ESPN launches ‘free’ poker room

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US sports TV channel ESPN has launched its own poker website, signing up more than 30,000 users in its first week.

The company is the latest to launch into the burgeoning online poker sector, and is a natural brand extension for the channel which already screens TV programmes such as the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker.

However, ESPN’s poker room differs from its competitors in the market – such as Party Poker and Paradise Poker – as users do not gamble with real money.

Subsequently the business model differs from the more normal online poker offering, where operators charge either a ‘rake’ (a fee to play at a table) or a percentage of winnings.

Instead ESPN says the site will broaden the scope for licensing fees associated with the brand, intimating that it will generate revenues from sponsorship and advertising opportunities. The channel also intends to launch a wireless poker game, a book, DVDs of the 2004 World Series and other products such as branded chips and tables.

The reason behind the decision to keep the site ‘free’ highlights a problem for US companies wanting to get involved in the online poker boom. Online gambling is considered illegal by the US Justice Department, and although the federal authorities have to date turned a blind eye to those US citizens playing poker online it is likely they would take action against companies based in the US offering gambling over the internet.

The result is that US companies are, ironically, missing out on a market dominated by their own consumers. Gamblers lost $237bn online last year, with the US representing the lion’s share of the market, American citizens being responsible for $73bn of that figure. The market is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 22 per cent each year to 2008.

Ready to practice your pai gow poker? Before you begin if you don’t know the rules please visit my rules and advice for pai gow poker. In this game you will be making two $10 bets every time. The house takes a 5%, or $1, commission when both bets win. The dealer follows the house way at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. The player and dealer take turns being the banker (who wins on ties). It may takes a few seconds for a card image to load the first time it is used so be patient. If you can’t see the entire game on the screen at once I would suggest hiding some of the toolbars on your browser while you’re playing. Below are the steps to play the game properly:

Press deal/score for a new hand.

Use the buttons at the bottom to decide which two judi online cards to put “in front,” or in the two card hand. You repeat this step as many times as desired.

Press deal/score when you are ready and the computer will compare your hand to the dealers.

Repeat step 1

Please note the ‘advice’ button. Pressing this button will arrange your cards to maximize the sum of the probability of winning the front hand and the back hand. The way it works is that a different program played all 154,143,080 possible 7 card combinations out of 53 cards, arranged the cards according to the Trump Plaza house way, and tabulated both the results of the front hand and the back hand. These tabulations were copied into this game so that the computer can calculate the probability that any given hand will beat the dealer. When you click on ‘advice’ the program goes through all 21 possible ways to arrange your hand and chooses the play that yields the greatest probability sum without spoiling the hand. I am often informed that the advice features sometimes does not follow the house way. This is true, my advice feature plays even better than the house way.

The Wizard of Odds would like to thank Blackjack Ace for letting me use his playing card images and Greg Schenk for the joker.

Mary Farris