Prop betting is as much an integral part of World Series of Poker culture as complaining about the air conditioning at the Rio. The biggest bets are often between top pros – like Vanessa Selbst’s 180-1 bet against Jason Mercier winning three bracelets, of which he’s already won two – but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t get in on the action.

Co-host Andrew Barber has been too busy at the series to record an episode this past month, but PTP contributor and former podcast guest Steve Ruddock fills in on his behalf to talk about prop bets big and small. We go on to discuss the complexities of the regulatory situation in California, where tribal casinos continue to war with brick-and-mortar card rooms, then wrap up with a heads-up hand analysis in which Safiya Umerova flops top pair and a straight draw, but gets a terrible run-out.

The curious incident of the co-host at the WSOP (0:00-1:50)

Alex quickly explains the situation behind Andrew’s absence and that he’ll likely be back following the series. He then goes on to give a quick rundown of the day’s stories.

Bettor’s remorse: when the emotional odds don’t match the money odds (1:50-17:15)

We take a look at the two bets Selbst made, first with Dzmitry Urbanovich at 200-1, and then with Jason Mercier at 180-1. Both men put down $10,000 against her $2 million and $1.8 million respectively. Selbst was fine about the former bet, while she attempted to buy her way out of the latter one, only to find Mercier unwilling to accept her offers. Given that Mercier has been doing well at the series, Selbst’s public complaints about the circumstances of the bet have not gone over well.

Steve and Alex discuss why such bets aren’t necessarily smart to make even when the odds are right, what the differences are between the bet with Urbanovich and that with Mercier, and how the saga influences our opinions of the various parties involved. Steve brings up a similar case from Mike Sexton’s recent autobiography, Life’s a Gamble, in which Sexton experienced similarly great anxiety over a long odds bet he’d made and attempted to buy his way out, only to make the same bet again the following year.

Getting creative with Main Event props (17:15-36:00)

Selbst made a sensible type of bet but for ridiculous stakes and odds. At the other end of the spectrum, some of us prefer make ridiculous bets for sensible stakes, since the ideas involved are more interesting than the money itself. Not everyone has the $10,000 to enter the Main Event, but most of us have friends, and a few dollars to bet with those friends, and a carefully-crafted prop bet can make the experience of watching the Main Event much more fun without all that much financial risk.

Alex gets Steve’s opinion on several bets he’s made, or proposed but found no takers. These include speculating on how likely you are to guess a November Niner on 10 or 100 attempts, betting on the winner’s first initial, and whether it’s more likely that the Main Event will be one by one of the youngest three players at the final table, or the oldest six.

Steve makes an interesting point about the first of these bets, that there’s a subtle additional effect going on as the number of players you pick increases. Assuming you are correctly picking some of the better players in the field, your actual odds are probably somewhat better than they appear, as during the later stages of the tournament, each time one of your picks is eliminated, the overall field gets softer for your remaining picks. Just how big an effect that is, is harder to estimate.

California: the world’s driest quagmire (36:00-53:20)

When he’s not writing for PTP, one of Steve’s main gigs is covering developments in gambling legislation throughout the United States, the most complicated of which is California. The three main players there are the Indian tribes, who have the right to spread all manner of casino games in a live setting, the card rooms, which have various limitations imposed, and the racetracks, which have the unique right to offer online gambling, but are even more restricted in what they can offer than the card rooms.

The latest battle, as explained by Steve, is between the card rooms and the tribes, specifically regarding a legal loophole the card rooms have been using to make inroads into casino games. One of the restrictions placed on card rooms is that only player-banked games are allowed, but the card rooms have been allowing third parties to come in as players, and take on the dealer position in games like blackjack and pai-gow, while collecting a rake from these third parties. This blurs the distinction between a competitive multiplayer game like poker, and a casino game, for which tribes are supposed to hold the exclusive rights, so naturally, the tribes would like the regulations changed to close the loophole.

It looks like a Five and it smells like a Five… (53:20-1:06:15)

Safiya Umerova won WSOP Event #50 – $1,500 Shootout No-Limit Hold’em last week. She got herself into a tough spot against her heads up opponent Niall Farrell along the way, however. Alex, who knows the outcome of the hand, puts the question to Steve what one should do when one has been the aggressor up until the turn, at which point the out-of-position opponent leads out when the middle card pairs and proceeds to barrel the river.

In this specific case, Umerova had limped from the small blind/button with 7-6 offsuit and Farrell had checked his option. The flop was 654, two suits, and the turn and river were an offsuit 5 and 4 respectively. It was a tough runout for her, especially given that her opponent began leading out with a fairly large sizing once the 5 hit. As Umerova herself said, it certainly looks like a Five, and by the river her hand is therefore a bluff-catcher. The question then, as it often is, is how often Farrell is bluffing.


The following are links to the articles discussed on this episode of the podcast. Links by one of the co-hosts are in bold, offsite links are in italics.