Poker Tournaments

In 2003, a Tennessee accountant named Chris Moneymaker won entry into the World Series of Poker Main Event via a $40 online satellite tournament.  He won his Main Event seat on PokerStars, although other Online poker sites, such as Full Tilt Poker, offer similar opportunities for winning your way into the WSOP.  Moneymaker made the most of his having won a seat, taking down the Main Event and winning a cool $2.5 million.

Moneymaker’s victory sparked interest in poker, generally speaking, but also in tournaments, which suddenly became especially popular both online and in brick-and-mortar poker rooms.  Even though the general Poker rules governing the play of a given hand is essentially the same, tournaments require a much different strategy than do cash games.

There are three primary differences between tournaments and cash games that particularly affect how the game is played:  the “structure” of the tournament, differences in players’ stack sizes, and the payouts.

The “structure” of the tournament refers to the schedule of blinds/antes increases as the tournament proceeds from level to level.  In live tournaments, levels can last as little as 20 minutes or as long as two hours.  Online, you also find differently-paced tournaments, with some “turbo” tourneys actually featuring five-minute levels (in which you really can only play just a few hands).

The reason for increasing blinds/antes is to encourage players to play and not sit around indefinitely waiting for premium hands.  Some tournaments have a “fast” structure with steep increases (e.g., the blinds are doubled from level to level), while others have a “slow” structure with much more gradual increases in the blinds/antes.  Always be mindful of the structure of your tournament, as that should dictate how patient you can (or can’t be) when it comes to choosing hands to play.

Another big difference between tourneys and cash games has to do with players’ stack sizes.  Whereas in cash games players can always buy more chips if they get short, in tournaments they cannot (unless it is a special “rebuy” tournament).  That means shorter-stacked players will have to adopt different strategies to try to survive, while the players with the big stacks will have more and more opportunities
to pressure others and take advantage of their limited options.

Finally, a third factor that affects how tourneys are played is the way the payouts are set up.  Usually only the top 10% of the field cashes in a tournament, although that percentage can vary widely.  It is important to be aware when the tournament is getting close to the money -- when the cash “bubble” is about to burst (as they say).  Some players will tighten up when the bubble approaches, while others will play more loosely in an effort to grab extra chips from the tight ones.

It is important to be aware of how many players will be cashing in a tournament, as well as what the gradations are between places that do cash.  Usually first place gets a significant chunk of the prize pool -- sometimes as much as 50% (or even more) -- while the rest of those cashing receive much less.  Knowing where the jumps are in the payouts can help you plan your strategy and maximize your profit.

These are just three factors that make tournaments much different from cash games.  Another big difference that many tourney players attest to is how exciting and drama-filled tournaments can be when compared to cash games.  It is up to you to figure out which form of poker suits you best.

Joseph Robert

Online Poker Enters New Era

A million dollars, every Sunday. That's right... online poker now offers players the chance to enter a weekly no limit tournament with a million-dollar prize pool guaranteed each Sunday.

PokerStars recently hit over 5,000 players two weekends in a row in their $215 no limit tournament, with over $1.1m in prize money both times. Their monthly $530 tournament was recently raised to a one million guarantee, yet it remains to be known if that will be raised as well. In the meanwhile, players can qualify for the weekly $215 tournament by playing new $13 and under double shootouts. They run multiple times an hour all day, every day.

These satellites are no doubt responsible for the growth of their weekly tournament. PokerStars has also added a new VIP points system, enabling more active users to accumulate FPP's at a faster rate. To reward players for continued patronage, PokerStars has added a VIP FPP store, allowing players to cash in their FPP's for tournament entries, travel, poker related items, and other merchandise.

PartyPoker recently has had major changes to their software. In addition to new table features, their entire look and feel of the lobby has been modified. They have also added new $77 sit and goes, as well as plans for multi-table sit and goes much like PokerStars recently added. In addition to the software changes, their tournaments and sit and goes feature more chips and restructured blinds (with new antes in tournaments).

Looking at the growth trends and changes to online poker, I fully expect PokerStars to continue to grab the online poker tournament market and run with it. PartyPoker is going to be replaced by PokerStars as the most frequented online poker room, though I believe both are going to continue to lead the pack.

I kind of expect both sites to start running more online tournament series, much like the PokerStars World Championships of Online Poker (WCOOP). It wouldn't be all that shocking to me to see an online $10,000 tournament in the near future, either. I expect the WCOOP to run a $5,000 or higher buy-in event in the next two years or so as well.

Live poker, in contrast, will probably start to peak out. I think that while the prize pools will still probably be huge, I don't think they'll continue the huge boom they experienced in the past two years. Maybe the World Series will continue to accumulate more entries and add more events, but I think the tournament circuit as a whole is going to experience contraction instead of expansion.

Jon Eaton

note by gank: online poker is just in its infancy, I believe it will continue to grow and become one of the largest sports in the world. I love football, but like most people I can't throw touchdown passes but we all can play poker. I love this game.

Sit and Go Challenge

Hi guys! This week I'm going to be doing a follow-up article on my SNG challenge. In my previous article, I shared my statistics as well as some general strategy on how to approach SNGs. As many of you know, I am willing to take some risks early on in SNGs to accumulate chips so I can be in a good spot to take control in late game. Before I post my updated statistics, I want to go over some late game strategy that has enabled me to be successful in these SNGs.

I notice a lot of players who play SNGs tend to play the same way throughout the entire thing. What I mean by this is that they tend to play tight and aggressive from beginning to end. Even as players are getting eliminated, they do not open up their range of hands; always waiting for that premium hand to play with. This is a major leak. These are the types of players I love to take advantage of mid-game and late-game by stealing their blinds. As players get knocked out, it is very important to open up your range of hands. To many of you, this may sound very old, but believe me, it is a very tricky thing to try and master.

Many people say, "Opening up your range of hands is simple! I know that I'm supposed to start playing more hands. Duh!" I know a lot of players who automatically push with Ax or Kx when it is folded to them in mid-game. Their logic is simple: I am most likely ahead right now and I want to steal the blinds for another round. There are a few things wrong with this. First of all, if you get called, you will be either dominated or at a coin flip. Let's say you push with A6 or K7. What's going to call you' Certainly not A5 or K6. Anything that calls you will have you murdered as a 70-30 underdog. That is why it is important to account for position when pushing with these types of hands. Usually, I will not push with Ax or Kx unless I'm on Button or SB and it's folded around to me. They are simply troublesome hands.

Opening up your range of hands allows you to pick up much needed blinds to set yourself up for a first place finish later on. Something I like to do in mid-game and late-game is push with hands like 87 or JT. The reason why I like to do this is because 1) I might not get called and I will win some blinds, which is perfectly fine since these hands are not even close to strong or 2) I will get called by Ax or Kx or a mid-pocket pair. There have been many times where I've pushed with medium cards and got called by AK or AQ. At this point, I am a 60-40 underdog, which isn't nearly as bad as 70-30. Of course, there is the possibility that someone with wake up with aces or kings. But there is also the possibility that my apartment will burn down or my car will get a flat tire tomorrow.

Don't play scared. That is what I always tell myself when it gets to late game. Many times, I am unafraid to push with any two cards, confident that my weak opposition will fold and give me the blinds. Anyone who plays scared will find it difficult to win higher buy-in SNGs. This is because even if you crack top three, your chip stack will most likely not be in a good spot to give yourself a chance to win first.

I think that after reading this column and applying it, you should see your SNG results improve by a lot. You will begin to see yourself with more chips than your opponents, thus giving you a slight edge. There are some other things to discuss about SNG strategy, but I will save those for my later SNG challenge updates. Here are my SNG stats so far in my challenge:

Total Winnings: $4,050
Winnings/SNG: $10.13
Hourly Wage: $67.87
ROI: 18.41%
ITM: 37.00%

Total Invested: $22,000
Total Returned: $26,050

Time Invested: 59.67

Total: 400
1st 59
2nd 48
3rd 41
4th 46
5th 42
6th 44
7th 38
8th 30
9th 38
10th 14

Yes, I have not gotten many SNGs done because I have been busy and playing a lot of cash games on the side. On top of all this, I have other challenges that I'm working on. My goal from the beginning of this SNG was to win $10k overall, or $1k per 100 SNGs. So far, I am right on track. During my last SNG post and my current post, I ran into a cold stretch for while where my ROI fell as low as 12%. However, I was able to modify my game a bit and ended up on a tear on the last 40 SNGs. Right now, my ROI has risen to almost 18.5%, which is a big improvement from 12%. My hourly wage is a bit complicated, because I've recently doubled my number of tables from 4 to 8. Obviously, I am satisfied with my hourly wage. I hope to be able to maintain this pace throughout the challenge and maybe win more than $10k. I plan to try and crank out 200 SNGs this week, so hopefully I'll be able to have another update at 600 SNGs soon! Thanks for reading

Brett Chen

note by gank: Sit and Gos are one of the most profitable forms of online poker, and consistent winning is easily attainable. Look at my product Sit and Go Domination to see how you can make a lot of money playing sit and go poker.

Team Play Online

Before I begin what I believe will be a fairly controversial article, I want to say I am not a muckraker. I don't set out to ruin credibility or reputations. In fact, I can't even say that I am any more clean than the next guy'I have probably done something in the past online that others might find sketchy. It's the nature of online play, since rules are so easily broken when you take the casino out of the game.

Now, in recent news on PokerStars, there has come up the issue of team playing in tournaments. If you are a regular on Rec.Gambling.Poker, you might recall the blog entry about previous team play on PokerStars that was uncovered by Paul Phillips in his blog. I could be wrong, maybe it was knowledge before Paul made it public, but that was the first instance I remember seeing it.

More recently, Noah Boeken acknowledged that he began the PokerStars $500k Guarantee under his own account, Exclusive. He also acknowledged to taking over the El Capitano account, which is registered to his mentor Marcel Luske, that his friend had been playing, after Noah busted out on his own account. From there, Noah, unknown to anyone at the final table, managed to take down victory and the first prize money.

This topic has been visited before on public forums. In fact, it's well-known that many big name players have multiple accounts and have continually switched names so as to keep other players from knowing who they are. It's nothing new, but it's definitely come to the forefront now that Noah took down the Stars tournament.

I don't know what PokerStars can do to prevent this. But the situation is definitely needing to be addressed. Many wonder what the big deal is' well, it should be obvious! Let's say that John Doe enters the $5,000 main event at the Legends Of Poker and plays on day one of flight one. He busts out shortly afterwards, and like everyone else, he's out of the tournament and can't return.

Now, let's say that live play emulated online play for a minute, and John Doe suddenly is back in the event! John's friend Jack didn't want to finish the tournament and left, and John takes his chips and wins the event. Does this seem fair' Obviously, it would be damn near impossible to occur, but assuming no one noticed, John Doe has been given a second birth in the event.

Obviously this reduces variance and gives people a second shot at an event they already lost out on. Your play can therefore be adjusted and you have a huge advantage.. If you knew ahead of time that your 10,000 chips at the Legends Of Poker were just the first of your two tournament lives, you could play the first round with reckless abandon trying to accumulate chips. You could gamble with hands you would normally fold, and have a huge edge on everyone. While the player to your right is afraid of being knocked out because he has just one bullet, you have two in your chamber, and can easily run the table over.

Again, I'm not trying to pick on Noah or try and point out security issues solely at PokerStars. Lee Jones has discussed this issue before and knows it exists. It's nothing exclusive to PokerStars, as it's well-known that many big names on UltimateBet have been given preferential treatment and change their account names a lot. I am just addressing the issue, using my column as a place to do that.

Jon Eaton

I highly recommend you come by our forum and discuss this issue. It's not going to get any better if we ignore it. We have to be proactive and try and reach a solution together.

note by gank: Jon Eaton posts regularly using the name sketchy1. His voice is a positive influence on online poker.

When Deal Making Goes Bad

You would think that some things are so obvious that they don't need to be stated. Like don't be a scumbag. I don't play a ton of sit and go's, but when I do I will chop some of them. Not once have I emailed support for them to assist with a sit and go chop, and not once have I had a problem with someone ripping me off. But it does happen, although not frequently, it seems.

I am much more reticent to chop without support assistance in a multi-table tournament because the money at stake is much greater. Still, I will chop with someone I know without support and trust them to live up to whatever the agreement is. I have manually chopped without assistance some of the biggest online tournaments around. I chopped one satellite for a live seat to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure with a guy I know and trusted him to send me the cash, and he did. I chopped a $109 buy in with rebuys tournament where the top two prizes totaled some $35,000 and trusted my opponent to send me the cash I was due. He also trusted me obviously.

The other side of this can be as ugly a portrait of humanity as there is. I once saw Gank work out a 4-way chop in a large no limit holdem tournament. Then one guy sat back in while others remained sitting out, stole some blinds, and said he had changed his mind and wasn't going to chop after all.

And if you think this is an isolated incident with a true scumbag, think again. It happened to me this week, on PokerStars. Down to three players, we all agreed to sit out, then agreed to a chop. While waiting for support to come to execute the deal, one player sat back in and took blinds from yours truly and Jackal69, which were quite high and therefore significant. Our stacks were all pretty even before that, but the offender, TangoTom, had a measurable though not insurmountable lead after his thievery. I ended up third, and it cost me $600 I would have had under the agreement.

Maybe I am na've, but there is no amount of money that is worth losing my integrity. Apparently, not everyone thinks that way.

I have a few recommendations for what to do about this. First, let as many people know about it as you can, by telling people at the tables as well as by posting here or on other sites with poker blogs and discussion areas frequented by players, like Hopefully, this will get back to the thief. Maybe they will realize what they did and not do it again, or maybe they will be so harassed they will walk away and not come back.

Finally, don't stop making deals, because they make good sense a lot of times. Maybe you could protect yourself by sitting out but staying alert and being ready to sit back in in a flash if someone else does, rather than stepping away to get a drink or whatever.

Jeff Henry

note by gank: Jeff Henry is a talented multiple table tournament player both online and offline.