Rounders is an iconic film for all poker players and besides the ending scene, perhaps the most memorable lines come from the opening monologue of the main character. As the movie opens Mike McDermott, masterfully played by Matt Damon, gives us a brief introduction into the world of underground poker clubs in New York. In it he calls no limit holdem the Cadillac of poker and that the swings are so wild that even the pros can't handle it. He goes on to quote Doyle Brunson who called it the only pure game left. This was of course set in a world before the poker boom, when poker was just starting to become popular with the masses. One could catch broadcasts of the World Series of Poker on television but there were not any hole card cams as of yet and the prize at the main event was still $1 million. Nothing to scoff at of course but the number pales in comparison to what the purse would become over the years after Chris Moneymaker's historic win in 2003. I was a no limit holdem player for 15 years and I cannot help but to think of this scene nearly every single time I log in to play poker online. And the reason for this is not because I still play holdem and the words are echoed in the sessions that I play, but rather for the exact opposite reason. I have not played holdem in 2+ years, having chosen PLO6 as my main game. And as I play what I consider to be the craziest game in poker, I cannot help but think that the nature of holdem has changed forever and that 6-card is now the true Cadillac of poker
I remember playing a session about a year ago in a $0.30-$0.60 PLO6 game in which I had 4 tables open and played for about 8 hours. I would go on to lose $1,500 that day, an astonishing feat I thought at the time. I am not sure what I was thinking right after the session as both my mind at the time and my memory are very hazy. But what I do remember is that I did not want to give up and figured that if I was already down this much, I did not have much more to lose and should just keep going. So I went downstairs on the very next day to the pub that resided beneath my apartment building and did the exact same as the previous day; opened up 4 tables of $0.30-$0.60 PLO6 and grinded for 8 hours. I went on to win $1,800 that day netting a profit over 2 days of +$300. It was not a bad result over 2 days considering the stakes I was playing. The decision to keep playing after my horrendous day was perhaps one of the best in my life and maybe I would not be where I am today had I thought otherwise. I remember something an omaha player told me several years earlier, namely that I would never make a good player in this game because I had no "gamble." While he did not intend to use that word literally as poker is a game of math and probabilities, his point nonetheless resonated with me many years later. There is no great reward without great risk in poker and nothing exemplifies that more than omaha games. Whenever holdem players tell me stories of bad beats, down swings and how bad they have been running I always tell them this story.
The swings are so wild in PLO6 that even omaha pros cannot handle it, let alone holdem grinders. The day that I described is an extreme example of course and that does not occur every day. But the types of players that make up the ecology of this particular game allow for such crazy action. On most nights every table I am sitting on will have at least 2 players with a VP$IP of 60% or higher. One simply cannot find this sort of action in a holdem game. And the reason these types of players love to sit in these games is precisely what we just spoke of, namely gamble. Those who lose and can afford to do so love to gamble and they are going to play in a game that affords them that opportunity. All such notions have now left holdem as players hardly ever get it in without a iron clad lockdown on the hand. I always say jokingly, although it is not too far from the truth, that in holdem every big pot is a cooler. No one is getting it in unless it's flush over flush, aces vs kings or full house beaten by a higher full house. Conversely in omaha players are forced to get their money in when often times the outcome is still very much uncertain. Flopped top set of aces? Well that hardly matters to the guy holding a full wrap with a flush draw and a backdoor in his hand that crushes yours. So gamblers are not entirely wrong to prefer this game as the equities run so much closer that they feel like that they have a fighting chance. Of course they will still lose in the long term, but they will stick around much longer to find that out than they would in a holdem game. Players cannot continue to expect losing players to join them in a game where they stand virtually no chance of winning. At some point we do have to meet them half way and give up some equity in order to enjoy their continuing presence on the felt.
As an agent of online poker apps, I am not trying to completely dump on the game of no limit holdem. I still have several clubs with good games that I can recommend to players with a clear conscious. But I will admit that is getting harder to do and I can see a day when it might be near impossible to find great games in holdem as we have been accustomed to up to this point. And it is becoming apparent that players are noticing this trend as well as I have observed a migration of sorts in this past year. More grinders are having a tougher time maintaining their win rates in holdem and are seeking out greener pastures in omaha games. Even recreational players are curious as they seek out games that are more entertaining than their current holdem tables. Among those in my agency, omaha players have always received the most rakeback. But for the first time ever clubs as a whole that focus more on omaha games are generating more rake than holdem clubs. And while some may think that regulars seeking out this game may cause them to get worse, there is a learning curve involved as converts from holdem rarely jump right in and start crushing. And as mentioned previously, more and more recreational players are seeking this game out as well.
There are signs of this shift in the media as well in this time of the corona pandemic. As more of us stay inside the consumption of poker media has shifted towards online platforms and one of the more popular events this past year was the Galfond challenge in which the Blue Fire founder took on all comers in this PLO challenge. I anticipate that more streamers on platforms such as Twitch will become increasingly popular this year and that we will begin to see even those that stream omaha sessions. I have personally attempted to grow a Twitch channel in this past year during which I play PLO6. While the stream has been inconsistent due to my commitments to family and the online agency, watching any particular episode bares out the fact that it does not take long for action to take place in these games. It has been entertaining for me to do and hopefully for others to watch, and I would encourage other players of such games to join in a similar effort as I am willing to believe that viewers might enjoy watching players lose or win 3,000 big blinds!
Although I personally play PLO6, what I am writing about can really apply to any omaha game or any game that is not holdem. Players should want to be wherever fish are and if a losing player wants to punt in a game that others are not familiar with then they should learn fast. Don't forget that even Mike in the aforementioned movie Rounders played Seven Card Stud. I once sat in a holdem game in which the fish on the table all wanted to play omaha. But most of the holdem players refused and basically chased all the fish away after 15 minutes as they were bored out of their minds. Theoretically it is true that these holdem players would have a bigger edge over these fish had the game remained the same. But such an edge is meaningless if the players all leave and there is no one to play against. In this particular room that I was playing in, there was a both a $2-$5 omaha game and a smaller holdem game. And whereas there was very little action in the holdem game and everyone was very quiet, the omaha game would be filled daily with players who were screaming at the top of their lungs as thousands of dollars passed from one player to the next every few minutes. It boggled my mind at the time that the players on the holdem game never thought to themselves that this is a game they should pick up. If they cannot have the biggest edge possible, they rather have no edge at all. I certainly hope that such thinking does not spread, especially to those who are reading this article.
Life in the Third World
Just a collection of random and not so random thoughts from my daily life here in Cambodia.