Poker Academy Pro 2.0
by Jason Kirk  

The old wisdom for becoming a good poker player says that there's no substitution for experience. For many people, just learning to read the board well enough to stay out of traps takes many thousands of hands that can end up being very costly. Even if you're good enough to catch on more quickly than that, chances are you'll drop a good bit of money before becoming profitable. In the old days of poker there was no alternative to this method of gaining experience at the tables, but today's computer technology has changed the situation in many respects. Playing online for low stakes or play money is the preferred method of learning the ropes, but simulation programs are available as well. Among these programs, Poker Academy Pro 2.0 is one of the most recent - and also one of the best.

Three separate playing environments are available in PAP 2.0. The first, the ring games, is very simple - any number of opponents from one to ten can sit at the table, and each opponent can either be hand-picked by the user or randomly selected by the computer. This ability to customize makes simulating different table situations very easy. Do you want to play against a table full of loose-aggressive maniacs? No problem! Would you rather learn how to tighten up by filling the table with rocks? Also not a problem. Maybe fine-tuning your heads-up play is more your style? You can do that, too. One of the nicer little touches is that the user can specify whether he wants the pots raked, and if so what house rake to use, making the transition from pure simulation to real games easier to prepare for. Available options for the rake include the Mirage Las Vegas and almost every major online site. In addition, every hand played is recorded in a hand history database that the user can look over at any time, leaving a sort of paper trail that can be used to analyze holes in your game.

The next playing environment is the tournament simulator. Again, limit and no-limit hold'em formats are available, and the user can select from any of a number of tournament structures. Many of these are based on real structures at online sites, and structures from the World Series and Bay 101 WPT tournaments are also available. There are even separate structures available for 6-max tournaments, in both single- and multi-table formats, so that fans of short-handed poker can polish up their tournament skills. While the tournament options are fantastic, one small problem is that the user can't easily create his own structures to simulate, say, his local card room's weekly tournament. This is a minor issue that will most likely be addressed in future updates of the product, though, and it doesn't mar the program's usefulness.

Finally, the newest playing environment is Poker Academy Online. In my time with the program I haven't seen very many games going in the lobby, but I mostly play poker late at night. Also, at the time of writing this article the ring games are experiencing some difficulty and only tournaments are available. I can't fairly say what the action is like in the network play. However, I do know that the software developers play every weekday at 3:30 MST in the BioTools SnG.

While having these different playing options is wonderful, they'd be nothing without the statistical analysis tools that round out the PAP 2.0 package. The hand evaluator is extremely useful for players whose instincts for reading opponents aren't yet fully developed, providing a full rundown of information on any hand's chances of hitting a draw and the likelihood of opponents holding various poker hands in any given situation. Then there's the showdown calculator, another handy tool that will simulate a showdown between any two sets of starting cards, with any board, and provide a breakdown of each hand's chances of winning. Knowing the numbers in these sorts of situations is a key skill that any successful poker player must master, so the spending time with the calculator is definitely worthwhile.

The final tool in PAP 2.0's box is the player statistics database, which records every hand played by every human and bot in any ring game or tournament. Users can look at any session they've ever played in PAP 2.0 and break it down in any imaginable way. Particularly useful are the graphs that track progress over any number of hands, showing variations in the player's bankroll and the amount of luck involved in the player's results. The database is so full of information that it's easy for a dedicated player to lose a few hours dissecting different aspects of his game.

Poker Academy Pro 2.0 is about as good a poker simulation training tool as there is on the market today. The only real downside to the package is the lack of a full manual, which steepens the learning curve a bit, but there is a decent-sized community of users active in the free forums on the web site who can help with any big problems. In addition, the programmers are very receptive to suggestions for improving the program and respond quickly to user requests. The price may seems steep to some, but it's worth noting that Doyle Brunson's Super System was around the same price when he first published it two decades ago. With Poker Academy Pro 2.0, much like Super System, you'll definitely get your money's worth.

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