On Thursday, 888poker accidentally added a game to its lobby which wasn’t scheduled to be released for another few weeks. It’s called “Flopomania,” and it was in the lobby for long enough that multiple people ended up playing out of curiousity. 888 let those games which had started finish, then removed it again, but the cat was out of the bag, and the story was quickly picked up by PokerNews and others.
The game will be released for real at some unspecified point in the next few weeks, but now we know what’s coming. It’s going to be No-Limit Texas Hold’em (surprise, surprise), minus the preflop action. There’s an ante, but no blinds, and after players receive their two hole cards, the three-card flop is dealt immediately. In other words, it’s exactly as if you were playing regular Hold’em, but with a group which agreed that everyone would limp every hand preflop.
888poker recently experienced a technical incident, which resulted in the accidental release of our new game called “Flopomania”. 1/3
— 888poker (@888poker) August 3, 2017
A cure for the “Wouldahads”?
It’s the sort of poker innovation that recreational players themselves would come up with. After all, it’s impossible to sit at a table full of amateurs for long without hearing someone complain that they “would have had” some monster hand if they hadn’t correctly folded their garbage holdings preflop. The desire to see what cards are going to come out is strong, and in today’s game, with the principles of aggression understood by a majority of players, indulging that desire can be prohibitively expensive.
Flopomania is the most obvious solution to that problem. Just let everyone see the flop and start from there. Why not?
Unfortunately, when there’s an “obvious” solution to a problem that hasn’t yet been implemented, the reason is often that it has in fact been considered by others, but isn’t actually a solution. There are a few reasons why Flopomania may not be a cure for fold regret, but foremost among them is the fact that the same players who hate having to fold their weak hands preflop are the very same ones who hate it when their opponents fail to do so. They would like to see every flop – wouldn’t we all? – but they definitely don’t want the other people at the table doing so, at least not if it’s going to result in a “suck out.”
So, yes, in terms of appealing to recreational players, the guy who is dealt 722 is going to be happy that he didn’t have to fold his full house not knowing what the flop is going to be, but the guy with [AA]722 in that hand is going to wonder why he’s playing this stupid game. He’ll probably declare it a “luckfest,” because he still thinks of pocket Aces as a strong hand, but has no way of protecting them preflop or guessing what anyone else might have.
When is a flop not a flop?
Of course, from a game design and game theory perspective, Flopomania isn’t Texas Hold’em any more than Omaha is. It’s a separate game, with certain mechanical similarities but also several important differences.
From a casual player’s perspective, it may feel as if the rules for preflop action have been tweaked, but in fact, there is no “preflop,” because players have no decisions to make. And if there’s no preflop, there is no flop. Rather, those first three community cards are part of the players’ starting hands.
The main difference between forms of poker is their information structures; how much information players have about their own hands and their opponents’ on each street, and the pacing with which that information is made available. The defining characteristics of the flop are that it’s the first point at which players see a full five-card hand they could potentially show down, and that it reveals more information at once than any subsequent street.
In Texas Hold’em, more information is revealed on the flop than players had initially: two cards up front, three on the flop, and only two more to come. In Omaha, the players have more information up front, in that they’re dealt four cards, but the value of this information is mitigated by the limitation that they can only use two of those four in their final hand. Thus, the flop is still the most important street of the hand, and even the best starting hands can still become junk if they fail to connect.
None of this is true in Flopomania. With players having access to five of seven cards from the start and, more importantly, a hand they could potentially take to showdown as it is, the information structure of the game is so different that it’s incorrect to call it a “flop game.” Rather, it’s a game in which players have almost full knowledge of their hands from the start, followed by two highly limited chances to improve; in this regard, it’s less like Texas Hold’em, and more like a Lowball draw game, albeit with two draws rather than the conventional variations with one or three.
That doesn’t make it a bad game, necessarily: Plenty of professionals appreciate No-Limit Single Draw for its purity. However, it does mean that players won’t be getting the sort of experience that they might be expecting, and which the name implies. Far from being a “floppier” version of Texas Hold’em, it’s a game with no flop at all.
Resemblances to a previous experiment
The similarity of Flopomania to a Lowball Double Draw variant may be too abstract for many people to see, but there’s another close cousin which falls within the Hold’em family: Courchevel.
The online poker world was introduced to Courchevel in 2013, by PokerStars, which launched it at the same time as 5-Card Omaha. From a rules perspective, the two games are almost identical: both are played just like conventional Omaha, but with five hole cards. The only difference between the two is that in Courchevel, the “first flop card” is revealed preflop.
Of course, when it’s revealed preflop, it isn’t a flop card at all, but rather forms part of players’ initial hands. The actual flop, meanwhile, is just two cards. Most critically, the preflop community undermines the Omaha rule about two hole cards plus three board cards; despite the extra card, 5-Card Omaha players still can’t guarantee themselves anything better than a pair before seeing the flop, while Courchevel players can begin the hand with a concealed three of a kind, or three cards to a straight flush.
This means that it’s possible to be way ahead preflop in Courchevel in a way that isn’t possible in any other game in the Hold’em/Omaha family. This feature is even stronger in Flopomania, of course, as you can be dealt anything up to and including a royal flush from the get-go, and not even need to care about what cards come on subsequent streets.
It’s therefore pretty easy to be drawing dead in Flopomania from the moment you’ve received your cards, something that occurs only in extremely specific scenarios in the other games, even Courchevel. And whether or not you are, there are plenty of deals where the odds are high enough that you might be that your hand is essentially unplayable: for instance, two undercards plus a paired board in Flopomania is far worse than a starting Seven-Deuce offsuit in Hold’em, almost as bad as four Deuces in Omaha, and something you’ll be dealt far more often than either of those.
Lessons of the past
If we want to predict how Flopomania will be received, then, it’s my feeling that we should look at what happened with Courchevel. I know very well how that went, because I jumped onto the Courchevel tables right away when it went live in 2013.
What I found then was that the action was hot at first. The rules of the game were such that anyone familiar with Omaha could jump right in, and the starting community card was appealing enough as a gimmick to draw players in to give it a try. Meanwhile, the game’s strategic quality was different enough from Omaha that although everyone thought they knew how to play, few actually did. For those few glorious days, there were plenty of full tables, and as someone who’d bothered to work on some theory beforehand, I was crushing them.
It didn’t even take a week for that to change, however. I may have hurried the end somewhat by writing up my thoughts on the game in a public forum, but it would have happened quickly regardless. The better players picked up on the game’s fundamental nature and became decent at it, and the more clueless ones decided it wasn’t for them and left.
Without anyone truly terrible at the tables, the game became very much of a grind. The need to coordinate heavily with that one community card was such that there was a lot of small ball play, with many hands won by a single raise or a three-bet preflop, and when big pots did occur, it was usually between a preflop set and some sort of flopped monster. After a week, it was hard to find a game above $0.10/$0.25. Now, there’s rarely a full table even at those stakes.
That said, Courchevel did find a little bit of a niche as a tournament game. Specifically small-stakes No-Limit Courchevel Hi/Lo tournaments. The high degree of preflop information and split pot potential make it fun and interesting as a short-stacked all-in-or-fold game, especially when tournament survival issues are factored in.
Flopomania should be similar in that regard, so if 888 is planning on pushing it primarily as a sit-and-go format, rather than for cash games, it may achieve some limited degree of popularity. The fact that it’s more accessible than Courchevel to Hold’em players without an Omaha background should help as well.
Still, even a turbo Flopomania SNG will be strategically simplistic, tight and boring in the early stages, and heavily dependent on luck of the deal in the late stages. Some recreational players may even enjoy that. Games with too low a skill ceiling always end up stagnating, however, and I expect that we’ll see that prove to be the case with Flopomania.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.