Fun is very important in poker, but the most exciting, interesting games are often outside the budget of most players. Conversely, when the stakes get too big, the mood gets too serious for some of us. We’re always trying to find that right stake, right structure, right novelty.
The solution I’ve offered to the community here at OOP & The Back Room is a 500 bb deep, very small stakes game online. This has been a big success in terms of both fun and poker education. Of course, the stakes are actually bigger – and I’m not talking about bbs, but what makes for a positive future for the entire poker industry. Deeper stacks with lower stakes can be a positive if minor part of big picture improvements poker, especially no limit poker, needs.
Starting on January 14th, we are going to bring this idea to the live arena at the Sahara Poker Room: small stakes (2/3 blinds) NL but with a 200 bb minimum buy-in each Thursday at 8 pm. Rake is $5 time. All straddles are live, we run it multiple times, and generally play the “show one” game.” There is no cap, and I expect many of us will start with 500 bbs, because that is what we are used to. That’s not the most important thing, actually: the important thing is the minimum depth.
This was, incidentally, a little confusing to the internet crowd, who, when I first announced the game, pointed out to me that they have some deep games at their local joint. Fair enough, I certainly never claimed to invent deep stack poker. Nor is Vegas a city in Texas, where the boys really are gambling these days. So thanks guys, but I think you are missing the point. This is Vegas, and card rooms are shutting down: we’ve lost I think four rooms to Covid, and more to just the slowdown of the poker market. The regs here are sometimes nitty, and worse, look for every game edge, including doing a lot of short-stacking and rat-holing and trading in general poker misanthropy. They wile away the days and nights, scrounging out casino points and promotions, taking unwitting part in one of the most disturbing aspects of American society: the casino industry as unnamed partner in elder care.
Our game won’t be much of a part of that stuff, and I even mean that quite literally: we have a sweet $5 time rake and no drop for any promotions. This game is about the game. The minimum 200 bb buy-in always scares off the worst nits and rat-holers. And hey, this is taking place in a beautiful room, the new Sahara. Strip-mall card clubs are cool, but they just won’t fly in the city of Aria, Bellagio, and Wynn poker. The Sahara, while small, can compete because it has many winning qualities. The seats are perfect, the tables clean and new. The Sahara’s Covid plexiglass apparati are far more discrete than the clunky teller booths some of the other casinos are using. The sports screens are nicely arranged, and there is even a slightly secluded Table 1, where we’ll be playing. The poker operations head, Steven Pique, has experience in the local scene and in poker content production, so he knows what he is doing, but his task in carving out a place in today’s Vegas poker market is a daunting one. I wish him luck and will do what I can to help. (Getting more players on Poker Atlas and their mobile app would be a big step forward for the Sahara and many other rooms looking to grow.)
In any case, all this makes for a nice atmosphere for poker, and recalls the so-called 5$pkrclub that would hit the Nugget late nights to duke it out when the equity lottery at the WSOP didn’t hit. A lot of fun hands went down, and they weren’t AK vs QQ, if you know what I mean.
The big picture, however, is that short stacked games are simply not as interesting as they once were. Scroll through the Twitch and Youtube streamers, and you’ll see endless versions of the same game, very well played by endless strategy clones. The margins are still good, unbelievably, but the writing is on the wall – there is a clear “solution” for a profitable way forward. Play the right ranges per position. Don’t flat. Raise small pre, bomb it from the blinds. Check the flop out of position or bet small; bet polar in position. Don’t pay off, don’t bluff too much.
This is restraint. A kind of elegance, really, but not that great for stimulating the excitement that brought you to the game originally. Sometimes, you might even wonder why you still play at all. Maybe it’s a job for you, or worse, maybe it’s just habit.
One way forward is to make for more interesting in-game decisions. So you change games, or mix up the games. Maybe you add a third blind (or more). These are fair adjustments, but they ultimately change the game you liked so much originally. The simplest answer has actually been hidden in plain sight all along: why the hell was 50 or 100 bbs the stack size they gave us to play? Do we get to use the deck and the streets of play very fully in this game? Do we really get to cold call much, never mind in in three bet pots? Where is there room for the most novel lines and plays?
It’s not at 100 bbs, generally. Even in solves, as we get deeper, things get a little funkier. We need to split our actions and cover the board more. We need to check more yet bomb it more later. We can have dozens of sizing opportunities in a single hand, and our opponent has just as many tools. This is complexity, and that can wake up the jaded poker player. Further, since no range really wants to be all-in pre at 500 bbs, you can imagine the consequences of that: post-flop can’t be dodged, yet you can still reraise preflop as much as you can handle. Pretty sweet.
Of course, nothing is simple. There are no solutions, only tradeoffs, as the Sowell quotation goes. The problem with depth is risk. And that’s the answer to why they like us playing short. When we do blow our load we can get right back in the game.
So, to counter that, I think we should play deeper but smaller, and allow more stack differentials. Not staring at an Ignition screen against five opponents with the same profile and same chips, but a panoply of problems to face. What do you open or three bet when every stack behind you is different and one covers you for infinite bbs? What happens when the BU flats your reraise and now UTG comes along and you’re squeezed into the middle with 400 bbs of betting in front of you? Can you win?
I know, I know: there’s solutions and principles for all these things. There are no pure fixes for poker, but there’s something to be said for getting back to our roots and away from all the static thoughts and plays that the online and casino structure regime has forced on us. We want, at heart, for our games to be like that home game or wacky television game that got us addicted originally.
Running this small stakes, deep-stack, low-rake game at Sahara is my humble addition to the many other ways the scene is trying to help us recover the magic. I hope you will join me, locals and tourists and travelers. I’ll be at the Sahara each Thursday, playing the kind of small but big game that I think you might enjoy.
Get a seat locked up and help us organize by contacting me.