There’s very little that can harm the game of poker. A bloody U. S. Civil War? Nope, both sides saw their combatants pass time between skirmishes by playing the game. Shuttling it off to seedy casinos and back alley poker rooms? Nope, just adds to the mystery and the charm of the game. Have massive malfeasance where an online poker room literally allows players to see the other players’ cards and strip them of millions of dollars? Nope, online poker just gets bigger.

But there are storm clouds building for tournament poker. As we get ready to enter the third decade of the 21st century, there’s a couple of new phenomena that have come about that, while looking good on paper, should be reason for concern. The Big Blind Ante tournament is problematic, but the Re-Entry tournament may be the thing that drives the players away.

In April, I was looking at the schedule for the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL, and I was a bit dismayed. Every tournament on the schedule not only utilized the “Big Blind Ante” format but also featured unlimited re-entry into the event until, in some cases, the start of Day 2. While there are pros and cons to these tournaments, do they have to be EVERY event?

Pros and Cons of Big Blind Ante Events

The Big Blind Ante tournament is a recent change that has come to the game that seems to have literally swept across all poker rooms. The theory is sound – instead of each player paying an ante (and slowing the game down), the Big Blind pays the ante for the entirety of the table along with their Big Blind, with that cost usually being the same as their Big Blind stake. But while this may seem to simply be an insignificant change, it does make a big difference in the play of the game.

First, there is a change to the strategy that a player takes into the game. Not having to pay an ante each hand means that players (in theory) don’t have a stake in the hand and can therefore play a little more conservatively. That changes, however, when the player is in the Big Blind and basically must pay a double Big Blind. It encourages more defense of the Big Blind because, although it isn’t voluntarily putting the chips in the pot, people are more apt to want to defend their money in the kitty already.

These changes may be foreign to older players. For those that became set with the “old” system – each hand, put your ante in – they must get out of their formulaic play that they’ve been used to playing. But the problem then becomes that, if every tournament being offered is a “Big Blind Ante” event, does it drive them away from playing in these tournaments?

Pros and Cons of Re-Entry Tournaments

I have long railed against the aberration that is the rebuy tournament. Those events – created by Tournament Director par excellence Matt Savage (and even he says he regrets creating them) – allowed players to buy into a tournament as many times as they desired. This would allow for those with deeper pockets – such as Daniel Negreanu’s infamous 48 rebuys during a World Series of Poker tournament in 2006 (one that eventually forced the WSOP to abandon rebuy events) – to basically buy tournament championships. A more recent example was Ali Imsirovic’s buying of a WSOP Circuit championship after re-entering the event SEVEN times (at $2000 a pop) in their version of a “high roller” tournament.

For a bit, the rebuy tournament went away, but the casinos liked the extra money that the rebuy events brought. Thus, the “re-entry” tournament was born. The re-entry tournament is nothing but a rebuy tournament with a different name and anyone who says differently is being disingenuous. There is one good point to re-entry tournaments – they artificially keep prize pools high as the “re-entries” often equal the number of actual entrants in the tournament, if not surpass them – but there is a load of downsides.

Tournament poker is supposed to be the most egalitarian of games. People put up their money, everyone is equal and, if the fortunes aren’t with them that day, they are eliminated without a chance to get back in. The re-entry tournament, however, violates every one of these tenets.

The re-entry event, in theory, could make a player have to beat an opponent two, three or even more times before that person decides (or can’t) buy back in (and let’s not get into the ridiculousness that knocking a person out four times only to have them come back and beat you once is). Then there’s the fact that most players DON’T HAVE three, four, or five buy-ins to shoot at a tournament. If they only have one shot at success where everyone else has multiple tries, why would anyone want to play in the event?

Why Does it Have to Be All or Nothing?

Unfortunately, poker players have lemming-like tendencies that see them follow anything if the money is there. Instead of standing up to some of these changes, players seem to be willing to blindly follow things like the re-entry tournament or the “Big Blind Ante” because the casinos put “guarantees” on events that make players chase the dragon. But why do casinos have to do the “all or nothing” approach – make all the events on the tournament schedule one style or another?

The L. A. Poker Classic was a demonstration of the re-entry fallacy. The $10,000 Championship Event (a staple on the WPT) was a throwback to the “old style” of tournaments – one entry, big buy in and a guaranteed prize pool (there was a Big Blind Ante, but that’s a horse that may have already left the barn). 546 players came out for the tournament and it is proof that you don’t need unlimited re-entry or other gimmicks to falsely inflate your tournaments.

We don’t need to completely go back to the way things were, as it looks like the Big Blind Ante is here to stay. But casinos, tournament organizations and the players need to examine the re-entry issue and see if it is pushing players away from tournaments. I often laugh when the WPT or an online poker room offer ONE entry into one of the “big” tournaments because the reality is that player is going in with one arm tied behind their back in the factor that they can’t (more than likely) re-enter the tournament should they get hit with a bad beat. Let’s see the re-entry fad go the same way as the rebuy tournaments. And, if we can’t completely eradicate it, then let’s see some events where the “freezeout” is once again employed. I would think that these tournaments, if offered, would prove to be more popular than the re-entry tournaments – and then the casinos would have to think about how they’re going about business.


7 Comments

  1. Dan Goldman says:

    “The re-entry tournament is nothing but a rebuy tournament with a different name and anyone who says differently is being disingenuous.”
    While I agree with your objection to re-entry tournaments, there is a key element you left out – casinos collect a tournament entry fee for every re-entry, but not for every rebuy.

  2. LA says:

    The casino I play in, collects the reentry every time. But regardless, I like reentry tournaments.

  3. Donna Blevins says:

    Big different in re-entry vs rebuy tournaments, as mentioned in the previous comment, casino’s get extra money with each re-entry, hence the house fee. Whereas, with rebuy tournaments the house gets their vig once.

    I shy away from both. IMHO, bad for the game. Bad for the poker population. Even bad for the game of those with deep pockets.

  4. Frances Vandenberg says:

    My bankroll is NOT big enough to re-enter tournaments .
    I have been very dismayed at knocking out a couple of players only to have them re-enter and sit beside me again .
    I like the old-fashioned ”if you beat a player, and you take all his chips he’s gone. End of story.
    Make it a fair playing field .

  5. Randell Duncan says:

    I hear all the time that BB ante is the same as traditional ante except the frequency of when you pay. The problem I see with the BB ante format is it does not adjust once the tables get short handed. Say a full traditional table has a 1000/500/100 x 10 = 2500 pot.. same as a full table w BB 1000/1000/500 = 2500… no problem. But lets say the same table gets down to 6 handed. traditional is 1000/500/100 x 6 = 2100. BB ante it stays 1000/1000/500 = 2500. The extra 400 in the pot significantly changes the ranges that are correct to play. Once you are head to head it would be 1000/500/100 x 2 = 1700 while bb ante would still be 1000/1000/500 = 2500. That makes the game play totally different.

  6. David Galyean says:

    I for one, have spoken openly about the Error of the Big Blind Ante alternative. Just as has previously been pointed out, , , IT CHANGES the dynamics of the game to greatly penalize the Big Blind. The Big Blind is FORCED to putting 4 TIMES the amount of money into the pot as the small blind, and the other players are not “forced” to put anything into the pot.
    I DO UNDERSTAND HOW THE SINGLE ANTE “speeds up the game”, but as I have championed, , , IT SHOULD BE “The FIRST TO ACT should pay the ante for the table”. This method would encourage MORE action by making THREE players have an investment into the pot, meanwhile it would reduce the burden from the Big Blind. The “First to Act player, has the option to bet, or fold, the same option the Small Blind has. I have hear the excuse that “The Ante was placed upon the “Big Blind” because you “always have a Big Blind, whereas you may have a “dead dealer” or “dead small blind” etc. Well, duh!, you ALWAYS HAVE A “FIRST TO ACT” player, , , EVEN IN HEADS UP! How unfair is the Big Blind Ante in “head up play”???
    IF YOU AGREE WITH MY SUGGESTION, PLEASE, PLEASE SPEAK UP!!! Tell every Floor Man, and Every Dealer your opinion! Maybe we can stop this falsehood before it becomes permanent.

  7. Jeff says:

    I can handle the Big Blind Ante, but the days of Re-Entry tournaments has cut down my tournament poker playing dramatically. So much so, that I usually play very few tournaments in the Los Angeles area anymore and usually play just 1 $1500 freezeout tournament at the WSOP each year. This doesn’t keep my poker game as fresh as it needs to be though, which is done by playing more often. I hope the Re-Entry tournament goes the way of the Dodo bird, but that is quite unlikely. Also, the amount the house gets from each entry has been climbing bigtime over the years. When I first started playing tournament poker in 2004, I would play freezeouts that cost $55 with $5 going to the house. Back in 2006, I played a nightly freezeout during the May 2006 WSOP Circuit at Caesar’s and the tournament cost $200 and $6 went to the house and $194 to the Prize Pool. That’s 97%!!! Just the same as all the other and much bigger buy in events during that Circuit event. I love poker, but it needs to get back to being pure.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.