Another evolutionary step
"He's a one-trick pony - one trick is all that horse can do.
He does one trick only - it's the principal source of his revenue."
- Paul Simon
It can be pretty seductive to have one trick that you do very well. You've got that one trick down, do it better than most people, and understand every nuance of it. And that one trick, it takes good care of you for a long time.
So what do you do when the one trick starts to fail - when everybody can do that one trick? Well, one player called "Bighusla" on PokerStars decided he'd try a new trick - he headed off to the Spin and Go lobby, intending to (1) play 5,000 $30 Spin and Go's in a month, and (2) maintain a chip expected value* ("cEV") of 8.5%.
Not surprisingly, a lot of the 100 big-blind six-max no-limit-hold'em grinders said, "That's impossible - Spin and Go's are just gambling. You can't get a decent edge, the rake is too high, and people will always prefer film to digital storage in their cameras." Well, they didn't say that last bit, but you get my point. The point is that the game changes and you have to be ready to change with it if you expect to continue winning. Just because you don't know how to beat a new form of poker doesn't mean it can't be beaten.
Let's get back to Bighusla. He played 5,054 Sp&G's (as I like to call them), and ended up with a cEV of 8.8%. Oh, he made a profit of almost $11,000. This doesn't prove that Sp&G's are beatable, but it's a data point that indicates that they are.
Is it possible that Sp&G's are just another step along the evolutionary path that poker is taking? I checked in with Jim McManus, a well-known poker author, who knows a thing or two about the history of the game. He said, "Much as nineteen-century stud players switched from five- to seven-card variants, PokerStars' new Spin and Go's suit the tastes of a new generation of players who grew up multi-tabling on the virtual felt. And some of these players will convincingly beat the new format."
It was five-card draw, it was stud. It was no-limit hold'em, then it was limit hold'em, and then it was no-limit hold'em again. It was "regular" speed S&Gs, then turbos, then hyper-turbos. It was Zoom, and now Spin and Go's have taken a place on the path. I promise you that as each of the new games became predominant, some players didn't adapt and fell by the wayside. Some new people came along who, for whatever reason, were better suited to the new game than the old one. And of course, some experts of the existing variation adapted and became experts at whatever the new version was.
Player "Bighusla" has staked his claim in the new territory. I'm pretty sure there's room for others out there.
* "Chip EV" is simply the number of chips you expect to make when you make a particular play in a tournament. It's the equivalent of what a cash game player would simply refer to as EV. If you push all-in for 1,000 chips with AsKd and I call with AhQc, then you have plus chip EV of 434 chips.
Lee Jones is the Director of Poker Communications at PokerStars. He first joined the company in 2003 and has been involved in the professional poker industry for over 25 years. You can read his occasional tweets at @leehjones.