Dating back to the dawn of poker, the game played was chosen by the man with deck in hand, with dealer's choice becoming a staple of those classic duels in the desert played by cowboys and cardsharps, Texas road gamblers and rounders. With the advent of legalized gaming in Nevada, New Jersey, and on Native-American reservations, increased regulation within the gaming industry relegated dealer's choice to become a relic from poker's past, as traditional ring games with a permanent dealer replaced the imaginative games of old.
Seven-card stud swept through poker rooms in the 1990s, and after 2003 the Moneymaker Boom became a heady era during which no-limit Texas hold'em was propelled to the realm of national pastime, if ever so briefly. Soon enough, players who put in millions of hands online began to grow bored of hold'em and its two hole cards, with pot-limit Omaha becoming the variant du jour. Today, though, professional poker players define one another's level of skill, as they once did back in the dusty card clubs of old, by the ability to play "all the games" well. From the classic card game of five-card draw, to relatively new additions to the poker playbook such as badugi, badeucey, and badacey, knowing how to make the correct decision across the full spectrum of disciplines has become a point of pride for today's pros.
The World Series of Poker recognized this fact by adding Event #41: $1,500 Six-Handed Dealer's Choice to the 2014 summer schedule, offering players a chance to pick the game for the first time in WSOP history. In this format, a special button is passed around the table every orbit, or every six hands as six-handed tables are in use. The player holding this button chooses the game to be played for the next orbit, selecting from 16 distinctly different games. The games included in the event were no-limit Texas hold'em, limit hold'em, razz, seven-card stud, stud hi-low, pot-limit hold'em, pot-limit Omaha, pot-limit Omaha hi-low, pot-limit five-card draw, Omaha hi-low, 2-7 triple draw, A-5 triple draw lowball, badugi, badeucey, badacey, and no-limit 2-7 single draw.
During the first three breaks at the first-ever WSOP Dealer's Choice event, PokerNews decided to ask a few pros about their experience with the novel addition to this year's schedule. Allen "Chainsaw" Kessler, David "Bakes" Baker, Justin Young, John Holley, Jonathan Tamayo, and Brian Rast were kind enough to take a few minutes out of their break to share their thoughts. Topics of note included the competency of the dealers — who will need to know the rules and intricacies of no less than 16 poker variants — as well as the strategy involved during the early levels of play, and the pro community's desire to see dealer's choice added to the schedule on a permanent basis.
PokerNews: Has the event met your standards thus far, in terms of dealer competency and flow of the game?
Allen Kessler: Yeah, I mean, I thought it was going to be this crazy thing, and the dealers are actually pretty good. We’ve had a few mistakes by one dealer, but that’s understandable.
David "Bakes" Baker: The dealers are fine, we’ve had good dealers so far, very good actually. A lot better than some other ones I’ve had, so they seem to know what they’re about.
John Holley: I think it’s great, actually, we’ve had very good dealers, every dealer’s been knowledgeable on all the games. It’s been an interesting choice of game selection. I’m a little bit on tilt because somebody showed up to the table with really bad body odour (laughing).
Justin Young: The dealers honestly have been awesome, and the ones that aren’t super confident, are very receptive to, I wouldn’t say criticism, but at least instruction.
Jonathan Tamayo: The dealers are good, so they picked them well. The problem is there’s seven confused people at the table because it’s a different game, you get used to one and then there’s something else. We’ve already had pot-limit hold’em, and the dealer thought it was pot-limit Omaha, so he started dealing me too many cards. It was like, 'wait a second' (laughing). So things like that are fun.
Brian Rast: At the beginning of the day, almost all the dealers were crushing it and doing a good job, but I think in the last two levels or something there was a dealer who really was struggling — with like badacey, those kinds of games. So it’s a little bit hit or miss, but I’d say most of them do a good job, but there’s always a couple where it’s pretty clear they’re that they don’t know all the games.
PokerNews: What has your personal strategy been thus far?
Allen Kessler: I just picked badacey randomly out of the pack, and all of a sudden three more people in a row picked badacey because they liked the game, which was kind of weird. But my whole strategy is, I’m keeping notes on my iPad on what games people pick, and I’m picking against those games. So if people keep picking like, Omaha hi-low, I won’t pick that. That’s why I picked badacey, because nobody had picked that yet, but once I picked it, it got picked three or four times.
It’s fun, what I do is just go randomly through the pile and pick games that I like. I’m stuck about 300 chips so far, but it’s been interesting. For example, the five-card draw, it doesn’t work in this game because... we tried it one round, and the pots were getting to be like 300 chip pots and that’s it. So I don’t think anybody’s going to pick that again, but the triple-draw games, they play really huge, and the stud games, with the antes, they’re also playing pretty big. No-limit played pretty small, and like I said, five-card draw was actually playing very small. I’m definitely never picking PLO or no-limit hold’em, because I think my edge is in these draw games, and Omaha hi-low, stud eight-or-better, or even razz or something.
David "Bakes" Baker: We’ve been playing a lot of draw games and that’s been kind of fun. Personally, not much of a strategy going in, but if somebody’s playing a game very poorly, I would definitely look towards picking that. I guess one of my strategies would be to play a lot of draw games, that’s where a lot of the field has just never played before, especially badeucey. The game’s that have never been offered at the World Series before, people are just naturally going to be a lot weaker in, so picking those games is definitely good. That’s just where I’m starting, and then feel out the table from there.
John Holley: I’ve just had some ugly spots, I lost two decent pots in PLO where I had aces double-suited and had to give up after the flop. One of them, with a set of aces, I had to give up on the river with a flush and a straight out there. Allen Cunningham picked five-card draw played pot-limit with his two choices, and both times I won in that game. I picked razz once and Omaha eight-or-better. I’ve just tried to pick against the European guy, I didn’t think he would like razz (laughing).
Justin Young: I think we’re all still just having fun right now, but once we get into the middle stages we’ll probably have a little more strategy when it comes down to it. I’m a little short right now, so I’m trying to pick the bigger-bet games, no-limits, PLOs, single draws, stuff of that nature. I think with everyone being so deep, everyone’s just going to try and go with their best game.
Jonathan Tamayo: Pick the game to your stack first, and where the button is, and then pick the games that everyone else stinks at. There’s sixteen of them, so... For me, PLO is probably one of the worst ones. Badugi needs a little work, no-limit deuce needs a little bit of work, but I mean, I at least have a little bit of knowledge. It’s not like I’m going in cold, I’ve played all of these games in at least some way, shape, or form.
Brian Rast: I like this tournament from the standpoint that if you play a lot of different games, even if you’re not really good at all of them, there’s a lot of opportunities. Sometimes you’ll be at a table, and even if it’s a game that you might not normally think is one of your better games, it might be because there’s a lot of people at your table who don’t play it very well.
PokerNews: What has been the reception to this event among the professional community, and would you like to see dealer's choice become a mainstay on the WSOP schedule?
Allen Kessler: Yeah, I think it’s a great idea. I wish it was $2,500 though, instead of $1,500. I think you’d basically get the same players, but at least you’d have a little more leeway on the chips, and more play. I think if they do it again it should definitely be a $2,500 buy-in.
David "Bakes" Baker: It’s definitely reminiscent of home games that pros play together, or high-stakes cash games. So it’s kind of cool that everyone has a say, and that every table’s going to be different. I’m interested to see some of the dynamics that happen when the tournament gets a lot deeper.
John Holley: I’d love to, yeah... I love it. I played most of these games growing up, you know, and they only game I don’t have much experience in is 2-7 single draw no-limit, but I’ve played a lot of 2-7 triple draw. I play mixed-game cash, that’s what I normally do aside from tournaments.
Justin Young: It’s been pretty flawless up until now, I’m very impressed, and I really hope this event comes back next year.
Jonathan Tamayo: Maybe... maybe get some of the games out, because some of these orbits are taking, it seems like three weeks to complete. Especially some of those, like the badugi, the badacey... the pot-limit games obviously go quickly, but some of these are like two- or three-minute hands. So maybe some other dealer’s choice mix would work, because it is slow. I could see a way, if you needed to stall on the bubble, you could pick a game where it goes slow.
Brian Rast: Yeah, for sure. I even think they should probably do a smaller buy-in and a bigger buy-in. They should make it a bigger event, I think it would be a lot better, maybe this same buy-in along with a $5K championship.
Clearly the players who have taken a shot at the WSOP's debut of dealer's choice have enjoyed the change of pace, and initial fears that dealers would be overwhelmed by the 16-game mix have been quelled by competent performances in the box. A total field of 419 was another encouraging sign, and based on initial reaction to the event, the dealer's choice event will likely become an annual convention for card players that relish the challenge of playing all the games — and playing them well. But don't take our word for it, just ask longtime circuit grinder Bryce Yockey — who has notched victories in no-limit Texas hold'em, A-5/2-7 limit triple draw, and open-face Chinese poker during his career — how he feels about the new game on the block:
"This is the most fun I’ve had playing a poker tournament since my first Main Event six years ago! The whole thing, it’s just fun, everyone’s having a good time, it’s social, everyone’s enjoying it. Nobody is really like... you know how in poker everyone’s trying to get the best of each other? This one, everyone’s just having a good time."
If you are interested in adding a few new games to your repertoire, have a look through our series on the rules and basic strategy for mixed games by Ken Lo, author of the recently released "A Poker Player’s Guide to Mixed Games: Core Strategies for HORSE, Eight-Game, Ten-Game, and Twelve-Game Mixes."