Sunday, August 20, 2017

No Antes? No Bueno

One evening back in June I decided to do something I haven't done in quite awhile—play in a small, low buy-in tournament. 

For the past few years, I've almost exclusively played tournaments that have $100+ buy-ins, figure to have at least 90 or so runners and have 30-minute levels or more.  Once I started playing those, the smaller buy-in tourneys didn't much appeal to me.  I was "spoiled" by the Aria and the Binion's tournaments I would play regularly whenever I was in Vegas.  I branched out to play even bigger (buy-in wise) tournaments that were part of a big series.  And I pretty much left the small tournaments behind.

The larger prize pools were a big factor, but honestly, the biggest reason was the length of the levels.  Also, the bigger tournaments tended to have larger starting stacks.  In other words, there was a lot more play in them than the smaller tournaments, as you would expect.  And I got used to that.  The downside was that you could play in those bigger tournaments for a long, long time and bust out after hours and hours and have nothing—or very little—to show for it.  At least with the smaller tournaments, well, they were over fast and if you didn't cash you hadn't lost a whole day or evening (or both) for nothing.

So generally, when thinking of playing a tournament, I don't even look at anything that cost less than $100.  And if I see a tournament with levels less than 30-minutes, I also am inclined to give it a pass.

But on this particular evening, after working all day, I really felt like playing a tourney.  And when I considered my options, I decided to give a smaller tournament a shot.  This time of year, with all the big series running, there were actually a number of options for bigger tournaments that started in the evening.  But the best options were ones that would likely run until 4-5 AM—and I had to work the next day too. 

So I looked at all my options to try to figure out the best value.  Fortunately I had just written a column about tournaments around town for Ante Up.  There were actually some tournaments that had buy-ins at $100 or more that didn't figure to last more than 3-4 hours.  Right amount of time, but why would I pay over a hundred bucks for tournament when I was sure I could find one that had a lower buy-in with relative similar structures (and therefore length).

To make a long story short (yes, that's a joke), I ended up at the Mirage for their $65 tournament at 7pm.  It had a 10K starting stack with 20-minute levels and the structure seemed ok.  I noticed that there were never any antes in the structure, so I figured that would make the tournament play a little longer.  Seemed like the best deal available at that hour.

I thought I would like the fact that there were no antes.  When I first started playing tournaments, I wasn't thrilled with antes.  I wasn't used to them, since you never see antes in the low-limit cash games I played.  They were a nuisance and I saw that they helped bleed your stack when it was getting short.  One of the things I really liked about the Binion's Saturday tournament when I first started playing it was that the antes didn't kick in until the 8th level (since changed).

But I got used to the antes and I understood the concept that they induced action.  Still I figured that fact that the Mirage tourney I was playing didn't have them would be a good thing, especially for a low buy-in tournament designed to last just a few hours.

Well, I was wrong.  The tournament convinced me that antes are necessary.  What happened was that I was really card dead and so I got short stacked.  And thus I was at the point where I was in shove or fold mode.  But the trouble was, I realized that shoving and winning without a call wasn't worth very much.

By the time I get to that point (if I do) in one of the usual tournaments I play, it's good to steal the pots that way because the antes on top of the blinds make it worth it.  But without antes, all you get is a blind and a half. It doesn't have much an impact on your stack.

Yes, I know, without antes your stack bleeds slower, and that should make up for the lack of return when you steal....but your stack gets short anyway and then you can't make up for it with steals.  It doesn't seem to balance out.  That steal attempt is no longer worth the risk when it usually only get you 1-1/2 blinds.  Whereas it would be if you were also pulling in the antes.

As such, I quickly realized that I had to adjust my thinking for when it was time to shove.  I mean I did it once or twice when I thought I should have but then I realized I wasn't accomplishing much.  So I actually changed my strategy.  I started just raising in spots where I really had too few chips to do that, where I should have shoved.  The idea was that I was committed but I was hoping for a re-raise so I could shove (which is what I wanted to do) so there'd be more chips when I did it.  Of course that was riskier because I had less fold equity and might get called by a hand that was better than mine but would have folded to a shove).  I just felt because of the lack of antes I had to take more risk to get chips.  Maybe I was looking at it the wrong way, but I was kind of making this up on the fly and that's what I came up with.

So for example, in the 6th level, I was down to about $12K and had about 7 big blinds (the big blind was $1,600). That's ordinarily just a shove or a fold for me.  But with pocket 9's I instead raised to $5,000 instead of shoving.  Well that time I didn't get a call so it didn't make a difference.

But later I had Ace-10 and a big stack limped in.  I made it $7K and the big stack called.  The flop was 10-9-7 and he had checked dark.  I shoved, which I was planning to do with most any flop.  He folded.

Then I had Ace-10 again.  A short stack shoved for $2,500. I thought about shoving but I was still trying to figure out the best play with no antes.  So I just called.  There was a guy behind me who had a similar stack to mine.  He took forever but finally called. The flop was Ace-high, 1 club.  I shoved.  Again, he went into the tank.  But again, he called and turned over Ace-7 of clubs.  I was ahead. All I had to fade was a 7 and running clubs.  So of course he caught runner-runner clubs.  To add insult to injury, the river card was the 10 of clubs, giving me a losing two pair.

I had less than a blind left so I went all-in on the next hand with King-8 and lost.

My assessment was that tournaments without antes are bad.  I won't play them again.  But good for Mirage and other rooms for offering them.  Obviously some people like them, and it's great that they have that option.

But then, I still don't like playing low buy-in, quick tournaments with 20-minute levels.  I just got spoiled a long time ago with the 30-minute levels at the Aria where you get much more play, at the "cost" of playing a much longer time if you run well.  I honestly wonder why people like those quicker tournaments.  I mean obviously the shorter length has an appeal, as it did for me on this night.  But they turn into shove-fests after just a level or two.  I don't enjoy that.  Others must, because except for a few of the biggest rooms, you find just about every room in town offering them. 

They're just not for me.


  1. Interesting concept that I had never thought much about before. I guess I got burned out on tournament life for many reasons. I keep wondering if I should start playing some again.

    1. Maybe try one or two and see how you like 'em?

  2. Hi Rob I still play small tournaments at my local casino. If you do not take them seriously they are fine. Lots of new players making lots of mistakes. They are quick and you do not waste a whole day. The flip side they become shove fests because the blinds go up and you have limited chips. If you want to get better you have to step up and play $ 125 buy ins with 12 K starting chips and thirty minutes levels. If you hit the top three positions you start to see 3 to 4 K payouts. Its never easy to play tournaments.

    1. Thanks, Ed, always appreciate your comments.

      I prefer playing the $125 buy-ins, this was just an experiment that didn't work out. Just not enough play before the shovefest began!