Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Aria Big Blind Ante Tournament

The sacrifices I make for you people....

You may recall that a year or two ago the Aria changed their tournaments on the weekends.  Instead of the $125 at 1pm, they offer a $240 starting at 11am.  The $240 buy-in I am ok with, no issue there.  But it's always been the 11am part that has been a deal breaker for me.  That's just too dang early for me to be playing poker, as I've explained before—especially in what could be a long tournament that doesn't offer a dinner break. I pretty much vowed I would never play it, unless I was ever given a really, really good reason to.

Well.....

A few months back, Aria introduced a different type of structure for the $240 weekend tournament.  They are calling it "The Big Blind Ante."  What's different about it is that for each hand, the big blind posts the ante(s) for the entire table.  The idea is that the game goes faster and you get in more hands per round.  I actually wrote about this format in my recent Ante Up column, and got a quote from Paul Campbell, Aria's TD, about it.  You can read it (again) here.

As Paul mentioned, it originated in the Aria's high roller tournaments.  They experimented in one of the weekend $240's and got positive feedback.  So it is now the standard format for the weekend tourneys. I would guess it's only a matter of time before they use it for all their tournaments.

Well now, since it appears to be catching on, it seemed like I was more-or-less obligated to personally give it a try.  I know my blog readers would demand that I try it and share my opinion of it.  Afterall, I am "robvegaspoker" and thus have to be well acquainted with all things involving Vegas and poker.  It was my duty to experience it for myself.

I have to admit, when I first heard about this, I thought it was crazy and didn't like the concept at all. All I could think of was if you were the big blind and short stacked, that big ante might put you all-in where you wouldn't be with a normal structure.  And whenever that big blind came around, it would be a bigger hit than usual.  Of course there would be hands when you had to put zero chips in, but it just seemed to me it added to the randomness of the tournament—one more element of luck you had to work around to survive.  But I knew I eventually had to try it for myself, it wouldn't be fair to criticize it without trying it.  Aria was getting a lot of positive feedback for it, at least in the Twitterverse.

I suppose I could have played in one of the Aria high rollers that start at 2pm and experienced it.  But since I don't feel like donating $10K (or $25K) to the poker elite, I knew I had to play the $240 version, which, as I indicated, starts at 11am (on Friday, Saturday and Sunday).  It was a huge inconvenience but I know you were demanding it (or would have, if you knew about this unique format).

Below is a copy of the structure I played.  I think it may be different now, I know that they were playing around with it, trying to tweak it to get it as perfect as possible.  At first glance, it looks really odd, The ante is often more than the small blind.  And sometimes even equal to the big blind.  But remember the goal is to make each pot more-or-less the same starting size as it would using a traditional format.



So, I had to get up bright and early on a Saturday morning (my first full day in town) and make it over to the Aria by 11am.  And I had to pack a lunch.  Just so I could evaluate this format for you guys.  I'm such a giver.

One thing I figured out early on was that, in order to really review this format, I'd have to last fairly deep into the tournament.  Busting out in the second or third round wouldn't really give me the full flavor.  I had to last to the point where the antes get to be significant to appreciate this new format—at least the 7th or 8th level.  Plus I needed time to evaluate it, I didn't want to judge it based just on a few hands.  So I kind of wanted to make sure I lasted that long, but of course, I couldn't play in a manner that would not give me a chance at cashing.  Fortunately, I just played my regular game and the cards cooperated enough to at least give me over 4 hours of play to analyze it.

So....after playing it, I am happy (and surprised) to report that I really, really like it.  Yes, it is actually an improvement over the standard format.  The game goes much faster and the dealer is able to get out more hands per level.  So much time is saved from the dealer a) reminding the players to put out the ante and then waiting for them to do so and b) having to make change for the ante amounts each hand.  It's actually amazing how smooth this was.  The dealer just tells the blg blind how much to put out (and if necessary, reminds the small blind to put that out) and there you go.  The dealer waits for one person instead of 10. You don't have the blinds asking the dealer how much the blinds are because the dealer pretty much automatically tells them as he's shuffling.  

One of the hidden benefits of this format is that you can take a bathroom break in the middle of the tournament without losing anything.  You know, sometimes you just can't wait for the break to go.  Once the antes kick in, in a regular tournament, you are going to have to ante up for a few hands you won't even see—totally dead money that you are giving away.  Later in the tournament that could be a significant amount.  But with this format, you could go to the restroom after you played your small blind (or after you played your button and maybe the cutoff), and still get back to the table before your big blind is due.  And it would cost you zero chips whatsoever.

You'll notice that for this tournament, the antes start right away.  But at least for the Aria $240, the structure I think is really a slow progression and very player friendly.  After the first few levels, I realized that you wouldn't be missing that much coming in a few levels late to this.  Thus I can say that, as long as they are using this particular structure, or a similar one, I can see myself playing this tourney again—but not feeling like I have to break my neck trying to get there at 11am.  I actually would shoot for Noon, or 12:30 even, and eat lunch first. I would still get plenty of play for the money.  Especially since once I'm there I'll be dealt more hands per level.

One thing I noticed right away was that, because there were no $25 chips (no need for them), in the early levels you couldn't make the standard opening raise to 2.25x or 2.5x the big blind.  You had to do 2x or 3x.  Not a big deal at that point in the tournament and as the tournament progresses it works itself out.

As for the situation I was worried about initially—having to post a big blind and a relatively large ante when you are short stacked—well, I think in the long run it all evens out.  Sure one time it might really hurt you.  But more often than not you'll benefit from playing up to eight hands in a row without having to put any money in the pot unless you choose to.  If you play this tournament an infinite number of times it won't make much of a difference.

This day they had 68 players (they never had more than five tables going).  The total prize pool was $13K with $4,900 for first, $2,900 for second and down to $597 for seventh place—the min-cash.  Yes, that's right, they were (apparently) going by my recommended formula of paying the min-casher more than double the buy-in amount.  In fact, I was watching how the prize pool kept changing as more players bought in.  And at no time was the min-cash ever less than 2x the buy-in, it was always more. Coincidence?  Needless to say, I was happy about the prize pool distribution—except for the fact that none of it was distributed to me.

I didn't cash.  I'm not going to do a detailed tournament recap (wait, is that cheering I hear?).  I'll only describe the last hand.  It was level 9, with the blinds at 1,200/600/1,200.  I had about $23K so I was pretty short.  And it was at the very end of level, we were just minutes away from going on break and returning to a 1,500/1,000/1,500 level.  So my stack was about to take a hit even if I didn't play any hands.  There was a min-raise to $2,500 from a big stack and a call from another big stack.  I had Ace-9 on the button.  The big stack had been raising a lot so his range was pretty wide.  I decided I had a lot of fold equity there, some of which I was about to lose just by the blinds going up in a minute two. So I decided to roll the dice a little and I shoved.  But the original raiser called and showed pocket Queens.  I didn't catch my Ace and I was done. I think I busted 24th.

But it was a great experience playing in this tournament and testing out the Big Blind Ante concept.  It's a good idea.

13 comments:

  1. Rob, I actually played this tournament as well at the beginning of October and found it quite enjoyable as well even though I didn't cash as well.

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    1. Thanks, Dale...yeah it would have been more enjoyable to have cashed!

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  2. Sounds interesting, thanks for reporting on it.

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    1. Sure thing, MOJO. Would love for you to play it and let us know your thoughts.

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  3. After reading your description of the BB posting all antes and how the play was positively effected one word comes to mind: BRILLIANT....

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    1. Yeah, it was pretty slick, Lester.

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  4. Let's do further consolidation by having "one blind ante" , where small blinds posts enough chips to cover both blinds, therefore eliminating the need for the big. You could play 9 free hands and the game would be totally streamlined.
    Sorry, i have to give this blog only a "5" rating, due to obvious lack of Boobage, even tho it contains other outstanding content.
    GL Sir

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    1. Haha. Yeah, left out the cleavage pic this time, just to see if anyone noticed. I guess someone did!

      I think there should be two blinds so at least two people are invested in the hand.

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  5. What happens when big blind does not have enough chips to cover the antes? Does it lead to a smaller pot than otherwise(with everyone posting individual antes)?

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    1. The big blind posts whatever he/she can, and that's the starting pot. It's really no different than if, in a normal structure, the big blind doesn't have enough chips to cover the entire BB.

      At no time does anyone other than the big blind post an ante--ever.

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  6. What about when tables get short, or even just down one player? Does the amount of the ante go down? 10 handed vs 9 handed, or maybe much later in the tournament, 2 tables, 5 and 6 handed?

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    1. I didn't last long enough to see that, but my understanding is that there are no changes when tables get short.

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