Dealer’s Choice is the new Hold Em

If my column is anything to go by, some time after 2015 there will be no more fish left in the game. Instead, the poker world will be populated by cyborg twenty-something university dropouts who fifty-table against each other, merely pushing money back and forth while the site makes money from the rake.

Others are not so pessimistic. They believe that there will always be (dead) money in the game, and there will always be decent opportunities to get it. Maybe I’m soured by my own experiences. I started off playing Hold Em, and moved to PLO8 when I felt that Hold Em was getting “found out”. It wasn’t long before PLO8 suffered the same fate, so I moved on to PLO. Ditto PLO a year and a half later. To an outsider, my jumping from game to game, desperately looking for the next easy score might bring to mind a dog chasing its tail.

So what a pleasure it was to have my cynical outlook brightened up at the Vic. It wasn’t so much about fishiness of the opponents – plenty of players at the Vic know exactly what they’re doing. The thing of beauty was the tournament we played – Pot Limit Dealer’s Choice.

Dealer’s Choice at least means you have one more weapon in your arsenal – whoever is on the button gets to choose what the game is for that one hand, and how many cards you play it with. The selection we had at the Vic was: Omaha High, Omaha High Low (both games either 4- or 5-card), Hold Em, 7-Stud, 7-Stud High Low, and Irish (3-, 4-, or 5-card). That’s a total of ten options.

Mixed games are definitely becoming more popular. Online poker rooms now vie with each other to find the best acronym from the letters A, E, H, O, R, and S; and the ascent of the $50k HORSE to becoming the “real main event” has certainly made more serious Hold Em players try to broaden their game. But let’s get one thing straight: Limit poker tournaments suck. While the US continues to identify games such as Stud, Stud Eight and Omaha Eight as limit games only, the migration of new blood from Hold Em might not be so quick. If they made these variants pot limit, as we’ve been doing in Europe for decades, maybe that influx would be keener. That would go for online as well as Vegas.

While the action associated with pot limit games might be the thing that attracts new players, the best thing about this particular tournament was the dealer’s choice aspect. Why is this important? Well, for a start, it’s more fun. We all know how much better home games feel because you can change the game every ten minutes or so. Believe me, you’ll never spend hours folding preflop in our home-brewed cocktail known as “Mortgage” (which is No Limit, six-card Omaha High/Low with two turns).

When the money is deep at the beginning of a Dealer’s Choice tournament, players will choose games where they reckon they have a better edge, but in contrast with some tournaments, there’s still a lot of interest later on. For example, towards the money, some Hold Em tournaments can be very much about clinging on for a decent hand – or at least making a move and hoping that someone behind you doesn’t have one. If your stack-to-blind ratio is low, the whole thing becomes a rather tension-filled crapshoot.

Dealer’s Choice has that extra dimension. What do you do when you’re short stacked on the button? Choose a game where your absolute hand strength is less of a burden and a steal is more likely to work (e.g. Irish, Hold Em, Stud High)? What if that means you’re more likely to get a steal in front of you, and thus, you can’t reshove because you’ll have no fold equity? So what, stick to a flop game such as Omaha High or High/Low? The possibilities are tantalising, and it’s a great challenge. My brain was working overtime and I loved it.

Jeff Leigh and Jonathan Raab were both keen for these tournaments to take a stronger root at the Vic. Many casinos used to spread a pot limit Dealer’s Choice cash game in the past. Jeff reckons that they would usually spread the tournament equivalent during a festival as long as the interest was there, but in recent years the game has become less popular.

An attempt to reignite some interest in a regular Dealer’s Choice cash game at the Vic has unfortunately not as yet succeeded. “There are people who want to play it,” said Jeff, “it’s just a question of getting them all together at the same time.” I’ve seen cash games at the G Casinos in Manchester and Luton during the GUKPT, but they are apparently rarer outside of the festivals. Perhaps the answer is to keep spreading the tournaments at major festivals and see if the game can catch on slowly.

The problem for the casinos, of course, is that it’s always the Hold Em tournaments which sell out – and their choice of which tournaments to spread has to be about the bottom line. There were 43 runners for the Dealer’s Choice tournament at this summer’s London Poker Championships, where the Hold Em tournaments usually reach the cap of 100 players.

Let’s hope these variants increase in popularity as time goes on. There’s no question that Omaha has grown in recent years – the number of Omaha tournaments spread in Vegas during June is testament to that. If the trend continues, this should spill over into the more far-flung fields such as PLO8, Dealer’s Choice, and so on. I certainly hope so. Maybe my bubble-busting cash had something to do with it, but I haven’t enjoyed a tournament so much for ages.