Poker bum hunting is an essential technique for winning players. Poker is a zero sum game minus a cut that the house takes. So in an environment where all players are good and everybody plays game theory optimal poker EVERYBODY loses. The house takes money out of pots at an enormous rate especially at lower games. In fact, versus a bunch of skilled regulars (with zero recreational dollars in play) it may be impossible at a 6-max or full ring table for even some of the best in the world to win…. The bottom line is that if you are a professional poker player you need to be bum hunting / table selecting. Unless of course unless you are a loser. There are probably a couple of notable exceptions to this if you receive a massive prize each month or massive sponsorship dollars which mean you don’t need a BB/100 winrate to win. Note: Personally I find the term derogatory and think that poker bumhunting should be called table selection.
In my recently published book “Exploitive No Limit Hold’em” I draw an analogy to business. I ask who is your biggest client at the table? Your biggest client at the table is always the recreational player / fish. Who should you spend the most time focusing on how to beat? Again the answer is simple, The fish! When a recreational player leaves the table what should you do? Post another orbit? Post 2 more orbits? Snap sit out? The reality is it makes no difference to the poker ecosystem which you do. Who benefits from you playing another 3 orbits versus other regs? The answer is the poker operator who generates more rake, and possibly (though not necessarily) the best reg at the table who has a big edge against other regs. Who loses? Again the answer is professional poker players who are playing in a zero sum game with rake being scooped at an alarming rate. Even if you have an edge over the other players over and above the rake at the game, playing that table is still taking time and attention away from other tables that you could be winning more at….
These have all been considered to be “bad for the game” and poker bum hunting by some….
1) Moving to the Jesus seat? Is this a bad thing if you have the opportunity? No, and in fact I think it is a highly profitable move and something that most players already look to do. When I start games online and a fish sits in the regs always sit to the fish left. So rather than end up with the worst seat in the house it just makes sense to move. Let me flip this question around for those that think this is so “unethical”. Why should a table starter or someone playing short handed be at a positional disadvantage? What about giving the table starter an option to choose any seat he wishes once the table fills up… Poker operators?
2) Sitting out when the fish leaves. Alright when the fish leaves the table is it ok to leave? Who benefits from the regs staying? The poker operator benefits and the players do not. This is especially the case at low games where the rake is high. I have seen some players including Phil Galfond in his post on bumhunting suggest that players should at least plays some hands. What is the magic number? Where do you draw the line? Is it 3, 10, 20, 30? Who benefits if after a fish leaves the regs are forced to play 30 hands? Primarily only the poker operator at low games. At really high games where rake is insignificant the best of the remaining players benefits from more action.
3) Shortstacking. I talk about this extensively in my book in the chapter on “why why why 100BB”. Overall, I prefer deep stacked tables. The bigger the buy in in terms of blinds that is forced on players the better for poker players. I am fully supportive of all tables being 100BB minimum. However, that will never happen because it is bad for poker operators. Deeper buy-in games allow pros to take larger amounts from weaker players quickly and then the game shuts and the poker operator gets less rake per $1 of recreational money.
The reality is that table selecting is very good for the pocketbooks of poker players and very bad for the pocketbooks of poker operators.
Why Anonymous Poker Tables and Short Stack Tables are Bad For Players
Here are a couple of examples of what is good for operators but bad for poker players
1) Anonymous tables. I have written extensively about these tables. Why do they exist? Is it to stop bum hunting? Nooo not even close. Also, anonymous tables don’t stop bumhunting because these tables fill up whenever somebody limps at the table just like regular ones. Anonymous tables exists for one reason and one reason only. Poker operators think that they can make more money off of anonymous tables than regular tables. Why? All else being equal because anonymous tables essentially compress winrates and give regulars slightly less information to work with than they would have at regular tables.
2) Short Stack Tables. Ipoker has a ton of these 30/50 tables. I hate these games where the max buy-in is 50 BB. Why? Because again all this does is compress winrates…
If short stack tables are bad for winrates does that mean you should never play a short stack game? Absolutely not! There are tons of reasons why it may make sense in a particular situation and I talk about these in my book. Maybe it is late in a session and you are tired. Maybe you are playing higher stakes than normal on a smaller bankroll and you don’t want variance etc etc. So IMO all the players spending tons of time complaining about the poker ethics of other players they should be more focused on things that are really hurting the game.
1) Global Ring fencing… Unfortunately, countries are choosing to segregate their players and this is terrible for the game because we are losing liquidity and recreational players can’t find the kind of games they want to play in.
2) Deposit problems… Many poker websites now require you to submit tons of documentation when you deposit before you can play. You think that somebody hopping up from the table makes the game less fun? How about a poker operator that emails requiring passport, address, utility bill, etc etc. You then send it in and it takes a few days. Then they email you back saying that black and white scan isn’t sufficient and they need color…. How much fun does this sound like? The recreational player just says screw it and goes and plays live or not at all
3) Lowered Poker Marketing Budgets! Unless the industry spends money to attract recreational players they are not going to play poker.
4) Difficulty determining who is the best! This is a problem because unlike tennis that has Roger Federer and golf that has Tiger Woods the poker world doesn’t have that. There is too much luck in the game for the best player in the world to consistently win major tournaments (which is where the public watches). As a result it is very difficult to promote a particular player and build the brand so to speak
Alright so what drives the poker economy? I think we can all agree it is recreational money…So the question is does seat switching and/or leaving games when the fish leaves hurt the game? Also, if it does hurt the game should it matter? Is there a greater good here? Does it even matter?
I talked about some really major problems hurting poker, but these are difficult to address. Poker bum hunting / table selection is at most a very minor problem in the poker economy. However poker bum hunting is a major problem for the poker operator if pros start making too much too quickly and volumes dry up, but it isn’t a huge problem for players. Volume does not always correlate with winnings. Would you rather make 10k of EV in 30k hands or 10k of EV in 100k hands? The poker operator would clearly rather see 100k hands because they make more. You however should be indifferent and probably lean toward 30k.
Alright, so lets talk briefly about this whole idea that recreational players stop playing the game because a regular switches seats on him and that recreational players leave the game because games break when they leave… Really? I have played with a lot of recreational players online and live at the WSOP, casinos in Vegas, Atlantic City, Vancouver, Nottingham, really all over the world. I have found zero evidence to suggest this. If you can prove this too me I am open to the idea but I just don’t buy it. Sure you can give me some anecdotal story about a weak player that stopped playing and said it was because the game was too predatorial. However, I am highly skeptical of the idea that a whale will reduce his gambling/poker losses as a result of a player switching seats. Also, I can also give you an anecdotal story about weak players that love the fact they are the center of attention and the games stop when they leave. In fact, these are often the biggest whales who have made tons of money in their life, have big personalities, and don’t mind throwing away $50,000 in a night playing poker. They also like the attention and all the poker players running around trying to get the scraps because in some weird sort of way it makes them feel important. Don’t forget that some people are just gamblers and they don’t stop because some reg switched to the “jesus seat” on them. Hell, in many cases they don’t even know what the jesus seat is….
The point of this post was to get players away from being ego driven. I want my readers to win! If you want to win at this game then some kind of table selecting strategy / poker bum hunting is an essential part of that. Every good poker player either knows this or does it without knowing about it. Either way the result is the same. It amazes me how little some players realize the importance of poker bum hunting / having weak players in the game.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post. Since I don’t have any advertising on my website if you are enjoying this blog please consider buying my book.
Best of luck at the tables!
Written by Paul Ratchford aka ThePokerCapitalist