Is It Too Late to Change Your Mind?

There was an interesting controversy last week on Live at the Bike, a live streamed cash poker game broadcast from the Bicycle Casino near Los Angeles.

On the flop, there was an all-in bet and a call.  The players agreed to run it twice – meaning the dealer would deal the turn and river card and award one-half of the pot to the winner, then deal another turn and river card (keeping the original flop) and award the second half of the pot to the second winner.  Running the remaining cards more than once requires advance agreement by both players involved, and can be negotiated anytime after they are all-in.

Most casinos don’t allow players to negotiate running the board more than once at low stakes games; the Bicycle allows it for its Live at the Bike feature game and at least some other gmaes.  Most of the private home or house games where I play also allow it.

Here is a description by Bart Hanson at Crush Live Poker.  Bart is a highly respected poker pro and coach, and frequent player and/or commentator at Live at the Bike.

Board is 7 2 9♠

Flop gets checked to Harry and he moves all-in with 9 3♠. Chris calls with 7♠ 7

Chris: How many times, Harry?
Harry: Twice.
Harry: Do you have any of that
Chris: Show them
Harry: Sure
Chris: What do you have?
Harry: What do you have?
Chris: Set.

Then we hear the sound of the burn card be placed down on the table. As the flick of the turn card can be heard on the stream at 1:04:28, Harry says “once, once”. The turn and river are Q K and Harry wins the run with a backdoor flush.

Bart provides additional commentary, noting that “the real question here is can someone change their minds about running it more than once after the cards are revealed.”

As the dialogue is presented, it is never clear than Chris agrees to run it twice.  He asks Harry, and Harry says twice.  Then they agree to show their cards, but Chris never says (in Bart’s recap of the negotiation) OK to running it twice.  I can’t access the video, maybe it’s clear there.  Maybe it is assumed that since Chris asked the question, he was amenable to any answer.

My question is different.  Why would anyone negotiate running it twice or three times prior to the cards being revealed?  There are reasons to run it once and reasons to run it more than once, and I want to know where I stand before negotiating.  Of course, “not to decide is to decide” –> not to negotiate or not to agree to run it more than once is to agree to run it once.

Reasons to run it once:

  • Desire for higher short-term variance
  • One player is drawing dead or virtually dead
  • Small pot = not worth the bother
  • Crush the opponent’s spirit
  • Discourage LAGs from trying to run over the table, yet reducing their variance when stood up to
  • Tradeoff, where the benefit of winning the entire pot (against the risk of losing) is more desirable than a higher likelihood of chopping the pot by running it twice, when the probability of winning is high (say, greater than 80%)
  • Tradeoff, where the long shot potential to win the entire pot by running it once is more desirable than the low likelihood of scooping the pot by running it twice and winning both times, when the probability of wining is very low (say, less than 15%)

Live at the BikeIt is this last reason that appears to drive Harry to change his mind.  When Chris’ cards are revealed, Harry realizes he is crushed, with less than 6% equity.  He probably thought he was up against a flush or straight draw on this flop, in which case either player would have decent odds of winning.  Ironically, when Chris initially asked “How many times, Harry?” he also probably thought he was up against a flush or straight draw.  Had Chris waited for the cards to be revealed, he might have simply said, run it once, let’s get this over with!

Harry needs running hearts, or running 9-9 or 9-3 to win.  He might catch lightening in a bottle once, but it would be extremely rare to win both.  Most of the time, he will lose both (perhaps catching and killing one of his outs on the first run, further reducing his odds to win the second).  The logic is that if a miracle happens, Harry wants to be able to enjoy the entire miracle.

Unless Harry saw the Q and then changed his mind.  In that case, his equity would have increased to over 20% and the parameters for the negotiation are now changed.  And his change of mind would be unethical.

Reasons to run it twice (or more):

  • Desire for lower short-term variance
  • Keep another player in the game, if he/she might not re-buy after going bust
  • Make the outcome more closely match the actual equity in the hand.  Sometimes the math is really close to 50/50 and running twice is more likely to produce that actual result.
  • It’s friendlier
  • Tilt avoidance
  • Bankroll management
  • Mitigate risks associated with overly aggressive betting lines

Sometimes I’ll agree to run it more than once.  Other times I won’t.  I have always viewed this as a situational decision, to be made after the cards are revealed.

Others in my regular home/house game player pool frequency ask “how many times do you want to run it?” as soon as an all-in bet is called, and prior to revealing their cards or seeing their opponent’s cards.  This can be a sign of scared poker.  They are getting their money in without a clear idea of whether they are ahead or behind, and now they just hope to salvage at least a piece of the pot.  Or it is a sign of overly loose/aggressive poker, such as going all-in with a semi-bluff with the intent of negotiating a lower variance resolution if called.

If I let the other players know I’ll always run it more than once, am I not inviting looser semi-bluff shoves by drawing hands?

The other issue with the Live at the Bike situation is the dealer needs to just slow down.  If there is any possibility that the negotiation between the two players isn’t settled, a short pause is appropriate.  What’s missing from Bart Hanson’s recap of the dialogue is any confirmation by the dealer of the agreement.  Just as a dealer might repeat the words “all-in” when one player verbally declares an all-in bet without sliding his/her entire stack out, for the avoidance of doubt, so should the dealer state “running it once” or “running it twice” before delivering the next card at a game where this is a common practice.

One of the side effects of this mini-controversy at Live at the Bike is the poker room has now discontinued entirely the practice of allowing players to negotiate running a board more than once.  One awkward moment killed the privilege for all.

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