Invitation Only: The Political Game Behind the Biggest Live Cash Games

 The world of high stakes cash has been shrouded in secrecy for as long as it has been in existence. Once you reach a certain size of stakes, it becomes far less easy to simply pull up a chair. The very wealthiest men in the world are smart, and they usually understand that they have a slight skill disadvantage. If the game is enjoyable though, and the company is good – that's enough to make them want to play. Being a world class talent is one thing, but if you want to find a seat in an ultra high stakes game against softer opponents, then your social skills better be just as sharp. The key players in these games will often pick who sits with them, and also be aware, they're not as unskilled as they'd like you to believe.

Las Vegas

Daniel Negreanu has been blogging about his return to the high stakes tables in Las Vegas towards the end of 2015, and offered some insight into the biggest games around. Before the turn of the century, there was a simple rule to sitting in the biggest games according to Negreanu: If you had the money and the inclination to sit – you sat. The modern world is very different. Technically you are not allowed to run a private game in Las Vegas, but if a set number of players meet in the casino and all fill a table at once, then it becomes difficult for an outsider to get involved.

In his blog, Daniel Negreanu explained that in the high stakes game in places like Aria and Bellagio: “There is a set time that the games start, and the players all show up at that time and fill the seats as well as the waiting list. If you are a 'nit' or play excessively slow, you won't ever get a seat in these games.” More disturbingly, Negreanu also spoke of waiting lists which are adjusted by the staff, so that unwanted names are bumped down the list. In order to get into these games and be invited back, being a winning player is not a good start.

Ivey's room Aria

High stakes Game (Aria)

If you are a winning player, you need to have very good social skills, and must work to build good relationships with the players involved. Tanking over every decision, opening with a very tight range, and not engaging in conversation are all going to work against you. 

Macau / Manila

Since its earliest beginnings, the big game in Macau has revolved around Paul Phua, and Richard Yong. Both are wealthy poker enthusiasts in their own right, and the atmosphere surrounding the game has always been primordial for them. Players invited to the game were often taking part in casual dinners or watching sports together. Phua and Yong had a great network of friends, business colleagues, and contacts who would happily join a game if they already had someone they knew to play alongside them. This social aspect to the game attracted a lot of high profile Businessmen/VIPs who wouldn’t have played in other circumstances. In this context, it is clear that a lot of pros will struggle to adapt to this kind of environment. Just a handful of big name pros ever got invited – Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, and John Juanda, to name a few.

Winfred Yu Richard Yong

Winfred Yu and Richard Yong

Talking with Somuchpoker during the WPT Manila (Read: An exclusive insight into the world’s biggest game), Winfred Yu explained that pros only gain access to the biggest game if they are invited: "The higher the stakes, the harder is it for a pro to find an open chair. Most often, they are invited to play at the request of the VIPs. The VIPs are not afraid of the skill of the players, in fact they welcome it, however, they are not happy to play with pros who have only 5% or 10% of themselves. The psychological aspect of poker is important and money pressure is a part of it. When playing with only a few percentages of themselves, pros remove this edge that the VIPs can have on them."

The social side of things is a recurring theme in live high stakes cash, no matter which part of the world you are in. If you are a winning player, you need to have very good social skills, and must work to build good relationships with the players involved. Tanking over every decision, opening with a very tight range, and not engaging in conversation are all going to work against you. According to Daniel Negreanu: “The days of these high stakes games being an open opportunity for anyone who has the buy in, are in jeopardy.”

Article by Craig B.


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Louis Hartwell

Graduated in Media Communication at the University of Lausanne, Louis Hartman is a co-founder of He began his career in Cambodia as freelance journalist. In same time he was making his living by playing poker every night at that time. Intense learner, he read dozens of poker strategy books to improve his skills during many years. With a strong interest about poker "behind the scene" in Asia and his communication skills, Louis launched Somuchpoker in 2014.

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