Poker Issues Part 1: Multi-Entry Tournaments
I recently attended a player forum for the WPT where they covered various aspects relating to tournament poker, from proposed payout schedules, multi-entry tourneys, and even the GPI as a viable system to reward their player of the year awards. Overall I think it was a worthwhile meeting and we heard from lots of tour regulars as well as many members of the WPT family.
The hot topic up for discussion was multi-entry tournaments that have become the norm on most all of the WPT’s stops. Personally, I much prefer freezeout tournaments, but I understand that more needs to be considered when a venue decides to host a WPT. That consideration is their bottom line.
One of the points I brought up is something I wanted to share with the professional poker playing community. If you are a professional poker player, think of yourself like a small business owner. You essentially are your business. You have partners in this business, and it’s important to find solutions that result in a win for all parties involved.
The venue: Take a typical casino like Bellagio. In order to get an event at Bellagio, the poker management team needs to convince the higher ups that having a poker tournament in the casino would be lucrative for their bottom line. If they are unable to convince the bosses that it will be profitable, they simply can’t have the event. It’s in YOUR best interest that the poker management team can create a pitch to the decision makers that it’s a good idea. When they accomplish that- you benefit.
Multi-entry tournaments has been a carrot that has gotten the attention of higher ups. Instead of having, say, 250 people paying $400 in juice for a total of $100k in revenue, if that number rises to 600 entries you now have $240k in revenue. This makes the bosses smile, and again, if the bosses don’t smile we simply don’t have an event.
The organizer: We’ll use the WPT as an example. They have the job of convincing a venue that associating with their brand will help them with advertising, while also increasing their bottom line. All the while, they need to deal with their own higher ups and convince them that any deal they make with a venue will be profitable for the organization. If the WPT didn’t see a relationship with a venue like Bellagio as an opportunity to expand their reach and grow their bottom line, guess what? There wouldn’t be a tournament there.
So what does this have to do with multi-entry tournaments? Contrary to what some of you may believe, its the venue, and not the WPT that typically dictates the structure of the events. Bellagio, as far as I know, is the only stop on the tour that offers unlimited re-entry. This is a Bellagio decision. So here is where it gets tricky: a lot of players express concern that unlimited re-entry tournaments are bad for the game, discourages amateur players, and bleeds player bankroll. A case can be made for all three of those things being true. So now, how do you, as poker management, explain to your higher ups that you will no longer be offering unlimited re-entry despite a significant increase in revenue? It’s a tough sell.
Then there is the other camp, guys like Joe Hachem, who make the trip all the way from Australia. It’s a long flight for just one event, and if he busts in the first hour, it’s a nice luxury to be able to buy back in and give it another shot. Many players suggested a cap on the number of re-entries, say one per day, or just one total. That seems like a fair compromise, but remember now, if you are in charge of the Bellagio poker room, and you just had a massively successful unlimited re-entry tournament, it’s a tough sell to mess with what isn’t broken from their point of view.
Ultimately I’m all for variety, and while I much prefer no re-entry, I understand that for some venues they see it as a necessity to justify holding the event at all. The players will vote with their dollars. If they don’t like an event structure and numbers fall, it will make organizers consider other options.
In the “old days” the selling point for any poker room having a tournament was that it would bring in players and up the cash game revenues significantly. That line of thinking is outdated. Tournament players come to play tournaments, and the cross over to cash games has shrunk significantly over the last 20 years I’ve been in the game.
So how has the EPT been able to remain so successful in satisfying venues while keeping their main events re-entry free? Well, for one, the amount of online qualifiers registered through PokerStars helps, but there is a different reason that is a win for all parties; the venue, the EPT, and the players. They create a festival AFTER the main event begins. For ages, tournaments in the US would run two to four weeks of prelims, then have a week long main event. Bust the main event, and there is nothing left to play. You could play cash games, but as mentioned, that isn’t happening.
It’s also more difficult to run successful prelims when it requires players to make 2-3 week trips to a venue. If you have postlims, people don’t need to extend their trips past what they already expected to fly in for to play the main event. By offering guys like Joe Hachem, who travels 24 hours to play a tournament in the US, more than just one opportunity to play a tournament, it’s a much more enticing proposition for him to fly over.
So for those confused, say you have a $10k buy in main event on a Monday at noon. On Tuesday at 4pm, offer a $2k buy in event with 4 hours of late registration. The next day you may have a $5k, and what you typically see at PokerStars events is a high roller closer to the end of the main event. You already have the players at your venue, players that want to play tournaments, so offer tournaments! I believe if the WPT made this change, the venues could pitch the higher ups that re-entries are no long necessary.
I assume some of you are surprised that I don’t like re-entry events, since I will often fire multiple bullets to help me get a big stack. I would rather play “good poker” from the outset, rather than gamble recklessly to increase my chances of winning the tournament. Having said that, if it’s within the rules, I’m going to take advantage of anything available to me that helps me with my goal.
Even in my early 20’s when I entered a tournament I had only one goal in mind- win the tournament. I never made decisions based on what makes the most financial sense, I simply always make the play that increases the chances that I come in exactly first place. Math guys will point out that firing multiple bullets wildly is not a positive EV play, but it is 100% aligned with my goal and intention to win the tournament. I’m not suggesting you should think that way! For many of you, that would be a really big mistake.
I don’t play poker tournaments to make money. That’s not my goal anymore, but I have been able to consistently profit from tournament poker for 20 years doing it my way. I’m financially stable enough to fire $10k bullets at the Bellagio event without feeling any pain, regardless of the result.
Personally, I do think it makes a bit of a mockery of the game during the re-entry period, but it is clearly the best strategy available to me to achieve my goal. Interestingly enough, me playing that style actually benefits the prizepool, YOUR bottom line, and if you are lucky enough to be at my table during that period, it may increase your chances of winning the tournament also.
If you got anything from this blog, I hope it’s the understanding that when you think about complicated poker issues, it’s important to not think about what you want personally, but to think about solutions that will satisfy all parties involved.
What would be best for the players?
What would be best for the venue?
What would be best for the organizers?
Worthwhile solutions will answer all three of those questions in a cohesive way.