Poker: Getting the Balance Right (Part 1)

This post deals with “getting the balance right” in relation to several different aspects of poker. 
Originally it was going to be all in one post but it’s too long a subject so I’ve decided to split it down.
1)     Card Rooms
2)      Dealers and Valets
3)    My Own Play
Card Rooms
OK so “Poker Rooms” first. I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating that as a player in the West Midlands there has never been more choice for the live poker plodder like me.
When I first started playing (1976) one of the biggest poker skills required was actually to be able to locate a game to play in! I’d often go for miles to a venue because I’d heard there was a game only to find there wasn’t one or it was invitation only, or the one and only player in the game who could vouch for me wasn’t actually there tonight etc. etc.
People used to travel all over the place to get to play in virtually any game no matter if it was terrible. I was only 17 when I started playing poker so I played exclusively in private games in all sorts of weird and wonderful places. Home games, pubs, social clubs, snooker rooms, taxi offices, hotels, the storeroom of a shop, under the grandstand at Cheltenham racecourse (with a load of pissed up Irishmen) a nightclub, a burger van, and even sat in the back of a black cab taxi, if there was a game I’d be there.
Most of the games I played in were pretty straight but I’ve played in places where I was worried I wouldn’t get out in one piece. I had to climb out of the toilet window to leave a game on one occasion. (In those days I was about half the size I am now or I’d have had no chance.)
The first casino I ever played in was “The Rainbow Casino” which is Birmingham’s oldest casino and I joined as soon as I turned 18 in 1977.
Rainbow: Circa 1998/99. Thanks to Mark Smith (the dealer) who allowed me to use his photo.
To my knowledge it was one of the first casinos in the country to play the new form of poker called “Holdem” (well it was new then). I’d certainly never seen or heard of Holdem till I went there as I’d previously only played games like Stud (7&5 card), Draw, Razz etc.
Apart from the Rainbow there was NO OTHER CASINO with a poker room in the Midlands at that time playing Holdem and I doubt there were 3 or 4 other casinos in the UK playing the game.
A few years later I started going to a small casino in Walsall (not Junction 10 the old one in the town) which used to have a “strip deck” 5 card stud tournament one night a week, and afterwards they would have a Holdem cash game. Wow things were looking up.
So where else could you find a straight (well straight-ish) game of Holdem to play with house dealers, card room supervisors, valets, free food and drinks. Yes free food in those days!
All the things we take for granted today, (and moan like F when we don’t get them) were a bloody luxury back then.
You would think if it was the only true poker venue for over 50 miles in any direction it would be packed to the doors every night, but it wasn’t because poker was so “underground” it was practically invisible in the late 70’s, there were just so few players.
Look at the Midlands now. If you check out the MidlandsPoker Forum they have 16 card room schedules listed on it. If you want to play afternoon and evening then with early bust outs and trotting between, Star City, G Hill Street and the Broadway someone like the legendary “Poker Doctor” Peter Djiallis could play 20 comps a week!
Joking aside the reason I mention the Doc is because the Facebook Group “POKER DOCTOR” has over 830 members. There weren’t 800 people that played poker in the Midlands in 1976.
Fast forward to 2014, the number of poker players has exploded but also the number of card room venues has increased more than 20 fold. This increase in venues means competition to attract players is greater than ever.
Guarantees: Getting the Balance Right
Back in the early Rainbow days any old tournament would attract runners and the word “guarantee” wasn’t in the card room manager’s vocabulary. Structures were bad, and starting stacks were worse, typically 3k for a freeze out and 1k for a re-buy. No wonder I played tight in those days, with just a 1k starting stack you had to give a lot of thought to calling a 150 raise during the 1st level as it was 15% of your chips.
Now card rooms are frankly going bonkers with guarantees in a desperate attempt to attract players from the competition. 
The best in the close vicinity of Birmingham (for players) is currently being offered by The Grosvenor Hill St (GH) though I think it’s a policy which is just madness from a business point of view.
GH offers very good guarantees and a reasonable structure 7 days a week, but not content with that they have something called “Progressive Guarantees” which means that if the guarantee gets beaten then the next week they put it up by £100.
This is AMAZING for players but daft for the casino as all it guarantees for them is that no matter how successful it is, at some point there will be an overlay.
During the summer months of hot weather, barbeques, world cup etc. GH was adding £500 – £600 a night 3 or 4 nights a week at least. No card room can sustain £2,500 of overlay a week unless they have more money than sense.
You have to admire them, but I’m staggered they don’t stop it. Just last week they announced the new £30 Monday night comp that replaces the 25/25 satellite and the guarantee is £1,800 (60 entries).
I played this new comp on Monday thinking there would be an overlay for sure but it had 79 runners. I loved the comp btw as with its 8 max format all the players were sat very comfortably round the table rather than being crammed on a 10 seat table. It also makes the game a bit quicker and juices up the action a bit.
Guarantees: Getting it Wrong
Look at the Broadway casino as a text book example of getting the balance completely wrong. For so long they had a great number of players for comps 7 days a week with NO guarantees at all so what do they do? They start offering them to fight back as GH had started to pinch some of their customers.
Unlike the Grosvenor group though they don’t have money to throw away so when they got their fingers burnt they immediately stopped the guarantees altogether. The tournament numbers there have plummeted ever since.
A great example of spectacular imbalance, guarantees too big followed by none at all. It beggars belief.
I’ve said before that card rooms need to “tweak” things and just make small changes slowly over a period of time as they gently edge towards getting the balance right, otherwise they risk having the lot come crashing down.
So currently the GH and Star City are killing the Broadway in terms of tournament numbers but we all know that it’s the cash games where the profit is for the casino and currently the Broadway still has a strong hold over the competition in that area.
All it needs now is for Jon Baker and Daren Brain to launch some sort of killer cash game promotion and the Broadway could be sunk without trace. If they lost their early bird cash games it really would take a monumental effort for the card room to ever recover.
Personally I’ve always liked the Broadway it’s a lovely venue that has a lot going for it and I like a lot of the staff there, in particular Mark Smith, Jess and Tom, (I know Tom isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I’ve always liked him) but for me the tournaments have not offered me what I look for in a comp for several years.  I genuinely wouldn’t want to see it totally fail though as the competition is what’s driving GH, Star City and Walsall etc to keep coming up with better deals for us players.
If I was the GH General Manager though I’d be suggesting to Jon Baker that it was time to stop the progressive guarantees as they seem to have won the tournament war with the Broadway. I’d just pick a sensible figure for a guarantee that gives us players and them the casino a fair chance.
I believe that people go there in the main because the card room is nice, the structures are reasonable and it’s generally well run by competent/friendly staff not because it has XY or Z guarantee.
I love overlay as much as the next man but I know it can’t be available all the time else the games eventually cease then nobody wins.
Guarantees: Jiggery Pokery
Another thing that really annoys me is when card rooms pull stunts to make up the guarantees. They want to offer an eye-catching guarantee to “entice” players into playing the comp but they know they won’t get enough unique runners to meet the G’tee so what do they do?
Well they do things like multiple re-entries, re-loads, add-ons, double add-ons, forfeiting chip stacks and late entry till the end of level 9 or more.
Late Entry “till infinity & beyond”

“Upselling” is one of the biggest sales tricks in the world and it annoys me. Go to McDonalds and order a burger, the first thing they say to you is “Do you want fries with that? Ask for a burger and fries and it’s “do you want drink with that”.

Go to some poker venues and its “do you want a re-load, double buy-in, triple add on with that”?
“NO” I just want to come out and play a straightforward poker tournament.
Guarantees: They Really Don’t Matter So Much
Players generally just want to play in the best tournaments, in the best venues with the best staff, where they feel welcome and the guarantees are not as important as everyone thinks.
For example in August the Goliath at the Ricoh G Coventry had 2,374 entries plus 1,020 re-entries. This year while I was playing it a guy on my table asked me what the guarantee was for the tournament, so how bothered was he about it?
I understand that for something like the Goliath it needs a big guarantee just for the promotional side of things but to be honest if its £200k or £300k next year I’ll still be playing it and so will thousands of others.
Also look at the Titan at G Cov, its £10,000 guarantee is an attraction but for me I play it because of the fantastic structure. To get the opportunity to play a 2 day comp (I did make day 2 once) with a 40 min clock for just £50 (+6) is a rare treat. Normally (APAT aside) you have to pay £220 + to play a 2 day comp.
Simple to Understand Comps
Again to make up the guarantees and squeeze the pips out of players bankrolls the tournaments in a lot of card rooms become ever more complex to understand.
Here is an example of a card room going out of its way to make things difficult. The following tournament was advertised in the Midlands Poker Forum Facebook group by someone from the Alea card room at Nottingham. Most of their comps are similarly easy to understand. 

In case you can’t see the image so well.
“£14 with 2 x £10 reloads and a £10 add on. 10k/10k/10k/20k and a 3k early bird if registered by 7.50pm.”
The last entry is 9.50pm but please note if entering at the break (9.35pm on) then you have to enter for the full amount, £44, which gets you 50k.
Simplicity itself!
I must be getting old but I think it was easier to understand in the days of £xx to enter and when you bust out you have to play cash or go home.
Also you will notice that the Alea offered a CONDITIONAL guarantee but has to get 40 runners or they guarantee that well known stately home “Sod Hall”. 
It’s not a guarantee it’s a piss take and I told him so on the Facebook post, as you can see he took it well!
In fairness to Paul Moyce he didn’t ban me which was good of him, perhaps he understands that in business and life for that matter you can’t please all of the people all of the time so you just shouldn’t take it personally. 
Getting the Balance Right: Social Media
It’s my belief that if card rooms go onto Facebook, Twitter etc and spam (sorry advertise/inform/educate/enlighten) us with their stuff they have to expect that not everyone is going to be a fan of what they are offering and how they do things. 
Poker players are consumers and they (the casinos) are in the entertainment business, I think some card rooms lose sight of that occasionally.
I also believe that if/when us poker players have a bitch and moan (I’m yet to meet the poker player who doesn’t moan) about things we should be able to post those things on Poker Forums, Facebook Groups etc without fear of being banned from card rooms for airing our views, especially if we can back up our points with reasoned arguments.
Admittedly my “feedback” to Paul Moyce was pretty blunt but I should still be entitled to it bearing in mind that it was not directed at him personally. 
I now know of three different people who have been banned from casinos for comments made on social media. What makes it ridiculous is that if all three things said were done so face to face it wouldn’t have ever got to the point of anyone being banned.
For my work I set up and promote websites for small businesses and I also help with something called “Reputation Management” which is for when they get bad Trip Advisor reviews and similar.
One of the first things I warn them about is acting hastily and replying to negative comments in the heat of the moment. DTD’s Rob Yong seems to do things in his own unique style.
Nicholas Banks
The latest to suffer from this is Nicolas Banks whose one simple throwaway line posted in the Poker Doctor group was enough to get him banned from DTD by Rob Yong. (See Poker Doctor Thread dated Sept 19th 12.01pm)
The Question posted by the Doc was “why don’t DTD allow deals at the final table? Nics “humorous” reply was “it’s cus they’re a bunch of tossers” or words to that effect.
Now the Q is a reasonable one and several people posted some good arguments for “Deal or No Deal”. None more so than Nic himself, who later in the thread gave a detailed and well thought out reply.
Rob Yong though as soon as he saw the initial reply banned him on the spot. So just in case you are wondering and for the avoidance of doubt they don’t allow deals at DTD if;
” Guaranteed… in excess of £50,000 where we have contributed to the prizepool via promotons / satellites” (Simon Trumper in the thread)
In a totally unrelated topic I’d like to congratulate Ellie Biessek for her success in the GPS main event held at Dusk till Dawn 2 days later.
Ellie Biessek
The Tweet says (if your viewing on a small screen and cant see it) “Made a deal 3 handed and I take a bit over 50K. We play for the trophy now:)”

Normally I say it as I see it and if I got banned from DTD for comments on this blog it wouldn’t really affect me that much as I rarely go there. The drive up the M42/A42 takes well over an hour and a half in traffic and tilts the hell out of me before I even arrive.

However when the new Genting “Resorts World” super casino opens in 2015 at the NEC in Birmingham I believe that although the Casino will be a Genting, the card room inside it will be a “Dusk Till Dawn” (DTD) card room.
Genting Casino, DTD Card Room?
Now that is somewhere I probably will want to visit very often as I only live 20 mins away from it door to door. Assuming the offering is to my liking I could end up playing there 3 or 4 nights a week. 
So therefore I’d like to go on record and say that Rob Yong is a wonderful human being and the saviour of the poker industry in the UK and I agree wholeheartedly with all DTD’s policies. In fairness I do like a lot of what they do there, we all know its a brilliantly well run venue that has a lot going for it but it is a little worrying that Rob can ban anyone on a whim.
In summary
I think that the choice for us players in the West Midlands has never been better and in 2015 it will improve still further when the huge new Genting casino opens at the NEC.

However I think that card rooms are pushing themselves too far too fast in trying to innovate new super king-size guarantees and are forgetting that players don’t only decide on where to play based on the size of guarantee.

What about; structures, starting stacks, being packed in like sardines 10 to a table, a valet who comes round less often than Halley’s Comet and allowing players to smoke those e-cigarettes at the table without the consideration of non-smokers, and venues that have the décor, warmth and charm of a medium security prison.

Also what about the standard of dealers? Don’t get me started!

Well I’ll give my views on dealers (good and bad) in my next post.