There was a time around the 2000s where you just could not avoid poker on television. Thanks to Chris Moneymaker making a decent bank in an online poker tournament, Texas Hold’em Poker got real big and started being the next big TV filler. Every channel had a poker show, from Bravo’s fluff-driven Celebrity Poker Showdown to NBC having a late night poker show to fill in the gaps between Last Call with Carson Daly and Early Today. Even Game Show Network had not one, but two poker shows under its belt.
Then in 2011 there was a lawsuit involving some of the major poker websites possibly being involved in money laundering, and the poker boom was over. While there’s still mild demand for Texas Hold’em, it’s pretty much gone back to the pre-2000s era of popularity.
During this poker boom, there were poker video games being made left and right. Some based on existing poker brands like the World Poker Tour. In some of these games you got celebrity endorsements, or actual professional poker players. Today, we’re gonna cover one of the more notable poker video games that’s not something like Poker Night at the Inventory.
This title screen is preceded by a fancy animation involving poker chips flying everywhere. Clearly the budget was spent on this.
Stacked with Daniel Negreanu is a fairly unique poker game. It’s likely the first video game poker game featuring a notable poker player in the title, making it somewhat of an oddity in the sea of poker games around this time. Developed by 5000ft Inc, this is their final released game, and it’s amusing it had to be a licensed poker game. Considering their previous titles were stuff like Army Men: Green Rogue when 3DO were pumping out Army Men games like they were going out of style, this is likely a marked improvement.
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Kid Poker himself, in one of the tutorial videos you could watch to get tips from him about poker. Man, I’m getting Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku flashbacks…
For context, Daniel Negreanu is a famous poker player. Nickname “Kid Poker,” he’s won 6 World Series of Poker bracelets, 2 World Poker Tour titles, and a handful of other tournaments here and there. Often appeared in many of the TV poker shows, he’s probably one of the more charismatic personalities to endorse your poker game. Though, I would’ve killed for a poker game starring the infamous Phil Hellmuth.
Let’s see if this poker game stacks up to the competition, or if it should have folded its hand.
Hopefully this casino isn’t sponsored by Randy Pitchford.
Stacked starts by letting you either play random poker matches with changeable settings, or through the game’s long, challenging career mode. In Career Mode you’re given a stack of cash to start, and any tables to play to your liking, with limits/no limits in place. Some are cash games given to bolster your cash in game, but the others are standard table tournaments with buy-ins where you can win money if you reach a certain standing in the tournament.
There’s single and multi-table tournaments, which if you qualify at a certain rank can get you to the VIP Qualifier tournament, which will then progress into championship tables with notable poker players, all eventually leading to a big final tournament where you face off with Daniel Negreanu himself.
It’s like the TV experience, but without the commentary!
As for the gameplay, it’s standard Texas Hold’em poker. Each player gets two cards and you make bets until the dealer reveals the flop, turn and river to try to form a five-card poker hand. There’s more elaborate rules online, but that’s basically the gist. Stacked gives the player the option to either play cash games for fun and to build up their bank, or to try to qualify for the big tournaments. It’s an interesting touch, but it does require understanding the basic fundamentals of poker to really get anywhere in the game.
A lot of the game’s camera angles emulate how poker is shot on TV, and it would work if the HUD wasn’t blocking most of it.
I have to give 5000ft Inc some credit for their wagering system. Using the analog stick or d-pad, you can adjust your bet in small increments for standard bets or for raising, but not adjusting counts it as a check or call depending on the situation. Dropping the line all the way to the bottom counts as a fold, while filling the chip bar counts as an All-In bet. Certain buttons on the controller can speed this process up, like L2 being used for folding and R2 for quick high bets. Left and right on the d-pad allows your character to express emotions, go into a first-person view, or what I think is the best thing in the package: Get advice from Daniel himself about what to do with your hand.
PROTIP: To defeat the cyberdemon, throw poker hands at it until it dies.
In certain hands, these pieces of advice change from simple “Call it, dude!” and “I’d fold” comments to complex Pro Tips about what you should do if you have like pocket Aces or similar strong hands. Yes, the game does call them Pro Tips, and GamePro probably didn’t care about them stealing the name. All things considered, these pieces of advice were helpful under some circumstances and got me to understand that maybe having hole cards of a 10-3 off suit is probably not worth keeping to the flop, especially if someone just made a big raise.
While Daniel Negreanu is the star of the game, other famous poker players like Evelyn Ng, Juan Carlos Mortensen and Erick Lindgren also appear during the championship games. Personally they’re not the poker players I was expecting to see – I would’ve preferred Antonio Esfandiari, Robert Williamson III or Phil Laak myself, but they were probably too expensive to get for a game like this.
This game is definitely not for poker novices, that’s for sure.
Admittedly while I’m fascinated by poker, I am absolutely garbage at it. Even while following Daniel’s tips 90% of the time, often times I end up losing in tournaments. Even in career mode, the requirements to unlock the VIP and championship games are rather strict: you need to get into the top 3 or to outright win. Repeatedly entering and losing these tournaments sapped my money rather quickly. I know Texas Hold’em is somewhat of a ruthless game, but it would’ve been nice for them to make it easier to qualify for tournaments and championships in the early game. If you’re wondering why there isn’t any footage of the all-star players in-game, that’s why.
Since this was during the early days of online console gaming, it was possible for a time to play this online with other players. This was probably the most convenient way to do online poker without spending real money on the professional sites at the time.
Man, people we making decent bank in this game, weren’t they? (Archived version of the website courtesy of the Internet Archive.)
The official Stacked website showed that MTV was sponsoring real tournaments that could net players real money by amassing points through various games online. One could check their standings on the website, with some decent cash prizes given away during these tournaments. From what I can gather, MTV Games, the game’s co-publisher, was really big on these online tournaments. The thought of someone playing a poker video game on the PlayStation 2 or Xbox in 2005-06 and having some actual stakes in play sounds amazing, even if the prize wasn’t World Series of Poker-level huge.
The rather infamous box quote.
I’m gonna pivot away from the game for a bit to talk about one of the more infamous things about Stacked. On the back of the box, Maxim Magazine proclaims Stacked is “Halo with chips.” Never mind the fact that comparing a video game adaptation of poker to a first-person shooter is rather absurd, this quote is infamous among gaming circles. It’s about as dumb as stuff like IGN’s “Our frothing demand for this game increases” for Ikaruga.
Yet, in the several years since this game has been released, I’ve never really been able to find a source of the infamous “Halo with chips” quote. An old review on Maxim’s website doesn’t say it, and checking old versions of the Maxim website on archive.org got me nowhere. It’s possible that it’s in one of the issues of the magazine, but finding old Maxim issues isn’t quite easy online. There’s also a very slim chance that nobody at Maxim actually said this, and it might be a fabricated quote just so the game got some extra buzz.
That’s why I’m putting out a request to solve this mystery: If you can give me any leads on the infamous “Halo with chips” quote, such as magazine sources or actual places where this was said, please contact me in the comments or via email. I’d love to help solve this decade and a half mystery.
If you have to leave the table, you must be erased from existence. Sorry, those are the rules in this Poker world.
Stacked with Daniel Negreanu is a fascinating game not because it’s a poker video game, but the elements around it are what make it stand out to me. It’s a passable poker game, it’s not outstanding. These days you’d probably find more fun playing poker in games like Red Dead Redemption 2 than hunting this one down. While it’s definitely not Halo with chips, it’s an interesting little footnote in the world of poker. I can give 5000ft Inc and Myelin Games credit for trying.
When I think about it, licensed casino video games have pretty much died in the mid-to-late 2000s. It’s a shame really, these kind of games are fun if you don’t have the cash to gamble, but they are often solo experiences. There is The Four Kings Casino and Slots, which was popular with me and my friends for a hot minute years ago.
…Now I’m getting nostalgic for digital gambling. What does that say about me?