The Key Ingredient for a Good Poker Game

Back when I was just starting out I used to play at a private club in Toronto called Check N’ Raise. It was a really nice club, good food, clean, no smoking, high ceilings, and always good action with an extremely fair rake- there wasn’t one. Instead, players were encouraged to tip, and most did tip $2.50 a hand, but it wasn’t required. That was one way around the law that you can’t take a rake. Food was free and so was the poker. It was a pretty good deal, and most people really appreciated the system and didn’t take advantage of it.

The room started to really boom for a while with weekly tournaments that were well attended. The Likes of Howard Goldfarb, our hometown hero after finishing runner up to Dan Harrington in the 1995 WSOP main event used to frequent the place as did plenty of other professional gamblers. Of course, we had a Tommy “The Greek” and we also happened to have a Jimmy “The Greek.” It was always a treat when Woody the Vegas bookie would come to town and regale us with stories from the desert. It was a good atmosphere, lots of fun, and friendly people.

There was also a guy who used to come and play named Moshe. Moshe was really bad! He virtually never won, and didn’t care much for folding. He lost for a few months and everyone profited from it. At some point, Moshe came up with the idea to run his own club. It was in a dingy basement, reeked of cigarette smoke, was hot, stuffy, the tables were dirty and cramped together, and the food offered wasn’t like what players were accustomed to at Check N’ Raise. Moshe had friends, and they were no better than he was so he invited them to play at his club too.

Guess what happened? All the pros chose to play at Moshe’s instead of the much nicer Check N’ Raise because… well, that’s where Moshe played. Winning poker players will always put profit over comfort! If the game is good enough, they will play in a train station toilet. They may complain, but they will play.

Of course, all the pros would prefer to play at Check N’ Raise, but as long as Moshe was playing at Moshe’s place, that’s where they would be. Pros will flock to where the games are. It’s their job and it only makes sense. They come to you, they will fill seats as long as there is something in it for them. Typically that something is money.

Check N’ Raise had our hero Howie, but that didn’t trump the value of playing with Moshe. This is how the poker economy worked when I started, and it remains the same today. If you like Commerce better than the Bike, but the games at the Bike are better action, it’s a no-brainer for a pro to play at the Bike.

Why do you think so many pros have been traveling to Macau? For the scenery? For the VIP bonuses? For the hospitality? No, they go there because it makes financial sense to them and that’s where a lot of recreational players with big bankrolls are playing.

The most important ingredient to any poker game is always going to be VALUE. Not fancy chairs, designer water, or big screen TVs. If you can attract the right clientele you automatically get the rest to flock to your games. You don’t need to pander to the pros, or convince them to come- they will be there happily.

If you run poker games you know this. It’s a given, but many people don’t get that the focus needs to be aimed towards the recreational players first and foremost. If you are a pro, you should look at it like a partnership. The guy running the game provides the rec players, and you profit from it, while he makes some money off the games running. In private games, that requires a pro to be gracious and thankful for the opportunity.

Imagine if you were running a private game and Moshe said, “I don’t like this Negreanu kid, I don’t want to play with him. If he plays I quit.” What would be in your best interest? Letting Moshe leave, or telling me I can’t play cause Moshe doesn’t want me to? You’d be foolish to let me play. I’m not the main draw for the game, Moshe is.

If you are a professional poker player, it would be worthwhile to understand that you aren’t the main draw either. It would serve you to be thankful that games exist where you are both allowed to play, and can make a living from it.