Two out of the three days scheduled for the Super High-Roller cash game at the Aria are in the books. If you haven’t been following the action, it’s a $ 400/$ 800 No-Limit Hold’em game with $ 200 antes and a $ 250,000 minimum buy-in. The game is being streamed live on Twitch and covered in real-time by PokerNews; an edited-for-television version will appear on Poker Central once the channel launches.
The biggest hand of the second day – and of the game thus far – involved a clash between last year’s Big One for One Drop winner Daniel Colman and Scott Seiver, who is himself 10th on the global all-time money list for live play. The hand in question is interesting not just for the amount of money which changed hands, but as an illustration of just how different deep-stacked cash play can be from the tournaments we’re used to seeing.
How the action played out
The pot was already huge before the flop. It began with an open by Andrew Robl for $ 2,400. Colman was in the cutoff and put in a three-bet to $ 8,500. Seiver held the button and cold four-bet to $ 24,000. Robl got out of the way, but Colman came over the top with a five-bet to $ 70,000, which Seiver flatted.
At this point, the pot contained around $ 145,000 and both players looked to be holding fairly nutted ranges. That being the case, the fairly average-looking K-9-2 rainbow flop was actually quite an interesting development.
Colman led out for $ 50,000, a little over 60 big blinds. Though the bet was huge in absolute terms, it was small relative to the pot – just 35% or so. Seiver called.
The turn was a blank – the Three of Hearts – and Colman checked. With about $ 245,000 now in the pot, Seiver bet $ 120,000 and Colman called.
The river was another blank – the Eight of Diamonds – and Seiver moved all-in. There was now just under a half-million in the pot, and Colman had $ 345,000 behind, which Seiver had covered.
Colman announced that he had Aces and speculated that Seiver must have Kings. After tanking for a while, he made the laydown.
Folding Aces in a 5-bet pot?
Most of the poker that we get to see is tournament poker, as high stakes cash games are typically played behind closed doors. That being the case, the idea of laying down Aces on the river, in a 5-bet pot, on a dry board, getting about 2.5-1 probably seems unthinkable to many readers.
Indeed, if you had just walked into the room postflop and knew nothing about the blinds or the preflop action, it would seem pretty normal to be checking the turn with Aces with the intention of check-raising all-in, not check-calling to fold the river.
But consider just how deep-stacked the hand began. Totalling up Colman’s bets and his remaining chips on the river, he began with about $ 585,000, and that was the shorter of the two stacks. With the blinds at $ 400/$ 800, that meant they were playing over 700 big blinds deep. PokerStars’s ultra-stack turbos notwithstanding, you never see stacks that size in tournament poker, and it changes everything.
“You wouldn’t play Ace-King like that.”
Prior to folding, Colman stated that he couldn’t believe that Seiver would play Ace-King this way, and I’m inclined to agree. Chances are that most players would either 6-bet Ace-King as a semibluff preflop or else fold it, as it’s too difficult to play post-flop against a polarized preflop range.
Even assuming that Seiver would call with Ace-King preflop, it’s unlikely he would go for three streets of value with it, even having hit a King. What would he be getting value from? The best he could hope for would be Queens, but Colman would likely release those to a turn bet given the preflop action. With Ace-King, Seiver should usually either be checking back the river or, more likely, checking back the turn and making a thin value bet on the river.
Just calling with Kings?
It’s unlikely that Seiver would be cold 4-betting and calling a 5-bet with pocket pairs Nines and worse, and two pair is even less probable, so once we’ve ruled out Ace-King, it seems that Colman was losing to exactly pocket Kings and nothing else. The first question, then, is whether Seiver was even likely to have Kings, having flatted the 5-bet instead of 6-betting.
In a tournament, you almost never expect an opponent to show up with Kings when they’ve just called a bet preflop. Stacks simply aren’t deep enough in a tournament that you can see enough preflop action to put an opponent on Aces very often; the narrowest that you can usually range someone is QQ-AA and AK, and that’s a range against which you just want to get it in with your Kings.
Here, though, Colman would be unlikely to 5-bet Queens or worse against a cold 4-bet with so many chips behind, and if he did, he might fold them to a 6-bet. Meanwhile, if Seiver did have Kings, he was blocking Ace-King and the other two Kings pretty heavily. Thus, Colman’s range would probably be mostly Aces and possibly a light 5-bet bluff. Against that range, 6-betting the Kings would be terrible, as it would stop Colman from continuing with his bluffs, and cause Seiver to go broke against the Aces.
So, yes, flatting with Kings against the 5-bet makes perfect sense with these stacks.
Could Seiver be bluffing?
The more interesting question is whether Seiver could be floating Colman and bluffing. This is a much trickier question to answer. If Seiver can put Colman on exactly Aces, then yes, I could just barely see this being a bluff because Seiver knows that Colman knows that it looks like Colman has Aces, and therefore that they both know Seiver’s line looks like Kings. That’s a classic levelling situation.
However, the question is what bluffing hands Seiver could have in his range. The answer is probably exactly Queens. Maybe Jacks, if he cold 4-bets those. Preflop, Seiver was calling $ 46,000 with about $ 100,000 in the pot and another $ 500,000 or so behind, so he was getting the correct odds to set-mine with his big pairs if he was putting Colman on Aces. Therefore, if he was flatting with Kings, he’d be flatting with any other big pairs he 4-bet, which probably includes Queens. I don’t think I’m qualified to speculate about whether he might have Jacks in there as well, but I guess it’s possible.
That being the case, and knowing that Colman would likely be putting him on a JJ-KK kind of range, you can see that it would be tempting for Seiver to turn Jacks or Queens into an epic bluff. The trouble with that is that Seiver can only really rule Ace-King out of Colman’s range when he’s holding two Kings himself. With Jacks or Queens, the odds are more likely that Colman could have Ace-King. And it would be much harder to bluff Colman off Ace-King than Aces, since the King in his hand would make it very hard for Seiver to have the other two. In other words, with Queens, Seiver wouldn’t be blocking his opponents blockers to the hand he would be representing. Confusing, I know.
We won’t get to see what either player actually had until the show airs on Poker Central, but I think we can be fairly confident this hand will make the cut. Based on the analysis above, though, I’m fairly confident in predicting that Colman was both telling the truth about his hand, and calling Seiver’s correctly. Tournament poker is all about ranges, but in deep-stacked cash play, it really can be possible to put your opponent on an exact hand and I think that’s indeed what went down here.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
888poker.jpg”>888poker has embarked on an interesting new strategy to get low stakes online players into the live game. They’ve launched a series of live events known as “888live Local” at card rooms and casinos in a number of European countries, plus Australia. Depending on the location and local currency, these tournaments have a buy-in of €220, $ 220 or £220, but more importantly are fed into by small and micro-stakes buy-in online satellites on 888poker.
What’s new about that?
Online qualifiers to live events are nothing new, but what’s different here is that the tournaments themselves are so low in buy-in by the standards of live events. Generally speaking, in the past, online qualifiers to live events have been for major events with four- and five-figure price tags, such as the WSOP Main Event or the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. Although such satellites were a big part of the poker boom, with millions of players seeking to emulate Chris Moneymaker’s run, there are several problems with that model in the modern poker economy.
For one thing, the online game is now tough enough that anything with a $ 50 price tag and higher tends to be pretty shark-infested, so for a satellite to draw in many recreational players, it needs a very low price tag, or for itself to be fed in turn by microstakes super-satellites. This, in turn, requires a large user base, which few sites have with the exception of PokerStars. It also means that any given player’s odds of winning a seat are extremely small, which can lead to recreational players feeling bored and discouraged and eventually quitting the game.
Compounding those problems is the fact that most players will need to travel to attend a major event, and many of those playing at the microstakes could not readily afford a plane ticket and hotel. This means that most of the qualifiers need to award travel packages along with the seat, which further reduces the number of seats which can be awarded.
Finally, there’s the intimidation factor involved in shooting up all the way from microstakes to get on a plane and fly to Las Vegas, the Bahamas or wherever in order to play in a $ 10,000 tournament filled with top-notch pros. Although it’s a nice adventure to dream about in theory, many players probably end up finding the experience more stressful than enjoyable in practice. Most tournaments don’t pay out many seats, after all, so the most likely result of such an adventure is to fly home with the sense of having blown a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
The small-stakes advantage
With those considerations in mind, 888poker’s plan makes a lot of sense. No one is going to travel far to play in a €220 event, so no packages are needed. Therefore, the satellites will be played mostly by locals or at least by people who can easily make the trip. Although this cuts down on the pool of players likely to enter, the buy-ins are so modest that not many entrants are needed in order to award a ticket.
220, in whatever currency, seems like a bit of a sweet spot on the excitement-versus-stress scale for many players as well. Just look at the popularity of the PokerStars Sunday Million and its satellites. It’s a big enough buy-in that even a min-cash is satisfying for a low-stakes player, yet not so big that anyone is likely to lose much sleep over a bust-out. And unlike the Sunday Million satellites, the tickets awarded by 888live Local are not exchangeable for tournament credit, so they won’t become infested with small-time grinders with no intention of actually playing the event itself.
A personal perspective
I have a feeling that 888poker is onto something here, largely because I and a lot of people I know are precisely within their target market. When the World Poker Tour comes through Montreal, my brother-and-law and I often make the trip out to Kahnawake to play a side event in the $ 100 to $ 350 price range. We’re able to pay these buy-ins out of pocket, but still, if I could try to win my way in for less online, I would likely do so. Meanwhile, we have many friends who are amateur players and have expressed a desire to come along and try their luck, but can never really justify the buy-in to themselves… those people would definitely be into something along these lines.
Unfortunately, the only qualifiers, online or off, for WPT stops are for the main events, and even I can’t justify playing the satellites for those, nor would I feel entirely comfortable sitting down in that sort of event if I won. So, to my eyes, there’s clearly some lost potential here.
Early results are promising
My personal feelings seem to be corroborated by the early results being seen by 888poker. According to 888LIVE Events Operations Manager Mouhcine Jalili, their initial hopes were to hit about $ 1 million in prizes over the first twenty or so events, a target which they’ve exceeded after only ten.
Of course, when you crunch the numbers, this still means the events are pretty small in the grand scheme of things, with an average field size of a few hundred players. That’s part of the point, though: these are events of a scale that any reasonably-sized casino or card room can handle, at a price point that isn’t too scary for people used to the lower buy-ins you see online. These aren’t events for people already deeply immersed in live poker, they’re a way for online players to get their feet wet and maybe consider making the cross-over.
Finally, it’s significant that this experiment began in January, just as the World Series of Poker announced its 2015 schedule which includes the first-ever online bracelet event, which, incidentally, is scheduled to kick off tomorrow. As both online and live poker numbers continue to dwindle, it seems that more and more operators are recognizing the need for the two halves of the industry to work together. We’ll have to wait and see how the online WSOP event is received, but in my opinion, both WSOP and 888poker are on the right track.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Probably the best piece of journalism to date on the Brian Hastings multi-account scandal has been Lee Davy’s interview with James Obst. In many ways I’m in agreement with Obst, his weird digression about women poker pros and their selfies notwithstanding. At the same time, though, I can’t help but feel that his ideal vision of professional comportment in the poker world is unrealistic.
Obst would like to see poker professionals behave more like golf professionals. He points out that not only are cheating scandals rare in golf, players routinely call penalties on themselves for small infractions that would probably have gone unnoticed by others, because reputation and sportsmanship are more important in golf than saving a stroke. Furthermore, golfers don’t go overboard in talking themselves up, and rarely put their opponents down.
It’s nice to imagine a world in which poker players could behave like this, but the fact is that they can’t, and never will, because people are complicated and poker isn’t golf.
You are what you do
A person isn’t either a sportsman or a scumbag, a gentleman or a troll. All of us are all of those things at one time or another. Meanwhile, most activities – be they games, sports, professions or hobbies – have characters of their own, and tend to bring certain aspects of our psyches to the fore, while forcing us to repress others. Personally, I’ve worn a lot of different hats over the years, and although my true, complete personality has remained more or less unchanged, what I show to the world depends heavily on whether I’m studying physics, or teaching kindergarten, or playing poker, or writing for a website.
To an extent, you are what you do, so it’s unfair to hold poker players to the same standards of behavior as golfers. The two activities call for different traits to be brought forward, so to understand the difference between golfers’ and poker players’ behaviour, you have to understand the nature of the two activities.
A question of blame
Golf is essentially a solitary sport, more like skiing or gymnastics than like basketball or tennis. Certainly, the performance of the opponents will affect a player’s strategy, causing her to take a safer line while winning and to attempt riskier shots while trailing, but on the whole, a player’s performance is only indirectly related to what anyone else is doing. A player is not going to blame an opponent when he hooks his tee shot into a bunker. That’s not because he’s a gentleman, but because it would make no sense to do so. If the opponent shoots a birdie, there’s likewise not much to do except congratulate him or remain silent. The players are making their shots independently, so there’s no chance of one player’s decisions interfering with the other’s.
The role of luck is also very different in the two games, because results in a poker hand are essentially binary – a player generally either wins the pot or loses it – while they fall on a spectrum in golf. In poker, then, the role of luck is such that it can turn a very bad play into a very good result and vice versa – one player gets it in as a 5-1 favorite, but the opponent catches a lucky card and doubles up instead. In golf, by contrast, luck tends only to magnify or mitigate the quality of a shot: a great approach shot might roll either into the hole or onto the fringe, while a ball which lands in the rough might catch a better or worse lie.
Thus, once again, you don’t hear golf players complaining about bad beats and lucky fish simply because such complaints would rarely make sense. Flukes do happen, but not with the regularity they do in poker. Generally speaking, a terrible position in golf results from a bad shot plus bad luck, while a great position results from a good shot plus good luck. Some of the credit or blame usually has to go to the player.
The mindset required
Poker is inherently predatory. Except for rare cases of a freeroll or overlay, it is almost always a negative sum game, because the house is taking a cut. Any winnings achieved by one player come directly from the losses of others, and those losses must always exceed the winnings. Although poker players often wish one another “good luck” at the start of a game, such formalities ring hollow, because good luck for one’s opponents implies bad luck for oneself, and no one truly wishes that.
The nature of poker also means that you don’t really want to have close matches and narrow edges, especially in cash games. A hard-fought, back-and-forth heads-up battle might be satisfying in a tournament, but you’d still rather win on a great soul read than on a 52/48 race. In a cash game, meanwhile, no one would ever say they would prefer to edge out the rest of the table for a few big blinds than crush for several buy-ins. The game of poker is all about identifying the weakest competition and beating it as thoroughly, as reliably and by as big a margin as possible. Even when strong poker players do seek to battle one another for reasons of prestige, they aren’t hoping for it to be close, but rather to establish their dominance as thoroughly as possible.
In golf, by contrast, there’s no reason to want your opponents to do poorly, unless you’re betting by the point. Since the players’ results are independent, it’s more satisfying to win when your opponent is playing well and you’re just a little better. If you’re going to shoot a birdie on the 18th, would you rather do it in a situation where one stroke makes the difference, or when you were already up by five and going to win anyway?
Poker players want their peers to play badly and get unlucky, at least when they’re in a game together. They don’t even want their opponents to be feeling good about themselves, because a tilting opponent is more profitable to play against. Mean-spiritedness is in the nature of the game. That doesn’t mean that players must necessarily be mean-spirited away from the table, but when you’re used to interacting with your peers in that context, some spill-over is inevitable.
A better analogy
Rather than looking to golf for role-models, the better comparison for poker is with the world of mixed martial arts (MMA) and other combat sports. I mention MMA specifically, because it exploded into the mainstream at around the same time as poker and so both have a public image which is a work in progress. Like poker, it’s a predatory activity, in that one fighter’s win can only come by way of the other’s loss. Fighters also want to beat the other as thoroughly as possible – winning by knockout is better for a fighter’s career than a decision, and there are bonuses to be had for spectacular finishes, but these performances necessarily come at the expense of the opponent who is left lying on the canvas.
Likewise, aggression is extremely important in both poker and MMA, but it’s more apparent in the latter. The poker world has, for better or worse, encouraged players to try to play nice with one another away from the table, but it would seem farcical to see two fighters smiling and having a friendly chat mere minutes before attempting to render each other unconscious. Rather, sportsmanship in combat sports tends to follow a cycle of tension and catharsis. Trash talk, boasting and personality conflicts are not just accepted but encouraged prior to a fight. The tension builds and then the fighters let it all out in the ring. Once the fight is done, so is the aggression; often, the fighters embrace and the victor typically shows humility and respect for his opponent.
The explicit nature of the luck factor in poker makes it inevitable that it is sometimes hard to be humble in defeat. If one player makes a strong hand and lures his opponent all-in, only to have the latter hit a one-outer on the river, it would seem insincere for him to say that the better player won. Still, I can’t help but feel that it’s precisely our expectation that poker professionals handle the variance well which leads to bad blood and bad behavior. Bottling things up is never healthy, so maybe it’s not professional attitudes which are out of whack, but rather our conception of what professionalism means when applied to an activity like poker.
Appealing to the casual player
That said, it’s clear where the difference lies between poker and MMA, which is that combat sports pit professionals against professionals, whereas the poker ecosystem is reliant on an influx of casual, losing players. In that regard, it’s no surprise that top-level players want to put on a nice-guy image. After all, what amateur gym-goer really wants to get into the ring to be punched in his jaw by Chris Weidman or have her arm torn off by Ronda Rousey? Bleeding off (figuratively!) to a smiling Daniel Negreanu seems like a much more appealing proposition, no question.
What I’m saying, then, is not that poker should seek to emulate the stare-downs, intimidation and boasting of combat sports, but that the public image of poker would be more honest and possibly more appealing as well if we acknowledged its cut-throat nature and the fact that not everyone is going to walk away happy from any given table. Top players would likely be psychologically healthier in the long run if they were not shamed for venting, airing out grievances and carrying out rivalries in public, and meanwhile, many casual fans would actually enjoy the drama. After all, primal aggression is present in everyone’s psyche to some extent, and those who don’t have much of it won’t like poker much anyway, even if convinced to try it.
It’s not a game for everyone, and for those who don’t like it, there’s always golf.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
World Series of Poker Event #55: $ 1,500 DraftKings 50/50 No-Limit Hold’em will probably be considered a failure by organizers due to a mediocre turnout and lack of media enthusiasm.
The final field ended up being 1,123 players, for a prize pool a touch over $ 1.5 million. That’s not embarrassingly low, but it’s still lower than any other No-Limit Hold’em event in the series so far, save for the two Shootouts (Events #4 and #14) and the Hyper (#6). Since the purpose of experimental formats is presumably to see what will bring in additional players, a below-average turnout calls into question whether the event will be brought back next year.
It might be a different story if those who did participate were raving about the experience, but both Twitter and the poker media have been rather silent on the subject since the event wrapped up last night. All anyone seems to have to say about it is that it’s funny – given the sponsor – that it was won by Brandon Wittmeyer, who is primarily a sports bettor rather than a poker player. Even he had little to say about the event itself, stating that his motivation for entering was simply that it “happened to be the next tournament on the schedule after I finished third in [Event #47].”
Who really likes consolation prizes?
The payout structure of the event is a modification on the “Double Bubble” format tried out by the organizers of last winter’s PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA). I commented at the time that I didn’t think that the Double Bubble format was going to play out as intended and indeed, I heard nothing about it afterwards, leading me to believe that it wasn’t a particularly successful experiment.
In the Double Bubble events, the idea was that half the field would get their money back, paid out immediately, but no further prizes would be awarded until the field was down to 8%, at which point the remaining prize pool would be distributed according to a more typical structure. Perhaps feeling that this took a little too much out of the prize pool, the DraftKings event added a third bubble, reducing the payout for the 50th to 25th percentile players to $ 1000 (2/3 the buy-in) and only giving 25th through 10th their full buy-in back.
The trouble with this is two-fold: firstly, if just getting your money back feels like a consolation prize, getting only part of your money back is still going to feel like a loss. If the goal is to create “more winners,” then those winners have to actually come out ahead, even if only slightly. This would be hard to do in a tournament which pays half the field, but perhaps paying a third or a quarter is a reasonable compromise and still much more than get paid in a standard structure.
Flatness is not smoothness
There’s also a problem in that, although recreational players enjoy small cashes, they don’t like sharp pay jumps. Thus, while paying out more spots is likely to attract more recreational players, doing so by creating additional bubbles is likely to put them off. Recreational players are there to gamble, but it’s only the professionals who like to gamble on a money bubble.
My primary objection to the Double Bubble format was that it would likely lead to extremely tedious, nitty play prior to the bursting of the first bubble, and the DraftKings format only makes the problem worse by adding a second bubble. Yes, the second one is only for $ 500 and not worth worrying about too much from the professional’s perspective, but for the recreational player it’s the difference between losing $ 500 or breaking even, so it encourages them to continue playing tight, boring survival poker.
The typical tournament’s structure has a single step at the money bubble, followed by an exponential curve. Pay jumps at the final table resemble steps once again, but only because of the inevitable granularity which occurs when so few players remain; the spacing of those payouts still follows the same exponential curve. By contrast, the Double Bubble and DraftKings format create a payout structure that looks increasingly like a flight of stairs. This creates a fixation on pay jumps, which in turn makes players feel their hands are tied and distracts them from actually playing poker as they originally sat down to do.
What I think would work better is a small initial jump – a buy-in refund or just slightly more – followed by a linear, ramp-like structure for the early post-bubble with modestly-sized, tightly-spaced pay jumps. Towards the end, say for the last 5%, a more standard exponential structure could be used in order to produce decent payouts for the top few players.
Do recreational players even care about structure?
Perhaps the problem is even deeper, however. I’m not convinced that recreational players even care that much about structure. Looking at what has worked this year, it seems that all recreational players really want is a relatively low buy-in and a huge field. The Colossus was a colossal success, and the Millionaire Maker and Monster Stack did fairly well, albeit not as well as last year. Tweaks to blind and payout structures may reap long-term benefits in terms of improving the experience of players, but it seems that there’s little value in making an experimental structure the primary marketing gimmick for a tournament.
At best, structural changes probably seem boring to the average recreational player, since they amount to fiddling with a spreadsheet. At worst, they may seem confusing, making those players feel like others will be gaining a strategic advantage since they’re unsure how to adjust. The best thing, then, may be to stick close to the tried-and-true formulae for structures, and look for other ways to innovate.