Jackpot poker from my old notes


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (1993) in Card Player magazine.


Here comes another one of those columns where we sift through my old poker notes together. Ready? This first note is fairly recent, perhaps five years old. It says: “Explain to card club management why jackpot poker is not a good idea.”

Wow! I wish I hadn’t picked that note! This topic tends to make people shout their opinions. Some love jackpot poker; some hate it. Take me, for instance: I hate it.

Throughout the ages, in all corners of the world, within each galaxy of our imagination, among every culture that ever called itself civilized, there has never been a threat to the future of poker as serious as the scourge of jackpot poker.

Can anyone beat jackpot poker? You can beat jackpot poker, but plan on getting drawn out on a lot. Getting drawn out on a lot is not a bad thing, by the way. Getting drawn out on simply means you had the best hand and that opponents may be playing poorly against you. The players who get drawn out on most are the ones who make the most money on average. But that’s another topic for another time.

In case you don’t know, jackpot (which is very popular in California) is poker where some amount is taken from every pot and added to a pool. Eventually, a player who has a terrific hand beaten (for instance, getting aces-full beaten in hold’em) wins all or a large part of the jackpot. So, what’s so bad about jackpot poker?

1. When people win a jackpot, the money does not come back into the poker game like it usually does when somebody simply beats the game normally. Instead, a small-limit player who wins a $5,700 jackpot may keep $300 for poker and spend $2,2000 on vacation, $2,200 on stereo equipment, and $1,100 on a new deluxe refrigerator. As I’ve said before, it’s the refrigerator that bugs me. Why should perfectly spendable poker money that other players might have a shot at be wasted on a refrigerator?

2. In jackpot poker, weaker players are rewarded for playing badly, because they win more jackpots. The easiest way to have a shot at a jackpot is to play all hands that could conceivably win. (You often should play more hands because of the lure of the jackpots, but weak players overcompensate and enter too many pots.)

3. In baseball, you get to the major leagues through the minor leagues. This is often called the “farm system.” In poker, there used to be a farm system, where players mastered smaller limits and then moved up. Today, most skillful players decide to play non-jackpot games at larger limits. This leaves the jackpot games populated by players who don’t usually win. And if they don’t win, they don’t graduate to the larger non-jackpot games. And if they don’t graduate, there are fewer players making the major leagues. And traditional poker may someday die and no one will notice.

4. In jackpot poker, you learn the wrong skills. If you try to use jackpot poker as a training for the non-jackpot games, you’re in trouble right away. You’re learning in an environment where players call more often and raise less often than typical players in non-jackpot games. Furthermore, many of the decisions are made in pursuit of the jackpot, not in pursuit of traditional poker profit. In short, you won’t be prepared to beat the non-jackpot games, even if you master jackpot poker.

What’s the answer? Casinos cannot stop spreading jackpot games because there is too much of a market for them. But they should start promoting non-jackpot alternatives. They’ll need to really push these at first, because the lower-limit players these games appeal to are no longer around. But overall, these games are worth pushing because cardrooms need players who can survive the lower limits, fill seats, and guarantee the future of poker. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

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