Cardsharp Mailbag: The Most Profitable Games

Reader Questions

March 14, 2008

I got the following question a couple of days ago, and it’s a good one:

Poker games have different card structures (stud vs. holdem for example) and different betting structures (limit vs. NL). They’re not the same. So independent of any unique talents one might have, is there a particular game that is objectively more profitable than the rest?

Specifically, stud feels like less of a guessing game than hold’em, but I’ve yet to learn it.

Best regards,

Now, this is kind of a difficult question to ask. Because the most profitable games are usually going to be the ones where you have the biggest skill edge against the competition. That involves your own “unique talents” as Chuck put it, but more importantly it involves having unskilled opponents.

That said, structure does have an impact on win rate relative to the stakes. Here’s what I wrote back to Chuck:

In terms of which game structures are most profitable, there aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules, but there are some things to think about. In particular, three big ones:
1) How big a bet can you make, and how many times?
2) How “dead” is a player who is behind, or alternately, how safe is the leading hand?
3) How much extra information is there to help a skilled player make good decisions?

Each one of these is a deep subject in and of itself, but say we compare limit 7-stud to limit holdem to limit 5-card draw. In terms of number and size of bets, stud has the most, then holdem, then draw. In terms the leading hand’s advantage, it’s the strongest in draw (which should really be called “don’t draw”), moderate in holdem, and the most vulnerable in stud. In terms of information, stud has the most, then holdem, then draw with the least.

As you might expect from those numbers, stud is probably the most profitable of the three. People will argue this point forever, but I think that opinion is pretty consistently held by a lot of good mixed game players.

However, when looking at standard casino limit games, there’s a pretty good case that Omaha 8 (limit) is actually the most profitable. While it has fewer streets than stud, it often has more bets go in due to “the pipe”. And it’s very easy for an opponent to be totally dead – no chance whatsoever of winning either way, or with at most a few outs to one side or the other. Those two factors may make it 1.5 to 2 times more profitable than holdem and slightly better than stud.

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