For the average person, it would be easy to dismiss the vast majority of console and PC poker games available at retail price as hackneyed cash-ins on a trend that, as of now, is falling by the wayside. For serious poker enthusiasts, it's even easier to dismiss most of these games, since they all tend to suffer from the same silly issues. The presentation always sucks, the opponent artificial intelligence is frequently exploitable, the list of features is never deep enough, and so on and so forth. Stacked with Daniel Negreanu is the first poker title from developer 5000 Ft., and a quickly hacked together poker game this is not. Stacked takes a laserlike focus to the game of Texas hold 'em, exclusively building its multifaceted artificial-intelligence routines around the workings of that specific variation of the game and then building a video game around it that functions pretty well as a learning tool for would-be hold 'em players. By no means is the system perfect, and due to a few rough edges, the PSP version isn't the ideal one of the bunch. However, for what's currently available on the PSP, Stacked plays the smartest game of poker around.
The basic premise for Stacked is that the game's AI model is built off of a system called Poki. It's some kind of superscientific computer system that doesn't just react to your play style using a few different canned reactions--it's actually built to learn what you do as you play and react based on what it learns from you. For example, if you throw in a bet with nothing, the AI comes back over the top with a big raise, and if you bow out, it'll learn that you're not necessarily the type to throw down when you don't have a made hand. Conversely, if you play things a little bit recklessly, throwing out big bets on lousy hands to try to make a bluff, the AI will start to challenge you more and more to the point where it simply won't buy your load of malarkey.
There are purportedly eight different AI bots in the game, each of which plays a little bit differently, though you'll have a hard time discerning all but the most extreme personalities. There's always at least one guy at the table who plays superaggressively and one who plays a Dan Harrington-esque tight game. Everyone else is somewhere in between and tough to pick apart. Though Stacked includes both cash-game and tournament-style play, the AI seems built more specifically for tournament games. Low-stakes cash games with small blinds yield the type of cautious play seen more often in high-stakes tournaments with frequently increasing blinds. Of course, that also means that the AI plays those tournaments realistically, but if you're the type who just wants to play a leisurely cash game for little money, you might be a little flustered by the AI's frequent tendency to fold out before the flop even comes down. There are also some ways to exploit the AI's learning tendencies by playing like a complete jerk for long stretches, going all-in constantly, raising like a lunatic, and so on. But even then, the AI will react improperly only if you're magically successful at this methodology. If you start getting called on your nonsense and lose frequently, no exploits present themselves. So if you play the game as if your chips actually matter, you won't run into any such troubles.
All told, despite a few quirks, Stacked's AI is the best currently available in a console or PC poker game. It plays a smart, varied game that can be challenging if your game isn't tight. Fortunately, after enough time spent with the game, it will almost certainly teach you a thing or two, both through its basic gameplay and through the helpful hints provided by cover boy Daniel Negreanu. Negreanu's presence is felt throughout much of the game. There's a poker-school feature with pretaped educational segments hosted by Negreanu, as well as a number of in-game hints that advise you on what you ought to do for a hand. For the most part, this advice is great. Negreanu gets fairly detailed on what kinds of actions you should take. For instance, if you get a small pair dealt down, he'll tell you to take a stab at the pot with a bet, without building you up too high on your hand. After the flop, if someone else comes over the top with a sizable bet, he'll advise you differently depending on whether you hit the flop or missed it entirely.
The advice doesn't get terribly granular in that he doesn't go out of his way to explain why you should take a specific action, but for the most part he's usually right--emphasis on usually. There are moments where he'll inexplicably tell you to go all in with nothing but rags at totally random times, and others still where he'll fail to recognize someone trying to push you all in and simply tell you to call on the hope that you'll get something on the turn or the river. But these incidents aren't the norm when it comes to getting advice from the pro, and usually it's good information. However, there is one odd bug with the PSP version's in-game hints. Specifically, Negreanu's voice is very clearly pitched too highly, making him sound like he's been huffing helium in a back room somewhere. This wasn't an issue in any of the other versions of Stacked, so something got busted in translation here.