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Politics in High Stakes Poker

by Daniel Negreanu |  Published: Feb 10, '16

So as I mentioned previously, my goal this year was to put in 200 hours of cash game poker in 2016 after not playing any at all for about two years. My first session went quite well, and my follow up session in the same game saw me book a small win.

Last night, I moved from the Aria big bet mixed game over to the Bellagio to play in the $1500-$3000 mixed game. One of the key differences between this game and others that I failed to point out in my last blog is that there are no politics involved in terms of who gets to play, and when.

The group of guys in this game will end the night saying something to the effect of, "start again tomorrow 2pm?" Then the first 8 players to show up for the game get a seat. The next person to arrive is first up on the waiting list and if a player is away from the table they can "play over" which means they put a clear box over the chips of the player currently away from the table and can play as long as the other player is gone. When that player gets back, the guy playing over has to either find another person to play over, or stick around and wait for a seat to open up.

That's the way it's always been for as long as I can remember, and I think most would agree that it's the most fair system available for cash games.

The Bellagio mixed game consists of both limit games played at $1500-$3000 limits and then a capped format of pot limit or no limit for other games with a blind structure of $500-$800 with $1200 in antes and a $30,000 cap. For those of you unfamiliar with what a "cap" is, essentially it means that's the maximum amount of money any one player can lose in any given hand. So for example, if you have $200,000 in front of you and are facing a $5000 raise, you can go "all in" for $30,000. If your opponent calls, there is no betting and whoever ends up with the best hand wins the pot.

Typically in capped pots most players will "run it twice" which is kind of fun, while also lowering the variance of the game. So for example, lets say you have bottom set and there is one card to come. Your opponent has a flush draw. If you agree to run it twice, the dealer will burn and turn the river two times. So if on the first run player B hits the flush, but on the second run the set holds up, the players would split the pot. In order to win the whole pot, you would have to win both runs. Doing this gives neither player a statistical advantage and it's optional. I always agree to running it twice.

The $30,000 cap makes the pot limit and no limit formats play more like a hybrid of limit and no limit. They just play very differently from a pure limit or no limit format. It creates a lot more action in one sense, since players will be putting in the full cap quite often, but it also takes away a lot of bluffing opportunities and closes the skill gap a great deal. For example:

2-7 triple draw played with a $30,000 cap with the blinds at $500-$800 with $1200 in antes out there. Let's say player A makes it $2000 and players B and C call. They all draw either one or two cards. Now player A bets $6000 and you have a one card draw to 2347. You can call the $6000 bet and raise another $22,000 to reach the cap knowing that player A is almost certain to call. No matter what player A actually has, with two draws to come, you are in decent shape with 2347 and two draws left.

Now that same hand played with no cap is wildly different. If the same scenario occurred and you raised the $6000 bet to $30,000 with your draw, player A could smack you in the face with a re-raise that could cost you close to another $100k to draw at your hand. if you call the raise and miss on the first draw, he can fire a $300,000 bet at you to draw one last time! Bottom line is that with no cap, you are far less likely to get frisky and gamble in these spots rather than play cautiously.

The biggest difference is, of course, bluffing. With a $30,000 cap you are a bit more handcuffed if you ever choose to run a big bluff. It's quite likely that you would get the full $30,000 into the middle before the last draw, and then it's show time. You won't have any bullets left to push your opponent off a hand. With no cap, you can raise, stand pat, then bet pot, pot, pot and put maximum pressure on your opponents and you could do this with absolute garbage. Capped games require better technical (math) skills while an uncapped game requires a lot more guts and psychological warfare.

On this night, we played a mix of 13 games. The standard 10-Game mix plus 3 more:

Omaha 8
Stud 8
No Limit Hold'em
Pot Limit Omaha
2-7 Triple Draw
2-7 no limit single draw
2-7 Razz
2-7 Triple Draw no limit
Pot Limit Omaha 8

I was involved in my fair share of capped pots and after an 8 hour session where I was in the red from hand one, I ended up losing $84,700. That puts my year total thus far at:

18 hours

I thought I played "ok" for the most part. I made one bad bet early on in a 2-7 Razz hand on the end looking for thin value, but outside of that I can't think of too many other clear mistakes. You win some, you lose some!

Since writing my last blog about the political side of poker, I've heard from several high stakes players on Twitter and in person about how they aren't happy with the environment that has been created as a result of these politics.

Most everyone agreed that there is nothing wrong with 8 guys saying, "Let's start a game tomorrow at noon," all 8 of them showing up, and then essentially shutting anyone out who didn't get an invite unless a seat opens up. The real issue arises when one of any of the following occurs:

1) There is a seat open and players are told they cannot play
2) Players are put on the list despite not being present
3) Being told you can't even put your name on the waiting list
4) Weaker players from other games being poached and being invited to play in this quasi, not so quasi, private game.

I also think it's a clear consensus that if someone has a private game at their home, they have the right to invite anyone they choose to, and not welcome anyone they don't want to play with. Before poker was played in casinos in the days that Doyle Brunson and co. were traveling Texas looking for games, if you were a winning player, they better really like you or they wouldn't let you play in their games.

Once poker was being offered regularly in casinos, though, part of the allure was that anyone with the buy in could sit down and try their luck. In fact, I'm not even sure it's legal to hold a private poker game in a casino.

So while the Bellagio mixed game is politics free, the same can't be said of the Aria games and other games across the globe. The Macau games have been political from the outset, but that approach has started to infiltrate the high stakes scene and really changed the landscape.

No longer is the best poker player the one who makes the most money. The one who makes the most money is the one who works on relationship building away from the table to put themselves in situations where they can either A) get invited to lucrative games, or B) run the game themselves and choose exactly who does, and doesn't get to play. That doesn't sit right with a lot of people, but the problem occurs when trying to figure out a solution?

For example, if nine recreational players want to start a game and not play with any professionals, they can do just that. As long as other players have the right to join a waiting list to play in that game, no one can really argue that this is unfair. The real problems start when the waiting list is being manipulated. This nine handed game starts at noon, you show up at 11:45am in the hopes of playing, but these nine guys take the seats in front of you. Sucks for you, but at least you are first on the list right? Not so fast. Floor staff are manipulating this list so despite you being the only person there to play, you are told you are 5th on the waiting list and essentially will have no chance to play.

The days of these high stakes games being an open opportunity for anyone who has the buy in, are in jeopardy. If you are both a jerk, and a winning player, this combo of death will ensure that you just never get an invite to one of these games.

For a lot of the online poker geniuses making the transition to the live arena, these relationshipping skills aren't necessary and aren't learned online. Typically, tighter, slower, winning players aren't welcome.

There are a few professional players that have positioned themselves well as mainstays in these lucrative games through creating relationships with the right people. As a result of that skill, make no mistake, relationshipping is a skill, they will ultimately play in softer games and have a bigger earn per hour.

Is this fair? Do you begrudge those that have developed those skills to the point where it's benefiting them? Do you think this is unfair? Do you think casino games should be open to whomever, regardless of their personality traits and skill level?

I'd like to rephrase what I said in my previous blog about the politics in poker. While I have no problem with a group of guys saying, "Let's us nine start a game tomorrow at noon," there should be no waiting list manipulation. The rules should apply equally to everyone looking to get into the game past the start point. If a seat opens up, anyone there should have the right to take that seat.

What do you guys think?
Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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