My Perfect Poker Tournament

Have been thinking about poker tournaments and how much they have changed over the years. In some cases for the better, but in other cases I’m not so sure. I started on the tournament circuit in the late 90’s and every tournament felt special to me whether it was a $100 buy in at the Commerce or a WSOP event. Heck, I felt that the one table satellites in the late 90’s were prestigious and filled with big name players. There were no small buy ins, the lowest being $2000 so buying into a $200 satellite was still very much a big part of the WSOP experience. Of course, that’s all changed now with buy ins as low as $365 to meet player demand and it makes business sense for them to do that. The WSOP takes up a lot of space at the Rio and they have to think of innovative ways to keep those tables full.

I’ve been thinking about what a perfect poker tournament would look like. Something I would be really excited to play and it looks a little something like this:

Everyone Starts At the Same Time:
This is a big one. I’m one to take advantage of late registration when its available to me, but being able to mosey in five hours after the tournament has already started makes it all feel less prestigious to me. There is something special to me about every entrant being in their seat for the shuffle up and deal. My tournament would start at noon (of course) and registration would actually close at noon. If you aren’t in line by noon, you would be absolutely shutout of the tournament with no exceptions. Not even for Phil Hellmuth! Registration would be open well in advance so you could avoid the lines altogether.

Freezeout: This means no rebuys or reentry. If you lose all of your chips, you are out of the tournament. I’m aware this will make the prize pool smaller but I much prefer events where every decision is “life or death” for a player. The players with deeper pockets don’t just get to gamble when they get short and jump right back in. If they bust… on to the next one.

Buy in: I could have my opinion swayed on this, but during poker’s heyday $10,000 was the elite class when it came to a buy in. Those were always special. When I started playing in the late 90’s only one $10k event existed all year, the WSOP main event. There were a few $5k events, but the WSOP main event was king until the WPT came along and offered a series of $10k events that were all aired on TV. Typically we associate prestige with high buy ins, but I think a $10k is accessible to lower buy in players and still worthwhile for the killers who play $100k buy in events.

Format: As many of you likely are aware, I am a big fan of mixed games and much prefer them to straight no limit hold’em. They typically play much faster and I just find them more interesting in general. So, this tournament would be an 8-Game Mix until we reached the money. At that point we would switch to straight no limit hold’em to the finish. Some mixed game players won’t like this idea, but I think they are being really shortsighted for a number of reasons. Explaining those reasons would require a separate blog telling the story of when Jeffrey Pollack was convinced by Howard Lederer and Annie Duke to change the Players Championship at the WSOP, orignally created with this format, to mixed games all the way to the end, despite ESPN’s insistence that they wouldn’t air it on ESPN. I think that did a ton of damage to the turnout and the prestige of the event. Actually, I don’t just think that, I know that is true. The turnout without TV dropped significantly after the change and the event has never been the same since. So my perfect event is 8-Game until the money, then no limit hold’em filmed from that point on.

8-Game includes:
Limit Hold’em
Omaha 8 or better
Stud 8 or better
Pot Limit Omaha
No Limit Hold’em
2-7 Triple Draw

Structure: I’m not a fan of playing excessively long days, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that many non-professional poker players can’t take a week off work to play a poker tournament. So my solution to this dilemma looks like this: play four two hour levels each day with no dinner break. With three 20 minute breaks that would mean the event starts at noon and you are done by 9pm on the dot. Restart for day 2 would be at noon the next day. Since we are playing two hour levels and we want this to be no longer than a 4-5 day event, that means starting the structure much more shallow than most, and having some bigger jumps along the way to speed up play. Starting stacks on level 1 would start you with 100 big blinds for the big bet portion of the mix and go up pretty aggressively from there. Event would need to be between 16-20 total levels.

Big Blind Ante: Outside of the stud portion of the event, we would use the big blind ante format. For those unfamiliar, this just means that the big blind covers the ante for the entire table once a round. Paying roughly the same price per round, just not slowing the game down with everyone being bothered to make change and ante every hand. Theoretically we could do this for Stud as well, but we will leave the purity of that game alone for now.

7 Handed: Because the mix includes 2-7 Triple Draw, 7 handed seems like a great number of players per table. Plenty of leg room, not so short handed that you feel too much pressure early on, but also not the boring formats of 9 or 10 handed poker that wouldn’t be feasible for a Stud tournament anyway.

Chess Clock The most important consideration for my perfect poker tournament is a chess clock rather than a shot clock. Currently, shot clocks are used in many events that allow players 30 seconds to make a decision with some time bank cards available for tougher decisions. This is a step in the right direction, but a chess clock is far superior and punishes the right people: the ones who tank with 7-2 off suit from under the gun to just waste time. Here is how it could work:

Each two hour level each player is given a 5 minute clock. The dealer would have a tablet in their tray that would track each players time separately. After every two hour level, the clock is reset to 5 minutes. The clock for each player wouldn’t start ticking until after 10 seconds. If a player acts within 10 seconds, no time comes off their clock. After that point, the player has as much time as they like up to 5 minutes to make their decision. If a player runs out of time on their 5 minute clock, they must now make every decision within 15 seconds for the remainder of the level. After that, they get their full 5 minutes for the next level just like everyone else. The time doesn’t carry over.

Those are the main ideas surrounding this concept, but there are a few other bells and whistles that could really add some prestige to it if there was a sponsor willing to fork over the money:

Added Money or Prizes: Don’t think anyone would complain about this idea. Lots of ways to add money to the prize pool, but a couple ideas I really like:

$10,000 to the Chip Leader at the end of each day.
A Car to the Winner. Tesla would be my car of choice!

Four Events Per year: One for each season. With four “majors” of sorts, you could, instead of giving a car away to the winner of one event, you can give that car to the player who performed best based on points system across all four events. Theoretically we could also do 3 $10k events with the year end final at Bellagio, Aria, or wherever, in December being a $25k buy in worth a few more points on the leader board and a slightly better structure.

TV Coverage: Yo ESPN, what’s good? Maybe the best place for it, but I wouldn’t hate on NBC Sports or PokerGo being affiliated in some way. PokerGo is the premiere poker streaming service in the world and it’s not close. Possibly a deal where the early stages would be streamed live on PokerGo then switch over to ESPN, NBC Sports, or wherever, for the final table.

Side events Since the structure for these events will start out pretty fast, that means more players will bust on day one. That would suck for a player traveling across country to play, so it would be important to offer side events starting the next day. Those events could vary in terms of format.

So this is my idea of the perfect poker tournament. What is yours?