Poker room promotions like bad beat jackpots, high hand bonuses, and time-based free-rolls bring locals and tourists alike in to fill seats and generate action. And if you’ve ever sat in these games, you know players are constantly talking about them, and adjusting their play, often in counterintuitive ways. How do we adjust strategically, if at all? Doug Hull is on the podcast this week to break it down.

Featuring: Shaw & Hull

Time-Based Tournament Freerolls

Hull says, “Here in Vegas, I would say promotions are set up to do one thing: Take money away from tourists, and give it to locals.”

These promotions serve the same purpose as proposition players in California, who are there to keep games running and generate action at times when there might be a lull in signups at the front desk of the poker room.

Freerolls are perhaps the most popular promotion in Las Vegas, and as Hull explains, they are based on putting in a set amount of time at the tables, which qualifies you for a freeroll tournament with a very flat payout structure at the top.

Hull relates his recent experience qualifying for one of these tournament series through grinding miserable games where “old man coffee” players bring min-stacks to the table and nit it up to qualify for their minimum time allotment, only to donk off stacks in their freeroll tournaments. Having binked one of the three lead-up tourneys, Hull was so uninterested he slept through the final freeroll. Doug wants drunk tourists and deep stacks, and you’re not going to find that in a free-roll room — let alone his short session style doesn’t jive with the 8-10 hour sessions needed to qualify. He found himself not playing his A game after a while.

Despite these games sounding like they ought to be avoided at all costs, at least one fellow Red Chipper, Kat Martin, swears by them and makes a steady profit not just in qualifying for the freerolls in talent-light games full of exploitable players, but in cashing in the freerolls themselves at 50% and above.

High Hand Bonuses

Pre-flop we should not be adjusting our play at all in light of bonuses existing. Chances of hitting a high hand on the flop are so small, even with a low qualifying hand like quad deuces. The odds are so remote it should not affect decision-making.

Post-flop, Hull might rarely change his strategy depending on the size of the high hand jackpot. If you have an inside straight draw to a royal and you know you’re going to win if you hit it, it does add equity to your call. Every out is 2% of the deck, so if the high hand jackpot is $100, for example, you get an additional $2 in equity when you call or let another card roll off.

Doug was playing a hand where the high hand jackpot was six grand. On the turn, he had an open-ended straight flush draw. Outs to hit a big high hand jackpot will add equity. He was 2nd of 3 players and he was going to go for a check raise on the turn when he hit the straight flush draw. 3rd guy bets, 1st guy check raises, now he’s got no fold equity. So he makes a suspicious check-call. On the river, it bricks out, it goes check/check and the 3rd guy bets. Doug check raises the river, and gets the fold because he made the suspicious turn flat. That’s turning lemons into lemonade.

How Jackpots Affect Other Players

Doug tells a story about a lady he ran into who called herself Mamacita at Binions who took him aside and said, “We don’t raise here, we have to hit the high hand jackpot.”

Mamacita was absolutely obsessed with hitting flops. She was going to hit this bonus no matter what — even though it was only $200. This woman would not raise any pocket pair, including aces preflop. If she raised aces preflop, someone might fold and then she would have had to miss the possibility of hitting quads. Hull actually saw her not raise aces preflop. It was no longer poker to her, it was hitting quads. Doug would raise huge when she limped because she would call almost anything.

“If anything, it messes with your hand reading because people do really strange things pre-flop,” Hull says, because they want to hit that jackpot so badly.

If you do the math, your odds of hitting the high hand jackpots is ridiculously small.

Bad Beat Jackpots

Hull doesn’t worry about bad beat jackpots at all.

“Just the massive size of them should give you a hint as to how common they really are.”

So, if the bad beat jackpot is $100,000, and $1 is coming out of each pot, that means nobody has qualified for the bad beat in the last 100,000 hands.

Hull only has been in one qualifying bad beat hand in his life of playing poker, and he’s played a ton. Unfortunately, as he says, it was not in a card room that was running a bad beat jackpot.

Tipping on Bonuses & Tax Implications

Hull gives a great tip on tipping dealers who are responsible for dealing jackpot hands. If you tip them at the table, they are going to have to pay taxes on that tip. However, if you tip them a small amount at the table and then ask to meet them for a drink afterword, you can give them a tax-free “gift” that they can keep 100% of.

Hull and Shaw remind listeners that these jackpots get taxed, so don’t get allured by the big figures when you’re going to be handing a sizable chunk of it to the IRS. They will bring you the tax form right when they hand you the money.

Hull says that at best, these bonuses and jackpots are break-even EV, and more likely -EV, because you’re likely never going to realize the $1 that comes out of the pot, and even if you do, often times there are other fees besides taxes taken out — it’s basically another rake. But certainly keep other players on your radar who might be making strategic mistakes.

  • moishetreats

    GREAT article. Thank you!! I appreciate the glimpse into the mindset and play of other players and relative impact (i.e., next to none) that it should have on our game.

    One point needs clarification, though: “So, if the bad beat jackpot is $100,000, and $1 is coming out of each pot, that means nobody has qualified for the bad beat in the last 100,000 hands.” That’s not true. Most casinos have a second bad beat pot in-hand for when the first one hits. When a bad beat hand hits, there is already a lesser pot ready to take its place. That money comes out of the same $1 per pot. In addition, at least at my local casino, all the other promotions that they do (e.g., aces cracked, high hand, etc.) all come from that same $1. If anything, though, this makes your point even stronger. If, say, only 50 cents of every $1 goes to the main bad beat hand, then it has been 200,000 hands that haven’t qualified…