A Throwback Weekend

Friday night I headed down to Binion’s Horseshoe to speak at BARGE. For those unfamiliar with BARGE, its a group of players that have gathered together for the last 26 years to enjoy their passion, reconnect with friends, and have a great time playing all kinds of crazy forms of poker. 

I walked into the room and they were in the midst of a Calcutta. Calcuttas are really fun and I used to do them in the poker rooms I attended as a teenager. It’s kind of like fantasy poker. A group of people get together the day before, say, the Super High Roller Bowl and go through the list of entrants one by one, where the highest bidder earns the rights to that player. 

For this example let’s say the minimum bid is $1000. A name gets thrown out and then people in the room bid higher amounts until the player is sold to that highest bidder. Of course, you could buy yourself if you think its worth it. 

So let’s say Fedor Holz sells for $30,000. Next player up is Brian Rast, and he goes for $16,000. You continue to do this until players have been chosen for different prices. All the bid money goes into a separate Calcutta prize pool that you could divvy up however you choose. It could be a winner take all, you could pay 3 spots, or you could even mimic the prize pool for the actual tournament. To take part in the Calcutta you don’t even have to play the event, you are basically just betting on horses. 

Let’s say the Calcutta prize pool totals $300,000 and first prize gets 50% for $150,000. If you took Fedor for $30,000 you would get 5-1 odds if he wins it all, but also get money back if he finishes in the money depending how you divvied up the prize pool. 

Now, contrast that with an amateur in the event who you might be able to get for the minimum of $1000. If he wins, you would get 150-1 on your money! Crazier things have happened right? 

Anyway, I thought it was really cool to walk in on the Calcutta, but quickly realized that I was scheduled to speak Saturday night! Oops. 

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All dressed up with no place to go, I headed over to Bellagio to play in the big mixed game again. It was the same old crew of Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, Doyle Brunson, David Oppenhiem, and a few other stragglers that came and went. As usual, they were playing props, something I haven’t done in I can’t remember how many years. “Props” is short for proposition bets and they are quite complicated and intricate. The simplest prop bet one could make would be betting on the flop being black or red. That’s not the kind of props we play.

Everyone has a suit, and then picks 10 props. For example, you could have these 10:

234
358
59J
QT4
567
K82
A47
468
4TQ 
AKQ

Everyone has their own 10 props and any time one of your flops hit, that’s wins you some money. If the flop came K82, you get a prop. If the flop came 5-5-8, you would get a prop also.

You also have suits, so if your A, K, or Q of your suit is in the middle of the flop, that’s a prop.

We play Jacks too. If the Jack of your suit hits the flop its a prop as long as there is at least one more of your suit on the flop. If not, that’s called a stiff Jack and it means you have to pay everyone else instead!

We even play 7’s. If your 7 hits the flop in the middle that’s $5k a man, if it hits on the side that’s $2k.

If you hit a prop, you are on for doubles the next hand; meaning the value of all your props doubles. If you hit another one, you’d be on for triples the next hand. 

The only skill in this form of gambling is paying attention and making sure you don’t sleep one. If you sleep a prop, meaning you don’t see it and verbalize it, you don’t get paid. Say for example I was on for doubles and my 7 hit the middle which means I’d get $10k a man. If I say, “I see my 7,” but don’t add, “and I’m on for doubles,” I would only get $5k a man. 

This is essentially juice free gambling for degens and I must say, I really love it! The props typically play bigger than the actual poker game. I ended up playing until 4:30am and winning $50k in the poker game, but losing a whopping $436,000 playing props!

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Saturday night I spoke to the crowd at BARGE, discussing mental preparation, goal setting, and ways to improve your poker game. After that, I opened the floor to questions and I got a good one, “What can we do to help make the game more fun and enticing to recreational players?” Interestingly enough, the room was full of mostly recreational players who enjoy playing, but have been turned off by the game somewhat because it’s become less entertaining and far too serious. 

I heard countless complaints about the slow pace, about the lack of social interaction with the professional players, and overall just a less inviting environment. 

It was a good question and I pondered on it for a second. I finally responded by saying, “You should tell them.” I went on to explain that it’s in their best interest, as well as the pros best interest, if they shared how they felt with the pros at the table. No need to be rude or confrontational, but wake them up to how they are being destructive to their own bottom line. 

Something along the lines of, “Can I give you some feedback? I come to Vegas to have fun, I know I’m no professional player and I don’t expect to win and I’m OK with that. This is part of my entertainment budget that I could spend on shows, restaurants, in the sports book, or playing poker. You make it difficult for me to choose poker because you take an excessive amount of time to make decisions, you don’t engage in conversation with me or anyone else, and when I quit you instantly quit; making me feel like a fool. I don’t like feeling like a fool. I get that this is your job and you need to take it seriously, but you should also consider that if I’m not having any fun playing with you, I’m simply not going to play with you. Then you sharks can go after each other while I’m at the craps table.”

That may not work. The pro may dismiss what you have to say entirely, but he will hear you loud and clear and when he goes home that night I promise you it will affect him, especially if you explain things to him in a very kind and constructive way. Attack him and he will likely get defensive, but speak calmly and at least something will sink in I think.

If you are a pro and see behavior from another pro that will likely hurt your bottom line, don’t be afraid to use your VOICE! Let the pro know how they are showing up. Help them understand how their behavior might be costing them money.

When I first moved to Vegas I remember the local pros in the high stakes games being very friendly with the weekend tourists. They would start a game with just the pros to “open the shop” and then when a tourist sat down they asked them how they’ve been, how long they are in town, how are the kids, how is business, how’s the golf game, whatever. They instinctively understood that they weren’t just poker players there to fleece tourists. They were partly entertainers hoping to make the environment friendly enough, and fun enough to bring back continued business. Why? For one, it’s just a better way to live your life and treat weekend tourists like human beings, but secondly, they understood that in the long run, this made better business sense. 

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So I briefly touched on losing $436k in props. I can honestly say that when I left the game at 4:30am I was quite happy with how I played and happy about winning in the poker game. I never spend more than 10 seconds lamenting my bad luck in props and exactly zero time questioning my decision to play. In fact, I will likely play props every time I play poker because I think it helps me be even more focused and play better in the poker game. That seems counter intuitive, but I think it’s true. I’m not spending any time on my phone, I’m watching every flop intently and paying attention to all the upcards in Stud. I could do all this without playing props, of course, but it adds extra incentive to not just go on auto pilot.

I’ve put in 99 of the 200 hours I set as a goal this year to play cash at Bellagio and hope to get in a couple more sessions in before I fly to Barcelona. Still down on the year but had back to back wins and feel like my play and stamina is improving with each session.

 
Daniel Negreanu Daniel Negreanu