Exploiting Must Move Games

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Back when you could play online easily in the United States, most people I knew who grinded the smaller online games started each session with a ritual. They’d open up the lobby, find the stakes they normally played for, and put themselves on every waiting list of every full game going.

I tried this too, and I noticed something. As often than not, by the time a seat had opened for me, the game wasn’t really worth playing. Often the seat that opened was the one vacated by the weakest player in the game. Or it was the seat of a pro who had played in the game until the weakest player went broke, and then quit. Either way, by the time I sat, only the regulars were left.

I had much more success starting games. I would find an empty table at the stakes I wanted to play and sit. After a while, someone else would sit. More often than not, this player would have a 40BB buyin which, at these games, was a nearly perfect tipoff that the player was clueless. (I’m not saying buying in for 40BB is bad. Just that nearly everyone who actually sat at my tables with 40BB happened to be clueless.)

Then the table would fill. Typical final makeup would be four 40BB players, a regular, and me. Sure, I wasn’t playing as deep as I could if I sat at a going game, but I’d happily trade some stack depth for the opportunity to play with a few genuinely terrible players.

The prime conditions never lasted too long. Some of the 40BB stacks would bust quickly, pros (waiting on the list) would fill the seats, and the game would become unremarkable. But I’d been able to play hands with a bigger edge than usual.

I did my best to track my results at these newly-formed games versus results at more mature tables. My per-hand winrate at the new tables was considerably higher.

Which brings me to the title topic of this article. Must move games. These are the live poker equivalent to the newly created online games.

If you don’t play in a cardroom where they have must move games, here’s how they work. When enough players are on the list for a new game, the floor calls the game. If there is another game going of the same stakes, the newly created game is a “must move” game. Whenever a seat opens in the main game (or games if there is more than one going), someone from the must move game is required to move to fill it.

The floor maintains a list of the players in the must move game, and moves are typically required in first in, first out order. Thus, if you are first on the list of players called for the new game, you are first on the list of players required to move.

Here’s the thing. Must move games are often much, much better than the main game. The players in a must move game are all fresh. The only way you’ll end up with another grinder in a must move is if one happens to arrive at the cardroom at roughly the same time you did. I’ve played in many must move games where every single one of my opponents was a tourist with little idea of how to play. This is almost never the case in a main game.

Like in the online analogues, stacks in must move games tend to be short. In a $5-$10 must move game, for instance, a lot of the players will buy in for $400-$800. But, again, I’d generally much prefer to play against tourists with $600 stacks than regulars with $3,000 stacks.

So what’s the point? You might be able to increase your winrate when you play if you actively seek out the must move games. Here are some things to try to maximize your time in must moves.

Tip No. 1. Put your name on the list for every game in the room.

Say you’re normally a $2-$5 player, and you like to buy in for between $500 and $1,000. Put yourself on the $1-$2, $5-$10, and $10-$20 list also. When they start one of these games, you will get called, and you can see if the game is shaping up well or not. If the game fills with the best players in the room, pass. But if it’s a lot of unknown faces buying in for 40-100 big blinds, jump in. You don’t have to buy in for 100BB. You can buy in for the same amount that you’d normally buy in at $2-$5. Sure, the blinds may be bigger, but if your buy-in is the same as what you usually play, the game likely won’t play that much bigger for you.

A juicy $5-$10 must move will be more profitable than your regular $2-$5 game with a bunch of crusty regulars.

Tip No. 2. Try to get yourself near the bottom of the list of players to get called to the new game.

If you are the very first name on the list you will be the first one moved to the main game. That’s no good. You’ll likely get only a few hands in. Try to make sure your name appears 8-10th on the list for any game that you expect to get started soon. There are a few ways to do this. Watch the list and put your name on only when it grows to the right length. Ask the brush to “roll” your name to the bottom of the list if you get to the top. Tokes to the floor can help too.

Tip No. 3. Learn when games tend to start.

Every cardroom has a rhythm. The first game of the day starts at 10am, say. Then they get another game going around noon. Then another at 3pm. And another at 5pm. And so on. Get to learn the rhythm of your local room, and plan to arrive when the juicy must move games generally get started. Even if you’re a little late, the must move will likely still be good with a seat opening soon when you arrive. Don’t arrive early. That could get you stuck in a bad main game.

Tip No. 4. Bounce between rooms and stakes.

If you get moved to the main game, usually they won’t let you move back to the must move unless you pick up your chips and sit out for a while. But sometimes you can bounce between must move games at two different stakes without waiting at all. When you’re about to get moved, get into the next game that starts at different stakes. Then move back to your original stakes after a while. You can also bounce between rooms if it’s feasible where you play.

Final Thoughts

It’s not as comfortable as sitting in the same chair for ten hours, but if you learn the rhythm of your room and seek out must move games as they start, you’ll improve your winrate considerably.

[This article appeared originally in Card Player Vol. 25 No. 6]