The WSOP Goes Monster Stack

The WSOP Goes Monster Stack

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Is the structure any good?

Is the new WSOP Monster Stack event as good a structure as everyone seems to think? Alex Rousso gets his geek on to find out.

The issue of starting stack sizes at the WSOP has been burning for many years. When the WSOP began, the starting stack was equivalent to the number of dollars for the buy in (i.e. 1,500 chips for a $1,500 tournament). Over the years, other festivals attempted to cash in on players’ desires to have plenty of chips to “play” with by pumping up the number of starting chips.

However, these competing festivals compensated for the extra time required to complete tournaments by cheapening their structures: starting at the 50/100 level, missing out later levels, or bringing the antes in earlier.
Even so, complaints about the WSOP structure persisted. Under this pressure, the organisers doubled the number of chips in 2007, and then took it to triple in 2009, where it has remained. All the while, however, the WSOP resolutely refused to cheapen their structure, and always geared the buy in to the number of starting chips.

This year marks a watershed, as the WSOP is finally relenting on that gearing – albeit for one tournament. Event #51 of the 2014 WSOP is dubbed the “Monster Stack”. A $1,500 NLHE event, players will start with 15,000 chips. That’s the same number of chips one would expect to start a $5,000 event with, yet it will have the same structure as ordinary $1,500 NLHE events. The expectation is that the event will have a huge field, and it is due to run for four days.

With the Monster Stack, players should have the best of both worlds. But I couldn’t write an article about this without getting my geek on, so here goes. Let’s have a better look at exactly how the structure of the Monster Stack compares with similar tournaments.

The table below compares the Monster Stack, a standard $1,500 WSOP NLHE event, and the $1,600 NLHE tournament from the Venetian DSE festival.

Pickleman June 2

I’ve tabulated the cost per round for each of the first 20 levels in each tournament. In the next three columns, I’ve divided the starting stack by the cost per round for each level. That gives an idea of how steep the tournament structure is. The two key issues to pick up on here are:

a) How big stacks are in the first few levels
b) How quickly the starting stack/blinds ratio decreases

In terms of (a), it’s quite clear that the Monster Stack is the winner. For a starting stack to have 150 BBs during the third hour of a (mid-range buy in) tournament is quite something. By comparison, the standard WSOP event would be entering an altogether different phase, with 45 BBs.
The bigger starting stack is a particular boon in the WSOP events, given that the starting blinds are 25/25. It’s really not unusual to see players in these tournaments opening for 100 or 125 in level one. With only 4,500 chips, there are some risky decisions to be made to profit from this, but one would hope that some players will make the same mistakes with 15,000 chips, and it will be a lot less risky to chase after them.

As for the other tournaments, as you might expect, the Deepstack $1,600 has a better structure in the opening rounds than the standard $1,500 WSOP. This is the area where the cheaper WSOP events have always been perceived to perform badly, and it bears out in the numbers. The received wisdom is that the structure catches up later. So let’s have a look at my point (b) next.

Firstly, check out how the stack/cost per round ratio decreases as we go into level eight and beyond. Ignore the absolute values of the numbers, because at this point in the tournament, players will have busted, so the average stack will be higher. Still, a like for like comparison should give us a decent idea of how the structures compare.

To make the comparison more obvious and visual, I’ve graphed these numbers. (Geek note: to make it clearer, I’ve taken the log(10) of the stack/cost per round ratio).

Pickleman June 3

Three structures compared for the first 20 levels

[calculation: Log10(starting stack/cost per round)]

Ignore the numbers on the vertical axis – including the fact that they go into the negative (that’s just a result of calculating the log of the number). The key thing is the slope of each line. The higher the line is up the graph, the better the stack/blind ratio. Also, the more flat the line is, the slower the blinds are going up in comparison to the stack size.

As you can see, the idea that the standard $1,500 WSOP event has a better structure later on doesn’t really play out. Of course, the Monster Stack has a better structure than the standard $1,500 WSOP – that’s to be expected since they have an identical blind structure, with the Monster Stack having more starting chips. What I found particularly surprising is that the $1,600 DSE event not only has a better structure than the standard $1,500 WSOP, it even catches up with the Monster Stack around level 9.

This highlights a misconception when it comes to comparing WSOP events with other festivals. Usually, players will compare the $1,500 WSOP tournament structure with, say, a $600 DSE tournament, which is unfair.

There’s a major caveat, however. My comparison is made using starting stacks only. The actual stack/blinds ratio of a tournament is also affected by how quickly players bust. Obviously the quicker the players bust out, the more the average stack increases. If players bust more quickly from the WSOP events than the DSE events, the difference might be enough to make the structure of the former more favourable. This thought would need to be tested by measuring actual stack/blind ratios at each level of each tournament.

If this does bear out, it would imply something very significant: that the WSOP events have more fish. And I do believe that the WSOP has way more fish. I’d say that in a typical $1,500 WSOP event, around 70% of the field are fish. By comparison, in a $1,600 DSE event, it’ll be more like 30%.

Therein lies the conundrum with the cheaper WSOP events. In order to take advantage of the fish throwing their chips around early, you have to gamble. This plays havoc with your bankroll, but if players bust out earlier than they do in non-WSOP events, you will have, on average, a much better stack to blind ratio than is suggested by the graph.
Perhaps, then, the Monster Stack could be the perfect storm. It’ll have all the fish who have come to the Rio for the cachet of the bracelet and playing in the World Series. But it will also have a deep enough starting stack and a good enough structure to really exploit them.

However, don’t expect the feeding frenzy to last forever. I presume the first Monster Stack will be a tremendous success. The organisers will maybe try two of them in the 2015 schedule, and possibly even push for three in future years. But eventually the fish will cotton on to the fact that they are losing money too quickly. To put it bluntly, they won’t be as likely to luckbox their way into the money as they are with the standard WSOP events. This, in itself, might be another reason why fewer fish play the larger DSE events like the $1,600 – they keep getting torched, and they learn from the experience.

If I’m right, this will inevitably have an effect on the numbers for the Monster Stack in say, five years from now, which in turn will reduce the organisers’ desire to run as many of them. So my advice is get them while they’re hot.

Tags: Alex Rousso, strategy, WSOP 2014