Sexton's Corner, Vol. 41: Mirage Serves Up 'Texas Hold'em Plus'
If you like action, big pots, and a chance to buy one extra card for a dollar at the beginning of a hand, you need to check out two special $3/6 tables at the Mirage in Las Vegas, Nevada, right away! As you walk into the poker room and look to the left or right, the third table over in either direction has a different red table cloth covering, featuring a new game logo for the players, Texas Hold'em Plus.
This new twist to hold'em is currently only being offered as a test at the Mirage poker room. If feedback is positive, don't be surprised to see this fun game offered later at all of the MGM casino properties that offer poker: Mirage, Bellagio, Treasure Island, Monte Carlo, MGM, Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay. (New York New York doesn't offer poker right now.) Before these eight poker rooms offer this choice to the players, the 60-day test period between March 25th and May 25th must pass the litmus test: Is it popular with the players and profitable for the house? I stopped by to see for myself last week, and the answer to both of these questions looks to be a resounding "Yes".
Texas Hold'em Plus was created by Sam Shehadeh, who has been in Las Vegas 23 years. Earlier, he was in the bar restaurant business. He dealt blackjack at the Marina Hotel Casino in 1985, and poker by 1986. Today he deals poker at the Red Rock Casino. I happen to know Sam, and can tell you he is one of those guys who walks into a poker room and immediately lights up the whole room with his smile. His philanthropic and friendly disposition caught my attention the first time I saw him walk in, saying hello to everyone. I wanted to meet him right away. He went from table to table saying hi, smiling and shaking hands. Everyone seemed to love this guy.
This past year Sam has been telling me about a new game he was creating, which he wanted to call Texas Hold'em Plus. He would relate that the game was under review by gaming authorities. It took six months to get it approved, but he did it. On his own he applied and received a patent as well. He presented it to a different casino first, and they liked it, but were worried how it might affect the jackpot, etc. Sam took the initiative to set an appointment up with the Mirage, and did a presentation for President Scott Sibella, Vice President Brian Binowitz, in charge of new games, and the Director of Poker Operations, Donna Harris. He brought his letter of approval from gaming with him and a table covering with his logo of the new game Texas Hold'em Plus. After listening and asking several questions, they asked Sam to leave everything with them and they would get back to him within a week. After a week, Sam found a contract in the mail that showed the Mirage was very interested in putting two tables in their poker room on a 60-day test basis, which once the contract was signed, began on March 25th.
Sam explained hi game concept as follows: "Tom, there are many times when I play hold'em I get bored. I might get one good card and one bad one. I've seen other players say, "If I could get this card replaced I could play this hand." So I thought, I wonder how the players would react if that wish could be granted. I discovered it built big pots for the players, which is always popular, and you don't see the small blind and big blind chop pots, as the full rake almost always happens for the house.
I went over last Thursday to jump into this game myself to better do this story for the readers. This has major potential to catch on with hold'em players. I had a lot of fun, more so than a regular hold'em game, I must say! The mechanics of the game are really quite simple:
Each player is dealt two hole cards as with regular hold'em. The player next to the big blind, under the gun, is first to decide if he wants to keep both hole cards or exercise the option to buy one new card for $1.00. If he wants to buy a new card he simply puts a dollar on top of it and moves it towards the dealer. The dealer will slide him his new card, and pull the dollar into the pot. This happens for each player in turn. If the player likes his first two hole cards dealt to him he simply waves his hand to indicate his cards are good, as in blackjack, or taps the table. Once everyone has done this, the betting begins as it normally would, with the player to the left of the big blind acting first. He can call the big blind, raise or fold as usual. Action continues as with regular hold'em.
As I enjoyed playing in this game, I noticed between four and seven players were very often buying a new card in the beginning of the hand for that extra dollar each. On the surface, I felt like the $4 rake was being donated back into the pot on every hand by the players I was trying to beat in the game. There was some monster pots built up that made playing Hold'em Plus a ball!
A lady sat down next to me who was on vacation from Cincinnati, Ohio. She was a doctor in emergency pediatrics for children, a most stressful job, as well as noteworthy. She told me, "I love this game. A couple of days ago I played it for the first time and won over $600!
I said, "That is a great win at the $3/$6 limit… congratulations!"
She was in Las Vegas on vacation with her mom, and had a cute round cardholder with her youngest son holding up two aces. She said she had three sons and a wonderful husband, who was happy for her she could go to Vegas with her mom, to relax from her stressful job for a week, while he played the mom at home. She had such a fun personality and seemed so well grounded in life's important priorities. The doctor wasn't in the game ten minutes and won two huge pots, laughing and raking in another big pot. She laughed and said, "I feel like my rush is still happening from the other night. I love this game!" I enjoyed watching her enjoy the game. A player like the doctor, having so much fun, is what poker is all about!
If you love poker around the $3/$6 limit, check out the only place in the world you can play Texas Hold'em Plus right now, the Mirage in Las Vegas. In fact, no matter what limit you play, go try this format out and see what you think. If it is popular with the players, you might see it at another limit as well in the future.
I had the chance to talk to Donna Harris, Director of Poker Operations at the Mirage. She truly is a legend in the industry, as she first started 28 years ago in 1980 at the Golden Nugget, became the poker room manager at the Mirage in 1989, and was promoted to Director of Poker Operations at the Mirage when the Bellagio opened around 1997. As I played in the new game for the first time, I looked up and watched Donna work the room, smiling and saying hi to various players. She came over to the full table I was at and said hello to everyone, and asked, "How do you like our new game?"
Several voices chimed in, "We love it!"
Donna replied, "That makes me happy to hear."
As Donna walked away to say hi to other players in the room, I thought how nice it is to introduce a new game for the player's enjoyment. A little later I went over to the check-in desk to get a brochure about Texas Hold'em Plus and saw Donna signing up new players for the waiting list and announcing names where a seat had opened up. As the regular employee returned from seating a player, Donna handed over the microphone to her and turned to a line of players waiting to get on the waiting list to say, "Here you go, she will do a better job than me." When you are a good manager, you know how to treat the customers and jump in and help out when needed, and do it with modesty. I was able to see firsthand why Donna Harris has been so successful in her career.
Congratulations to Sam Shehadeh for creating Texas Hold'em Plus, as it is uplifting to see something good happen for one of the nice guys in town. Players, remember the trial period ends May 25th, so if you want to have more fun in Hold'em than ever before, be sure and go to the Mirage and get on the waiting list to play Texas Hold'em Plus. It is action hold'em with an extra kick that is more fun and exciting, with larger pots all night long!
The Cab is Parked,
Tom Sexton is a featured columnist for PokerNews.com. Tom attended the University of Oklahoma on a full gymnastic scholarship, where he was captain of the team four straight years, becoming the first NCAA All-American and Big Eight Champion in OU's gymnastics history in 1968. The Sexton family is well established in poker and includes Tom's brother Mike, the World Poker Tour commentator and poker's "First Ambassador", as voted by his peers. Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his articles. His e-mail is TSStarbuck1@aol.com.