Waiting For The Big Blind, Posting, Buying The Button and ???

Dealing & House Procedures, Psychology

November 23, 2008

I don’t play in Vegas all that often, so when I do make it out to the desert there’s always something new going on.  This time it was a new way of taking your first hand when sitting down at the table. Traditionally, there are two options: either wait for the big blind, or post an out of position big blind and start getting hands immediately.  Both of these options satisfy the two requirements that must be met to allow new players to enter the game in an orderly manner:

  1. Insure consistent movement of the big and small blinds (ie. no one gets skipped or pays twice)
  2. Don’t allow players to play part of an orbit for free

Now these are perfectly good requirements.  Requirement 2. really  only matters for larger games where playing a partial orbit without paying any blinds carries a substantial positive expectation.  But in the interest of consistency it makes sense to do things the same at all stakes.

There’s one minor problem with these options, however – if a player is in a seat that would be the small blind or the button if they were playing, neither option is allowed.  They have to wait until the button passes and then can post.  This is necessary to meet requirement 1.  To partially resolve this issues, many card rooms allow a third option – “buying the button”.  This can only be done from the chair between the small blind and button.  The player buying the button posts both a small and big blind.  The small blind is put in the pot “dead” in the center, and the big blind stays in front of the new player.  The players who would have been the blinds don’t post – the new player has paid for them.  Action begins on the player to the left of the new player.  After the hand, the button moves on to the new player.

This trip, the Bellagio (and I think other rooms) had a new option.  As far as I know it hasn’t been definitvely named (if I’m wrong, mail me and I’ll correct this).  It’s similar to buying the button, but the new player posts just a big blind, and the button skips them on the subsequent hand.

Now the point of this article is not to  discuss which of these options a player should take advantage of.  That’s an interesting topic, and when I get to discussing limit games more I’ll probably post on it.  But today I want to talk about something else: I believe having all these options is bad both for card rooms and players.  The reason is simple – the complexity of taking your first hand alienates the fish. I saw the same sequence happen quite a few times:

  1. fishy new player sits down in the small blind
  2. dealer asks new player if they want to buy the button or wait
  3. player asks what buying the button is
  4. someone (often another player) gives a lousy explanation that the new player doesn’t understand
  5. new player feels stupid and flustered and perhaps a bit cheated

Now, it seems obvious to me that the last thing you want to do when an inexperienced player sits down is point out to them just how out of their element they really are.  Yet that’s exactly what happens when you present them with an array of confusing and poorly explained options that everyone expects them to already understand.  I obviously have no proof that this caused any new players to leave the table sooner, but I certainly suspect it did.

I believe the correct policy is for live card rooms to allow two simple options: post from a non-blind/non-button seat or wait for the big blind.  The most anyone has to wait is two hands, and the payoff is not alienating unskilled players.  This is the policy that the online rooms already implement, and it works just fine there.  Allowing the additional two options, or God forbid adding more new and more esoteric ones, is bad for the game.

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