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Ego and Game Selection

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Apr 10, 2019


Last night I was playing at my local casino and it was a bit slow. It was a Sunday, which are busy during football season, but slow otherwise. There are two main games that I play there. The one that runs every day, $2-$3-$5 Big O is consistent and generally a good game. The $5-$5 pot-limit Omaha/Big O mix runs on Fridays and a couple other times throughout the week depending on who is around.

If both games are going, I usually prefer the $5-$5 as it plays quite a bit bigger, so even if the game is a little worse than the $2-$3-$5, my hourly rate should still be higher. Last night, however, this wasn’t true. Some of the tighter players from the $2-$3-$5 game that don’t always play $5-$5 came over to start the game and it wasn’t great.

Now, usually, it’s difficult to assess a game’s dynamics when it first starts. People like to start out on their best behavior, and a player who plays well when winning or even, can fall apart if they lose a few pots to start. A game that you think is mediocre at the start can become very good quickly if the right people start off poorly.

Unfortunately, in last night’s game, nothing fell out of balance and the players who can keep their cool lost at first, and those that tend to tilt a fair amount won at the beginning. A game with a promising cast of characters and a decent list was turning into a game without much action.

I put myself up as a call-in (at my local casino, you’re allowed to go on the board for up to 75 minutes as a “call-in” whether you’re in the casino or not, and your spot on the list is preserved until you arrive) on the $2-$3-$5 game because it was looking quite good. The people who stayed out of the $5-$5 game were among the weaker regulars, and there were even a few people I hadn’t seen before. Because of the slow night, it was difficult to keep both games filled. A seat opened in the $2-$3-$5 game and nobody who was on the list and present took the game. I saw an opportunity and switched games to a better one.

If I was concerned about being in the biggest game in the room or always playing $5-$5 because it’s going, I would have stayed in a worse game, beating my head against a wall of good players instead of the situation I found myself in. There was one person who was new and not particularly good, one who was drunk and moving chips around quite nicely, and a bunch of regulars that I had a fairly good understanding of their play. Eventually, we even got a player who had never played Big O before come try the game out. We taught him the rules and he enjoyed himself while he lost some money.

When thinking about game selection, it’s important to think about lots of different factors. First and foremost, is certainly the size of the game and what you think your edge and hourly rate is in said game. It’s definitely an inexact science when attempting to evaluate what your hourly rate is in a specific lineup, but it’s important to take ego out of it when doing so. Just because one game is higher stakes doesn’t mean it’s the highest earner.

Second, it’s important to think about the variance of the game you’re in and the one you might move to. If you think the winrates are similar between the two games, it might be more prudent to play in the game with smaller swings. In this instance, this was a mild factor. The $5-$5 game plays with deeper stacks and there were a few people in the game that tend to straddle, making it play with higher variance. A winrate of, let’s say, $50 per hour in a game that has swings twice as big as another game where you have a winrate of $45 per hour might lead you to play the $45 per hour game if you’re feeling a little tight on bankroll, tired, in a bad mood, etc.

There’s a famous saying in poker that I’m not sure has ever been attributed to anyone: “It’s no good to be the fifth best player in the world if you’re always playing with the only four that are better than you.” While this doesn’t really apply literally in the situation I’ve described, it’s an important lesson in thinking about what game it makes sense to play. Take ego out of the equation and don’t worry about how it will look to others in the room if you’re playing a game that’s smaller than what you usually play. Make the best decision for your winrate and bankroll and keep your ego out of it. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG