Poker Zoo 63: Mason Malmuth on Live Card Rooms

Twoplustwo publisher and prolific author Mason Malmuth joins the Zoo to discuss a disagreement on luck and skill and how it influences the games, but it quickly turns into a broader conversation about what makes casino poker rooms go. That’s in part thanks to Mason’s announcement of his new book, a work in progress tentatively titled Cardrooms: Everything Bad; An Analysis of Those Areas Where Poker Rooms Need Improvement.

We go over highlights of his concerns, from the microscopic (the angle of the poker tables) to the essential (what makes for a good promotion), and all of it adds up, in Mason’s opinion, to a successful or struggling poker room. Plus, we go back in time and catch up a bit on how his controversial Real Poker Psychology played out.

We didn’t go into the original basis of our chat as thoroughly as I’d like, but having agreed that there is a space for more challenging game structures, such as the deep stack 2/3 game I host at the Sahara, I’m glad we got into the big picture question Mason raises: what makes for an appealing and successful live poker room. After all, if Vegas can’t make poker shine, what city can? His book seems very timely, in the age of Covid, increasingly tough games, and rising rake and costs putting the live scene in peril.

As far as luck versus skill and deep-stack games, it’s true a higher stack to blind ratio is a harder one. However, what quantifies the ideal game, and is skill versus luck really only the only question? I would say no. First off, skill is less quantified than imagined – the deeper we play, the less “solved” or less often solved, the situation is. The binary view is not always as useful in the real games, where everyone is a fish to someone. Simultaneously, everyone thinks they have an edge – are we to deny them competitive opportunities to prove this? Second, 100 bbs is rather arbitrary. Who is to say 50 or 75 is really what the game needs? Should we really all be playing tournaments after all – that would involve some irony. Third, what if we simply don’t want to play what they tell us to? Where does love of the game enter the luck versus skill calculus? How do we allow changes in game culture if our baseline is worrying about losers who in fact often have more money to spend than winners? In other words, do we create the market or does the market create us? Finally, have we lost track of essentials – what about rake? Those short-stack games serve the regs and recs pretty well, true, but who, if anyone, really wins? As legendary live grinder DGAF has pointed out, the game I run is actually one of the best around for players in this respect.

For another recent perspective on what makes the games go, check live Austin grinder and ponderer Fernando on the Zoo.

Part One: Cardroom Procedures
Consistent Decisions
Buy-ins That are Too Large
Transfers Bringing the Wrong Amount of Chips The Must-Move Rule
The Third Man Walking Rule
The Lunch Break Rule
New Set-Ups
Rack Counts
Game Location
Call-in Lists

Part Two: Cardroom Attitudes
Everyone Breaks Even
Going to Church
Adversarial Relationship Between Players and Management

Part Three: Dealer Problems
Talking Dealers
Dealers Selling Chips — Excessive Fills
Dealers Carrying Their Own Trays
Failure to Make Change From the Pot
Flashing Dealers
Dealers Need to Deal

Part Four: Management Issues
Cardroom Managers — Missing in Action
Bad Floor
Tournaments or Cash Games
Excessive Rake
Cannibalizing Games
Forgetting the Regular Customer
Player Meetings
Spreading the Wrong Games
Starting New Games When Not Ready

Part Five: Other Cardroom Personnel

a draft table of contents from Cardrooms

4 thoughts on “Poker Zoo 63: Mason Malmuth on Live Card Rooms

  1. Another interesting episode for the poker podcast that deeply delves into more serious topics pertaining to our game. M.M. brought up good points pertaining to how game structure affects the ecosystem but one has to keep in mind that even a poker room is an incredibly dynamic network. So as functional and numerical response of predators affects prey so to will intraguild predation – it is not as simple as saying more predators equates to game over, or a room with an abundance of herbivores suggests carnivores never will return.


  2. The episode with MM was so good I gave it another listen, and I’d like to warn everyone to expect encounters with chatty dealers to sound like nails on a chalk board. I can’t believe how annoying it has become to see the game slow down and become more expensive (I pay a time charge) because some dealers talk too much.

Leave a Reply