Strategy

The Alpha-Bet 3.0: You’d Alpha-Better Believe It!

Over the years, I’ve been working on a game to be played during the WSOP, called the Alpha-Bet. You can play it for any single event, or for Player of the Year for the series as a whole, or whatever you like. The point, in a nutshell, is to pick the letters corresponding to the initials (first, last or both, depending on how you want to play it) of the winning player.

Compared to a lot of prop bets that you can make on the WSOP, this is a fun one because you’ll almost never be entirely out of the running. If you’re betting on the Main Event, and playing heads-up with a friend, then with half the alphabet apiece, it’s extremely unlikely that one of you won’t have the initials of at least a couple of players who make the final table. You’re just about guaranteed a decent sweat for the entire length of the event, or series.

When I originally formulated the Alpha-Bet, I did it as a simple snake draft. That is, two players A and B would each draft a total of 13 letters in ABBA order. It’s fair, but it’s not very interesting, because if you do a little bit of research, it’s pretty easy to establish an order for the value of the letters, at which point the draft process itself is trivial. You could equally well just put together two evenly balanced sets of letters and flip a coin to decide who gets which.

The following year, I created Alpha-Bet 2.0, which was designed both to accommodate more players and be more strategically interesting. When I played it with three friends, it worked out well, but the rules were too complicated for a lot of people’s liking.

This year, I’m taking another crack at it. It’s back to being a two-player affair, though it wouldn’t be too hard to modify it for more. It’s also much simpler than the second version, but contains an element of randomness that should create more interesting decisions during the draft process.

Rules

  • First, decide whether you’re playing for first initial, last initial or both. If you’re playing for both, then the bet only results in a win if one player holds both initials. Otherwise, it’s a push.
  • Create 24 scraps of paper or, if you’re going to randomize digitally, draw out a grid of 24 squares. Write “QZ” on one, “XY” on another, and the remaining 22 letters of the alphabet on the others, one apiece. (We need the number of scraps/squares to be divisible by four, and Q,X,Y and Z are low-value letters, so it makes sense to pair them up.)
  • Decide randomly who starts the first round. There will a total of seven rounds of drafting, with the starting player alternating, so this player will start rounds 1, 3, 5 and 7, while the other player will get first pick in rounds 2, 4 and 6.
  • Pull four scraps from the bag, or RNG four boxes from the grid (if you’re doing the grid, make sure to cross out the boxes as you use them, so you’re not getting the same letter twice).
  • Each player in turn selects one of those four letters to take.
  • Now pull four more letters. Two will go on top of the first round’s unselected letters to form piles, while the other two will start new piles.

Example: Say we pull J, P, R and V for the first round. Player 1 selects J and Player 2 selects R. That leaves P and V. If we now pull QZ, M, A and O, the piles will be , , A and O.

  • Once again, the players each make their choice. If the player chooses a pile, they get all the letters in that pile.
  • Keep going in this way, dealing out four new letters each round, placing two on top of the unchosen piles and starting new piles with the other two.
  • After six rounds, the bag will be empty, or the grid completely crossed out. There will be two piles remaining, however. For the seventh and final round, no new letters are added; the first player simply chooses between the two remaining piles and the second player gets whatever’s left.

Strategy

The original Alpha-Bet was very straightforward in its strategy: All you had to do was rank the letters from best to worst and whenever it was your turn, select the best letter remaining. The second version was much deeper, with the draft being split into two phases, and players having the option to pass in the first phase in order to get a better spot in the draft order in the second.

This version is more similar to the original, but with the twist that you’ll often be presented with the choice between a single high-value letter and two or more lower-value ones. That means that it’s not enough just to know whether R is better or worse than T; rather, you need to be able to quantify the difference in order to decide whether adding a V to the worse of the two, say, would be enough to make that the better pick.

More importantly, though, the random factor means that you should still end up with relatively balanced sets of letters, but not the same two sets every time you play.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.

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