Monday, March 13, 2006


Another site visited, with high expectations.

Another disappointment.

BoDog Poker is among the sassiest and brassiest of the newer poker venues to hit the 'Net. The offshoot of a well-established bookmaking concern --- spearheaded by the omnipresent head honcho of all things Bodog, Calvin Ayres --- BoDog Poker offers plenty of flash and attitude, but lacks the substance to get where it wants to go. Advertising only carries a poker site so far, and, for what it's worth, BoDog has lots more work to do if it wants to be a really serious playa.

First, let's give BoDog whatever credit it deserves for creating a site with a distinctive persona. From its ads to its gaming site Bodog goes for the flash and sizzle, the in-your-face feel. Featured site endorsers include Josh Arieh and David Williams --- need I say more? (Ah, to be young, hip and macho --- I'm zero-for-three on that scale.) At first glance the interface looks sleek and streamlined, with plenty of techno-gizmos to aid your play. Once you figure them out, that is, for they're not clearly organized, nor well-defined. But I digress.

It is a sleek, streamlined site, and the software works as advertised, as far as it goes. The problem is that the BoDog interface doesn't do the basics right, and because of that, you might find the site --- sleek-'n'-streamlined or not --- darn near unplayable and unusable. No other site I've used does as terrible a job of using the available screen space, and no other site goes so far to skip what needs to be in place... just for the sake of looking cool. That's a trade-off that this results-oriented person rates rather lowly.

On the flip side, a major plus for BoDog is the flattened and lengthened blind structure in its tournaments; the overall effect is that the blinds increase much more slowly here than on most other sites. It gives you room to make some plays, and it makes for longer-duration tournaments. So if you measure your poker entertainment value in hours spent (rather than dollars won), BoDog's tourneys are definitely worth a look.

The worst transgression? It's the multi-tabling. Or rather the lack of it, in any usable form. BoDog's interface allows up to three tables to be played simultaneously, and offers a one-click way to switch the positions of the tables on the screens. In essence, the interface allows you a full view of only one of the three tables, with the other two shrunk down into mini-view formats at the far left. And what miserable mini-views they are, too, lacking such important basics as the size of a bet that any individual opponent at the table has made during the current round of betting, showing only the collective total bet during that round by all opponents to that moment. Only by clicking that screen into the "main" screen position can you actually determine who's bet what. In addition, the icon that indicates that a player is still active in a hand is so small as to be illegible; you'll not be able to pick it up from a quick glance at the action. And if you're playing fixed-limit, don't worry about the size of your own chip stack: in the mini-view it's not present.

The strange part is that, though the mini-views are too small to be useful, they still include a ton of wasted space. Congratulations, BoDog! I'm not quite sure how you managed it, but you did: your mini-screens manage to suck in two opposite and conflicting ways at the same time. And the main screen is even worse, in terms of wasted space. But at least it's a clean, sleek look.
You know what's absolutely the funniest? The fact that in the interest of coolth, Bodog's interface has intentionally been designed to be extra-lean and horizontal, leaving an inch or more of blank space at the top and bottom of the user's monitor. In practice, it looks much the way a wide-screen film does when projected onto most theatres' standard-sized screens... a wasteful, poorly designed fit.

And one more significant omission: For all the user tools and technical showmanship, nowhere, when you're in the midst of a tournament, can you find a screen that tells you what your current position is. If there's 50 people remaining in a tourney that pays 27 spots, and you're in the middle of the pack, it's worth knowing exactly where you are in that pack, to better time your moves. But the only way to do it on BoDog would to be to tab to each table, then calculate who's above and below. and it'd all change by the time you finished, anyway.

BoDog loses itself in the flash and the sizzle and ends up producing something not very good at all. For instance, the site makes a point of having lots of statistical information available for the player. And the stats and tracking info are there, too, even if sometimes they don't work right. (According to their stats, I've never lost a showdown. But I digress.) However --- and this is particularly true in tourneys --- the information is available on not one but multiple separate screens, each screen itself replete with hidden tabs and resizing options. The information is there, but it's a hopeless morass, unable to be accessed in a timely manner in the midst of your intended multi-tabling play. You can access and re-size your tournament info until it's just what you want to see, and if you're switched to another table --- poof! -- you start again from scratch with your choices.

Until you give up on multi-tabling at BoDog, which you will. You'll still be annoyed, but you'll stop trying to play two or more games at once.

What's left when you can't play two or more tables effectively? For me, a lot of boredom. But I actually have two computers I run simultaneously, and if I'm not writing something, checking e-mail or designing a crossword, I'll often have a second site active on my older boat anchor, playing a single table or small tourney. One would think that since it (BoDog) doesn't offer effective multi-table performance, it ought to at least be able to single-table without too much processor overhead. But, alas, that doesn't work either. BoDog's software requires at least Windows 200 and a 200-megahertz processing speed; my old clunker is Windoze '98/165MhZ, and it can't run BoDog. (I've tried.)

When all is said and done, I can't think of a reason that I'd want to spend a lot of time playing at BoDog, except (in BoDog's pipedreams) to tell my friends that I'm cool because I do play there. (And hope that my friends don't snicker at me behind my back.) But functionally speaking, this site has a long, long way to go before it's a serious contender. BoDog needs to take its money guys and its poker guys and its coder guys, put them all in a big room... and at least introduce them to one another. A merging of the minds might not be possible, but it's better than this dilettante stuff.

Software quirks abound here, the natural outcome of having a complex site put together by a group that doesn't really yet understand the complexities of the game. As an example, I'm writing this as I play in a tournament on BoDog that's a $5,000 Guarantee, $15 + $1 no-limit freezeout. The number of the entrants did not reach the level necessary to meet the guarantee, which should cause an overlay. Under Tournament Lobbies / Tournament Details / Player Progress the "Prize Pool" shows as $4,180. Hmmm, shouldn't that be $5,000?? BoDog's software dudes don't seem to know that "Prize Pool" is an "outflow" term; they need something like "Entry Fees Paid" here instead. And it is vitally important to get these things right --- the only way that I was able to determine that BoDog was indeed meeting its guarantee was by manually adding the 27 prize figures in the Payouts window, upon the advice of a more experienced BoDog-er. (Which was a bit embarrassing, actually!)

Understand that I didn't really expect to learn that BoDog wasn't meeting guarantees --- they are, so forget about that. But it is BoDog's responsibility to create a comfort zone, not confusion, and here they've dropped the ball.

Summing up, I give BoDog high marks for effort, but rather significantly lower marks for execution. They ain't where they need to be, if they wanna be who they claim to be. Because, of this, I'd say that their "chip" rating below is as volatile as any I've ever done; ther's some significant upside potential.

Never forget, though: There's a difference between potential and reality.

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