Why just get drunk in Vegas, when you can get paid to get drunk in Vegas?
Author’s note: I first wrote about poker-drinking in a post on All Vegas Poker a little over two years ago. Since then, the Vegas poker-drinking scene has changed, primarily for the worse, as many poker rooms continue to reduce the quality of the free booze they serve. So, I figured it was time to bring my analysis of poker-drinking to my new blog, along with some updating and editing. If you read the original on AVP, there’s not much new to see here, other than an updating of the poker-drinking rankings for Vegas poker rooms. To those of you who do not frequent AVP, I hope you find this series of seven posts either enlightening or entertaining. If not, have a drink and you’ll forget all about it!
Introduction: The poker boom of the past decade has brought forth myriad books, manuals, treatises, and websites devoted to improving poker playing skills. These publications have fed the swarms of poker locusts who inhabit most Vegas poker rooms, stripping every last chip from the assorted donkeys, fish, duck-billed Ed-Hardy-wearing platypi, and conventioneers who find themselves attracted to the olfactory siren song of cigarette breath, three day old underwear, and pieces of sandwiches putrefying in the fat rolls of the guy in the five—and six—seat.
But what about the casual poker player, the intrepid soul whose sole purpose for playing poker is that it seems like a “cool” way to get hammered while losing less money than playing $25 blackjack next to a tattoo-covered LA trust fund baby and looking more manly than playing nickel slots next to a chain-smoking granny? Although the poker-drinker is a common denizen of the Vegas poker scene, his (and he is male more than 98.62% of the time) unique poker strategies have not been subjected to rigorous mathematical and game theory analysis. The current poker-drinker is forced to live by his wits, learning by trial and error and the occasional “secret tip” from a degenerate fraternity brother.
Such a situation is a travesty that can no longer be tolerated. Casual poker players deserve to know for certain whether they are getting drunk on their own dime, or are being fed mother’s milk and whiskey from the swollen teats of the Vegas casino cash cows. This brief treatise is the result of my analysis (often interrupted by the annoyance of “work”) of the proper strategy for getting hammered in Vegas poker rooms. Although my treatise is based on solid intellectual theory, my conclusions have been tested and validated through extensive field research conducted by myself and a number of dedicated volunteer researchers (primarily my fellow degenerate Ironmen of Poker). At this point, I am confident we have established the validity of the “Fundamental Poker-Drinking Theorem”:
Utilizing optimal strategy, drinking at the poker table is profitable.
In analyzing this theorem, we begin with the core principle of poker-drinking: to drink the most of the best for the least. The key to understanding this core principle is that in Vegas, it is possible to drink without gambling, but it is very expensive to do so. Consequently, the goal of the sophisticated poker-drinker is to play poker and simultaneously consume free drinks for less than the equivalent price of booze—or beer, or fruity drinks, or Zima Gold, whatever trips your liver—in a Vegas bar.
Rule I: Every dollar saved on booze at the poker table is a dollar earned.
My research and analysis has enabled me to isolate several factors that bore a positive correlation to poker-drinking profits. Surprisingly, the relative “hotness” of the wait staff, a factor long held to be an essential part of the Vegas poker-drinking scene, actually had no impact on actual drinking profits. Instead, I was able to narrow the relevant variables to the following: a) drinking rate (DR); b) value of booze consumed (VBC); and c) poker playing costs (PC). Using these variables, a serious poker-drinker can maximize his “expected drinking value” (EDV) by finding poker rooms and games that offer high positive EDV and avoiding rooms and games that offer negative EDV. The exact mathematical formula for calculating EDV is:
EDV = (DR * VBC) – PC
where EDV is expressed in dollars per hour, DR is expressed in drinks per hour, VBC is expressed in dollars per drink, and PC is expressed in dollars per hour.
Well, that’s a pretty scientific looking formula and everything, but at this point, the typical poker-drinker is thinking, “I’m hung-over, and I spent high school math class staring at the cheerleader in the third row. If I could figure pot odds, I’d be raking in the cash and babes playing online poker in my boxers. How am I supposed to use this brilliant formula without a bloody mary? Excuse me, I need to go hit on that cocktail waitress.”
The beauty of the EDV formula is that it allows us to analyze how to maximize EDV. By looking at each factor individually, we can determine how to apply the formula to real life situations, resulting in a profitable poker-drinking experience. Intrigued? Well, pour yourself a drink and settle in for an explanation on maximizing your poker-drinking EDV.
Rule II: The faster you drink, the more money you make. Conversely, nursing a drink is like burning money.
In the poker-drinking expected drinking value (EDV) formula, drinking rate (DR) is a positive variable, meaning that, as DR increases, so does EDV. Further, DR has a multiplicative effect on another positive variable, value of booze consumed (VBC). So, increasing your DR has a synergistic effect in increasing your EDV.
How do you increase your DR in real life? First, drink faster! You can’t get drink number 2 until drink number 1 is finished, nor can you get drink number 26 until you finish drinks 1-25.
Second, look for poker rooms with numerous cocktail waitresses who are quick to get refills. A poker-drinking binge is not the time to find a room with one or two “hot” waitresses who spend most of their shift sucking up to the high rollers and ignoring you at your baby game table (more on how you got to that table later). Instead, choose the room with the hard-boiled veteran servers with the big hair and obvious plastic surgery who are five years and 50 pounds from being Starr Jones or Rosie O’Donnell who know that hustle gets tips. Looks don’t pay the drinking bills! Every minute that you spend at the table without a drink is a minute that is lowering your EDV, and literally sucking money out of your drinking bankroll.
But drinking faster is only one piece of the poker-drinking puzzle. To truly maximize your poker-drinking profits, you must channel your inner drinking diva.
Rule III: The better the booze, the more money you make. Conversely, drinking cheaply is like sending cash to a Nigerian email scam artist.
This rule is already fairly well-understood by most professional poker-drinkers. However, the mathematical impact of drinking top shelf liquor is probably underestimated by the casual poker-drinker. Looking at the expected drinking value (EDV) formula, value of booze consumed (VBC) is not only a positive variable, but it also has a multiplicative effect on the drinking rate (DR) variable. So, not only is one top shelf drink a profitable play by itself, but many top shelf drinks will have an even more profound positive effect on EDV.
How do you increase your VBC in real life? Easy, play at poker rooms that offer top shelf liquor, like the Venetian, Aria, Wynn, or Bellagio. Avoid places that limit you to Schlitz or Zima Gold. Perhaps the most common error casual poker-drinkers make, however, is ordering cheap drinks when expensive booze is available. Always upgrade your drink.
Rule III(a): Coffee is for closers, well drinks are for losers.
Rule III(b): Beer drinkers go broke.
If you have a choice between a $4 beer, a $6 well drink, and a $10-$12 top shelf drink, choosing anything but the top shelf drink is a -EDV play. Similarly, if you can choose between a poker room that offers drinks in the $10-$12 range and a poker room that offers drinks in the $5-$6 range, you not only cost yourself the difference in drink price, but that error is compounded each time you order another drink. You may think that the walk from the MGM to the Venetian is long and hot, and you are out of shape and wearing all black in mid-July, but not taking that walk will have a devastating effect on your drinking bankroll.
Once you have mastered maximizing your DR and VBC, you are ready to take the big step from poker-drinking hobbyist to poker-drinking pro.
Rule IV: The cheaper the poker game, the more money you make. Don’t blow your drinking bankroll on poker.
Many casual poker-drinkers pay little or no attention to game selection. Instead, they just take the first table available, or play the poker game they are most familiar with, without evaluating the costs of that game. This laissez-faire (French for “I don’t giving a flying pig!”) attitude is a major leak for many casual poker-drinkers.
When evaluating your poker costs (PC), keep in mind that there are two factors contributing to the total PC: fixed costs (FC) over which you have no control (e.g., blinds and antes), and betting costs (BC) which are purely voluntary (e.g., your stupid choice to call a raise and a reraise in EP with 7-4 suited, just because they are suited and April 7 is your birthday). For a professional poker-drinker, FC is the most important factor in game selection.
Rule IV(a): Seek poker games where you can maximize your booze-to-blinds ratio.
Presently, the most common poker games spread in Vegas casinos are limit and no-limit Texas Hold’ Em, although Omaha and some mixed games can be found. The exact type of game is, however, irrelevant to the poker drinker—he should be focused solely on the blinds and antes, which represent the FC for the game.
To analyze FC, consider a poker room that offers 1-2 NLHE, 2-4 LHE, 2-5 NLHE, 4-8 LHE, and 6-12 Omaha8 (any games with blind structures above 2-5NL or 8-16L are, by definition, -EDV and should be avoided). The FC per orbit for each game is $3, $3, $7, $6, and $9, respectively. In order to break even at a particular game, assuming you do not play beyond posting your blinds and folding (the “muck and slurp” strategy), you must consume alcohol every orbit that equals or exceeds the FC for the game. Put another way, your VBC / orbit >= FC / orbit. This concept is known as the booze-to-blinds ratio.
Assume you are playing at the MGM poker room, with a maximum drink value of $6 for well drinks or decent beer (we’ll assume you were too drunk and/or hung-over to risk the walk to the Venetian or Aria). You can choose between playing 1-2NLHE, 2-5NLHE, and 4-8LHE. Inexperienced poker-drinkers usually make the mistake of assuming that, because 4-8LHE “plays smaller” in poker terms, it also plays smaller for a poker-drinker. Picking the 4-8LHE game, however, is a significant error. The booze-to-blinds ratios for the three games are 2:1 for the 1-2NLHE game but only 1:1 for the 4-8LHE game (and just slightly worse for the 2-5NLHE game). In other words, the 1-2NLHE game is twice as profitable as the 4-8NLHE game! A poker-drinker who drinks one drink per orbit will make a healthy profit at the 1-2NLHE game, but will only break even at the 4-8LHE game.
Ideally, in order to maximize your booze-to-blinds ratio, you will want to seek out games where high value booze is served, and low limit games are spread. For example, if Aria and the Venetian each serve premium booze, but Aria spreads 1-3NLHE as its smallest game, while the Venetian spreads 1-2NLHE, then the Venetian offers a more profitable drinking opportunity. If a poker room cannot offer you at least a 1:1 booze-to-blinds ratio, then the game simply cannot be beat, and it’s time to find a $5 pai gow table, or a convention or wedding reception with an open bar.
Rule IV(b): Seek poker games where you can maximize your drink-to-orbit ratio.
Because your FC correlates directly with the number of orbits of poker played, you will want to find a game where you can consume the greatest number of drinks in the fewest number of orbits. This concept is known as the drink-to-orbit ratio.
The drink-to-orbit ratio is a corollary to the drinking rate (DR) concept previously discussed. Both concepts focus on how to get the most booze in the least time. For DR, the focus is on increasing the booze delivery rate, while the drink-to-orbit ratio is focused on slowing the rate of payment of the blinds. A lot of factors can affect your drink-to-orbit ratio. Ideally, if you are able to choose between several different games that have the same blinds, you will want to look for the slowest playing table. This requires you to take a moment to read the table texture—the mix of player types at the table that will affect the general tempo of the game, and consequently will dictate the rate at which you will be posting blinds.
Signs of a slow (profitable) table include lots of young players, preferably wearing hoodies, sunglasses, blingy jewelry, iPods, and similar “online player” paraphernalia; these players will contest many pots to the river, with much posturing and numerous unnecessary “thinking” delays, slowing the rate of total hands played. Obvious newbies and conventioneers at a table are great, as they will make many errors that need correction (hopefully even needing a time-consuming floor decision), and will also need to think extensively over every decision. A hot female player at a table is also great, as many of the guys will be distracted from playing by attempting to flirt with her, and may also play more hands in an attempt to impress her (don’t bother with this strategy—she’s probably a better player than you and won’t be impressed by your poker "skillz", not to mention babes interfere with booze consumption). Bachelor parties or groups of fraternity buddies will be both slow and entertaining. Finally, if there appears to be a series of less experienced dealers in line for a table, that table may offer an opportunity for slow deals, slower play, and multiple dealer errors requiring floor rulings.
Signs of a fast (unprofitable) table include lots of old rock types who muck every hand even before getting their last card. Games with no chitchat or laughter, or with everyone wearing an iPod are terrible as well, since serious play is generally fast play. If you get stuck at this type of table, you can slow the pace by taking extra time to make all of your preflop decisions (which should be to fold every time—you’re here to drink, not play poker, remember?).
Rule IV(c): Take advantage of drinking freerolls.
In many poker rooms, poker-drinkers are given opportunities to receive free booze without posting blinds. Taking advantage of these drinking freerolls can pad your drinking bankroll.
For example, many poker rooms require you to post a big blind before beginning to play, or you may wait until the big blind reaches you. Why post a big blind in this situation when you can sit at the table and order drinks for free? Consequently, when sitting down at a new table, sit in the seat furthest from posting the next big blind, then kick back and knock down a free drink or two while waiting for the button to make its way around the table.
Similarly, many poker rooms permit you to be absent from the table for periods up to one hour without posting blinds. Take advantage of this situation by leaving the table just before your big blind hits, but get a free drink before you leave. Come back to the table periodically and get additional free drinks, but do not post back into the game. Instead, indicate you will wait for your blinds, then leave the table just prior to their arrival. Repeat until just prior to the expiration of your allotted absence time, post back into the game, then repeat at the next orbit. You may get some angry comments from the “serious” players, but don’t let those remarks shake you from your rock solid game plan. Plus, since you should be pleasantly schnockered, who cares what anyone else thinks?
Now that you have selected the correct poker game, it's time to address some important advanced poker-drinking techniques that will maximize your profits.
Rule V: Use drinking profits to offset poker losses.
In evaluating your total poker-drinking costs, the fixed costs (FC) (blinds and antes) are only one-half of the equation. Many professional poker-drinkers can turn a small but consistent drinking profit by simply folding every hand, thereby keeping their betting costs (BC) at $0 (the "muck and slurp" strategy noted earlier). For those poker-drinkers willing to accept the risk of greater variance, however, actually playing poker can offer greater profits (as well as the risk of greater losses).
An important concept to remember is that poker winnings are actually –BC. Thus, poker winnings directly reduce the total PC, and directly increase expected drinking value (EDV). In other words, poker winnings are +EDV. Conversely, poker losses are +BC and thus are –EDV.
These concepts can be helpful in evaluating marginal poker-drinking opportunities. For example, say you are at a poker room where you can play only 4-8LHE, and the maximum drink value is only $5. Your booze-to-blinds ratio is just under 1:1, and this room cannot be a profitable situation unless you have an extraordinary DR (>1 drink/orbit). However, if you are able to win >$1/orbit from poker, a marginal poker-drinking situation suddenly becomes slightly profitable.
Tight-aggressive poker-drinking strategy includes folding your blinds even when there is no preflop raise. A more loose-aggressive approach, however, is to see the flop in those no-raise situations, hoping to hit a monster poker hand and gaining a large –PC / +EDV windfall. This approach does cost an additional small blind per orbit, and thus your FC increases accordingly; this effect can be offset by drinking faster, thereby increasing your drinking rate (DR).
Rule V(a): Bad and unlucky poker players must drink more expensive booze at a faster rate.
Because poker losses increase your PC and are –EDV, you must offset those poker losses in some fashion to maintain +EDV. This can be accomplished by increasing your value of booze consumed (VBC) (i.e., ordering more expensive booze), or by drinking a faster rate (increasing your DR). In the case of large losses, you will need to drink ultra-top shelf booze at a frat-party rate (two drinks per orbit in some cases). In fact, switching to pure ultra-top shelf hard alcohol (e.g., single malt scotch on the rocks or premium tequila straight up) is your most profitable move as these drinks are pricey and can be slammed. Getting a bottle of comped Dom Perignon by claiming it is your first anniversary is an alternative approach for those wimps who cannot stomach the hard stuff (hey, it’s always the first anniversary of something in your life!).
As an example, assume you are playing 1-2NLHE or 1-2PLO. A bad beat that cost you $50 can be offset by consuming an additional five $12 drinks in two orbits ($60 in booze, less $6 in blinds, gives drinking profit of $54, which more than offsets your poker loss). The extra booze push will also limit additional poker losses as you will accelerate your pass out / thrown out point (POTOP)—defined as that point in a poker-drinking outing when your intoxication level terminates your poker-drinking activities due to either passing out or being thrown out of the poker room.
Speaking of passing out, we have arrived at the most critical finding in our poker-drinking analysis—the consideration of position.
Rule VI: Poker-drinking position is critical to profitable poker-drinking.
Many novice poker-drinkers are oblivious to the critical role of position in selecting a poker-drinking game. Unlike in poker, position for a poker-drinker is quite literal—it refers to the poker-drinker’s physical status:
Early position—An “early position” poker-drinker is early in his day (usually starting noonish to mid-afternoon). He is fully upright and able to ambulate without difficulty to any poker room on the Strip. He is able to appreciate the quality of the premium liquor he is consuming. He has a long period in which to maximize his poker-drinking profits (POTOP = 9 to 18 hours).
Middle position—A “middle position” poker-drinker is midway through his day, usually beginning after a late dinner (preferably a heavy Italian or Mexican dinner to better absorb the free booze and prolong the POTOP). He is usually reclining in his chair, can stumble without assistance as far as the next casino, and is able to tolerate short, low-speed cab rides without puking. He is not able to distinguish premium booze from well drinks, but is still sober enough to order “the good stuff.” His poker-drinking profit window is beginning to close (POTOP = 3 to 9 hours).
Late position—A late position poker-drinker is winding down his day, usually marked by eating pizza by the slice. He is close to horizontal or slumped forward almost to his knees, but can still stagger to the restroom and post his blinds with assistance from the dealer. He is not capable of operating an elevator, and moving walkways confuse him. He will order booze by grunting, “Beer!” or “Gin & tonic!”, but will drink whatever rotgut is placed in front of him. His poker-drinking window is closing rapidly, along with most major organ systems. (POTOP <= 3 hours).
Rule VI(a): Your starting casino requirements will vary depending upon your position.
It is important to match where you drink to your ability to drink. In early position, limit yourself to playing only in poker rooms with high booze-to-blinds ratios. Your goal in early position is to maximize your profits while enjoying premium booze. Also, in early position, you have the physical ability to walk to any poker room, so there is no reason to settle for second best. In early position, your wit, charm, and American Idol-inspired attire will prove irresistible to women. Generally speaking, early position casinos include: Venetian, Wynn, Aria, and Bellagio.
In middle position, your ability to walk or ride to another poker room is somewhat compromised, as is your ability to appreciate whatever you are pouring down your throat (though you can still distinguish “whiskey” from “rum” and will refuse to drink Zima Gold). Your POTOP is still far enough off you want to continue making money while drinking, but you would be content with merely breaking even since you will be able to hit on drunken girls at a bar near the poker room. In middle position, you can open up your casino requirements to include: MGM, Mirage, Mandalay Bay, TI, Monte Carlo, Hard Rock, Bally's (noteworthy for its unsurpassed drink service rate), Planet Hollywood, and Imperial Palace.
In late position, your sole poker-drinking goal is to get enough booze in you either to pass out or work up the nerve to call one of those girls on the “porn slapper” cards you collected earlier in the day (just to plant on a married bud for a joke, of course). Because your POTOP window is so short, you will not win or lose much money by poker-drinking, so your casino options are generally limited mostly by non-poker considerations (e.g., how close is your hotel, where is your girlfriend staying, where did the hooker tell you to meet her, are cigarettes or secondhand smoke available, etc.). Typical late position casinos include: Sahara, Luxor, Excalibur, Rio, Flamingo, Harrah's, and Caesars Palace (perhaps the worst poker-drinking value on the Strip).
Rule VI(b). Excess tipping is only effective in late position.
In considering tips for the cocktail waitresses you will encounter, it should be noted that the basic EDV equation includes an assumption that a poker-drinker will tip $1/drink. Because the point of calculating EDV is to determine if your drinking is more or less profitable than sitting in a bar, and since the typical drinker will tip approximately $1/drink in the bar, a similar assumption is incorporated into the value of booze consumed (VBC) variable so that you are comparing apples to apples and scotch to scotch. Many casual poker-drinkers believe they can increase their drinking rate (DR) and/or VBC by giving their cocktail waitress a large tip (typically $5-$10) up front; this is known as the excess tipping maneuver. The expectation of these poker-drinkers is that the waitress, overcome by their amazing generosity, will provide faster service (increasing their DR) and/or better quality booze (increasing their VBC), resulting in higher EDV. This assumption is false.
Early position casinos tend to be high class joints focused on the big money players. In an early position casino, a $5-$10 up front tip is like throwing your drink in the face of some obnoxious twit in a bar—momentarily satisfying, but still a waste of a good drink (and the money you spent on it). Since the early position casino already serves top-shelf booze, an excess tip cannot improve your VBC. With respect to DR, the waitress in an early position casino will pocket your excess tip and continue to focus on the high rollers who flip her green and black (and the occasional purple) chips; your level of service will be unchanged because to the service industry vultures, players like you are nothing more than small time roadkill compared to the bloated whale carcasses of the high rollers.
You might expect the excess tipping maneuver to have better results in a middle position casino; you would be wrong. Middle position casinos fall into two categories: high class joints serving middle class booze, and middle class joints serving middle class booze. In the high class joint, you get the same treatment as in an early position casino, but with an extra serving of open contempt to reinforce your roadkill status. In the middle class joint, you get noticeably better treatment, but the waitresses generally cannot upgrade your booze. Further, the improved treatment does not continue unless you consistently tip > $1 / drink thereafter, which makes the excess tip a net drain on your EDV. Given that middle position casinos already have limited +EDV due to middling VBC, continuous excess tips are generally enough to make the middle position casino a –EDV.
But what if you excess tip up front, but then only tip the standard $1 / drink thereafter? In theory this could be a +EDV situation, except for human nature. Think back to high school and that girl who would let guys get to second or third base on the first date. Now assume she dated you once, you hit an inside the park home run, and then she decided to join the born-again-virgin movement and save herself for “love”. Would you go on a second, or third, or tenth date with her? Of course not. Similarly, to the waitress you excess tip up front but never excess tip again, you have become the born-again-virgin tipper; don’t expect her to linger at your table lovingly passing you booze if you aren’t putting out.
In late position, interestingly, the excess tipping maneuver in fact has some +EDV. In late position casinos, tips may or may not occur, and when they do, they are in a range where your $5-$10 looks pretty generous. In fact, an excess tip could easily double your DR, and possibly move you from swill to middle-class booze. The excess tipping maneuver, however, is dependent on being able to play long enough to recoup your initial investment, so do not attempt the maneuver if your POTOP is < 2 hours, or if the waitress in question will be changing shifts or genders prior to your departure. CAUTION: the late position casino is not the place to give out real names and hotel room numbers with your real tips; you’re now a high-roller who might get rolled.
Conclusion: Hopefully this mathematical and game theory analysis will prove helpful to players of all ability levels in their quest to analyze the leaks in their poker-drinking games. After all, why just get drunk in Vegas, when you can get paid to get drunk in Vegas?