Monday, March 13, 2006


(Author's note: The following review was written prior to the recent software revamp at Party. Nonetheless, this review was designed to entertain, and the majority of its points still apply --- hh)

Here's the 900-lb. gorilla of online poker sites, Party Poker. I played here several years ago for a short while, when they first came upon the scene, then returned here only recently. What does one compare Party Poker to: Wonder Bread? Wal-Mart? One-size-fits-all-wet-weather-ponchos? Any and all of these are correct.

True to the commercials, you can always find a game at Party, and you can almost always find one (or many) at your limits and options of choice.

Party offers a comprehensive assortment of limit levels, though only the usual assortment of poker games: Hold-'Em, Omaha, 5- and 7-Stud, the Omaha and 7-Stud with hi/lo variants, and with fixed, pot, and no-limit choices across virtually all. Lots of sit-and-gos, too, but for a site of this size, the multi-player tournament selection is rather paltry, and what is present is geared more to the high-end player than the nickel-dime-finback crowd.

For the most part, Party action is loo-oo-oo-oose at the micro- and small-limit levels. But Party also has a majority interest in North America's manic poker weirdos, which means that even a tight player's variance goes way, way up here, even when using a conservative approach to these very same games. I've had $100 swings playing the small stuff like .50/$1 and $1/2 fixed... and I play tighter than most. Strange, often maddening and ridiculous stuff. I'm reminded of Wilson's Turbo Texas software; one of its house characters for your simulated training games is a fellow named "Capp" who does just that, capping everything from pre-flop on as long as there's a chance to win... or just because a big pot looks nicer and seems like more fun. Sometimes on Party it seems as though the whole Capp clan is having a jamboree at your table. But as you'd expect, in the long run a decent player will do very well at Party or through its skins.

General plusses? A decent enough sign-on bonus, plus occasional --- and (as with the signup bonus) very easy-to-clear --- reload offers. Having a chunk of bankroll in reserve for when a Party reload bonus is issued is never a bad idea. At Party you'll find playable games around the clock, if that's your heart's desire, even in the wee hours when otherwise sane people would be fast asleep. Fast access to the cashier area, and usually to the web page that tracks your bonus offers in live time, or as close to it as is feasible.

If you're a new player, Party even provides you with special access to a "Beginner's Tables" section of the site, supposedly serving up easier competition for your first 45 days. A new player doesn't have to play these tables; they're just an extra option. I've noted no difference in skill level between these and the regular tables at the same stakes. I wonder if Party has a Beginner's section for new "bot" players, too?

Party also offers bad-beat, progressive-bad-beat and royal-flush jackpots, though these require you to play at tables where you're charged proportionately higher rake. I can't call this good or bad; it's a nice lottery bonus if you're the one lucky enough to collect the miracle six-figure pot, but other sites manage to offer equivalents to the smaller jackpots here... without charging extra rake for the privelege to try.

On the minus side, Party populates the poker table on your screen with a selection of truly sad avatars. With ten seats at a table, this means that only 10 male or female avatars are ever in use. It's always a white-bread convention at Party --- if you're of African, Asian, Latin American or Amerindian descent, you'll not find an avatar representing you here. Just some dude wearing a beret that looks rather more like a frisbee that his prankster buddy just pulled out of a microwave oven, and some cowboy dude in a hat whose face you never see. And if, like me, you're a girl, the options are even worse: With only a couple of exceptions, you'll end up as either a spinsterly schoolmarm or a bimbo. Most of the female avatars do, of course, "point" (in the Wonder Woman sense) to bimbo. But since the schoolmarm's hairdo looks like she's wearing a red-colored version of "Wilson the Volleyball" from Castaway, the bimbo look is probably still the better choice.

The quantity of tables and games at Party is so large that the front page of the site often gets a case of the yips trying to keep up with the data and the action. It translates into players often double-clicking on a table, seeking to join or watch, then discovering that the front page's table data has updated and shifted on the page as the user clicked, meaning that the table the user joined isn't even the one he or she wanted. This happens at least 10% of the time, in my experience, and since most of the tables are only identified by a number several digits in length, it's often not quick or easy to catch, either.

The software yips continue to the play itself, if you choose to try two or more tables at once. Multiple actions required? Then expect that the screens will battle for your attention, and these screens do not always recognize the mouse clicks or keystrokes that you make. So you might click three or four times instead of the normal two before a simple "Fold" action takes, or you might instead end up folding those rockets on a hand you hadn't yet had a chance to see. Sayonara, AA!

Cashiered again. Do you like using FirePay? I do, though I also have NETeller and other accounts. Party Poker accepts incoming deposits from FirePay, but doesn't allow you to cash out through the same channel. This is inane. Perhaps there are fee considerations between Party and FirePay, but then again, Party's not likely to care if FirePay's rival NETeller dings users 8.9% for accidentally doing an Insta-Cash withdrawal from their personal account, as a way of bringing money into the cycle to begin with. (Party does allow users to withdraw using NETeller, ho ho ho.) So what it means, in effect, is that you'll probably need two or more electronic-wallet accounts to use Party properly. Let the buyer beware.

Party has several "help" options available for its users, including a live-chat option that is absolutely never available. It's a tease --- don't bother! So I'll guess we'll chalk that one up as a negative, rather than a positive. Nice thought, though... And one last negative: While Party offers the usual selection of hand-history download options, its live player stats are all but worthless. No matter how many hands I've played, this pop-up screen adamantly tells me that I've won 100% of my showdown hands. If only!

Cashing in, cashing out: Faster than average, beginning with your second time through the loop. Bonus payouts are calculated in live time and are released almost instantaneously into your bankroll. That's a plus.

Plenty of action; looser-than-average games. All true --- proof positive that advertising works. But in 900-lb. gorilla, there's plenty of monkeyshines here, too. My final read: Enjoy the action, but be careful.

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