poker face, I was rather put off to discover that I do one of them all the time). There are eight chapters on the disk, one of which serves as an introduction with the rest broken down as follows: Poker Basics, Texas Hold ‘Em, Essential Strategies, The Bluff, Tells, Home Games and World Series Secrets, which divides the topics down nicely and makes each topic accessible.

The two hosts are genial. Chris Moneymaker (“yes, that is my real name”), who won the World Series of Poker in 2003 (netting a cool $2.5 million as he did) does his job perfectly well, if a little characterlessly, while his companion Barry Shulman has the exact look you would expect from a man who runs for a living – blue collar, a glint in his eye, a man who has spent his life sitting around a card table with a bunch of friends and a six pack between them. Play is illustrated by a bunch of players in the background, including the unfortunate Allyn who at one point has to enact the various tells Shulman is talking about which she does in an amusingly exaggerated fashion. All the action takes place in a set that looks like it spends the rest of its time appearing in infomercials, with bright contrasting primary colours and plenty of use of the trade-mark “Dummies” yellow. Also prominent are the four symbols that litter the paper versions of this brand (Jargon Alert, Remember, Caution! and Tip) but, as these are more useful to reference when one wants to look something up, their inclusion seems more of an obligatory nod to the book than useful in their own right, flicking through a DVD for a reference still not a popular way of doing things. Onscreen graphics, meanwhile, are bright and clear illustrating key points well and don’t go past too quickly.

There are inevitably gaps in what is covered which, while understandable given its fifty minute running time, reinforces the feeling that to get the best out of it you would also need to get the book. It’s a little surprising that there’s not even a brief word about the history of Poker which would seem de rigeur in a complete introduction, while, more pertinently for a playing guide, probabilities are only very lightly touched on. The narration is occasionally mundane too – “Poker, just like a house, requires a good foundation (and) only after the foundation is solidly in place can you proceed to build on it,” Moneymaker solemnly tells us before going through the basics – but in an introduction to an essentially trivial activity such as this being po-faced is hardly a crime.

Serving as a complete introduction to Texas Hold ‘Em, this disk does its job perfectly well. Ideas are laid out in a simple fashion, and if one has a sufficient interest in learning the ropes, this makes a more than acceptable tutor. What it doesn’t do, however, despite its claims at the beginning, is give the novice enough tools to be able to go into a game with regulars and hold their own. Key points are one thing, but with only very rudimentary factors mentioned here, there is a lot more to learn before a player should even think of going near a casino, or even evil friends or family members who are ready to take their money from them. (Not having seen the book, I can only suspect that it does fill in some of these gaps.) A very suitable primer, then, but I wouldn’t recommend heading to the World Series after watching it. Although I can tell you there’s a very good game happening round my brother’s house. Next Sunday. Eight o’clock. We don't bite... much

The Disk
The piece is presented on a single single-layered disk with a 4:3 picture. The menus are simple but intuitive, the main menu having just three options: Play Feature, Chapters, and Extras (I wouldn’t bother with this last one – see below). The chapters all have immediately understandable headings, and all options are accompanied by a short piece of looping footage from that section. Menu transitions are a little long sometimes and can be frustrating – they show the book version being flicked through, with easy-to-read text, which makes one want to pause it and have a look.

Neither Video nor Audio are particularly important on a release like this, but both are more than acceptable. The video has the same infomercial glossiness that the set has, and while lighting is a bit stark at times, there is no grain or any obvious digital artefacting. Sound, too, is perfectly acceptable (two speaker Dolby Surround, no less), although the show’s fanfare may grate after a while. More annoyingly, there are no subtitles, for which the disk instantly loses a point.

There’s nothing on the extras front worth bothering about. ”Icons Explained” is just that, a page that shows the five icons and what they mean, while ”Cartoons” features five of Rich Tennant’s Poker-related jokes from the book. There are two advertisements for other Dummies disks, neither of which seem to have much in common with Poker. Both Yoga for Dummies and Pilates for Dummies are shown with two video windows showing a woman in a leotard doing the appropriate movements on a gym mat. I wonder if Barry Shulman does much yoga.

An easy introduction into the world of Poker, this is a decent if unremarkable primer for the game with attractive presentation. The bias on Texas Hold ‘Em is slightly too modern an approach for my tastes, but understandable given its pre-eminence in the Poker world nowadays and there’s enough here for most people to get to grips with what’s going on around a poker table. Probably best to buy in conjunction with the book though.

7 out of 10
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