Other Games for Poker Players
THE WEEKLY SHUFFLE, 2013-08-11, by TwoGunThere are a lot of different types of poker players. Some are casual gamblers/degenerates (i.e. fish), others are poker purists and pretty much only play poker, and some enjoy playing risk/reward types of skill games in general. Depending on why you enjoy poker, you may enjoy other forms of contests or gambling. Let's explore what's popular among poker players:
The most popular secondary option among poker players is likely sports betting. In fact, I don't know many poker players that enjoy sports that wouldn't want to bet on it. Sports betting is popular in all countries, though it's generally not legal in the US outside of Nevada.
Most online poker rooms, with the exception of PokerStars, have a sportsbook attached to it now. It's called cross-selling in the industry, which is a nice way of saying if a degenerate is going to blow his money on any form of gambling, you might as well capitalize on it.
Poker players appreciate the variance and skill involved with handicapping games. However, unlike poker, you're betting against the house, and while lines may not be perfect, it's extremely difficult to beat the vig. With poker (and fantasy sports), you can play against weaker-skilled players. This isn't the case with sports betting, where you're always playing against a shark.
Furthermore, with sports betting, you just make one decision generally (i.e. what side will win). In poker and other games, you make a lot of decisions, whether it's what players to put on your fantasy teams or what moves to make in backgammon.
In the US, fantasy sports (especially daily fantasy sports) is a popular option among poker players and ex-poker players. Like poker, it takes a lot of math skills to succeed at these contests. You need to be able to calculate the expected value of your lineup, as well as the variance in the types of players you choose. There's the concept of field odds (similar to implied odds) on choosing a non-popular player that has the potential for an explosive performance to catapult you above your competition.
For traditional fantasy, most people play in leagues with their friends at sites like Yahoo or ESPN. For daily fantasy (DFS), popular options include Draftkings, Fanduel, and Fanthrowdown. I also personally work at a DFS startup SportsTradex.
Currently, fantasy sports is very much just US-focused. American sports generally work better for fantasy since they have more statistical categories than European football (or soccer as we call it). Furthermore, what legal setup a real money fantasy sports provider would need in Europe isn't clear yet. However, fantasy sports have seemed to have somewhat made its way across the pond already (just like poker did), and I expect we'll see the daily version of it eventually in Europe.
Unlike poker, fantasy sports are currently legal and has a UIGEA exemption. Daily fantasy may have some legal challenges in the future at the state level, but it is starting out on a much better footing than poker did.
The main appeal to fantasy over sports betting is that you are competing against other players. Skilled players generally can make money at fantasy (at least the daily version) since they can play against less-skilled players to beat the rake. With daily fantasy, a person can play many contests over the course of a season, giving them enough iterations to shake out the variance, similar to playing enough poker hands to see your long-term win rate.
Off-and-on there's been an attempt to shove backgammon down poker players throats as an alternative skill-based game. Unlike poker, backgammon is more difficult to grasp at first. I tried backgammon myself and enjoyed it, but was easily pummeled by better players.
Furthermore, a good computer program could play backgammon perfectly, so the bot risk is high with the online version. With poker, the lack of knowledge of another's hole cards makes it difficult for a bot to play optimally (it's difficult to create a bot to bluff, semi-bluff, and detect deception). With backgammon, all information is 100% available, so it's easier to program an optimal way to play.
Blackjack and Craps
In terms of pure gambling games, the most popular options for poker players generally include blackjack and craps. Blackjack is a straightforward game where there's generally the clearest move to increase your expected value. However, since it's a house-backed game, it is impossible to beat unless you count cards.
Beating blackjack in the long run is a tiring process that not only involves mastering card counting, it involves mastering not being caught at counting cards. Some casinos are more lax when it comes to this than others. Caesers is particularly nitty and generally bans card counters for life from their casinos (others just ban card counters from playing blackjack). This can be potentially troublesome for poker players since it means they can't play in the WSOP.
Craps is unbeatable (unless you believe you can control the dice). However, it has the 'odds' bet which is a neutral EV bet. If you pass line (house edge of 1.4%), you can generally play the odds at anywhere from 5-100X the amount of the pass line. When you factor in comps, craps can become a +EV game in terms of free food/hotel/comps, etc. There's no skill involved, but it can be a lot of fun and not costly long-term. Currently, craps is pretty much just available at US casinos. When non-US casinos have the game, they generally limit the odds bet to 2X and do not comp well, making it not nearly as attractive of a side game for poker players.
The Weekly Shuffle is our Sunday column with our observations and commentary on the poker world. Have an idea for an article? Leave a suggestion on the feedback page.
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