Poker News

I think it’s time for casinos that host big buy-in tournaments, such as WPT events, and the players in them to take a look at what’s happening out there today.  Due to “player demand,” events have gotten longer since players are starting with deep stacks and friendlier structures.  The result is that fields are getting tougher and smaller.  And due to the large number of big buy-in tournaments these days, if something isn’t done about it, I see that trend continuing.

This will certainly be the case until online poker gets regulated – and when that happens, we’ll see another poker boom.  Big buy-in live events will expand their numbers substantially because so many people will be able to qualify online for $50 or $100.  But that’s “if and when,” and we need to worry about right now.

On a side note, one of the biggest myths in poker is about deep stack tournaments.  It doesn’t matter how many chips you start with; what matters is the size of the blinds in proportion to the size of your chip stack.  But this article is not about deep stack tournaments; it’s about why event attendance is declining in big buy-in events, what to do to about it, and why it will benefit both players and casinos to change the current trend.

You lose value when you shut out the players you want in the tournaments, such as the businessman who cannot take a week off work and amateurs who can’t be away from their families for a week.  And cutting down the buy-ins at some events may actually increase the prize pool because of the larger number of entrants.  Just look at the recent WPT events at Borgata and Foxwoods.  Borgata had a $3,500 buy-in and was the largest field in WPT history with 1,042 players, creating a $3.5 million prize pool.

Foxwoods had a $10,000 buy-in with 240 players, creating a $2.4 million prize pool.  Generally speaking, larger fields provide more value for players and, obviously, more people in the casino can only be better for the casino.  An additional value of lesser buy-in tournaments is that you can run a lot more satellites, providing more people an opportunity to play and increasing value in the tournament.

How can we increase fields and create more value for the player?  The first step that needs to be taken is to shorten the events.  With the exception of the $25,000 buy-in WPT Championship, I’d suggest cutting every event on the WPT back to four days – and just as importantly, start them on a Saturday (with the final table on Tuesday).

In my opinion, this would be a win-win situation for everybody.  Amateurs can play on the weekend and would only miss one day of work (two if they make the final table, but that would be an extremely beneficial day off for them).  The casinos will get more players in their events, which would have much more value.  And you don’t have to play ungodly hours the first three days.  You do have to cut back starting chips from 30,000 to 20,000, cut levels back to 45 minutes, or eliminate five or six levels along the way.  By doing this, pro players will actually earn more in the long-run, as value in the tournaments would increase substantially.

I’ve been to every event in the history of the WPT.  At least 80% to 90% of the time, the top players get eliminated in a race or a bad beat – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a three-day tournament or a week-long tournament.  As a player, if you knew you were going to race for your money near the end of a tournament, wouldn’t you rather have that race at the end of three days rather than at the end of six days?  Wouldn’t you like to have an extra few days to enjoy life?

The argument some players will make is, “Because of the long structure, I was able to survive and put myself in a position to have a race at the end of six days.”  That argument has some merit, but I don’t believe it outweighs the added value in tournaments of allowing more amateurs to play.

Players and casino management must recognize that shortening the days of play will benefit everyone.  Decreasing buy-ins at some venues would be beneficial as well.  For this plan to succeed, however, it’s going to take a strong recommendation by the WPT, the vision of casino management (which shouldn’t be hard since they’ll make more juice and get more people in their casino), and the support of top players with leadership that see the light, especially those in the youth brigade who will help lead the charge.

Where’s Nike when you need them?  “Let’s Do It!”


  1. Andy Bloch says:

    I agree completely Mike. There needs to be faster structures early, at least until the money bubble is looming. Another option is the Bellagio structure where players can start as late as midway through day 2.

    While “deep stack” might be a good marketing term, very few of the players who put down $10k cash several times a year are fooled by the term. I’ve talked to upper management at some casinos who hate deep stack tournaments but feel they have to keep offering them for marketing purposes. I think they’re wrong.

    If it’s a question of marketing, what’s needed is better marketing begging with a new term to help promote a return to faster structures early. Something like “Improved player-friendly structure” or “Classic championship structure”.

    Also, casinos and tours can offer multiple structures of tournaments and let people choose. The online sites do it, and so can brick-and mortar casinos. Adjust the casino’s rake accordingly (lower for faster tournaments) and I think you’ll see a lot of players choosing the faster structure. Or, give players extra comps or other bonuses for playing the faster structure.

    This idea, of having some tournaments with slow structures and some with fast, I’ve recommended to the WSOP. Let the WSOP and every other tournament know if you support the choice of faster tournaments because they won’t make any changes if they don’t see any demand.

    The most extreme example of your point Mike is the WSOP main event. Many amateurs who can afford to put up $10k can’t play because they can’t afford the time — over a full week in Vegas (or multiple trips) just to get into the money. Ten years ago the WSOP got into the money at the end of day 2. I wouldn’t have played the first two WSOP main events I played, in 1997 & 1998, if it would have taken a week to get into the money. I’m sure there are many other players who would say the same thing.

    The young players, most of whom play heavily on the Internet, should be the biggest supporters of faster structures. If you play online, when you bust out there’s always another game to play. If at any time during a tournament you’re playing at close to the same level that you’d play in a cash game or tournament on-line (after accounting for chip inflation), you’d be better off skipping that level because you could be multi-tabling online. Your time is more valuable not playing in the first few levels of a live tournament.

    These days, it seems that tournament structures are being designed with no concern for the length of the tournament or the value of people’s time, both professional players and amateurs. Time should be one of the first concerns, not the last.

  2. alanchiras says:

    Wow Mike! An real and controversial idea!!! Good for you even if it isn’t implemented. Alan Chiras.

  3. Kim Lund says:

    Great read. Delighted that someone with your influence dares to speak up on this matter, Mike.

    Have a few comments:

    1. The big buy-in tournament organizers seem have somehow tricked themselves into thinking that the size of the buy-in is the best measurement of prestige in a poker tournament. But that’s a tricky factor to measure prestige by. I guess it stems from the (sketchy) notion that big buy-ins weed out the field and leave only the very best of players – hence creating prestige.

    Measuring prestige by size of prize pool is of course simpler but that too comes with obvious weaknesses. Especially in poker where most prize pools in prestigeous events are so large that they all pass the point where the common player stops counting anyway. I talk about this aspect in this piece I wrote about player liquidity in online tournaments.

    Personally, I believe true prestige is built up based on a whole host of non-monetary factors that are often forgotten. Not even in the money-craving sport of golf is the greatest prestige associated with bagging the biggest check. So I don’t see what all the fuzz about giant buy-ins is about in the first place. And even it was so, as you point out, a $5,000+ buy-in is not always the best means to generate the biggest prize pool.

    2. Love your point about most pro players ending their tournament life in big buy-in tournaments in coin flip situations regardless of the deepness of the structure.

    3. When I was part of running the WPT Venice presented by bwin event two years ago, we had to do a lot of convincing to be allowed to drop the buy-in to a level that fit the optimum size and length of the event based on the event’s image, target customer and location. Because Bigger is not always Better imho.

    I know casinos are, by necessity, fairly… pragmatic establishments. If a dollar can be squeezed, it will be squeezed. But I still find it strange that big buy-in event organizers don’t consider what havoc “the bigger the better” approach can wreak on the individual player experience. Six day tournaments where one can be stuck for four days without being guaranteed a dime isn’t very user friendly. Just like online tournaments lasting for seventeen hours straight aren’t either.

    4. In the pursuit of shortening the length of tournaments, I wonder why focus is always placed on the blind structure. A couple of times when I’ve been blogging the WSOP or a WPT event and been bored (that can’t happen can it?) I’ve killed time by clocking various frequent procedures in the events.

    Genuinely contemplating what to do
    The counting up of chips to make a bet or raise
    Controlling the size of bets made
    Answering “how much you got” questions
    Dealers splitting pots

    The time lost shuffling and dealing the cards is nothing compared to what gets lost in the above.
    Chips are not properly stacked. Massive amounts of low domination chips are kept in play for the sake of antes which makes the process of counting chips arduous. Players fiddle, mess, count and re-count ships.
    Every orbit, valuable game time is drained from the game by players.

    A lot of the hollywooding is done because not doing it might be a tell. If the ability to think and ponder on moves for ages every single hand was removed, the need for hollywooding would drop as well. Allow players to “tank” for a limited amount of times each day (represented by go-in-the-tank cards or something) and otherwise enforce a clear time limit. Enforce the stacking of low denomination chips in stacks which total value is relevant to the current blinds. Enforce the use of vocal bets so that the dealer can proceed with the game while the bettor counts up his chips. Things like that would certainly speed up the number of hands that could be squeezed into a level.

    That said, I totally agree that tournament blind structures too can be sped up without turning million dollar affairs into luckfests.

    What I really like about this column is that it addresses the needs of a whole range of different potential contestants in big buy-in events. Not just the average high-stakes poker pro.

    But Mike, are you sure you’ve been to every venue in the history of the WPT? Unless I took a longer toilet break than I can remember, we missed you during the WPT Venice. ;-)

    Best Regards

    Kim Lund

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