Out of the Kitchen and Into the Spotlight: Dealer’s Choice

This is the first in a series of articles dedicated to games of the inaugural Dealer’s Choice event at the 2014 World Series of Poker (WSOP).

I love Friday nights.

What better way to start off the weekend than catching up with friends, having a few drinks, munching on some salty snacks, and settling in ... for a fun night of cards!

Indeed, home games are meant to be fun, but they can still get pretty competitive; whether my friends and I are playing for quarters, bills, or bragging rights, none of us like to lose.

It has been a while since we switched from playing No-limit Hold’em to the current format in which each of us takes a turn choosing a game to play for some part of the night. We were getting bored of Hold’em and decided to inject some variety and excitement into our weekly game.

“In-Between.”

“Huh? In ... what?” I mumble. I’ve never heard of it.

“It’s called In-Between. I am going to deal two cards, face up, on the table. When it’s your turn, you can bet any amount – from zero right up to the size of the pot – that the next card will be ranked between the two cards.”

“Wow,” I grumble sarcastically. “Sounds like fun with a capital 'F'.”

That was probably a mistake. Rule No. 1: Don’t bother arguing with someone who’s wired up on Red Bull, drunk, or both.

“HEY – we had to play your stupid, made-up game, bar-goooo-dee, or whatever it’s called.”

“It’s called Badugi,” I interject. “BAA-DOO-GEE. And it most certainly is a ‘real’ game; they even play it at the ...”

“Whatever, dude. We’re playing DEALER’S Choice. It’s MY deal, so it’s MY game!”

My buddy makes a good point. I nod silently, in agreement.

I wish someone would pass the pretzels.

“Anyway,” he continues, “if the next card is in between the two cards on the table, you win the amount of your bet from the pot; if it’s outside the two cards, you lose your bet; and if it matches the rank of one of the two cards, you lose double your bet. There are a couple of other twists, but that’s basically it.”

Sounds easy enough.

At first, I wasn’t so sure I would like it. It really isn’t a poker game in the purist sense, although I guess some people might say the same thing about Badugi. I will admit, however, after a few rounds, I was hooked. It wasn’t long before we were all yelling, cursing, and gloating over each other’s misfortunes. Fun times.

Dealer’s Choice at the WSOP

If you’ve ever participated in or hosted a regular home game, there’s a good chance you’ve played some variation of Dealer’s Choice. Traditionally, the deal is passed around from player to player. The player whose turn it is to deal gets to choose the game to be played for that hand. Sometimes, you’re allowed to select a game from a set list; at other times, you can choose any game so long as you can clearly explain its rules to all the other players. For example, as the dealer, you could choose to play a stud, draw, or flop game; you could even choose a non-poker game if it involves some wagering.

This format, which in the past was largely confined to the domain of home games, is now scheduled to make its appearance on the international stage, and in a big way: Event #41 at the WSOP will see Dealer’s Choice debut as an official bracelet event.

Despite concerns that dealers are likely to encounter some difficulties due to the game’s complexity (it is unlikely all players – let alone dealers – will be familiar with all the poker variants), the reaction to the announcement of this distinctive addition to the 2014 schedule has been generally very positive.

Now, don’t expect home game favourites such as In-Between, Bing Bang Bong, Guts, or Follow the ... ummm ... Queen to be made available for selection at the WSOP’s Dealer’s Choice event. In the WSOP version, players will be required to choose games from a predetermined list. However, this list includes no less than 16 poker variants, where all but a handful will be played in at least one other WSOP bracelet event.

The structure sheet for Event #41 identifies all the games available for selection:

Draw Games

• Badugi
• 2-7 Triple Draw
• A-5 Triple Draw
• Badeucy
• Badacey
• No-limit 2-7 Single Draw
• Five-card Draw High

Stud Games

• Razz
• Seven-card Stud
• Stud Hi/Lo

Flop Games

• No-limit Hold’em
• Pot-limit Hold’em
• Limit Hold’em
• Pot-limit Omaha
• Pot-limit Omaha Hi/Lo
• Limit Omaha Hi/Lo

It is noteworthy that Badeucy and Badacey will be making their first appearance at the WSOP through the Dealer’s Choice event, and that 2014 will also mark the return of Ace-to-Five and five-card draw games to the WSOP schedule after a lengthy absence. Notable omissions from the list of Dealer’s Choice games include Razzdugi and Crazy Pineapple Hi/Lo, two poker variants that are steadily finding their way back into modern cash game mixes.

The WSOP and home game versions of Dealer’s Choice also differ in terms of the number of hands to be played for a given game: once chosen, the game will be played not merely for a single hand (as may have traditionally been the case), but for an entire orbit. A second button is used to identify the player whose game is currently being played; this button will then move to a new player once the orbit is complete. Accordingly, multiple hands of the game will be played, with the number of hands being dependent on the number of players at the table. For example, while play is six-handed, six hands of each chosen game will be played. This was clarified by Jack Effel, Tournament Director for the WSOP.

Jack EffelSo it could be 6 hands or however many hands there are players at the table. If a seat is filled, it will count as part of the round.

If you’re thinking of introducing some (or all) of these WSOP Dealer’s Choice variants into your home game, in the process of learning mixed games, in need of a refresher, or just plain curious, then stay tuned to this column.

Each week, for the next 10 weeks leading up to the WSOP, I’ll be writing about one or two different poker variants from the Dealer’s Choice rotation. Each article will include details on how they are played, as well as some basic strategy tips, which you can use to gain that extra edge at your next home game or wherever else you might find yourself playing them.

Next week: Badugi

Ken Lo is the author of A Poker Player’s Guide to Mixed Games: Core Strategies for HORSE, Eight-Game, Ten-Game, and Twelve-Game Mixes, which is scheduled for public release in late Spring 2014. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada.

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