Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ten Years

From an article on Sheldon Adelson in the LV Review Journal:

"Our view is that many Asian markets are underpenetrated, but there really isn't nothing on the front burner," [Macquarie Capital gaming analyst] Simkins said. "We've been hearing about Japan for what, 10 years? There has been discussion about South Korea and increased chatter coming from Vietnam, but these things have a long gestation period."

Yeah, tell me about it. Still no other news. Maybe Japan will allow casinos before I die, maybe not.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sega Network Casino Club

It was a couple of weeks ago at this point, but I needed a weekend poker fix so I warned my wife I'd be gone Sunday afternoon and evening and tried to sign up for the Sunday afternoon games at Bar Jack in Shibuya. Unfortunately I hadn't counted on the game being as popular as it has become. It was Saturday morning when I tried to reserve a spot, but all 30 seats had been taken. Yikes.

Instead I decided to visit at least one of the computerized options in Shibuya. I wrote a long time back about the PokerPro table they installed at the Sega Gigo game center on their top, casino-gaming floor. They were location testing it then and I had assumed when it was taken out that we would not see it again, but apparently I was wrong. From what I have read on the web, it's back and they apparently do some type of regular tournaments on it. Interesting. I still need to try that again.

But I also wanted to try out one of the new Sega Casino Net game consoles they now have installed in their game centers. Players can log in and play casino games against the house, or other players connected to Sega's nationwide network. Celica-san noted in her blog a while back that they had started a version of 7 Card Stud which had some funky rules, but was interesting for the novelty if nothing else. But more recently they released Version 2 of the game system and network, and added Texas Holdem as an available game.

I found that one of the other game centers in Shibuya was listed on their web page as running a location-test of the new game system, so I paid them a visit. In the basement floor with all the other medal games (slots, video poker, high-tech Sigma Derby type horse racing simulations, etc.) I found four of the consoles, sitting unoccupied early Sunday afternoon. I spent 2000 yen (about $20) to buy about 250 of the metal tokens used in the gaming machines, including the poker consoles. Get lucky on the slots or poker and you can win a lot of tokens... but they can't be cashed out or changed for anything. They do have an automated token bank system, where you can register your fingerprint and a PIN number and then store your remaining medals for withdrawl again the next time you visit.

I also splurged 300yen for the personal Players Card which you can register on the Sega gaming system with your name and appearance, and which stores your playing statistics so all that data will appear the next time you log in. I selected a White Boy character, and was pleasantly surprised when I started playing that my character would verbalize "Raise!" or "Call!" or "Fold!" in decent English pronunciation. There was a Black Dude you can select as well, and the rest were Japanese characters who spoke with Japanese accents.

So... to the tables! The game offered Holdem tournaments, which I did not try, and cash games. So I tried the beginner-level cash games, with a 30-credit ante. Each token you fed into the machine earned you 7 credits, so there was a LOT of feeding tokens into the machine. I fed in enough tokens to get 120 credits or so and sat down at the virtual table.

The first thing it did was access the Sega network to look for other players from the four corners of Japan who were there to play Holdem. A few seconds later it reported back that it couldn't find anyone, so started up my table with two CPU opponents. Huh.

The ante was 30 credits, presumably for each player, yet the pot started out at 45. Yikes, hell of a rake here. Each player receives their two cards. First to act can check, bet 10, bet 20, or bet the max of 30. 30 credits is the most that can be bet any round, so if anyone bets the max of 30 the other players can't reraise, they can only call. If someone bets 10, the next player can raise to a total of 30 but no more. The original player can then call for 20 more.

Another wrinkle - the first player to act can check, but if he does the second player cannot. He must raise or fold. This is pretty damn frustrating, since you end up betting crap you'd rather just check with. On the other hand, if you are first to act with a good hand you can just check, secure that you can ALWAYS check-raise.

So the first round of betting finishes, and the flop is dealt, and there is another round of betting with the same funky rules as the first. Then the remaining two cards are dealt to the board together. Nope, no betting round after the turn, you go straight to the river. Then one more betting round... again with a max bet of 30 credits total!

I wasn't clear on what this would do to your playing strategy, but with three players and small bets I was rarely folding and as I continued to play, "rarely" turned to "never". I suspect the action in the game is not completely random. Straight and flush draws at the flop almost always came in on the river. Top pair top kicker or two pair would win only rarely, it seemed. Yes folks, let me be the first to say it...

Sega online poker is rigged.

As I played, one or two human players connected, but it wasn't really any different than playing against the CPU players. You called anything to see the flop. If you have a big draw you bet big. If you have a big pair or two pair, you bet with a fatalistic air, pretty sure you will never see those credits again. If you have absolute crap, you call, because apparently someone somewhere thinks it is a more interesting game if absolute crap wins almost as often as the made hands and draws.

I played for an hour and a half or so, getting the hang of how the game seemed to need to be played, and then feeding in the tokens one after the other. Towards the end I realized I might have just been on a slot machine. There was no sense of poker play, no feel that you needed to play skillfully to do well. Instead, you plug your money in and see if you win. It was a definite disappointment.

I had rebought for another 2000yen when my first credits ran out, but got to a break-even rhythm on the thing towards the end. I had also stepped away for a while to play on a different medal game, one of the ones with the moving trays stacked with tokens on the bottom that you try to drop new tokens onto in a way that pushed more of them off the trays and down into your hopper. I'm actually pretty good at these things now, so I turned my 200 tokens into about 500 or so before returning to the poker machine. It helps that the tokens are worthless so game center operators can set the payouts to be very generous.

I deposited my 400-ish remaining tokens into the automated bank, but I am not sure when or if I will be back to pull them out and try again. I still need to try the tournaments, I suppose, and maybe the gameplay is different in some of the higher-stakes games, but I am not terribly fired up to find out