An Opportunity or a Predicament?

In his recent blog post (which he coincidentally titled the same as mine), Bob Dancer ponders what APs have come to call a scavenging play: The stranger-cum-BFF gambling next to you is about to misplay a hand, and you have the opportunity to correct this injustice, merely by offering a bit of timely advice and bankrolling. For instance, BFF doesn’t have the money to split 88 v 6, and is about to wave off the hand. You charitably offer to help him out by providing the additional chips, and, in a supreme gesture of international cooperation and friendship, suggest teaming up to split all profits or losses. An enduring partnership–through thick and thin, until the very end, of the hand.

Most commonly, the scavenger will jump in to complete a double-down that the BFF was about to double for less, or forgo completely. In games like UTH, the scavenger could complete a 4x preflop wager that the BFF wouldn’t even consider, such as an Ace that the BFF would surely not fold on the river.

People have a reasonable skepticism when a stranger makes a business proposition. “What’s the catch?” they want to know. The scams are so commonplace that they have names (bait-and-switch, phishing, catfishing, etc.), jokes, and memes. There are Nigerian generals lining up to bankroll APs, but we have a skepticism born of the reality that most transactions are a zero-sum game, and that is true for scavenging plays in AP, too. The good news is that this zero-sum game involves three parties–the AP, the BFF, and a third party whose interests are irrelevant to us.

For the AP and the BFF, the deal will be a win-win. The problem is that the total gain from the deal is limited–it is the amount of EV that will be gained by playing the hand properly, instead of the mistake that the BFF was going to make on his own.

Bob Dancer described the basic problems facing the AP scavenger: no guarantee that the BFF will honor the deal with the AP, difficulty negotiating the terms of the deal, possible heat from the casino who would frown on the deal, and messy tax implications for the BFF.

I would elaborate on a couple of those problems. Saying that negotiating or explaining the terms is difficult understates the matter. The AP is thinking: (1) That Royal Flush draw is worth $92 in EV, compared to the BFF’s sure-thing play of keeping a $30 Flush. (2) What terms give me a good chunk of that $62 gain, while protecting both me and the BFF? But that thinking is two chapters ahead–probably you and the BFF aren’t even on the same page, as far as even understanding conceptually what you’re trying to accomplish. The BFF doesn’t really know that there is a $62 gain to be had. The BFF maybe just thinks you want to gamble, chase the Royal, scam her, or something. The BFF might even think that chasing the Royal is the lower EV play, but you want to gamble, and are willing to pay her something to gamble, and she might not want to take your money.

Remember, your BFF is not a casino-game analyst, and may not even understand basic math, so BFF might be shockingly obtuse. Let me tell you a true story. Decades ago, when I used to count cards at my local joint, my buddy Thibodeaux (not his real name) would sometimes join me. He was a graduate student in economics, so he presumably had some understanding of math, EV, variance, risk, finance–all the relevant prerequisites. He also knew that I was counting cards, and would follow my advice on playing his hands, and betting a little more in a rich shoe, though he didn’t have much bankroll (he was a grad student, remember). One time Thibs got a blackjack, and as he was about to take even money on his $25 bet for no good reason other than being a donk, I tried to intercede and scavenge. I said, “Don’t take even money. I’LL give you the even money.” I was offering to buy his hand for $50. I would then get a return of (95/309) x $25 + (214/309) x $62.50 = $50.97. So I was going to make a buck. More importantly, it’s a sickening feeling being an AP and watching your buddy next to you being a donk.

Thibodeaux declined my proposal! He wouldn’t let me buy the hand. He wouldn’t let me bank the insurance bet. He wouldn’t let me give him even money. No matter how I describe it, to you or to him, it was a No Deal. I think he understood the terms of the proposal, but he said that he didn’t want to take my money. Okay, it’s true that I was buying EV, and there was a chance that I would pay him the $50 and wind up with a pushed $25 bet. But I was an AP at the casino for the sole purpose of generating +EV via counting cards, and he was thwarting me! It was depressing and infuriating at the same time. I don’t think I ever went to the casino with him again.

The second big problem I’d add to Bob Dancer’s list is the actual execution of the terms of the deal if the BFF hits the Royal. Assuming the deal has the result of the BFF owing the AP over $1000, the BFF probably doesn’t have the cash. So now the AP has to sit there waiting for the hand-pay which could be 10-30 minutes, and then demand that the BFF fork over ten or more of those Benjamins, in view of a loitering toke-hustling slot attendant? Or are we going to go over to a gender-neutral bathroom to complete the transaction? All of that is going to look horrible.

In VP, recreational players misplay hands all the time, but the EV gain on any single hand would probably be just a few dollars, and hence not worth anyone’s effort. Only the Royal draw presents an enviable scavenging opportunity, but $85 out of the $92 in EV is tied up in the Royal, which is a jackpot/W2G event. For the reasons Bob mentioned, it simply isn’t something to chase. Even in table games, where $100+ scavenging opportunities arise quite commonly for a strong AP, many of the same problems arise. Because of the risk of the BFF misunderstanding or reneging, and the heat risk, the AP eschews most (not all!) of these opportunities.

For the BFF’s Royal draw in VP, there is no opportunity, no predicament. It’s a no-brainer to just ignore it. It only comes up in Bob’s head because all of a VP player’s fantasies involve Royals, in increasingly lurid scale:

  1. Imagine hitting a Royal! Imagine!
  2. Imagine hitting a Royal when the progressive has gotten to $9k on a $1 machine!
  3. Imagine getting a second Royal during the second-Royal-pays-double promotion!
  4. Imagine a Sequential Royal! (I’ve never hit one–imagine it!)
  5. Imagine hitting a Royal while playing off my free-play on a $25 machine!
  6. Imagine getting a dealt Royal on a 50-play machine!
  7. When watching porn, the VP player thinks: “Imagine having sex with two strippers, WHILE HITTING A ROYAL!”
  8. Imagine the previous fantasy, but without the strippers getting in the way!

The key to possibly taking advantage of scavenging opportunities is to start by knowing the EVs of various plays. Most specialists at a game know not just the charts, but the EVs of various key plays on those charts. By knowing that the Royal draw is worth around $92, Bob is able to do the mental calculus on whether to make a new BFF today. And the “AP math” says No!

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