In online poker, the avatar is the player’s face at the table.
Online poker avatars vary greatly from the simple picture from a preset and rather limited number of options, to the full 3-D ones that can speak, do chip-tricks at the table and act out a selection of emotions, some of which can indeed be used to gain reads on the player behind the avatar.
Believe it or not, some players may even use their avatars to gain an advantage over their opponents at the table. While doing a little bit of research on this piece, I came across a thread in a popular poker forum, where people were discussing the most repulsive avatars that could always set them on tilt. Some seemed to hate pictures of sports cars, others of kids, still others of anything related to Batman. There were even players who said they loathed pictures of their opponents with their girlfriends. The bottom line: avatars will always elicit some sort of an emotional response from the opposition. As far a practical use is concerned though, avatars have thus far done little towards instilling a real, live poker-like atmosphere to the online tables.
888 Poker ran an experiment about a year ago with webcam avatar tables. Webcam avatars are exactly what they sound like: people turn their webcams on, they direct it towards their faces and the feed is then displayed in the avatar spot of their online poker table. This way, players can actually use the video avatars to make reads on their opponents. The system had quite a few limitations though, quality-wise as well as in other respects. Only 6-max tables supported the video avatars, only 20 tables were supported and there was a limit on the maximum number of players who could view such tables. The whole setup could also be easily abused by individual players. Where 888 Poker ended up with the experiment is unclear, what is certain though is that thus far live webcam avatars failed to make it into the mainstream.
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