Splash Pots Change Everything

Have you ever been in a splash pot? It’s a promotion some poker rooms run occasionally. They spin a wheel or otherwise randomly pick a table, then come over and drop some amount of money into the next pot that’s dealt.

For example, you’re playing $2/3 no-limit Hold’em (NLHE). Your table wins the splash pot promotion; a floorman walks over and drops two green $25 chips in the middle of the table as the dealer finishes the shuffle. That $50 is part of the upcoming pot.

What adjustments should you make?

It may not be initially obvious, but you are suddenly in a very big NLHE game with short stacks. There is $55 dead in the middle of the table ($5 in blinds plus $50 from the splash promotion). This is the same amount of money that would be dead in the pot if you were playing $18/36 NLHE. Suppose the average stack around the table is $300; 100 big blinds (BBs) in your regular $2/3 game. Now that $300 represents just shy of 8.5 BBs in your one-hand $18/36 game.

Does this sound familiar? If you’re a tournament player, it will. If it will help you frame the problem, consider this: suppose you’re in a tournament and have 3,000 chips. The blinds are now 180 and 360. You’re thinking about either shoving or folding the next hand you get, right? If you’re not, I encourage you to read this article.

But let’s say that you immediately said, “Oh, I have less than 9 BBs in the tournament; yes, I’m looking for a hand to jam all-in, and I’m folding everything else.” Great, then I hope you’ll agree you are in an identical situation in this cash game. I mean, it’s a weird way to get there because a floorman just dropped $50 on the table. Of course, it’s a free $50 coming to the table, and no complaints. You just have to adjust your strategy.

Let’s say you get 77 two to the left of the big blind, and the first player to act folds. What’s your correct play? Let’s ask SnapShove [cue computer computation music]. SnapShove says with 8.5 BBs and “UTG+1” position, you should shove: 55+, A8s+, A5s, AJo+, K9s+, KQo, QTs+, JTs, and T9s. To decode that: all pairs 55 and better, all suited aces A8s and better, A5s specifically (it can make a wheel), offsuit aces down to AJo, and so on.

You’ve got 77, so what do you do? You rip in your entire $300 stack.

“Are you nuts, Lee? You want me to shove my entire $300 stack with 77?”

It doesn’t really matter to me what you do. I’m just telling you the correct thing to do. If you want your fair share of that $55 that’s dead in the pot, you should politely tell the dealer that you’re all-in. It’s quite likely that nobody will call you. If somebody does call you, then you’re probably flipping at best (against two overcards) and may be in a world of hurt against a bigger pocket pair. That’s what we call “poker.”

Let’s look at a likely scenario: somebody calls you with AK offsuit, everybody else folds, and the dealer gets ready to run out the cards. You are a 55:45 favorite, if you share one suit with your opponent. There’s $655 in the pot, of which your rightful share is .55 x $655 = $360. Of course, absent some pathological board run-out, you will either win $355 or lose $300. But your expected win is $60.

Now, you might say, “Suppose I put in a big raise that will likely blow everybody off the pot?” Well, let’s pretend you raise to $80; a stupidly big raise in a $2/3 game. But one person calls. Now there’s $215 in the pot ($55 + $80 + $80) and your stacks are $220. Awesome, you have a stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) of 1:1, and (unless you flop a set) one middling pair and no idea of whether you have the best hand after the flop. But you can’t ever fold because the stacks are so short.

Shoving all your chips in the middle solves that problem.

“But Lee…” (You do talk back a lot during this session, don’t you?) “Nobody else at the table is doing that; they’re putting in regular raises, and limping and stuff.”

I’m so glad you brought that up. It gives me a chance to quote David Sklansky, who doesn’t get quoted enough these days. He said, about situations such as this:

If there's something I know about the game that the other person doesn't, and if he's not willing to learn or can't understand, then I take his money.

He said it almost 40 years ago, in Al Alvarez’s brilliant book, Biggest Game in Town. But it’s still true today, and applies perfectly to splash pots. If you play them correctly, and your opponents don’t, then you take their money. Maybe not on this specific hand, and maybe not on the next one. But if you keep playing splash pots correctly and they keep playing them incorrectly, then eventually you take their money.

Feel free to share this information. Or don’t. Your decision.

N.B. I need to thank poker buddy Larry Landay for bringing the specific hand, and the splash pot idea in general, to me.

Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.