January 2017

Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo: The Future Is Now

Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo: The Future Is Now - Bodog Poker Blog

By: Paul Hewson
Like any other sport, poker is all about making adjustments. Sharp players change their strategies to get the most value out of their opponents. The games themselves change, too. Poker used to be played with 20 cards; now it’s 52. Draw and stud poker used to be the norm; now it’s Texas Hold’em, which first popped up in the 1920s.

Texas Hold’em’s popularity will change, too. As people (and computers) get better and better at Hold’em, the need for more difficult games to play increases. That’s where Omaha comes in. It’s got the same rules and structure as Hold’em, but everyone gets dealt four hole cards instead of two. That’s like being dealt six starting hands in Hold’em, card removal notwithstanding. It’s going to be a while before anyone, human or machine, “solves” this particular game.
Do the Evolution
That goes double for Omaha Hi/Lo. This is a “split-pot” game where the lowest qualifying hand (five unpaired cards Eight or worse), if there is one, gets half the money. It already takes an extra layer of thinking to play Omaha; unless you’re a savant, you have to bundle starting hands into categories, rather than memorize exactly which two cards to open from every position. In Omaha Hi/Lo, conceptual thinking is even more important than rote play.

That’s exactly why Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo are not only the games of the future, but of the present. As I write this, four professional players (Jimmy Chou, Dong Kim, Jason Les and Daniel McAulay) are getting thumped by Libratus, the latest in poker artificial intelligence. It’s only been a few days, so the sample size isn’t significant yet, but the players are doing a lot worse so far than they did against Claudico less than two years ago.

There’s been some hand-wringing over this competition and the effects it will have on poker – especially online poker – but we’ve been here before. Every poker game gets “cracked” at some point, then a more difficult variant comes along. It’s the early adopters who do best at the new games. Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo are still relatively new; the sooner you jump in, the more of an edge you’ll have over your late-arriving opponents.


Dealing With Antes in Tournaments

By: Paul Hewson
In the past three years or so, computer-based “solvers” have done a marvellous job helping poker players figure out what starting hands to use. But most of these programs are for cash games. What about tournaments? They’re a lot like cash games in the first few rounds, then somewhere around the third or fourth level, boom – the antes kick in. Each player has to throw a few chips into the pot, and that changes everything.

Let’s look at this situation again: At last year’s World Series of Poker Main Event, Level 2 saw the blinds at 150 and 300, no antes. Level 3, on the other hand, was 150-300 with a 25-chip ante. That is a huge difference at a 9-handed table. Instead of 450 in chips up for grabs, there were 675 to go after – that’s 50% more chips. In later rounds, the antes grew in proportion, up to a third the size of the small blind. That means there were double the chips on the table when nine players anted up.
Move One Place
Stack size notwithstanding, if you stick with your usual starting hands once the antes come out, you’re not being nearly aggressive enough. The more money there is in the middle of the table, the more risk you should be willing to assume in going after it. That means you should open a wider range of hands. You should also be willing to call much more liberally from the big blind.

As you can see with the WSOP Main Event structure, antes come in different sizes, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy for how to attack them optimally. But you can get reasonably close by remembering this rule of thumb: Pretend you’re sitting one seat to your left. For example, if you’re in the hijack, open the same range that you would from the cut-off. If you’re in the cut-off, open the same range that you would from the button.
Open Wide
What about when you’re in the small blind? That’s trickier still; you’ll be out of position if the big blind calls, so people already have different ideas about how to proceed – many choose to open-limp the vast majority of their hands, antes or no antes. But if your standard play from the small blind is to open-raise a large percentage of hands, open even more when the antes begin. Have you played any heads-up poker? That’s pretty close to how wide you need to be opening, or else the big blind will be able to call correctly with just about any two cards.

Alternatively, you could make your open-raises larger instead, and go with your typical starting hands. That will help restore the usual “ratios” you normally deal with in the early rounds, or in cash games. Either way, remember to adjust your default ranges to account for how loose/tight your opponents are, and as always, may the rectangles be with you.

Will PokerVision Network Succeed Where Poker Central Failed?

Will PokerVision Network Succeed - Bodog Poker Blog

By: Paul Hewson
It’s 2017, and we’re talking about television. Even the word itself seems old-timey now. But if all goes according to plan, there will be a new poker channel in the New Year: PokerVision Network (PVN), with operations in Calgary and Toronto. PVN hopes to launch as a digital cable channel in the first half of 2017, bringing a mix of poker, E-Sports, and gaming content in general to homes across Canada.

It just might work. Television production may be a sunset industry, but the folks at PVN have learned something from the demise of Poker Central, which shut down its channel at the end of 2016 after barely a year in business. Poker Central launched with very little new content; by the time they had some original programming to offer, it was already too late. PVN will focus on live coverage of poker tournaments, with a healthy dose of “reality” programs and other content. Opening up the platform to eSports and sports betting should attract more customers, too.
The Medium Is the Message
If television is good for anything these days, it’s live programming – especially sports. But is it the networks running the show, or the teams themselves? Consider the Toronto Blue Jays, owned by Rogers Communications, playing out of Rogers Centre, and broadcast on Rogers Sportsnet. Oh, and Rogers also owns 37.5% of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors, as well as the Air Canada Centre in which they perform.

Again, PVN may succeed here with a similar model. Remember the Canadian Poker Tour (CPT)? Expect to see their return in 2017; CPT founder Kelly Kellner happens to be part of the new network, as does his mother, Lynne Kellner, who was named the director of ePlay Digital (the company behind PVN) in November. Lynne Kellner was a producer with CBC Sports for 25 years. She knows a thing or two.

It remains to be seen whether PVN will actually appear on your cable box (if you still have one), or if they’ll punt and keep their presence online. But as long as all this effort leads to the creation of more live poker tournaments in Canada, it’ll be good news for players and fans alike – whatever screen it ends up being shown on.