Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Where I win

One of the questions I am asked most frequently is something about where to play--where are the softest games, where can one make the most money, which are the best rooms, etc. Note that those are not equivalent questions.

Recent my pal Cardgrrl addressed the subject of the frequent poker forum question about where the softest games are. Among other partial answers, she suggested that (1) the answer is ever-changing, (2) and somebody who really had a decent bead on the current answer wouldn't be inclined to divulge it.

There is some truth in these observations, but I don't see it entirely the same way. I think there is a fair amount of constancy in how games of a given level/structure play from place to place. Yes, of course, there is also at least as much day-to-day and table-to-table variation as there is casino-to-casino variation (i.e., within-group as compared to between-group variation). We've all seen how the arrival or departure of a single player can radically alter how the game plays in a matter of minutes. But still, it's a safe bet that, say, the $1/3 NLHE game at the Wynn is going to be a tougher struggle to beat than the $1/2 NLHE game at Imperial Palace. It just is. They cater to almost completely non-overlapping clientele, and the two groups have very distinct average characteristics and skills.

As for spilling the beans and inviting in the sharks, I'm not worried. First, I don't think my readership is that broad, nor does it include many people with big pointy teeth. Second, true shark-like creatures don't tend to be interested in the $1/2 games that constitute most of my play and income.

I mention all of this because it has been a while since I reviewed my records to see which poker rooms were generating the most money for me, which is obviously something I need to do from time to time. This post is to announce the results.

In case this isn't readily apparent (though I think it should be), what you see here does not mean that the games in the rooms listed are objectively the softest or most profitable for everybody. There is a lot of random statistical noise that may account for a huge fraction of the room-to-room variation I experience. Alternatively, it may simply be that my particular style of play performs well against the opponents in these rooms, but somebody with a slightly different style would have very different results. I have spent a decent amount of time talking to others who make their living (or a good portion thereof) from the same types of games, and I'm always amazed at how different our impressions are of the places where we fare the best. For example, MGM Grand is extremely popular among most of my fellow "show me the money" serious players, but was long one of my personal "kryptonite" rooms. Conversely, they tend to find that the Venetian game is too stocked with good players as opposed to completely green tourists, whereas my experience has been that the V is one of my best venues. Who knows why? It's all a mystery, with so many variables that it's likely beyond any of us to do more than guess.

Speaking of kryptonite rooms, I'm pleased to announce that two places that had been such for me seem to be no longer. Specifically, Harrah's and MGM. I had accumulated a terrible track record at both places, and avoided them for a long time as a result. But recently, upon revisiting, I have found perfectly acceptable success. This reinforces my tentative conclusion that what I was experiencing was a combination of (1) random statistical variance, coupled with (2) some degree of self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e., after losing at a place three times in a row, there is probably some subtle corrupting influence on my play from a subconscious sense of fatalism. Once that is overcome, things can play as normal.

I note, finally, that, remarkable as this may seem, I had done so much better at the old Hilton poker room than anywhere else, and spent so much more time there than at any other poker room, that two years after it closed it still remains my #1 all-time income source! It still pains me every time I think of it being replaced by a bunch of stupid slot machines. Grrrrrrrrr!

So here we go.

The first way to count results is by total net profit. By that method of accounting, my five top poker rooms (counting only those still in operation, for obvious reasons) are:

1. Mandalay Bay
2. Palms
3. Venetian
4. Sahara
5. Bill's

However, that's not very useful, because it is obviously hugely influenced by the number of times that I visit a place. (For the record, my most frequently visited spots are, in order, Venetian, Palms, Rio, Orleans, Mandalay Bay, Caesars Palace, Golden Nugget, Planet Hollywood, Binion's, and Bill's. But that's counting all three years equally, and lately there hasn't been much of Orleans, Nugget, or Caesars--they racked up most of their visits earlier.)

So let's go to the next way of looking at it: percentage of sessions that are winning ones. For this and all other figures herein, I'm only counting the rooms where I have placed five or more times, in order to iron out some of the random noise that results from too-small sample sizes.

1. Sunset Station
2. Sahara
3. Tuscany
4. Mandalay Bay
5. Planet Hollywood

Finally, we can look at it in terms of average dollars won per session. (I keep track of hours, but not in the same spreadsheet, so it would take a lot of work to figure out dollars per hour for a given poker room. Average dollars per session, though, is calculated automatically for me in the heading for each casino.)

1. Tuscany
2. Sahara
3. Suncoast
4. Sunset Station
5. Mandalay Bay

Your mileage not only may vary, but almost certainly will vary.

As a final note, the fact that I find a place profitable does not mean that I like it. For example, I find both Tuscany and Sahara to be execrable places, so bad that I literally feel like a need a shower when I leave. They are dirty, smelly, noisy, uncomfortable, with bad dealers and management and lousy customer service. I really despise them. But the money flows so easily that I hold my nose, bite my tongue, and keep them in the rotation. (You think it's easy playing solid poker while holding your nose and biting your tongue? Try it!)


Luke said...

Does Tuscany regularly have a 1/2 game?

Rakewell said...

Tuscany is highly hit-or-miss. Even when you call and they tell you one is about to start, they're often lying, and you'll go and sit around waiting with nothing happening. I don't go there often.

FkCoolers said...

MGM is definitely not as easy as it once was - reason being for an entire year every blog and poker forum out there did nothing but talk about the softness of the MGM poker room at the lower levels.

Grange95 said...

Another factor in a room's "game style" is the promotions they run. Monte Carlo and Binion's run (or until recently ran) weekly or monthly freeroll tourneys, while Harrah's has been offering "breakfast club" and "bailout" cashback promos. All of these promos are hours-based, and reward lots of hours at the tables. During my weeklong trip last December, I found the games at these three rooms to be the tightest and nittiest by several degrees out of maybe a dozen or so rooms I played in.

On the other hand, "serious" players who worry about rake will play at Wynn and Venetian where there is a $4 max. rake and no jackpot drop. I think this adds to the tougher nature of these games.

On the third hand (having a degree in religion, I can invoke Vishnu here), rooms like Imperial Palace or Treasure Island like to create a "fun" atmosphere with high hand jackpots and similar promos; these promos add a bit of "gamble" to the game and are like candy for tourists. Bally's is a bit of an oddball here, attracting nits during part of the day with an "aces cracked" promo, then spreading a fish fry at night due in part to the atmosphere and the proximity of the bar.

Obviously promos are only one factor in setting a rooms's game style, but I definitely agree that rooms have different styles. I suspect your succes at Venetian is in large part because players there likely have a higher average skill level which benefits your analytical approach to the game. Plus, the drunk trust fund kids from Tao after midnight don't hurt!

Anonymous said...

Did you include bonus jackpots in your numbers analysis? Just curious...

Rakewell said...

Yes, things like high-hand jackpots get counted the same as if they were cash won. But it's a tiny fraction of income.