The Board

Cardroom Managment

August 11, 2007

I’ve just returned from Vegas, and spent a lot of time in poker rooms. This resulted in some inevitable comparisons on how they were run, and the effect it had on the rooms. So here’s some (admittedly player-centric) advice on how to run a good room.

For those not familiar, the “board” is the system a poker room uses to keep track of what games are running, assign people to games, maintain waiting lists and seat change lists, and decide if new games should be started. A well run board provides numerous benefits to both players and the room by:

  • minimizing the time a player has to wait before getting into a game
  • successfully starting a new game when there are enough players waiting for it
  • NOT starting a game where there aren’t enough players

In other words, players spend more time playing poker and less time waiting for poker. This ought to be a shared goal of both the players and the house.

Here are the things I think distinguished the well run boards from the poorly run ones:

Electronic Beats Paper

Computerized boards displayed on wall monitors are better than paper. It’s just that simple. When the list is displayed for all to see, the players answer their own questions. At Bellagio, where a paper list is used, the floormen spent a good portion of their time answering two basic questions: “What games do you have?” and “Where am I on the list?” – a colossal waste of everyone’s time. Furthermore, the presence of an electronic board outside the room helps brush people into games.

The cost of an electronic system is trivial compared to the bennefits it provides to a room. If better management gets you even one additional cash game for 1000 hours a year, that easily pays for the system with a healthy return on investment to boot. The growth of the Caesar’s room, which IMO has the best managed board in Vegas, suggest that returns far in excess of that are possible.

Buttons Beat Yelling

The MGM Grand room has a very neat innovation: a panel of buttons at each table that allows the dealer to signal when they have an empty seat. The same system keeps track of how long a player is in their chair for purposes of awarding comps.

This system is far superior to the classic system of dealers and floormen yelling at each other about the availability of seats and players coming into games. The yelling system breaks down as a room grows, or as the room becomes noisy. And when floor misses the fact that there’s an open seat, someone ends up waiting who should be playing. That costs everyone.

Accuracy is King

The board is only as useful as it is accurate. There are two basic kinds of inaccuracy – people with their names on lists for games they no longer want, and people who don’t actually have their name on the list for games they do want. The latter kind of inaccuracy is easily fixed by an electronic board. If floor makes a mistake and doesn’t put a player on a list they asked for, the player will spot the mistake on a monitor and it will be corrected. With a paper list, such mistakes go on far longer.

The first kind of inaccuracy, stale names on the list, is far more insidious and difficult to combat. Generally speaking, stale names happen one of two ways. Either the player wanders off, or they get in a game they prefer more. Dealing with players wandering off is difficult, but there are several steps a room could take to solve the problem. MGM has pagers that they can hand out which allow a waiting player to wander to the bar or other gambling, and for the poker room to contact them when their seat is up. This system seems like a good innovation, but I didn’t see a lot of players taking advantage of it.

An alternative would be for floor to offer to take down phone numbers, and call players in the event that their seat comes up and they can’t be found. Even better would be to call them when they’re first on the list so they have time to make it to the room. This achieves the same effect as the pagers without the hassle of tracking down lost pagers.

There are also some steps that a room can take to combat stale names on the list corresponding to players who are in the room, but who are already in a game they like more. The simplest step is for floor to ask the player, as they’re being seated and getting chips, if they’re on any lists they want to get off of. That, plus a sign gently reminding players that an accurate list helps everyone, will take care of most cases. As an additional step, floor can find all the players for a new game they’re about to call and make sure they actually want the new game, and THEN call it if enough confirm. Taking these basic precautions will prevent the all-too-common scenario where a 10 person list is called for a new game, and 3 people show up at the table.


Generally speaking, if a game at a poplar stake is running shorthanded, it will fill up. However, it is difficult for floormen to start games shorthanded for a couple of reasons. First off, rake becomes more oppressive as games get shorter. I believe it is in every room’s best interest to temporarily suspend rake/drop/seat fees any time a game is short unless the game is very high stakes. By giving the players a break, the game can fill, and then the house will get paid back for their temporary generosity.

A more substantial barrier to starting shorthanded games is that the majority of the player population hates playing short. This means that if a room starts a game with less than a full table, they can be pretty sure some of those people will refuse to play until it fills up. This usually causes the game to break or not start at all. However, not all players are this nitty. Some people love playing shorthanded or even heads-up, and these are the perfect people to get a game started. The obvious solution is for floor to ask players if they would play short when their name goes on the list. Then, floor can look at the list and make an intelligent decision about whether to start a game that would be short. The advantage for the players who will play short is that they get to bypass cowards on the list who won’t, and thus get into a game faster.

Anyways, those are my thoughts on how to run a board.

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