The Alpha-Bet v2.0: Now Alpha-Better!

The World Series of Poker is almost here, and that means all the players who’ll be in attendance are scrambling to buy, sell and swap action, make bracelet bets and last-longers, and so forth. With the recent proliferation of staking sites, it’s easier than ever for railbirds to get in on the action as well. After all, the WSOP is the most exciting time of year in poker, but not everyone has the finances to get involved themselves; buying a little piece of a favorite player is a great way to get some skin in the game and make it more fun to follow the action.

That doesn’t mean it’s the best way, however. It has a couple of obvious flaws, in that there’s no guarantee that the updates or featured table stream will give you any indication of how your horse is doing. Worse, they could bust most of their events early on, leaving you no one to cheer for.

That’s part of the reason why, last year, I started thinking about prop bets that are guaranteed to be fun until the end. One of those was the so-called AlphaBet, which I made with Nate Meyvis. The concept was simple: We drafted the letters of the alphabet, and whoever ended up with the letter matching the first initial of the winner of the Main Event would receive $100 from the other person.

The post-mortem on v1.0

It proved to be a pretty fun sweat, since once the November Nine was set, players with my letters held about 2/3 of the total chips, but Nate had C, and Cliff Josephy was both the chip leader and considered to be the strongest player at the table. In the end, though, it was Qui Nguyen who took it down, making my improbable Q the winner.

It was enough fun that I’d like to do something similar this year, but the problem is that the draft choices come down largely to the frequency with which they occur as first initials among the American general public, so the draft is likely to play out exactly the same from one year to the next. You could almost just take my list and Nate’s from last year, and flip a coin to determine who gets which list. That’s not much fun.

There was also a second problem, namely that the factors of 26 are 2 and 13, meaning that you can only divide the letters up evenly if you have exactly 2 or 13 participants.

And so, I’ve toyed with the idea over the past year and thought of ways to make it more complex and interesting. AlphaBet 2.0 should provide more room for participants to take different strategic approaches, and allow for essentially any reasonable number of people to get involved in a single bet.

Alpha-Bet 2.0 in a nutshell

For this version of the bet, there are two copies of the alphabet being drafted. The first one goes the same way as the original Alpha-Bet, as a simple snake draft, but with players having the option to pass to gain better position in the second round. In the second round, there is an additional draft option, which is to take the “Leftovers,” i.e. the letters remaining after everyone has had the same number of picks.

To scoop the prize pool, a participant must have both the first and last initial of the winning poker player. If no player scoops, the prize pool is divided up between all players who hold one of the two initials.

There’s a bit of nitty-gritty to cover, but that’s essentially all there is to it.

The full rules

Rule 1: Two copies of the alphabet will be drafted, one after the other, in two separate rounds.

Rule 2: Draft order for the first round is randomly determined, and proceeds as a snake draft. In other words, once everyone has picked one letter, the order reverses itself; the player who chose last immediately chooses again, followed by the player who chose second to last, etc. Once everyone has picked a second letter, the order switches back, and so on.

Rule 3: During the first round, everyone must “pass” once, at a time of their choosing. If done in the middle of the round, their turn is skipped and they receive no letter.

Rule 4: Assuming more than two players are participating, the letters in the first round will not be evenly distributed. Once no letters are left, any players who have not yet passed are forced to do so, in the order they would have drafted.

Rule 5: Draft order for the second round is established by the order in which players passed in the first round. The first player to have passed drafts first, and so on. The second round is not a snake draft: Once all players have chosen a letter, it is once again the first player’s turn to choose.

Rule 6: Aside from the 26 letters of the alphabet, there is one extra choice available in the second round: “Leftovers.” Only one player can take Leftovers, and it can be drafted at any point in the round, in lieu of a letter.

Rule 7: The second round draft comes to an end when all players have made the same number of second round selections, and the number of letters remaining is less than or equal to the number of players, plus one. For instance, if four players are participating, the second round ends after each player has made six choices and three letters remain (three, not two, because there are 27 choices in all, including Leftovers: 27 – 4 x 6 = 3).

Rule 8: The leftover letters, as you might expect, go to the player who has chosen “Leftovers.” This player will therefore have several more letters than anyone else, but these will be low-value, uncommon letters like Q, U, Y and X.

Rule 9: If one player holds both the first and last initials of the event winner, that player scoops the entire prize pool. If two players do, they chop it. This will most commonly be the case when the winner has a repeated initial: For instance, if Valentin Vornicu were to win, the prize money would be split evenly between the two players holding a V, unless one player happened to have both.

Rule 10: If no player scoops, then the prize money is divided into four equal portions, with one portion being paid out for each copy of each initial. For instance, if Jason Mercier were to win, and one player holds both Ms, that player would receive 50% of the prize money, while the players holding the two Js would each receive 25%.

Picks and Leftovers

For clarity and convenience, here is a table showing how many picks each player will potentially get in each round, how many letters will go to the player claiming Leftovers, and therefore the range of possible number of letters each player could end up with at the end. Note that the number of first round picks each player gets depends on who passes and when; this is why it’s possible in some scenarios for one player to get two more letters than another.

Note also that although for some numbers of players, the number of Leftovers and thus the range of letters per player can be quite large, the Leftovers should also consist of low-value letters, so e.g. in a nine-player pool, a player with four high-quality letters will not actually be at a disadvantage against a player who ends up with 13.

Participants 1st Rd. Picks 2nd Rd. Picks Leftovers Letters per Player
2 12-14 12 3 24-28
3 8-9 8 3 16-19
4 5-7 6 3 11-15
5 5-6 5 2 10-12
6 3-5 4 3 7-10
7 2-4 3 6 5-12
8 2-4 3 3 5-9
9 2-3 2 9 4-13
10 1-3 2 7 3-11

Want to play?

I would ideally like to do two versions of this bet, one for the Main Event winner, and the other for the winner of WSOP Player of the Year. Based on the table above, I would guess that the most fun number of players will be six, as that should make passing and Leftovers decisions just important enough to be interesting, without overwhelming other factors.

I’m flexible on stakes, within reason. If you’re interested in getting involved, send me a message on Twitter. If there’s interest, and the timing works out for everyone, we may even do the draft live on the podcast.

If there’s so much interest that we need more than two pools, or people want to play for stakes too high or too low for me, I’m happy to make introductions and facilitate drafts in case there are any rules questions. I won’t be handling or guaranteeing money for any drafts I’m not personally involved in, however, so you’ll have to work that out on your own.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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