Capitalist Poker - The Game That Eats Its Young
I think I’ve invented a version of poker that’s better than poker. A version where betting is replaced by a cut-throat buy/sell market and you can make a tidy profit without ever winning a hand. I call it Capitalist Poker.
I developed this with my great friends Ike, John and Charlie, sat round the kitchen table with beer and popcorn and a general atmosphere of ‘let’s create something fun’. It took many rule iterations before the game felt balanced: at first, there was no reason to win hands at all; then flushes (five cards of the same suit) became weirdly common until they won every hand; then nobody ever bought or sold anything at all…but eventually we hit the sweet spot. I want you to try this game and test it out further. So here are the rules:
(Before we start, I’m assuming you know the rules of Texas Hold’em. If you don’t some of this might feel a bit alien.)
The dealer deals two cards to each player. Big blind and small blind pay into the pot as usual, and then there is a buy/sell phase. Don’t worry, we’ll get onto that in a moment. Then, just like in Texas Hold‘em, you have the flop, turn and river, each succeeded by another buy/sell phase. After all this is finished, all players show their hands and the winner takes the pot.
So essentially, each hand plays out exactly like Texas Hold’em, except there’s no betting. Instead, cards are bought and sold. After every phase of the hand, players take it in turns, working clockwise, starting left of the dealer, to do one of the following:
A player is happy with their hand and play passes onto the next player.
A player may attempt to buy one card from those on the table. This would essentially mean that the player now has sole access to the value of that card, rather than it being a shared commodity. All interested parties may auction for the card, the winner taking it into their hand. If the winner now has more than three cards in their hand, they must pay five chips to the pot and place down one of their cards to join those face up on the table.
A player may offer to sell the other players one of their cards. All interested parties may auction for the card, the winner taking it into their hand and paying directly to the player that they have bought it off. Once again, if the player taking the card now has more than three cards, they must pay five chips to the pot and place down one card face-up. Cards may be offered face-up or face-down, and for a chip value or for a straight swap. The only rule to enforce here is that nobody may lie about the value of a card during an offer to trade. That would be against Advertising and Trading Standards. Of course, bluffing during the rest of the game is fine!
Here's what I love about this game: despite the fact that the rules are almost identical to poker, the feel of the play is completely different. The aggressive action will often come from people who are close to a really juicy pot and looking to sure up a win, while those who are sitting on something good will play defensively, limiting others’ hands until they become nervous that the more active players have worked themselves into a better position. People with terrible hands won’t fold, but try to auction off their cards to take some profit out of a bad situation. In order to raise, as you can’t bet, you have to try to make other people buy and sell cards from each other, which means entering yourself into auctions that you aren’t interested in, just to raise the demand for cards.
Another fascinating element to this version of the game is that by ‘buying’ a card from the table, you aren’t actually gaining that card (because while it’s on the table it’s already yours), you’re just denying other players access to it. You’re privatising the card. For that reason, you’ll often prefer to buy cards that don’t help you, but your possession of it would hinder others. In our first game, I desperately tried to buy up pairs to make my personal hand strong, and went bust very quickly. However, in the second game I spent my resources bidding high on cards that other people wanted. It worked. I won.
This is all eerily familiar and analogous, hence the name ‘Capitalist Poker’. You can’t help but feel like vile, vicious tycoons, buying out commodities to withhold them from others and selling off stock with high demand for easy profit. It’s a nasty game to play, but utterly engrossing.
The only weakness that we’re yet to resolve is that it’s quite hard to bust people out. To do so, you have to make them buy a card for all their cash and ensure that they still lose the hand. It did happen, quite dramatically so, when Ike went ‘all in’ to buy a six of hearts and deprive me of my two pair. I let him buy the card, then proceeded to spend huge amounts of cash buying and selling to destroy his hand (and mine in the process), eventually winning with a high ace. In other cases, players remained in the game by refusing to buy or sell cards and winning enough hands to cling on. Perhaps the simplest solution would be to have steadily increasing blinds, and this problem would just go away. If you test this game out, let me know how you find the endgame. Let’s develop this together!