Exploiting Tournament Structures

Exploiting Tournament Structures

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

By Alex 'Pickleman' Rousso.

Sometimes the very structure of a tournament gives a player an EV advantage over others. I happened across an example of such a tournament in Cannes at the WSOPE last month.

The tournament was a €500 + €50 PLO satellite to the €5,300 PLO bracelet event. There were no rebuys and one add-on, costing €500 for double the starting chips. In other words, when you bought in, you got 4,000 chips for €550 and, after an hour, you could add on for a further €500 to get another 8,000 chips.

The received wisdom about add-ons is that, at the end of the rebuy period, a player should add on if not doing so would leave the player with below the average chipstack after everyone else has added on. This in itself can involve a bit of guesswork. Players should note that, in keeping with ICM, above a certain level, the marginal return conferred by adding on extra chips does not warrant the extra investment.

There are a few extra considerations – for example, if there were a mega-fish or two at your table with lots of chips, you might want to consider adding on even if you were well above average. Conversely, if you’ve been put on a table full of pros and haven’t managed to get a stack likely to propel you beyond your current table, you might figure that the extra buy in is better invested in a clean start at another table.

Tournaments with double add-ons make the marginal cost of chips almost inevitably worth the extra investment. One would have to have a great deal of chips before adding twice as many as one started with for the same price would not be worth it. Nevertheless, you will encounter a whole bunch of spin-up merchants, under-rolled and generally under-skilled players who will not add on in (double add on) tournaments despite it being in their interest to do so. That, in itself, is a good source of EV.

However, the special case with this tournament was that there were no rebuys before the add-on. In other words, if a player busted in that time, that player would forego the opportunity to buy extra chips at half price. Essentially, they would have bought their stack at €137.50 per 1,000 chips, where all those who added on would get them at the bargain price of €87.50.

The tournament ran two nights in a row and I did my homework on the first night – checking at the end of the add-on period how many players were left and how many of them added on. Of the 28 players who entered the tournament, only 21 of them actually made the add-on period and, amazingly, a mere 15 of them decided to add on. In short, of the 28 players in the tournament, 13 of them – in one way or another – forewent their option to buy extra chips at half price. That is essentially dead money in the prize pool.

Armed with that knowledge, I went back the next night and deliberately didn’t register until the end of the add on period. A brief calculation based on the previous night’s numbers meant that if I entered after level 3, I would have just over average stack, and the dead money in the prize pool meant that the value of my chips even after three levels was approximately what I would have paid for them had I entered at the beginning. Just to explain what I mean by that: I had an average stack, with one in five of the players left in the tournament getting a seat, so I had paid €1,050 for a one in five shot of winning a €5,300 seat. In other words, I had made money without playing a hand, even though I had missed an hour of play.

Sure, I could have made yet more money had I started the tournament from the beginning, but here I risked zero chance of being eliminated before the add-on, and even so I had 60 big blinds, thus there was a decent amount of play left.

This was possible given the tournament structure – ie, the fact that there was a double add-on, and the fact that you couldn’t rebuy to ensure that you reached the lucrative add-on. Of course, there are other ways that structures can be +EV for players, but each case will be different. Suffice to say, it pays to keep your eyes open to these opportunities.

Tags: Alex Rousso, Pickleman, strategy