Nine Years in Las Vegas
My ninth year in Las Vegas was a continuation of a trend from the past couple years- playing multiple games relatively stress free. Despite a good bankroll position, I didn’t make any effort to move up in stakes. Instead, I sought out games which offered very little risk and a fair amount of reward. Often, this meant playing in smaller games than I had been as my eighth year came to an end.
Taking a low risk/moderate reward approach rather than a moderate risk/high reward approach obviously will cost a player EV. If the only goal a player has is to maximize how much money he makes, then he should play in the biggest game which he is capable of beating. However, I think I’ve become more risk-sensitive over the years and playing in an easier, less stressful game allows me to put in more hours.
The one big change in my ninth year is where I called my poker home. For most of my time in Las Vegas, the Mirage has been my preferred poker room. It’s been my observation that Vegas regulars mostly stick to one room (and usually one game) until they have good reason to leave. Sometimes the reasons for staying are good ones, such as playing in a great game and being in a well run room. However, often it’s just a matter of habit
At different times, the Bellagio, Caesars Palace, and the Venetian have been my primary place to play. But, I always went back to the Mirage. I simply liked it there and would often play in smaller games as a consequence. So, when the 2009 WSOP started, I decided to go back home again, expecting my old favorite game, 20-40 limit hold ‘em, would run regularly.
However, sometimes you can’t go back home again. The Las Vegas poker landscape has changed a lot and the Mirage has been the #1 casualty. Old management and new management of the room have made many mistakes. As years have gone by, the games at the Mirage shrank. By the end of the summer, the Mirage would be dead other than 1-2 no-limit and 3-6 limit hold ‘em. I think the summer of 2009 was the Mirage’s last hurrah, at least until they succeed in a rebuilding project.
The Mirage 20-40 game ran though the WSOP and I enjoyed playing it while it was three- to six-handed. The action was fantastic with lots of players over-compensating to the short-handed nature of the game. But, once the game filled up, it became a TAGfest with most flops being seen heads-up for two or three bets. Once the game changed, I left to play a no-limit game (or maybe the 10-20 limit game).
July and August are slow months in Las Vegas. Once the WSOP is over, the poker action bottoms out. During this period, I tend to cut back on my poker time and reflect.
It was during this time that I made an odd game selection choice. Instead of looking at the games which were running and choosing which was best, I decided to create my own game and encourage others to play it. After weighing different ideas, I eventually settled on a mixed game I reluctantly called THE BROS (TD 2-7, hold ‘em, Stud/8, badugi, razz, O/8, and stud). I e-mailed Kathy Raymond who runs the Venetian poker room and proposed using the 2+2 forums to promote the game at 10-20 stakes if the Venetian would give it support. Kathy was enthusiastic and we started promoting the game on weekends with the start of the NFL season (and an uptick in Las Vegas and poker business).
This wasn’t actually the first time I’ve written up a proposal for a Las Vegas cardroom. After interviewing Caesars Palace’s poker room manager for the January, 2007 issue of the Two Plus Two Poker Strategy Magazine, he asked what ideas I had which could help him increase his room’s limit hold ‘em action. I gave it some serious thought and suggested a promotion based on a reduced rake for middle limit games. The idea was to draw away the Bellagio’s stranglehold on those games.
Caesars Palace rejected the idea. But, on a whim, I sent the proposal to Kathy Raymond at the Venetian whose room had a lot of unused capacity. To my surprise and delight, she thought it was worth trying. Starting in April of 2007, the Venetian had a reduced rake promotion (starting at just $1 max) for 8-16 and 15-30 games and a $2 time collection for 30-60 and 60-120). The promotion met with some initial success and then fizzled out. The Venetian wasn’t a very busy room then and simply couldn’t sustain the games.
By September of 2009, though, the Venetian had become the busiest room in Las Vegas on the strength of their no-limit games. Despite their scarcity of limit games, I thought the Venetian was the best shot for THE BROS mixed games to succeed. If I had considered such an idea years ago, I certainly would have proposed it to the Mirage. But, I had said goodbye to my old home and was building a new one.
The Venetian lived up to its decision to promote the game. It put up flyers in the room, listed it on their boards, and pushed it a bit. It didn’t do much good.
THE BROS mixed games was a spectacular failure. It regularly got a few names on the interest list and even ran once with yours truly being the big donator of the day.
So, why mention THE BROS mixed game at all? Because it had an unintended consequence which has reshaped the Las Vegas poker landscape a lot already and has the potential to do so even more.
Within a week after THE BROS promotion started, the Venetian surprised me by retrying my 2 ½ year old reduced rake promotion in a modified form. Starting in early/mid-September, the Venetian was offering 8-16 limit hold ‘em with a $2 max rake, a $25 first-time player comp, and an hourly comp of $1.50. 15-30 and 30-60 had similar promotions. This time, the promotion worked.
In case you haven’t been following my surveys, this article
in the May issue of the Two Plus Two Poker Strategy Magazine will give you the most recent data I’ve collected. The Venetian has gone from being a room which would have just two or three 4-8 limit hold ‘em games a year ago to a room which can be counted on for those same games, two or three 8-16 games and a semi-regular 15-30 game. When the Venetian expanded the promotion to include Omaha 8 or better (in fact, any limit poker game), the results were similar.
I made a conscious choice to support the Venetian’s 8-16 game (and the 15-30 when it ran). I was often starting them short-handed and even heads-up. I really wanted to see limit poker succeed at the Venetian. With the room already having great no-limit action, it could become a place where a player has great game selection options.
For about the first six months it ran, the Venetian 8-16 game was probably the best game I’ve ever played in Las Vegas. When I first started playing, I thought to myself ‘this has to be a 2+ big bet per hour game’. My actual results were even better than that. I genuinely think my theoretical earn in that game was higher than in the Bellagio 15-30 game even when that game is good. For various reasons, the 8-16 game drew an audience of extremely weak players (often 4-8 players taking a shot) and it took a while for competent Vegas regulars at these stakes to start showing up.
Today, the Venetian 8-16 game is still good but not great. It has a regular cast of players who play competently. So, they’re taking up seats which used to be held by much worse players.
The 8-16 Omaha 8 or better game started running semi-regularly in January and was a constant by March. This became my #2 game for basically the same reasons I played so much of the 8-16 hold ‘em game. It was simply a great game with little risk and a relatively large reward (maybe a theoretical 2+ big bet per hour game). 15-30 O/8 runs occasionally.
A fair summary of the games I played first nine months of Year 9 would be this:
May/WSOP: Mirage 20-40, occasional NLHE
July-August: Mirage 10-20, occasional NLHE
September-February: Venetian 8-16 (hold ‘em and O/8), occasional NLHE
I’m not bothered by what appears to be a dropping in stakes. Like I said, the Venetian games were so good that a winning player could earn just as much in them than in a normal game played at twice the stakes. Though, I don’t think that’s the case anymore.
But, it wasn’t until February that I appreciated how ‘occasional’ my no-limit hold ‘em play had become. Often, I would sit in a no-limit hold ‘em game while waiting to get into the 8-16 games. But, because I wasn’t planning to stay in the no-limit hold ‘em game, I simply sat in a 1-2 game for a while. For about half a year, I didn’t go to the casino intending to play no-limit hold ‘em.
I suppose this is always going to be an issue for me. If I’m going to play multiple games (limit hold ‘em, Omaha 8 or better, no-limit hold ‘em, stud, and mixed games whenever they’re available), there are going to be long stretches when one or more games get ignored.
However, it may not be a problem. When I decided to move back into no-limit hold ‘em (the 2-5 game at Aria), I didn’t feel rusty. In fact, I think I played with more vigor and aggressiveness. I tend to get into a rut of overly-cautious play in no-limit hold ‘em when I play it regularly. That’s the exact opposite of my limit hold ‘em play. So, I’ve found there are benefits to moving back-and-forth between the games.
For the last few months, I’ve mixed in more 2-5 no-limit while still playing the 8-16 and 15-30 hold ‘em and O/8 games. The only problem I have with this mix of games is that the 15-30 games aren’t consistent at the Venetian and it’s not clear if they ever will become so.
Looking ahead, I expect my tenth year will be similar: a mix of limit hold ‘em, limit Omaha 8 or better, and no-limit hold ‘em, preferably at higher stakes for the limit games. The Venetian has had success running 1-2 and 2-5 PLO for about a year, so I may add that to my repertoire (though I’m going to need to study a bit first). I also may play some of the $1,500 WSOP events as a change-of-pace.
I’m not sure whether I’ll make any serious efforts at moving up in stakes. 5-10 no-limit is plentiful and the 30-60 limit hold ‘em and Omaha 8 or better games run daily at the Bellagio (all of which I’ve played occasionally before).
Of course, I don’t have a good track record of predicting my own poker future.