Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Triple Stud Ain’t Flipping Pennies

Another late one with the World Championship of Online Poker, this time following Event No. 8, the $215 buy-in Triple Stud event (recap here). PokerStars introduced Triple Stud just last month, another mixed game variation which rotates between seven-card stud (high), razz, and seven-card stud high/low eight-or-better. So you go high, you go low, and then you try to go both.

I don’t play these stud games all that often, aside from when I occasionally sit down in the 8-game mix games. (I also will play razz now and then.) And when I do play, it is just about always in ring games and practically never in tournaments.

While watching the action last night, I thought more than once about John Lukacs’ denouncing of “seven-card stud, high-low” is his 1963 article “Poker and American Character.” That’s the piece I took a couple of posts to discuss last week (part 1 & part 2).

Lukacs, raised on five-card draw (which he deems “classic” poker), says in his article that “seven-card stud resembles a gambling game with poker nomenclature but not very different from flipping seven pennies and betting on them in turn.” Too much luck, not enough skill -- or at least too much diminishment of the “psychological factors” -- says Lukacs.

I suggested last week that Lukacs may not have understood seven-card stud especially well. It’s true, I suppose, that any game for which we lack a familiarity with strategy and/or an appreciation for its required skills has the potential to look like “flipping pennies” to us. As I said, I don’t play these games a lot, and I guess there were times last night when I might’ve talked myself into thinking it was just a card-drawing contest, if I didn’t know better.

Heck, for someone who hasn’t played golf before, even that game perhaps might look like a collection of random actions compiled together in the name of competition. But for those who have played the game seriously, they know how complicated the strategy can be, as well as how greatly skill does affect players’ relative success.

Last night’s event featured a number of skilled players, and once the final table began it was apparent from the rapidity of players’ actions that generally speaking all knew exactly what they were doing with pretty much every decision they were making. There was one notable exception, however, right at the final table bubble when there were nine players remaining.

The game had just moved to razz (from stud high). The way the tourney worked, they played 20 minutes of each game before switching, with each game change also bringing an increase in the stakes. There were two tables left, one four-handed and the other five-handed.

At the four-handed table, a few hands had gone by with a player named CianoMar having won a couple of pots to move his stack to around 325,000. That was below average at the time, but there were three or four other players in much worse shape at the time. Not sure, but I think in those hands he won CianoMar had started with an ace and was able to bet his opponents out of the hands by fourth or fifth street.

Then came a hand in which CianoMar bet with a queen showing, then kept pushing the action as he drew a nine and then a jack. Finally the player folded on sixth street, but it was odd to see him remain aggressive with two face cards up.

On the next hand, he stayed in again with a king showing, and when he stuck around after drawing a ten on fourth street it was obvious he hadn’t realized the game had changed to razz. I noticed railbirds in the chatbox starting to type “omg” and the like, noting there that CianoMar was in error. I also saw players on the other five-handed table start to talk to one another about how he didn’t realize the game was razz.

Finally a player at CianoMar’s table typed “it’s razz dude” (or something) and CianoMar quickly corrected his course. By then he’d slipped all of the way down to 75,000 -- 9th out of 9! -- and was in danger of bubbling the final table. But he caught some cards and scraped back to nearly 500,000 by the end of the level. (He’d eventually finish fourth.)

A bit of an ethical dilemma there, I suppose, for his opponents, one of whom decided it prudent to let him know of his mistake. I’d say it was unfortunate that observers in the chatbox could’ve affected the action there, too. (I believe it isn’t until the final table that observer chat is finally turned off.)

Was kind of wild to see that happening at such a crucial moment in the tournament. Of course, we’ve all been there, I imagine. I know I have when playing mixed games, not realizing until after a hand or two the game had changed.

I guess in a way those few hands which CianoMar misplayed could be said to help prove the point that these games are in fact very different from “flipping seven pennies.” After all, the player who thought he was playing stud during the razz level clearly didn’t have an equal chance to win those hands!

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