Super High Rollers

So there has been lots of talk recently about the state of the game that was sparked by Joe Hachem’s comments from Australia, and that was followed up by a rant from Dan Shak about unlimited re-entries in Super High Roller events.

Down in Melbourne this year for the Aussie Millions, what we saw take place was unprecedented. For several years now they have offered a $100k buy in event, as well as a $250k buy in event, both designed with fast paced structures. In fact, the $100k offered a 30 second shot clock which the players raved about. It really went over well.

What was different this year, is the fact that you could re-enter the tournament until the end of day one. As I said, it was a fast paced structure which means a lot of players were likely to go broke early which assured there would be more re-entries than in a typical super high roller structure. Most super high rollers offer 3 days of play, in both of these the event is over in just two short days.

This venue is the only place that I know of that offers these types of events, combining a super high buy in, a fast paced structure, as well as unlimited re-entries. This is a once a year phenomenon and clearly there was a market for it as the number of entries absolutely shattered previous records for super high roller events.

The reason these events were initially created is because there were some wealthy Asian businessmen who wanted to play some high stakes tournaments, but they didn’t want to invest a lot of time. They wanted to play a fast paced tournament, which in turn actually improved their chances of success slightly. These guys were also casino gamblers for the most part, so it was really a no-brainer for the Crown to offer these two events. It brought them to town, created some buzz for poker, and also brought the top pros to town to take part in these massive events.

All this background is important to understand why these events were created in the first place. The term “good for poker” is thrown around a lot, and I’m likely guilty of overusing this phrase as well. My personal view is that these events are neither good or bad for poker, that the effect is close to neutral. If there was a gun to my head and I had to pick a side, I’d go with good for poker.

The events create a lot of buzz and interest and ensure a televised product with some of the worlds best. In the $250k 6 places were paid and all were top pros: Phil Ivey, Isaac Haxton, Mike McDonald, myself, Fabian Quoss, and Tom Dwan. While the structures were fast early, they slowed down some near the end leaving plenty of play for the pros to get the money in the end. The argument that these events are bad for the poker economy is actually backwards. Rich businessmen who don’t have their rent money on the line in these events are the ones creating the value that wouldn’t otherwise be there, and injecting an influx of money into the poker economy. Many of the pros and amateurs in these events regularly play stakes that far exceed these tournaments. If people want to play high stakes cash games or tournaments, I see no logical reason to restrict them from investing or spending their money however they choose to.

There was criticism that the media coverage of this event overshadowed the main event. The argument can be made that this has held true for several years now. Coverage is based on demand, and if the super high rollers are getting more hits for the media, they would be foolish not to devote time covering them. I also think poker fans like familiarity, and you will see a group of familiar faces in all of these events, while in the main event final tables it’s rare to recognize more than three names.

There is also a big misunderstanding about late entries giving certain players an advantage. In fact, if you allow late registration for events then it’s only logical that you also allow re-entries during that period. The only place that wouldn’t hold true as far as I’m concerned, is the WSOP. There is history there and I do believe that protecting the prestige of the bracelets and history has some value. If you can wrap your head around the fact that a re-entry is a NEW player, then it really doesn’t matter that this new player may have already busted from the tournament. If a player is allowed to register for the first time in level 4, then a busted player, who now becomes a new player, should have that right as well.

There isn’t a player in the world that “plans” to re-enter a tournament. Each decision to re-enter is a unique one. For example, I spent 5 bullets in the $100k and my thinking was as follows:

Bullet #1: This is a good tournament and a good investment for me
Bullet #2: This is a good tournament and a good investment for me. What happened prior to this no longer has any effect on that decision.
Bullet #3: This is a good tournament with lots of dead money in it already and a good investment. The fact that some of that dead money is mine, is totally irrelevant by this point.
Bullet #4: Same as #3
Bullet #5: An entry here gets me just 12.5 big blinds. I’m going to speak to some math guys I know and discuss if this is a positive or negative ROI situation. Since the average stack was only 25 big blinds, and there was lots of dead money left, my intelligent friends advised me that I likely still have about a 3-5% ROI on this last bullet. Myself and 9 other people decided to make this play.

If you want to think of this another way, I essentially played five tournaments here and ultimately cashed in one. My buy ins for these 5 events cost me $500,000 and my cash outs were $550,000. The fact that these five tournaments happened in the same day is really no different than me spending $100k in buy ins on five different tour stops. Make sense?

Lastly I want to cover the whole all-time money list argument which is easily the silliest of the bunch, but worth addressing nonetheless. Even if you did track buy ins, this list has no real meaning. The Hendon Mob website tracks this stuff and it’s interesting to look at, but in terms of what meaning or importance these numbers have for the poker world, they hold no significance at all.

When I started playing in the late 90’s a $1000 buy in event was considered huge and there was only one $10k event a year, the WSOP main event. At that point guys like TJ Cloutier, Men Nguyen, and Phil Hellmuth were atop those lists, but once $10k buy in events became the norm a few years later, I shot to the top of that list in a very short period of time, simply because the prize pools were much bigger. Over the last few years, we have seen the next phase of inflation. Now instead of it being $10k events that became the biggest regular events, $100k events are rampant and prize pools in those events are big enough to significantly shake up the all-time money list. One event, in fact, the One Drop has a one million dollar buy in and not surprisingly, the winner of that event and about $18 million is atop the list currently!

Aside from that, there are events that count on a players total that make the whole list suspect. For example, years ago Phil Ivey won a private, one table sit n’ go with other members of Full Tilt, and the winner was awarded one million dollars. That is added to his total. If some billionaires wanted to run a private poker tournament with a $10 million buy in at Aria and televise it, voila, we have the new all time money leader! Silly right?

I guess the bottom line here is that I don’t see the harm in having these events once a year and I certainly don’t like the idea of restricting people from playing for high stakes if they choose to. Seriously, if 10 guys wanted to play a $100 million buy in winner take all sit n’ go who are we to stop them? If the poker media wanted to cover the event, who are we to tell them they shouldn’t? Finally, if they wanted to make the event unlimited re-entries for the entire tournament, what right do we have to tell them they can’t?