WSOP 50k PPC

I just saw a tweet thread started by Alan Kessler that I responded to, and then decided to weigh in myself by tweeting something. Pretty soon my thoughts became long for a tweet and I decided to write this instead of making a very long multi-part tweet thread.

My thesis is simple: I believe it's the right move for @WSOP to add 27NLSD to the 50k PPC.

Let me begin by stating that this is the Poker Players Championship & not the 8-game championship. I believe the idea is to create a balanced set of games that cover poker on the whole as the premier tournament test of mixed game skill. 8-game (limit HORSE + 27td, NLHE + PLO) has long been the fundamental basis for mixed games, especially with its support from online sites running 8-game mixed tables. The traditional 8-game is 6 limit and 2 big bet games. A lot of mixes that are played now have a smaller limit to big bet ratio than 3:1. The largest mixed game played regularly afaik is a hybrid game that is close to 1:1 - see what it looks like HERE - and rarely has more limit games than mixed games. When I see and/or play in smaller mixed games (such as 400/800 or 300/600), I often find a smaller ratio than 3:1 as well, usually with NLHE, PLO, a PLO8 variant (often Big O), & 27NLSD almost always in the mix. More and more big bet games are entering mixes. Therefore, my contention is that now if we are looking to make changes to the 50k PPC in order to more accurately be a tournament which is a true, encompassing test of mixed game skill, the first place to look is big bet games.

So let's look at PLO8 & 27NLSD. First, if you look at the 2019 WSOP results, PLO8 had 193 entrants, the most of any 10k that isn't NLHE or PLO. Here's a list of other 10k mixed tournaments: 10k O8 (limit): 183

10k 27NLSD: 91

10k HORSE: 172

10k Dealers Choice: 122

10k 7-card stud: 88

10k triple draw (limit): 100

10k Razz: 116

10k Stud-8: 151

10k Hold'em (limit): 118

First and foremost, I think it's notable that 27NLSD & PLO8 are the only big bet mixed games with their own WSOP 10k championship event. They are also the big bet games - outside of NLHE & PLO - that are most often included in cash mixes. So this is where we should start.

PLO8 is actually the most popular 10k event at the WSOP outside of NLHE & PLO, and if I remember correctly 2018 was the same (and possibly previous years as well). This is a pretty good argument for it.

A pretty good argument against it is that PLO8 specifically is not played in many high stakes cash mixes. It's played always in the very large hybrid game I alluded to earlier, but in many smaller mixed (200/400-400/800), I almost always find Big O - the 5 card variant - (and sometimes more than one plaque), but not PLO8. Because the mixed game scene is more cash-game than tournament based, what is played in the cash games matters a lot, and likely more than how popular mixed tournaments are. A counter would be that PLO8 and Big O are very similar games, with the only difference being Big O has 5 cards in your hand instead of 4 in PLO8. Yes there are some differences, but I think anyone that plays one of the variants would be comfortable enough in the other.

As you can see, the 10k 27NLSD is one of the least popular WSOP tournaments, and much less so than PLO8, so why am I contending that this was the right move by the WSOP to add 27NLSD? Well first, I would say that adding either or both of the games is a positive step forward, but this (the 50k PPC) is a spot where tradition matters, and doing things methodically and slowly is the right idea. So adding one game now and seeing response for at least this year, is the right idea rather than doing multiple games in a year. This is because not only should the WSOP treat this tournament with not just the right ideals, but also a mind and care for tradition. It needs to be evolved slowly and with care. And perhaps even more importantly, the tournament needs to keep as many players in the fold as possible. Not that many people will put up 50k for a mixed game tournament, and adding games is more likely to remove players from the field than add them.

So again, why 27NLSD? Well, if we step away from just the raw WSOP 10k tournament numbers for a minute and look at some of my other points, I think this becomes the better answer when you look at the following contentions: 1) 27NLSD is in literally every cash mix basically. It is in more mixes in my estimation than the combination of PLO8 & Big O.

2) Cash mixes are split between PLO8 & Big O.

3) There is a lot of tradition behind 27NLSD being a lowball game that's been played for a very long time, and dating many years back before the rise of NLHE, it was often times the biggest money big bet game played. I've heard lots of great stories by Doyle and especially Billy Baxter about some legendary 27NLSD games played many years ago.

4) I believe that despite the 10k WSOP tournament numbers, adding 27NLSD will likely lose nobody from the tournament and be less of a threat to lose players than PLO8. Because 27NLSD is in almost every mix, I think mixed game players who comprise the majority of the tournament field will not have a problem with its addition. I think the primarily NLHE/PLO players (and I feel confident in saying this as someone who formerly categorized myself here, and was definitely in this category when I first won the PPC in 2011) would prefer the addition of a big bet game to a limit game if a game was added. 27NLSD, with its singular draw and only 2 betting streets, is one of the simpler games fundamentally, and definitely simpler than PLO8, and I believe is also less threatening than PLO8.

So, taking a step back, I believe that adding 27NLSD was the right move in that it changes the limit:bigbet ratio from 3:1 to 2:1. It is evolving the tournament to be a better match to the complexities of poker and the ever-growing and evolving mixed game world.

As an aside, I think this is very important going forward. Solvers aren't just coming, they are here. Poker used to be something where your advancement was very much an individual mental journey of problem solving in that you couldn't get the "right answer" anywhere. Yes there were books and materials, and some crude methods to get preflop odds and other information. You could use these in order to evaluate your decisions... and in early to mid stages of development, these were very helpful. But once you achieved a high level of proficiency, a lot of growth was made through your own evaluations, problem solving, exploitations, and talking to other good players about spots. Material out there was just behind where expert players were. Now, solvers give a sophisticated player a way to accurately study the GTO responses in specific spots given constraints, and allow a much better and more precise framework for study. This is beautiful in its own way, but also leads to approaching and treating poker in a way that I never enjoyed as much. And while I don't mean that even with solvers, there isn't a lot of mistakes being made and room to exploit said mistakes - clearly that is happening and it's high level and beautiful. Yet, the approach is different. I always enjoyed spending as much of my time playing as possible, whereas I believe with solvers a more balanced approach with time between studying and playing is appropriate in order to maximize personal growth. And IMO, currently mixed games are the last bastion of individualist problem-solving poker. I've always liked to call it, the Wild West... and just like the American West, it will be tamed eventually. But for now, complex games are being added and played, and mix sizes are growing - I believe all as a way to protect this last bastion of individualist poker where humans can still outperform bots and solvers and you're just on your own with your grey matter. Fuck yeah. That's why mixes continue to evolve, and why the WSOP 50k POKER PLAYER'S CHAMPIONSHIP should continue to evolve along with it... with an eye of course remaining on tradition. Big bet games are fundamentally more complicated than limit games. That is just a fact from the standpoint of state-space, because at every decision node there are so many more bet sizes.

So here we are. And this year, I applaud @WSOP for adding 27NLSD. Hopefully it is received well. It's a good game which emphasizes a less technical approach than say NLHE or PLO, and is more a game of reading your opponent (technically physically emotionally) just trying to figure out if that person sitting across the table is bluffing or not. I believe the next step if this proves to be a popular one is to add PLO8. For what it's worth, I also think limit Badugi is a great game - and in my estimation when played 4h+ a better game than 27ltd for various reasons. That said, I think it's a game that will scare off NLHE/PLO players, and I think adding a limit game at this point goes against the idea of decreasing the limit to big bet ratio. So here we are adding one game. Let's keep the others in mind, take things one step at a time, and see how this year works out first.

Cheers!

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brianrast@brianrast.com

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