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Structure and Location (Florida Poker: 2012)

by Adam Schoenfeld |  Published: Dec 12, 2012


Adam SchoenfeldAfter the devastating events of poker’s Black Friday, and the subsequent horrors of the following months, many poker players have had to face stark questions about their chosen livelihood. I am no exception to this. Immediately after Full Tilt and PokerStars were not so politely evicted from the United States, I planned to move overseas and continue playing full time as a sponsored pro on Tilt. I secured a one year visa to do just that in Thailand. Then, complications set in. Full Tilt lost its license, was unable to sustain operations in the rest of the world, and eventually became defunct. My plan was shot.

Without sponsorship, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to leave home and become a poker exile. Sponsorship guaranteed an income stream that didn’t depend upon the vicissitudes of poker variance. The last thing I could tolerate was living far from home, away from all the comforts and friendships of the U.S., with shaky finances subject to the turn of a card.

Plan B for me was to continue living in Las Vegas, playing live poker in the many cardrooms the city’s mega-casinos have to offer, and to pursue other income as a writer/editor and consultant. Then, recently, an alluring alternative presented itself. Florida.

Until 2010, Florida offered only a bastardized version of poker, something so bizzare that I hesitate to even call it “poker.” The betting limits were capped at $2. All bets and raises could come in increments no higher than two bucks. That left a game that hardly resembles any variant of poker that I know.

All that changed about two years ago. The state came to its senses and lifted all limits and restrictions on poker. Individual cardrooms could set the buy-ins and limits as they saw fit. As I discovered on a recent visit to Florida, that rule change led to a poker boom that resembles something like the online poker gold rush in 2004-2005. Dozens and dozens of rooms are packed with eager players, often affluent retirees and businesspeople numbering in the hundreds along with eager neophytes and a sprinkling of typical hoodie/headphone kids that you’d normally see at the WSOP. Florida 2012 reminds me of Party Poker circa 2005. It’s that good.

While you can still see the “straight $2” poker game that used to be the mainstay of Florida poker, now there are no-limit games spread from $1-$2 with a $200 or $300 max buy-in, all the way up to $10-$25 no-limit and higher. I regularly heard $10-$25 PLO being called, with no maximum buy-in.

One game that I have begun frequenting in Florida is spread at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, in West Palm Beach. It’s a $5-$10 no-limit game with a $300 capped buy-in. Think about that. No one starts with more than 30 big blinds in their stack. This is a cash game that duplicates the dynamic of late stage tournament play in many ways. Very quickly, you’ll find that two or three players at the table will have built up huge stacks, often $1,500 or more. Several will be at or near the $300 buy-in after getting stacked and reloading. Two or three more will have $100 or less in front of them.

The implications of this structure are fascinating. You have to adjust your strategy according to your stack size while keeping strict focus on the stack size of your opponents in each hand you choose to enter. There’s no point limping in and essentially throwing away $10 if you’re going to likely face a $90 shove when you have a hand that can’t stand that reraise. Yet, I see many players either limp, or put in a standard raise, and then get stuck in a nasty spot when they are faced with a small to medium shove. Sometimes they just call off, even though they have suited connectors or a small pair, or some kind of hand that really isn’t getting the right odds to continue. Their mistake was entering the pot in the first place with the wrong stack dynamics behind them.

On the other hand, when two players with 150 or 200 or even 300 big blind stacks get involved in a hand, that’s a different situation entirely. This is pure deep-stacked poker, even though the initial buy-in was negligible. Again, I saw many grievous mistakes being made in these circumstances. The players come to this structure in a shove-happy mindset. They sometimes forget that blithely shoving with top pair/top kicker with 200 blind stacks is no longer a plus EV spot. In fact, it’s likely a hugely negative circumstance when they get called by a set. If you’re the player with the set, this is one of the most profitable situations you’ll ever find in no-limit.

The deep-stacked hand, in the shallow stack Palm Beach Kennel Club game, is pure gravy for the professional player.

One complaint that I’ve heard about Florida poker regards the jackpot drop. The house takes $5 max rake per hand, but also drops $2 for the bad beat and high hand jackpots. This is a lot of drop, certainly. But, as one savvy cardroom manager explained to me, it’s that drop that keeps the recreational player engaged and enthusiastic about the games. And it seems to me that he’s right. Almost all of the chatter at the table involves the bad beat bonanza and how to play a high hand (royal flushes can pay $16,000 or more, even in the straight $2 game). So as a professional, you can tolerate the high rake, because it brings in the huge population of non-regular players that are more focused on the poker lottery, and less focused on the structure of the game. I think the equation is a positive one for the serious poker player.

I plan on playing tons of Florida poker now. I will be writing more about it in future columns. ♠

Adam Schoenfeld is a professional poker player, writer and analyst. He has commentated upon the Monte Carlo Millions, the World Series of Poker, and other poker TV shows. Follow him on Twitter @adamschoenfeld.