The Best Game In Town

7 Card Stud, Poker Economy, Strategy

August 12, 2007

Here’s something to ponder: imagine that you are suddenly transformed into an incredibly skilled poker player. Specifically, you have a positive expectation at any fair game you could sit at. Let’s further assume you play in a poker town like Las Vegas, LA, or Atlantic City where you had numerous different games & stakes available to you. Now, what game would you play?

First of all, there are going to be some games that are out of reach in terms of stakes because of a finite bankroll. So eliminate those. Once you are considering only games you are rolled for, it turns out this is a question of opportunity cost. Specifically, there is exactly one game that is the best possible option for you. If you are playing any game other than that one game, you are costing yourself money. Nitpickers could argue that there might be two equally good games, but we’ll ignore that as it doesn’t alter what I have to say. The key point is that if you’re not in the one game with the best expectation, you are LOSING money. Your wallet will be thinner, on average, when you are done because you made the wrong choice. This sort of loss has just as real an impact on your wallet as misplaying a hand does, but it’s “invisible” in the sense that you may not realize you suffered the loss, because the money is in some sense virtual. You never held the physical bills.

For my bankroll, on Aug. 8 in Las Vegas, the best game in town was almost certainly the 20/40 stud at the Bellagio.

It’s hard to describe just how good this game was. I don’t play stud high particularly frequently, and it’s probably my 4th or 5th best game in terms of experience. But the mistakes being made were so colossally bad that it didn’t matter.

  • One guy put in 25 consecutive raises on 3rd street (there was no cap heads-up) without the nuts. I of course had the nuts.
  • One guy was on crazy monkey tilt the whole night
  • There was a maniac who would meet you at the river (with 2 or more raised streets along the way) without so much as a pair
  • His girlfriend would call to the river with any pair. She calld once when she couldn’t beat my board.
  • One old guy couldn’t read the boards (bad vision) and didn’t ask to have them read until the river. You could pair your door card against him and still get massive action from aces up.

Now, this is an appalling level of bad play for a game that’s big enough to make a living on. One BB/hour, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year makes this an $80k/year game if you beat it at that typical level. I took in “only” 17 big bets in 3 hours because my cards were a little cold. And the ironic thing is that I sat in this gold mine only by accident. I was waiting for the 15/30 holdem and the list was at that awkward length where you’ll never get in the game, but they’ll never start a must-move table either. So I started looking around for an open seat, and the 20/40 stud was the only one. Luckily, I long ago committed a strong strategy for stud to memory and played enough practice hands on Stars microlimit that I felt comfortable sitting. The rest, as they say, is profit.

Now, what’s the point of all this? In order to get into the “best game in town” you have to acomplish two things:

  1. Find it
  2. Be good enough at that game to extract the majority of the available expectation from it

For a tourist like myself, finding the best possible game was a stroke of luck. Had I decided to play at the Wynn that night instead, I would never have found it. But for a professional or serious amateur living in town, knowing which games are at least candidates to be the best is mandatory. Beyond that, a good relationship with casino floormen can help you find that magic game because they’ll gladly call you when a game gets good if you make it worth their while.

Of course, just finding the game isn’t enough. You’ve got to be able to beat it. That why it’s so important to have a strategy for every popular game you might encounter commited to memeory. Beyond that, putting in practice time at microstakes gives you a chance to work the bugs out of your play. That way when you encounter the best game in town, and it’s not holdem, you can sit and beat it silly anyways.

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