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Best of Aaron Todd

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Top-10 games that should be played at the WSOP

20 June 2011

By Aaron Todd

When I heard that Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce was recently spotted at the World Series of Poker, it reminded me that there have been a smattering of NBA players who have jumped into poker tournaments in the past. But there's never been a stampede.

To be honest, it's surprising there haven't been more. The WSOP begins during the tail end of the NBA Playoffs. Most of the players' seasons have ended, and even those who end up lucky enough to play in the Finals still have a few weeks after it's all over to jump into a poker tournament. And while I've never covered an NBA team personally, I've heard stories about what happens on those cross-country charter flights. There are quite a few card games going on, and in some cases, for stakes that cause some issues with team chemistry.

Maybe it's the type of games being offered? From all accounts that I've heard, the game of choice among NBA players isn't no-limit Texas Hold'em or Seven Card Stud, but in fact a game called Boo-Ray (more on this later). It made me wonder just how many more poker players the WSOP could bring in if they offered even more varieties of poker.

The WSOP is always evolving; for the first time ever, Badugi was dealt as part of a 10-game mix event just this year. After some quick thought, I've compiled a list of 10 poker games I'd like to see become bracelet events in 2012. Some are serious, while others are a bit more tongue-in-cheek. I'll leave it up to the brass at Caesars Entertainment to determine which ones deserve a shot.

10. Boo-Ray
As mentioned, a favorite game of players in the NBA, Boo-Ray (or as Pagat spells it, Bourré) isn't really a poker game. It's a trick-taking game with a trump suit, an ante and no in-hand betting. A player who takes more tricks than any other player gets the entire pot, whereas players who opt to play a hand but don't take any tricks are obligated to match the size of the pot before the next hand begins.

9. Pitch and Bitch
People have been paying quite a bit of attention to the Seven Card Stud Eight or Better events at this year's WSOP, and with good reason. With ESPN poker commentator Norman Chad making a deep run in the $1,500 event, Mike Sexton finishing as the runner-up in the event, and Erik Seidel and Phil Hellmuth both just 10 players away from making a final table in the $10,000 World Championship, it's been an exciting week for the game. But there's a way to make it even more exciting: play the "Pitch and Bitch" version of the game.

Everything about the game is the same, except the deal. Instead of being dealt three cards, with the last face up, players are dealt four cards, all face down. After looking at their holdings, players throw one card into the muck, then "roll their own," revealing which card they have selected as their window card simultaneously.

8. Badugi
As mentioned earlier, Badugi was dealt as part of the 10-game mixed $2,500 event, but it has never been a bracelet event on its own merits. There's a 2-7 triple draw lowball event, and Badugi deserves some love too.

If you've never played Badugi, here's a very quick primer. There are two blinds, just like in Hold'em, and players are dealt four cards face down. There are three drawing rounds, each followed by a betting round. Players attempt to make the lowest possible hand consisting of one card from each suit. If you have any suited or paired cards, one of those cards essentially doesn't count, and you're only holding a "three-card hand." Any four-card hand (including 10-Jack-Queen-King offsuit) beats any three card hand, even Ace-2-3-4 when two of those cards are from the same suit. Any three-card hand beats any two card hand, and so on. Assuming players both have the same number of unsuited, unpaired cards, the lowest hand wins.

7. Dice
Okay, I don't think it's much of a stretch to say this is one of the tongue-in-cheek suggestions. But it is a good excuse to make reference to one of the greatest gambling skits in television history, the World Series of Dice clip from Chappelle's Show. (Warning, NSFW because of language)

6. Chinese Poker
The WSOP has awarded four bracelets in Chinese Poker, two in 1995 and two in 1996. It's no wonder they dropped the game in 1997, considering the total number of participants plummeted from 113 to 72 from 1995 to 1996, and the total prize pool fell from $353,500 to just $193,000. But the game has seen a resurgence in popularity, and I think it's high time it's given another chance.

Chinese Poker, for the unfamiliar, is a game that does not include betting rounds, but instead use chips to keep score. As many as four players are dealt 13 cards and must form three poker hands, two five-card hands and one three-card hand. Players order their cards from the strongest hand (one of the five-card hands) to the weakest hand (the three-card hand). Once each player has arranged their hands, players reveal their cards, and each player compares his own hand with each of his opponents' hands. Each hand of your opponent's that you beat gives you one point, and the player who wins more hands (either 2-1 or 3-0) earns a bonus chip. (The most common transaction is winning or losing two or four chips, though it is possible to win or lose three chips or "chop" and trade zero chips, if two players have identical hands — Ace high straights, for instance.)

5. Golf
There was an interesting golf tournament held for a few years called the World Series of Golf. Holes were played as match play with five players, and after each shot, players could bet, raise, call and fold based on their perceived odds of winning the hole. It was an interesting tournament, but it didn't involve any poker.

I submit that there should be a combined golf and poker event, where players shoot 18 holes of golf to determine their starting stack. No handicaps are allowed, and every stroke under 100 nets you 100 extra chips on top of a starting stack of 1,000. So players who shoot a 79 will start with 3,100 chips, while a 95 will net you just 1,500.

Oh yeah, and players should get three "rebuy" chips on the golf course that allow them to take a mulligan at any time.

4. Binglaha
If you love Omaha, but can't decide if you like the high or high-low version better, Binglaha is the game for you. I learned about this tournament thanks to a PokerStars contest asking players to submit ideas for new games at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. Binglaha is played just like Omaha, except players do not know whether each hand will be played high only or high-low until a die is rolled after flop betting is complete. If the die comes up with a 1, 2 or 3, it is played high-low. If it's 4, 5 or 6, it's high only.

Based on my own penchant for pot-limit in both varieties of the game, I'd say the game should be played pot-limit.

3. Pairs event
The WSOP held a Mixed Doubles event for several years in the late '70s and early '80s, giving players a chance to team up with someone from the opposite sex to take a shot at a bracelet. Did you know one of Doyle Brunson's 10 WSOP bracelets came in a $600 Mixed Doubles Seven Card Stud Tournament in 1979? He and Starla Brodie each took home a whopping $4,500 for the victory.

Personally, I think the "mixed" requirement is a bit too old-fashioned, but I do like the idea of playing poker with a teammate (legitimately, of course). In fact, Foxwoods Resort Casino & MGM Grand at Foxwoods runs a great tournament during the World Poker Finals in the fall and sometimes in the spring at the Foxwoods Poker Classic giving players a chance to play as a team. One player plays a round of limit Hold'em, the next plays a round of limit Omaha high-low. I think a similar tournament at the WSOP would be great, except I think it should be played as no-limit Hold'em and pot-limit Omaha. It would be very interesting to see who teamed up, and there could potentially be some great drama when one player blows it on a terrible read.

2. "The Nuts"
I've renamed this game to make it slightly less offensive (though it isn't really all that offensive … the reality is that it's just a part of human anatomy … if you must you can see the original name of the game, courtesy of BARGE).

"The Nuts" is similar to Omaha high-low, except players are dealt five cards and may choose how many he/she would like to keep after the first round of betting and before the flop is revealed. Players keep as many or as few cards as they wish. A board of five cards is dealt, just as in a hand of Hold'em or Omaha, with a round of betting after the flop, turn and river. Players must use ALL of the cards in their hand, combined with however many are needed from the board to make a five-card hand, and the pot is split between the best high and the best low hand.

1. Razzaho
I've brought many of the games listed above to the Casino City Home Game, some with varying degrees of success. But I've never put the creative genius of our players out there for everyone to read. Today, that all changes, as I propose that the WSOP add "Razzaho" to the mix of games in next year's series.

Razzaho (also often referred to as "Jas-aho" after its creator) is the first game I've seen that mixes community card and stud games. Players are dealt a razz hand in the same way that any stud variant is dealt — two down, one up, followed by betting, then three more up with a round of betting after each card, followed by a final card down. But after each player receives his card, one community card is revealed until, after the final down card is received, there are five community cards to be seen. Half the pot goes to the player who has the best razz hand, ignoring the community cards. The other half goes to the player who uses two of his down cards (Window cards are NOT playable for the other half of the pot, though they do provide a wealth of information) and three cards from the board to make his best five-card hand (e.g., similar to Omaha, except you only have three down cards instead of two).
Top-10 games that should be played at the WSOP is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and (his personal favorite) Badeuci.

Since graduating from St. Lawrence University, Aaron has worked as a journalist covering the gambling industry and as a communications specialist in college athletic departments.

A native of a small town in New York just south of Ottawa, Aaron lives in Needham, Mass., with his wife and three children. Write to Aaron at aarontodd@casinocity.com, and follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.