Swingo! The Best Poker Home Game Variant You've Never Heard Of

steve albini
Albini's a double threat, poker and music.

In the second post of the PokerListings/Cardrunners Strategy Project Steve Albini introduces us to Swingo, a complicated poker variant that works great at home games.

Steve Albini is a mixed game instructor at CardRunners and best-known for his work in the music industry. He actively tours in a band while managing his recording studio, Electrical Audio, in Chicago.  

He finished 14th in Event 21 - 7-Card Stud at the 2010 World Series of Poker and specializes in low ball games like Razz and 2-7 Triple and Single draw.

Take it away Steve.

There has been a lot of talk in the poker community about which games will be popular in the future.

While No-Limit Hold'em is certain to retain the lion's share of the casual players' attention, and the online poker high-stakes games are gravitating toward PLO and mixed game formats, the novel and complex game of Swingo has tremendous potential.

The game was invented by some regulars in the Tuesday Game here in Chicago and named after a classic Chicago punk song by the band Naked Raygun.

But it has spread through word of mouth to other places, including private games in the UK and France, and the 2011 Winter BARGE events in Las Vegas. It was also in contention to be added as a special event at the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.

Swingo was invented to incorporate elements of other great poker games, so most aspects of play will be familiar to seasoned poker players.

Rules of Swingo:

Pot-limit with blinds is the preferred structure. The game doesn't play well as a limit or no-limit game.

Mike Matusow
"I think you may be on to something here Steve."
 

Players are dealt five cards and there is a round of betting. After the action closes, players still in the hand place two cards face down as hole cards and protect them until showdown.

When all players have separated their two hole cards, they expose their three remaining cards, creating an exposed board (as on fifth street in 7-card stud).

There is another round of betting, starting with the player with the highest board, as in stud.

If a player folds his hand, his exposed cards are mucked along with his hole cards and no longer play. After the action closes, there is a final community "river" card dealt, and a final round of betting, starting with the best board (not including the river card).

This is followed by the showdown.

Showdown hands are "cards speak," (the best poker hand possible; there is no declare) made from a total of seven cards: the five cards in the hand as dealt, the river card, and any one of the exposed board cards from the other players' hands.

You may not use another player's hole cards in your hand, only an exposed board card. More than one player may use the same exposed board card. You are not required to use another player's board card or the river card.

The showdown rule is what makes Swingo such a complex game, as the implications of exposed cards become a major factor in all decisions.

There is often a critical balance struck between betting for value and preserving an opponent's board. This makes a strong showdown hand, and complex multi-way situations arise where each player can potentially win at showdown.

Here's a showdown example:

[hole cards] board cards

Seat 1 [K K] 9 7 T

Seat 2 [A K] J Q 5

Seat 3 [9 5] 5 9 K

River: 7h

If all three players see showdown, Seat 1 has Kings full of Sevens, Seat 2 has an Ace-high heart flush, and seat 3 has Nines full of Fives.

If Seat 3 folds before showdown, Seat 1 has two pair, Kings and Sevens, and Seat 2 has Broadway.

If Seat 2 folds, Seat 1 has Kings full of Sevens and Seat 3 has Nines full of Fives.

If Seat 1 folds, Seat 2 has a flush and Seat 3 has Fives full of Nines.

Bill Chen
"The mathematical implications of this game are too much for me."
 

There is an important rule: Because of the communal nature of the boards, players may not fold without action, and dealers must prevent mucking of boards until the pot has been awarded.

The betting rounds can have tremendous action. For example, one player might be driving the action with a strong made hand, and another player might call, hoping to entice an overcall from a player whose board improves his hand.

He might also raise to try to force a fold from a board that likely improves a different player, turning a second-best hand into a winner. Meanwhile, some hands will have compound draws with the slew of available board cards, and be eager to see the river card.

Every once in a while a situation unique to Swingo occurs, where a player with the nuts can't bet his hand, but a player with a bust or weak hand can bet for value. For example, you are Seat 3, and on the river the following hands are on the table:

Seat 1 [ X X ]3 4 2

Seat 2 [ X X ]5 T J

Seat 3 [A 5]6 8 9

River: A

The action is on seat 2, showing Jack-high. We can assume he was drawing to a straight or flush, but he can't bet it for value and can't call anything because his 5 and the A river card make a straight flush for Seat 1.

As seat 3, holding blockers for seat 1's redraw to a straight, you make a pot-sized bet, which seat 1 has to call with any pair on the chance that either seat 2 is oblivious or you are making a play. Seat 2 folds, and your pair of Aces wins a huge pot. Once scenarios like this play out a few times in a game, complex bluffs begin to emerge, where players take representation of hands to extreme levels.

Playing strategies are all similarly complex and related to the exposed cards. Some players tend to expose strong boards, improving their chances of bluffing short-handed pots, while some tend to expose weak, uncoordinated cards to avoid completing big hands for their opponents.

Hands dealt pat tend to try to take pots early, shutting out the myriad draws possible with this game format, while some hands like trips or compound draws are happy to play multi-way.

Swingo is a remarkably complex game, and while that is what makes it appealing to poker players, it is also at the root of its principal drawback.

Post-mortem conversations about Swingo hands tend to drag on and on, and you would do well to institute a no-forensics policy in a Swingo game that gets bogged down by such manhuntering.*

If you have any questions about Swingo theory or practice, feel free to email me at sa(at)electrical.com, or stop by the Tuesday Game. Bring a lot of money.

*"manhuntering" is a term invented by annoying Chicago limit Hold'em nit Andy "Shut Up Andy" Kosinsky. It refers to the Michael Mann film "Manhunter," in which the detective protagonist played by CSI star William Petersen uses a handheld tape recorder to record his dictation of the details of a crime scene, speculating aloud about the villain's motives and psychology. When any player in the Tuesday game begins manhuntering, another player is likely to pantomime holding a tape recorder and repeat his musings in the hushed tones of mockery until he relents.

When he's not busy in the music studio or creating poker games, Steve Albini makes razz videos for CardRunners.

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pokerfan123 2011-03-10 21:48:27

I agree with djerb, too complicated for the regular home game. Seems like you'd have to be smarter than my group of friends just to remember the rules ;)

djerb 2011-03-09 23:09:46

The issue with this variant is the complexity. While I would enjoy the game most casual players would never touch it due to the complexity.

Poker needs a new variant that is simple enough to compete with the popularity of Texas Hold'em.

Brandon 2011-03-04 21:15:14

SWINGO TOOK ALL MY MONEY! ASDHFABSDFKJLDF

shytown poker 2011-03-02 18:22:40

Steve f***in Albini!

Hater 2011-03-01 17:01:06

Obscure poker variants, annoyingly long and complicated explanations and inside jokes amongst uber-geeks - this column has everything us real poker fans want! Now if you could only invent a font for sarcasm.

Ray 2011-03-01 11:47:35

amazing game variation btw. and lol manhuntering.

Ray 2011-03-01 11:46:13

Holy shit is this *the* Steve Albini?