Handling 9 or 10 players at table

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Stuart Cutler, age 72, has been playing poker since he retired about six years ago. With experience, he has been able to move up to 1/2 no-limit hold’em. He enjoys playing in Las Vegas area casinos two or three times a week. In his early career, after an extensive education specializing in aviation administration, he held various challenging positions with several airlines at various airports around the country.

He wrote me to ask a very interesting question: At Green Valley Ranch, there are nine players at a table; whereas, at The Orleans, there are 10 people. Is there any advantage or disadvantage as to how many players are seated at the table?

I have never read or heard discussion on this topic. As I pondered over it, I realized how important that query really is.

There are many ways the number of players at your table can significantly impact your play and results. There are pros and cons.

• It’s only logical that the more opponents you have, the lower the probability you will win the pot. (The more horses in the race, the less likely your horse will be first to cross the finish line in first place.)

• Probability law teaches us that starting with a made hand (A-A. K-K, and Q-Q), while your hand is favored to win about 70-80% of the time against each opponent, it becomes an underdog against four or more opponents. That’s why we often raise to thin the field. The more players at the table, the more likely there will be more than three opponents staying to see the flop; and as a consequence, the more often your pocket Aces will be cracked.

• Starting with a big pair in the hole, say Q-Q, the more opponents at your table, the more often a higher card on the board will result in a higher pair than yours. Your hand then becomes second-best – a loser.

• Trying to bluff out your opponents, the more players at the table, the less likely you will succeed.

Those are four negative results (cons) when there are more opponents at the table. However, balancing the scale, there are several positives (pros) whereby more players will contribute to your success.

• There is a cost-to-play in a casino. To get a reasonable estimate, simply add up the casino drop, the bad-beat jackpot drop, and tip to the dealer for each hand dealt. Multiply this sum by the number of hours you are at that table; then divide this amount by the number of players at the table to determine your cost-to-play. With more players in the game, the lower will be your cost-to-play. That’s a positive.

• Your decision to call a bet or raise with a drawing hand (one that must improve to win that pot) depends on your card odds vs. the pot odds. For a Positive Expectancy (P.E.), the pot odds must be higher than your card odds. The more players at the table, the better the chance for a bigger pot – and higher P.E.

• The greatest benefit will arise when you catch a monster hand – especially the nuts. Now, fully expecting to win the pot, your goal is to build it as big as possible. The more players at the table, the more opponents probably in the hand – and the more chips you can expect to win.

Personally, I prefer more players at the table. But, then table selection becomes even more important. If there are two or more highly aggressive opponents at that table, it’s just too expensive to play – more likely with more players at that table. If that’s the case, plan to change tables more often.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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