888, PartyPoker, GVC, Amaya, Who Will Win?

The race for market share in the online poker/gaming market turns another corner today as 888 and Bwin negotiate a merger. A rival bid could come from London listed GVC with cash from Amaya. I’m not entirely clear about British takeover rules, but I assume bids will become public when a rival offer emerges since shareholders must make an informed decision?

Amaya shares soar on earnings update

Shares of Amaya rose sharply today on an earnings update. The data released today gives investors a clearer picture of Amaya in the Pokerstars era, now that Amaya has mostly divested itself of non-Pokerstars/Full Tilt assets. Going forward, investors will be better able to make a fair comparative analysis of q/q results with less one time adjustments.

Amaya reported profits of $82 million on revenue of $340 million. This represents a 25% margin for a growing global business with the largest market share. Investors should be bullish on shares of Amaya following these results.

Amayaa Gaming Hell’s Angels Connection

I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry, but the Financial Post is reporting today that a leading member of the Hell’s Angels bought $10,000 of Amaya Gaming shares leading up to their announcement of a deal to acquire PokerStarts. Is this a joke?  $10,000 is a small amount of money, and so this person made a few thousand dollars because Amaya Gaming is a great company, this isn’t something that regulators should be focusing on. How much resources have regulators and the RCMP spent investigating this?  It’s been months since these insider trading rumours have been plaguing Amaya and there is no evidence that Amaya is in any way involved in insider trading.  Government agencies seem to be determined to find something. Is there any law that limits the time and resources securities regulators can spend investigating something before they must actually show some progress or at least share their findings with public markets?

As an Amaya shareholder, it’s getting on my nerves that these regulators can continue a secret investigation for an undetermined amount of time without showing any clear reason for their actions. This is another example of overzealous regulators and an unfair business environment.

Online Poker Trends

As the online poker market develops, more countries are regulating online poker and network effects are taking hold.  I believe the network effects that impact online poker are encouraged by greater regulation, as the larger more sophisticated operators will be better able to manage the increasingly complex online gaming regulatory environment. This points investors to PokerStars, 888/PartyPoker, and Playtech.

Ranking Poker Hands

I’ve never been a successful texas hold’em poker player, but I enjoy analysing gambling games (and games in general), so I decided to take a closer look at starting hands in an effort to slowly build my poker skill. Many of my friends play poker and I follow the poker business as an investor. My plan is to build my poker game in a step by step process.  I’ve decided to focus on 1-2 NL cash games, with a bankroll of 100 buy-ins.

The Wizard of Odds website has a lot of tools available to gamblers. In their poker section, they have published starting hand ranking tables. Users can choose to view the rankings and values of any two starting hands for games with a number of players.

I decided to analyse hand rankings for cash games with six and eight players as those will be common numbers of players for games I’d play.

Click the links for tables relating to six player games, and eight player games.

I’m not sure what percentage of hands I should be playing. From what I read and hear from my friends, the hands to play should be based on the players at the table and my position. But there is no consensus on specifics. I guess it makes sense that there aren’t common guidelines for what percentage of hands to play since some games are loose and some are tight. Good players adapt to the type of game. But since these player reading strategies are too advanced for me at this point, I’m going to give myself some guidelines to start with.

From what I understand, the fewer number of players, the wider your starting hand range should be, and the greater number of players, the narrower your starting hand range should be. So I’ve decided to determine starting hand ranges to play based on the number of players at the table. The percentage of hands that I will play will be determined by dividing 1 and the number of players at the table. So for games with 6 players, I will aim to play  around 17% of hands (1/6), and for games with 8 players, I will aim to play around 12.5% of hands (1/8).

By using the starting hand ranking tables linked above at the Wizard of Odds website, I can determine which starting hands to play and which starting hands to fold by finding the cut-off hand for each game. Determining the cut-off hand is done by taking 1 divided by the number of players, and then finding the hand with an additive probability equal to this ratio. For 6 player games, this ratio is 17% as outlined in the formula above and the hand rank cut-off is Q T unsuited. Any hand with a higher rank will be played and any hand with a lower rank will be folded.

With this starting hand strategy, I can make some conclusions. In six player games, the lowest pair I’ll play is a pair of sevens. I’ll dump J T unsuited, but I’ll play K T unsuited. The lowest suited hand that I’ll play is A 5. It’s interesting to keep in mind that I wouldn’t play A 6 suited since A 5 suited has a higher EV due to the straight possibilities. Any two face cards will be played.

Determining the starting hands to play in eight player games is done using the same formula. Take 1 divided by 8 to get 12.5%, then look up the hand with an additive probability equal to this ratio. For 8 player games, this hand is J 9 suited. This time, most unsuited face cards are played, except for Q J unsuited, which is dumped in eight player games. The lowest pair played is a pair of eights. Any pair lower than eight is dumped.

I would be playing a bit tighter in an eight player game compared to a six player game using this starting hand strategy. The first thing I need to do is memorize the starting hand ranges for each type of game, this won’t be too hard as all I really need to do is memorize the hands around the cut-off point for each type of game. Then, the next step will be to come up with a strategy to modify the hands I play based on the players around me and also on my position.

Las Vegas Poker Room Survey

When I’m in Las Vegas, how do I decide which poker room to play in? Since there are so many different casinos offering poker, I decided to start by listing some of the major criteria I think will be important: rake, comps, location, and atmosphere. I also need to decide which games I want to play.  I would rather reduce my variance and play a standard game and I’d rather play at the lowest stakes possible.  So in Vegas, this probably means 1-2 NL or maybe 1-3 NL.

I found a website called Poker Atlas that provides lots of useful information about poker rooms around town that I used to narrow down my search. I filtered by type of game (1-2 or 1-3 NL) and this is what I came up with:

Casino Game Availability Rake Comps Wifi Location
MGM 1-2 NL Always 10% up to $4 $2/hr Yes Strip
Caesars 1-2 NL Always 10% up to $4 $2/hr Yes Strip
Boyd 1-2 NL Always 10% up to $4 $1.25 No Locals
Binion’s 1-3 NL Always 10% up to $4 $2/hr No Fremont
Stations 1-2 NL Eve & Weekends 10% up to $4 $1/hr Yes Locals
Golden Nugget 1-2 NL Always 10% up to $4 $2.5/hr No Fremont
TI 1-2 NL Always 10% up to $4 $2/hr Yes Strip
Venetian 1-2 NL Always 10% up to $4 $2/hr Yes Strip
Westgate 1-3 NL Always 10% up to $3 $1/hr No Strip
Wynn 1-3 NL Always Staggered up to $4 $2/hr Yes Strip


Some locations are just out of the question for me since I don’t get to that area of town very often. Such is the case with Arizona Charlie’s on Decatur. So I didn’t even consider those casinos at all.

There are enough 1-2 NL games around town so I won’t have trouble finding a game.

A few different conclusions can be made from my initial search. Not all casinos have poker rooms. I didn’t realize until making this list, but none of the Boyd properties downtown (California, Main Street, and Fremont) have poker rooms.  Hotel rooms are cheap on Fremont Street, this is also disappointing since I have a lot of points on my B Connected card and I could use live poker play to mask some of my other video poker and sports advantage plays. If I play Boyd properties, it will probably be Sam’s Town when if they have a 1-2 NL game going, or the Orleans if I’m near the strip.  I go out to Summerlin around Suncoast sometimes to golf, so I’ll keep in mind there is a 1-2 NL game there.

Some large properties such as the Cosmopolitan and the Palms don’t have poker rooms.  Cosmo and Palms also have small outsourced sports books run by CG. I noticed that the Tropicana is not listed on Poker Atlas, I remember a poker room in the “new” Tropicana in the past few years, but its no longer open.

Which Station Casinos have poker rooms? Boulder Station, Palace Station, GVR, Red Rock, Santa Fe.  Which Boyd properties have poker rooms? Sam’s Town, Suncoast & Orleans.

Regarding the comps, I’m concerned about the level of reward, but more about the format of the reward.  A $10 dining voucher at the Wynn is different than $10 of cash or freeplay. If Boyd and Stations properties comp poker players with points, this is ideal as there are lots of ways to get value from players’ club points at these locations. Dining vouchers go further at certain properties depending on what kind of dining values are offered.  If I can use a dining voucher at McDonalds, it’s going to go a lot further than if I can only use it for a Strip casino buffet (which is a lot more expensive). I’ll need to do more research on the types of comps offered by each poker room and what they can be used for.

In terms of rake, it seems pretty standard if there is no flop then there is no rake. It also seems pretty standard that in 1-2 NL games, the rate is 10% up to $4.

I would prefer a casino with wifi, but it’s not a deal breaker.  In general, I probably spend more time in casinos and other locations when they have wifi.

Grinders” is a great documentary on poker players from Toronto.  The filmmaker, Matt Gallagher, creatively profiles 3 career poker players who each share their unique perspectives on poker and life.  I think Ontario poker players will strongly relate to their stories.  The star feature player is Daniel Negreanu, who is undeniably Toronto’s greatest poker player, and also one of the best poker players in the world.  Negreanu lives a dream life in Summerlin with a putting green in his back yard.  He travels the world promoting PokerStars and playing in high stakes events.  My favourite part of the film is when Negreanu says that he doesn’t worry about money since he could always go back to grinding tables, and he jokes that starting from scratch might actually be fun 🙂