'Bomb Pots' Need to Be Defused
If you're a live cash poker player and haven't encountered a "bomb pot" yet, it won't be long before you see one. A bomb pot is an agreement by all players to ante some amount, then the hole cards are dealt and the flop put out. Play proceeds "normally" from that point, with every player having seen the flop with totally random hands, for about five times the usual ticket price.
Bomb pots are exploding in popularity. They're also hurting the game.
Look, I'm all for fun in poker. Poker is a game, and it's supposed to be enjoyable, so doing something weird and crazy on occasion is awesome. But this particular weird crazy thing is not the way forward. Allow me to elaborate.
A typical ante in a bomb pot is five times the big blind. In a $1/$3 game, that would be $15 per person. Let's look at the math.
At a nine-player table, each player posts a $15 bomb-pot ante, creating a $135 pot before the cards are dealt. Suddenly what was a healthy-sized $300 stack (in fact, often the maximum permitted buy-in) is reduced to a stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) of just 2-to-1.
When SPRs are that low, stacks go in. A common outcome is that two or three players get all in, and one player wins a monster pot. Which is good for that player, but bad for the table, as two other players just got busted.
There is a danger that one or both will leave, which weakens the game. There is also a danger that the winner will be unwilling to have his new $900 stack at risk and also leave, taking three full buy-ins off the table and further weakening the game.
Furthermore, the poker gets, well, weird. Nine random hands saw the flop. At this point, you can forget all the study you've done about ranging your opponents. Forget what you know about reading the preflop action.
Suppose you wake up with pocket kings in a bomb pot, and the flop is 8-3-3. Here's a sobering statistic: your opponents have 16 random cards among them. There is a 53 percent chance that at least one of those opponents has at least one trey. And because of the low SPRs, there's not enough play left to learn who has what. If you think there's a decent chance you have the best hand, you have to put all the money in and hope you're right. If I wanted to play pots with SPRs of 2, I'd go play tournaments.
It's not good for the players or the game when everybody's session results are heavily skewed by a small number of artificially massive pots — pots that eliminate a fair chunk of the skill we've worked so hard to acquire.
But all is not lost. As I wrote above, poker should be fun and exciting, and bomb pots are both. But they've gone too far, too often. Here are three suggestions for keeping bomb pots, but without hurting the game:
1. Make the bomb-pot ante double the size of the big blind.
In a $1/$3 bomb pot where the ante was 2x (rather than 5x), the ante would be $6 per player. $6 x 9 is $54, which is a very healthy pot when the flop is being dealt. But instead of an SPR of 2, we've got an SPR closer to 6. That's going to incite plenty of action, but without severely limiting the amount of poker that remains to be played.
2. Deal two complete boards, with the pot being split between the winners of each board (unless one person scoops both).
This change has two good outcomes. First, it's likely that the pot will be split, which spreads the wealth around a bit. Second, double boards restore some of the preflop order to the game.
As noted, if you have pocket kings and it's a bomb pot, you get no chance to protect them preflop or earn Sklansky Bucks by charging the other players extra to see the flop. However, it's unlikely that a random hand will outflop pocket kings on both boards. Sure, T-3-offsuit will crush the kings on the 8-3-3 flop. But barring a pathological outcome, the kings will win the other board. This restores a semblance of the preflop hand ranking and mitigates the chaos caused by nine random hands seeing the flop.
3. Don't forget the dealers.
Whenever playing a bomb pot, I propose that before the cards are dealt, the dealer is tipped $5 from the pot for putting up with all the shenanigans, particularly if there are multiple boards involved.
Good cash games thrive on a delicate balance of winners and losers, and of fun and serious poker. The bomb pot threatens that balance, but as you have seen, there are easy adjustments we can make that would mitigate that threat, and allow bomb pots to be a fun action boost that doesn't warp the game.
P.S. I think whenever you have a bomb pot, the dealer should deal the cards counter-clockwise, starting from the cutoff. I mean, we're running the car a little off the road for a while. What's another couple of feet?
P.P.S. The car just went off the road and into a ditch. What if the dealer started by dealing the flop, and then gave us our hole cards?
For help with bomb pots — and regular pots, too — go to leejones.com/coaching and schedule a free coaching consultation. Lee Jones specializes in coaching low-stakes cash game players.