What is PokerShares?

PokerShares is a website where users can bet on poker players. The site also offers odds on poker related events and poker props. I noticed recently PokerShares being mentioned by a bunch of people in the poker community including Daniel Negreanu, so below is an initial review of the PokerShares.

It seems like PokerShares offers users the ability to bet using fixed odds on a large variety of poker players in a number of tournaments. It also seems like this is not a marketplace of odds, so users are betting against the house (in this case PokerShares) instead of each other.

I signed up for the site, and new users are required to submit a bunch of personal information such as their name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. This seems like a lot of information to give to some site I’m just learning about, but I submitted the signup forms, and received a confirmation e-mail. After I confirmed my e-mail and logged into the site, a message was displayed asking me to confirm my identity by sending PokerShares a copy of my passport. They warn that if I do not confirm my identity in 14 days, that my account will become inactive.

After logging in, I scroll over to the 2018 WSOP main event page and I can see a long list of players offered. I notice some big names such as Phil Ivey are listed, but they don’t have other players such as Justin Bonomo listed for the WSOP main event.  There are four columns listed in the table of players that users can bet on: their name, markup, price/1%, and % available. Using the price of Adrian Mateos as a guide, he is priced at a markup of 4.3 so his price per 1% is $430, and the book seems to be taking up to $20,000 worth of bets on him. A $10 bet on Adrian Mateos will pay $1,895.35 if he wins. This makes his implied odds = 10 / 1,895.35 = 189.50.  These odds are implying an 0.527% chance that Adrian Mateos wins the main event.

If we assume the 2018 WSOP main event gets 7,000 entrants, then the raw likelihood of Adrian Mateos winning is 7,000. So with odds of 190, it seems pretty expensive to bet on Adrian Mateos?  Is Adrian Mateos that much better than the average player in the field?  Maybe, I don’t know enough about WSOP main event odds to say.

At first glance, the way prices are set on PokerShares seems a bit convoluted, but I can see what they are going for. In poker, its common to invest and trade shares in players (and yourself) as a way to spread risk and raising money, so by presenting the betting as a way of “investing” in shares of poker players builds off this culture. On the other hand, the pricing format kinda obscures the information and makes it a bit more difficult to determine the odds.

If anyone has further comments on PokerShares, please post your comments below in the comments section, I would love to learn more about how this market works.

The Future of Poker

The history of poker is filled with lots of ups and downs. And although the game has been played for generations, the most popular form of poker in America, called “no-limit holdem”, started gaining mainstream appeal after the the annual World Series of Poker began in 1970 at Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas. The WSOP grew steadily over the next few decades, and by 2003, what started as a game for a handful of elite players, was now attracting hundreds of entrants from all walks of life from around the world.

By 2003, the game of poker was still fairly personal. WSOP main event entrants were still mostly populated with career gamblers, rather than your average Joe. But the advent of online poker dramatically changed poker’s popularity and how the game was played. Online poker opened up the opportunity for anyone to become the main event champion, and since the study of poker was not yet academic, much of the most popular poker strategies were still based on personal experiences rather than data.

Online poker changed the poker world. The Moneymaker affect showed us that anyone could become the main event champion. Poker’s popularity soared in the 2000’s because poker became accessible to anyone with an internet connection, worldwide. And live games benefitted from online’s growth too. By 2004, the number of WSOP main event entries climbed to 2,576 and reached a high of 8,776 by 2006.

As the popularity of both online and live poker grew, the study of poker was also advancing. The new technologies that made online poker possible, also fuelled the study of poker as the data generated online gave everyone the statistics and math they could use to improve their game. With the growth of online poker, a way to beat the game became possible and today a computer can consistently beat a human playing limit holdem and will soon be able to beat a human at no-limit holdem.

Today, we are witnessing the rise of bots, computer programs that can outplay their human opponents. How does this impact the game?

Almost all online poker sites such as Pokerstars and 888 discourage and ban bots. This makes sense for them in the short term. A good poker game for a card room is one that generates volume. The game needs both rec players and pros to feed the games, but if the rec players can’t win, they probably won’t play. We’ve already reached the point where rec players lose pretty regularly online. Its almost impossible for online poker rooms to completely ban bots since its a costly technological arms race that drains resources.

But the flip side of tough online games is the continued growth of live games. The 2017 WSOP recorded the third most number of entrants ever, and the trend in live games is up. As we become wealthier, and more experience oriented, I believe the demand for live poker will continue to grow. A nice side benefit of a live poker game is how players don’t need to fear bots. The advantage a computer has against humans at the poker table comes from the raw ability to crunch more numbers. A computer can process many more possibilities in order to determine the best play of every hand. Humans can’t calculate the data fast enough in their heads, so in a live game, they must rely more on instinct, reading opponents, and other types of strategies.

I think the future of poker is one where bots compete online. The online poker games that will have continued popularity in the age of bots are ones that include a greater element of chance, more like traditional casino games that don’t require any skill. Think about the growing popularity of games like “Spin & Go”. In this type of game, bots are subject to the same probabilities as humans with these types of games.  Profit for the online card room can be baked into the random element along with a rake.

Although there may be some growth of online poker from new players going forward, especially in emerging markets, the online market in American & Europe is probably saturated. Rich knowledgeable players from wealthy markets will become increasingly aware of their particular disadvantage online, and so they’ll find other ways to play poker. Live games could see a resurgence. Live poker rooms can attract more players by improving their experience and making poker an entertainment activity that highlights the social elements of the game.

Is there an online poker room that doesn’t discourage bots?  This might be another area for growth. Providing a place where programmers can pit their bots up against each other for real money. A kind of clash of machines. I’m looking forward to it.


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 🙂

Amaya Gaming & Full Tilt Casino Games

Amaya Gaming is now offering some of its casino games thru Full Tilt.  This launch does not impact the planned purchase of PokerStars/Full Tilt by Amaya, investors will get a chance to see how likely it will be that Amaya can drive incremental revenue from casino games by leveraging the poker site’s player base.  If this launch is successful, it could mean a huge opportunity for Amaya.  Amaya shareholders should be encouraged by this announcement.

Poker Night

Tonight I had a poker night with two of my best friends. We didn’t get together at a kitchen table, instead, we logged into Pokerstars to play at the same virtual table.  We had lot’s of  fun. We talked on the phone the whole time 🙂  At first we joked about colluding with each other to fix the game (since we were at a table with other players from around the world), but we ended up just chatting about work and other shared interests while we played.

It turns out there are a few ways to collude at poker, but most strategies seem related to shifting chips between players, and not of magically fixing the returns.  On a few hands, we ended up actually shifting chips to our competitors by mistake. At the end of the game, I placed second and won about $5.