I'll be discussing some of the PokerStars Themes I've tried, giving the reasons why I use the one I settled with. I'll be making references to the Wikipedia article on Color Symbolism and Psychology here and there. I don't know how much faith I put in Color Psychology but it's pretty interesting and seems like it might have some merit.
Update: After writing all this and thinking about what makes a good table theme I decided to try and make my own custom PokerStars table theme.
I've seen people with all sorts of themes and backgrounds. Everything from pics of their family to sexy models. That last one I don't get. Do they fire up PokerStars to play poker or rub one out? Based on how some people play, I'm not too sure.
If you're the type of player that enjoys playing poker for fun and you want the whole experience to be cool and flashy, don't read any further. There's nothing cool here :(
How Important is the Theme Anyway?
Playing poker isn't a game for me. I want to try and earn some money. My experience should reflect that and not make me feel like I'm defending against space invaders.
Once you move to playing more than one table at a time, the tables will be smaller, especially if you're tiling 6 or more tables at a time. Twenty tiled tables are tiny. You're going to have to make decisions fairly quickly before another table requires action and you don't want to have to strain to figure out what the action was before you. You want to devote as much time as possible into coming up with the right decision. Analyzing the situation should be immediate. Using the right theme will help you in that regard.
The background is cluttered which can cause you to get distracted. The felt is also noisy which I dislike.
More importantly, the color of the felt is too bright. If you enlarge the screenshot, you can see that the bet sizes are a little hard to read. Not impossible but just enough that you have to put a little more effort into reading them than I would like. You want to quickly see what your opponent bet without having to strain, especially when multitabling.
There's also a lot of yellow in this theme. From the color psychology article: "Though yellow evokes feelings of happiness, when we are confronted with too much yellow we become annoyed or angered." When I've gone back to try this theme, that's exactly how I've felt. Well, maybe more agitated. It might have more to do with the other issues I mentioned previously, but either way. I stopped using this theme.
Hyper Simple Theme
The Hyper Simple Theme is exactly that, hyper simple. When you first apply the theme it uses a different deck which looks cool but I prefer to have my cards look like cards. The only exception is that I use the 4 colored deck to quickly identify suits.
There's a lot in the Hyper Simple theme to like. It's not at all flashy. There aren't many bright flashing or shiny things to distract you. All the controls and buttons are a nice muted tone with good contrast that makes them easy to read.
The felt is a dark grey, almost black color. This makes it easier to focus on the cards and read the bet sizes. The following is a description of the psychology of black from Wikipedia's color psychology article with some key points highlighed:
It has an air of intelligence (graduation robes), marked with rebellion (the bad guy), shrouded in mystery (space). It typically symbolizes absence, modernity, power, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, style, evil, death (in Western cultures), fear, emptiness, darkness, seriousness, conventionality, rebellion, anarchism, unity, sorrow, and professionalism.The player icons are pretty simple and while they flash to let you know which player is acting, it's not so bright to really take your attention away from anything else. The player names and stack sizes are very easy to read as well.
The blue background is fairly simple. Just some gradation and a shadow under the table to give it depth. The Wikipedia article has this to say about blue:
Blue is non-threatening, yet confident and stable. It is the calmest color proven to affect the audience in a soothing manner. This is why many police uniforms are blue because the color says confidence and security, while being non-threatening. Weightlifters have proven to lift heavier weights in blue rooms.I actually feel calm with this theme or at least not agitated like I do with others. I feel relaxed and can really focus on the game. It feels like there is no theme at all. It's just me, the cards and the other players. I don't feel like I'm playing a "game" I feel like I'm doing something serious, which is how I want to approach poker.
Blue can symbolize devotion, seas, men, clouds (New Zealand), productive, interior, skies, peace, unity, harmony, tranquility, calmness, trust, coolness, confidence, conservatism, water, ice, loyalty, dependability, technology, winter, depression, coldness, idealism, air, wisdom, royalty, nobility,
At some point I'd like to try and make my own theme if I can find the time. I'd like to try a variation of the Hyper Simple Theme but with greens instead of blues. I can change the background to a green color but it doesn't fit in with the rest of the elements. Color psychology has this to say about green:
Green symbolizes intelligence, nature, spring, fertility, youth, environment, wealth, money (US), good luck, vigor, generosity, go, grass, coldness, cunning, jealousy, perverseness (Spain), deceit, disgrace (China), illness, greed, corruption (North Africa), life eternal, air, earth (classical element), sincerity, Cancer (bright green, star sign), renewal, natural abundance, growth, health, August, balance, harmony, stability, calming, creative intelligence, Islam, and the ordinary.I remember reading a while back that a lot of schools use green paint because of some of the points listed above. I always thought they just used colors nobody would steal. Go figure.
Other ThemesI tried. I really did. I wanted to use something slick and flashy and feel cool but it just didn't work for me. They just didn't feel right. Some of them wouldn't be so bad if they used a simpler background though or with some minor changes.
PokerStars Black ThemeThis one I really wanted to like. It looks cool and it's not that flashy. It's pictured with the simplified deck but I would use the standard deck.
The felt has a nice smooth gradient that is darker on the edges which make the bet sizes very easy to read.
Something about it just doesn't work for me though. If I make my own theme I might use this one as a starting point because I like parts of it.
Some changes would be to alter the background and get rid of the red controls for starters.
The blue background is close to the one used in the Hyper Simple theme.
It's still a bit shiny which isn't too bad but the controls and the chat box just still don't work for me.
You don't need the chat box to stand out that much. I barely look at the chat, if PokerStars is your IM client, that's a different story. Log-in, chat with your friends and once in a while pay attention to the cards. I don't mind. For me though. I want the focus to be on the table, not making sure I remember to say nh and gg.
PokerStars Slick Theme
I don't get the point of having chairs without having some sort of representation of people sitting in them. I'm not an idiot. I know we're not really sitting at a table. We don't need chairs. Just one more thing to distract you.
This is kind of nice but it becomes a big mush of black. It's a little flashier than the Hyper Simple Theme but not much so. It might work well with a with a different background.
The green is pleasing and improves the look of the theme quite a lot but the controls are still those obnoxious ones that are similar to the ones used in the Black Theme.
The players aren't in round portholes but in boxes which is quite nice as the images aren't as large. Their big enough to help you identify who you're playing with, but not so big to distract you.
This might be one of the contenders I use as a starting point if I ever decide to create my own theme.
The noisy table felt doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the elements and it would benefit it to be a little smoother and possibly less saturated.
The background definitely has to go though. Replacing it with a background similar to the one used in the Hyper Simple Theme doesn't look too bad.
When a player has action and starts to flash it's a little too bright for me but probably something I could get used to.
It's completely unplayable. I hope every opponent I sit down with uses this theme.
Reading bet sizes in nearly impossible because there is hardly any contrast between the white text and the table felt.
It's a shame because this Theme wouldn't be so horrible if it wasn't for the felt.
The background is nice and not too distracting. It uses blues and greens which are supposed to help you get in the right mood. The controls don't stand out too much but not being able to see the bet sizes but no bet sizes, no go.
There are a few other themes similar to this one that are about as difficult to use. I'm not going to go through all the themes available on PokerStars and third-party sites. The few I used were to give you an idea of what to look for in a good table theme.