Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hold’emX: Does This Game Have My Name On It?

The joke is that back in high school & college my nickname was “The Big X” (because of my last name, silly), so naturally something called “HoldemX” would sound like it would “have my name on it.”  Ha ha.

But, no joke: this new radical version of Hold‘em just might be what I’ve been looking for.

As you may know, I’ve been off the virtual felt since Black Friday.  Well, the cash side, anyway.  I’ve never felt comfortable advocating for a return of legal, regulated online poker in the US while at the same time playing at off-shore sites that accept US players like Bodova, ACR, and the like.  That’s not an argument I want to pursue right now, BTW.

I’ve been filling my time online in other pursuits – I have returned to the track (that was my first love, y’know) and I am happy to report that it “satisfies” as much as it ever did (up and down, but boy, do I love LOVE LOVE the “conditional bet” option – something that you just can’t do in live racing unless, y’know, you’re actually there).  I still play Hold’em poker online (for free, of course), and you already know what that can be like (not the same).  I’ve tried Omaha (thanks to Robert Turner) and there’s some mental stimulation potential there, but again, because I can only play for free, Omaha tends to turn into an all-in shoving frenzy, and PLO hi-lo turns into a all-in shoving frenzy-times-nine.  I can’t believe real cash games play out that way. 

Still, it’s a diversion from Texas Hold‘em, which I always seem to play nowadays whilst I am doing something else.  It just doesn’t seem to hold my interest.

But HoldemX?  It’s like playing Uno, Magic, Poker, and one of those weird-ass wild card games your uncle used to pull out in the late hours on Thanksgiving.  The creators call it “Hold‘em, enhanced” and “"a whole new poker game that tries to build a bridge between poker and eSports." 

Sounds about right.  Some of the kids that work for us at the ice cream parlor are avid gamers, so I’ve sent them all a note asking them to try it to see what they think of it.  As for me, I can see the appeal it might have for both poker junkies and those who might never consider poker as anything other than what old guys do when they’re bored (Yeah, that’s how it was put to me once, damn kids nowadays).

To be honest, I might never have tried it had I not been a bored old guy.  One of the initial write-ups left me feeling “meh” until I read another review which used the Uno reference, and then I read this primer on some of the strategies of the game.  I’ve only played a couple of times, and I can assure you that while they may have had millennials in mind, it’s a game that can appeal to just about anyone who likes strategy gaming.  Yes, there are elements of poker (it IS a poker game, first and foremost), but there are other aspects that enter into it that make it extremely challenging.

The basic version (“normal mode” but they are working on others) is heads-up Hold’em, with these added features:  A “Discovery Deck” with “Bonus X Cards” that act in ways that can give you stronger hands, and a shot-clock.  The Bonus X cards are things like making one of your hole cards like the other (instant pair), adding a 6th Street, changing a suit on the flop, redealing the river Card, and so on.  Like DFS, you have a budget, so you can’t pick ‘em all, and if you pick an expensive X card, you might not have enough left for other cards you want.  You can also buy cards to block your opponents X cards.

Play is alternated between X card play and normal card play (you can play an X card after the deal and each street).  Betting is as normal (if that’s a word that can be used here).  Yes, more complex than poker, for sure – the rules are here (to be honest, this part needs a lot of work), and there’s a tutorial video you’ll see at the start up of the game.  It’s fairly self-explanatory, even to this nerd.

Me, kicking Hold'emX ass.
The game is in “alpha test” mode right now, but the creators make no secret that they’ve spent a bundle developing the game.  Despite that, they also claim that they see no real rush to create a “cash” version.  I know I railed against “free poker” earlier, but so far the lack of playing for money hasn’t deterred my enjoyment of the game.  It’s a real challenge.

Oh, also, I am undefeated so far.  There’s that, too.

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