Monday, 14 October 2013

Why are people dicking with tourmanents, asks Nick Wealthall?

Something weird is happening to tournament poker. Just when it had conquered the world, everyone started dicking with it. I have no idea why. Was there something fundamentally wrong with freezeouts? Were players up in arms at the sheer horrid nastiness of getting knocked out of an event? Did I miss a memo?

Suddenly, tournaments are re-entry, knockout, bounty based, late-reg-a-thons. Finding a straightforward freezeout has become harder than finding a 5-card draw cash game.

This summer the re-entry format even stormed that bastion of freezeouts the World Series of Poker. Sure, it was a charity event (The One Drop) but it’s the beginning of format shenanigans, mark my words.

Meanwhile, over the street at the Bellagio Cup, players were allowed to late-reg seven days into the event with nine big blinds – probably followed by a re-entry, a joker to be played if your opponent hits his flush and a get-out-of-jail-free card.

I can’t see how any of this is good for poker or good for players. I understand the appeal of getting ‘more than one bullet’, especially if you’ve travelled to a live event and get unlucky in the first levels; or even if you’re just too degenerate to leave your seat and need to keep gambling (sorry, I mean pushing your small edge). Also, as someone with an inability to get up in the morning (or early afternoon), I understand the late-reg thing.

However, I don’t think any of this really works in the interests of recreational players. Professional players with either a big bankroll, or – especially – a big bankroll provided by a sponsor, can rock up with several entries and proceed to play extremely aggressively. This puts huge pressure on the recreational player who’s satellited into the event or saved up for his entry. I understand the argument that the player taking the worst of it just because he has more bullets is making an EV mistake, but the reality of being able to put extra pressure on average players is a big advantage.
More than that, the result of tournaments becomes distorted. Reputations, sponsorship deals and backing arrangements are made on tournament results and in re-entry tournaments. These make no sense unless the number of buy-ins players have made is known. Poker, and specifically tournament poker, has always struggled to be seen as a ‘skill game’ or even a ‘sport’ and these kind of distortions take it further from this than ever.

None of that is my real objection, though. The simple fact is that I’m a traditionalist. I know, I know, it’s shocking. I realise when you read this column and check out the rocking headshot, you think ‘now there’s a fella who’s so much on the cutting edge he probably bleeds revolution and mops it up with a bandage made from pure innovation’. And to some extent you’d be right – especially where fashion sense and sexual technique are concerned – but underneath it all, I like the purity of things, the tried and tested way.

As I write this, we’ve just won the Ashes; something we’re doing with magnificent monotony these days. The Ashes are important because it’s vital that the Aussies are regularly brought to heel and shown their place in the world. They’re also important because they’re the ultimate test of cricketers – five matches each over five days. You can’t fake the result. Now if you were making a sport for the modern age and for TV you wouldn’t make it a five-day deeply strategic affair, you’d make it last about three hours and it would be colourful and exciting. Enter 20/20 … exit my interest.

Freezeouts are the ultimate test of tournament poker players because they’re so uncompromising. There’s a constant battle between the desire to accumulate all the chips and the fear of being knocked out. When someone wins, they’ve beaten everyone in the field and dodged countless landmines that could have taken them out. They are festivals of nerve, skill, luck and emotion-shattering brutality. Banging it in with any old draw in the early levels in an attempt to build a big stack, knowing you have four more bullets left to fire, just isn’t the same.

However, I’m clearly in the minority judging by the amount of non-freezeouts that are starting to dominate the tournament world, so I suggest we go the whole hog. Here are my top four new tournament formats coming soon to a card room near you.

Strip re-entry

This works in the same format as a re-entry tournament but every time you buy-in you must remove one significant piece of clothing. Buy-ins end when you’re broke or fully nude. And no, you can’t do that thing where you put on loads of bracelets and they count as an item each. Given the physical appearance of most tournament fields, this should spark the little-seen phenomenon of players being paid not to play.

Late Reg To Heads Up

Let’s take it to the extreme and allow players to late register all the way up to the heads-up. The tournament is played in the usual way but late-regging is allowed at all times including after the first-heads up bust out. Players get the same starting stack resulting in them late- regging the heads up with approximately 0.3 big blinds. This has just been approved for the Bellagio Cup next year.

Crackerjack Re-entry

Crackerjack was a children’s TV show in the eighties famous for its endgame where children were given prizes to keep as long as they held onto them; they were also given cabbages for wrong answers which were bulky and difficult to hold on to. In this soon-to-be-a-hit poker format, players can re-enter as often as they like but each time they’re given a large Savoy cabbage which they must hold and keep off the floor for the remainder of the tournament. Should any cabbage hit the floor they bust the tournament.

All-Way Chop

Players register as normal. As soon as registration is closed the entire prize pool is split between all entered players. This results in everyone getting almost all their entry returned less the casino’s hosting fee. It’s a great innovation – not only does everyone get a lot more free time but all players also have that special winning feeling and avoid that horrible losing experience. Just think about it: no more bad beat stories from anyone ever. Genius!

Tags: Nick Wealthall