I’m often hard on the gambling industry for its lack of innovation. Perhaps that’s unfair because it’s not that easy coming up with new or workable ideas. Even when you do, it can be hard to tell the good ones from the bad ones.
The quote above comes from an anonymous ex-colleague, but I’ve seen the observation in other places. As a thought exercise I’ve tried many times to do something with it, but I’ve always drawn a blank. It turns out numerical coincidence alone isn’t enough for a blockbuster concept.
In my tenure as Online Promotions Manager at PokerStars, I stopped trying to pan out golden nuggets and just handed over baskets of marketing muck for others to sift. That’s how the world was exposed to the awfulness of Texas Golf’em with Daniel Negreanu.
That one turned out to be annoyingly popular, but it allowed me to drive a golf cart around the Bahamas for a few hours. More annoyingly, though, it was with Daniel Negreanu.
There was a period during that time where anything that made use of alliteration had a good chance of being approved. Now that it’s a decade later I struggle to remember whether we actually ran Ramadan Razz or if that was just an insensitive dream. I can say with 80% certainty, however, that Yom Kippur Triple Draw never made it past the drawing board.
In defence of the gambling industry, they realise the importance of delivering new products to expand the market and engage existing customers. They’re also not shy of spending money to develop new things. The problem is they are not very good at it. Just like a Hollywood studio nursing the wounds of a box office flop, they have resorted to sequels, re-boots and blatant plagiarism.
Texas Golf’em aside, I’ve got a good feel for these things. I’ve almost always called the successes and spotted the inevitable failures. So, for this blog I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is and share some old poker ideas that never saw the light of day.
There’s nothing revolutionary in here, just a few ways in which you could spice up the game. These ideas are designed to broaden the appeal of poker by addressing a shortcoming; or they play with a facet of the game that has been ignored.
Several of the ideas also take advantage of the fact that the dealing is performed by a fast and efficient computer, and not a bored, underpaid, abused and ageing human. That’s something that has been almost completely overlooked in twenty years of online poker.
This is a nice simple variation where the best hand at showdown (or last man standing) gets 80% of the pot, and the second best hand (or last to fold) gets 20% of the pot. That’s more chance of winning and thus more reason to play your hand. You could apply this to pretty much any game that isn’t heads-up, but it works best for Hold’em or Omaha cash games.
Taking the split-pot idea a step further, this idea dishes out the prize money based on hand strength. You earn one point for a pair, two points for two pairs, three points for three-of-a-kind, and so on. There’s also a bonus point for the winner of the hand. The pot is divided up proportionally by points to all players that reach showdown.
This concept makes it easy to get a piece of the pot, which drastically reduces the value of big starting hands. There is no more desperately waiting for Aces or Kings because they don’t deliver any major advantage. Mercifully, bad beats are a lot less of a problem because any made-hand is still going to receive compensation.
I once discussed this idea with a senior figure in poker, and it was immediately dismissed as a “rake trap”. In other words, players wouldn’t be able to win long term because the house would be taking too big a cut of the action.
This is a common problem in innovation – a gatekeeper thinks of a potentially show-stopping problem and the discussion ends. Psychologically you could argue that it’s their way of preserving precious mental energy, because it’s easier to kill off an imperfect idea than to develop it. In my view, that is a very short-sighted strategy. In this case the almost intractable solution would be to charge a bit less rake.
One Raise Poker
Most people don’t enjoy playing with aggressive players because they raise too much. That makes it harder to see flops and chase your draws. Those are the parts of poker that are the most fun because they offer uncertainty and resolution. Every street in poker is a mini-cliffhanger, and humans love cliffhangers.
This format limits every player to just one raise per hand. That means you must be strategic about when you use it. In the meantime, though, it’s pretty safe to wade into a pot knowing you aren’t going to be immediately priced out. The game would play a little smaller than regular games, but it’s much more engaging than the skill-less dirge of All-in-or-Fold.
This one requires more work than I’ve been prepared to put into it, so I’ll just give you the basic outline. If you want to guarantee being dealt a decent starting hand in a Texas Hold’em cash game, you can opt to pay a bigger ante.
For 50c you will receive either a pocket pair or a suited ace or king. For 40c you’ll expand that range to include unsuited aces and any suited queen or jack. For 30c you might also receive suited connectors or a random combination of face cards. By the time you’re paying 10c you’re once again exposed to the full range of rags that Hold’em has to offer.
This does a couple of things. First it means you have control over those awful dry patches where you don’t see a playable hand for an hour. Secondly, it means you get an extra interesting titbit of information about your opponent’s hand range.
The only real challenge to programming this game is tweaking the dealing algorithm. Attempting to deal it in a live setting would be chaos, but a computer would smash it out in milliseconds. The ante amounts need work to ensure the advantage of taking a premium hand is suitably priced.
Okay, I’ve accidentally sailed past 1000 words marvelling at my own ingenuity. That will do for now. I’ve got a few more mini ideas I’ll write up another time, and several big ideas that warrant their own posts. Feel free to sign up to hear about them first.
If you’ve got any questions or comments about anything I mentioned, please let me know. Even if you just want to make fun of my dumb ideas.