Sunday, September 7, 2014

10 AM is No Time To Play a Poker Tournament--or Run it!

A week ago I played in my very first MGM $10K Weekly Invitational.  

What the heck is the MGM $10K Weekly Invitational, you ask? (Go ahead, ask.)

It’s the not-quite freeroll that the MGM poker room started offering soon after I left town in July. Of course, because of my position at PokerAtlas I knew about it before it even started, but it was only on the second Sunday of my most recent Vegas trip that I was “eligible” to play.

In order to qualify to play, you have to play 15 hours of live poker between Monday and Saturday (don’t ask me why Sunday doesn’t count, I have no idea).  The tournament is every Sunday morning at the ungodly hour of 10AM.

It’s not quite a freeroll because if you do get your 15 hours in, you have to pay a $5 entry fee.  Yep, a whole five bucks.  That entire fee goes to the dealers.

A few hours after I played in it, I learned why they have the five-buck fee from one of my MGM buddies.  By charging $5, they can call it a tournament and as such, winnings are treated differently for tax reporting purposes.  If it was a true freeroll that you could play without paying a dime, it’s a promotion.  The difference concerns when the house has to report winnings to the friendly folks at the IRS. If it’s a promotion, and they pay you anything more than something like $500-$600, the IRS says they have to issue you a 1099.  But if it’s a tournament, that minimum for a 1099 is something like $5,000 (not sure if the numbers are right, but I’m close). 

My understanding is that most freerolls have an optional $5 or $10 add-on for the dealers anyway, which most everyone takes, so they are actually doing the players a favor by charging them five bucks.  The guaranteed first place prize is $2,000, so no one will get a 1099 for this freeroll, I mean, “Invitational.”

Perhaps surprisingly so, I have very little experience with freerolls.  Part of it is because I don’t live in Vegas, and of course, freerolls cater to the locals, who can actually play enough hours in a week (or whatever the time period is) to qualify.  Plus, the rooms I play the most (like MGM) never usually offer them.

In fact, I think the only previous freeroll I ever played in was at the M Resort not long after I started this blog, when they had a poker room.  I’m trying to remember the details, but I think the last three months of the year everyone was playing hours to qualify for three different tournaments to be held in January of the next year.  If you played enough hours you could play in all three, each successive freeroll had a bigger prize pool.  You needed to play a lot of hours to qualify for all three.  Just from playing there in my normal visits (this was back in my $2/$4 limit days) I qualified for just the first one, the one with smallest guarantee.  The date of the freeroll coincided with when I would have returned to Vegas anyway, so it was no problem playing in that one freeroll.

I don’t think I ever mentioned that on the blog, because I didn’t do very well.  I don’t even remember much about it, didn’t take notes on it (I didn’t take notes at the table back in those days) and had better things to talk about.  I didn’t come close to cashing, that’s all I can really tell you about the experience.

As I said, I knew about the Invitational before arriving in Vegas and I knew that it would basically be impossible for me not to qualify for the one on the second Sunday of my trip. I can play 15 hours of poker at MGM in six days in my sleep—which would probably yield better results than when I’m actually awake.

The question was not whether I’d get enough hours but whether or not I would play in it.  I mean, was it really worth it?  The details are these:  $10K total prize pool, $2K to first place.  Thirty players get paid.  Players 25-30 get the min cash, $75. Only 60 players are guaranteed to get in, on a first come, first served basis.  A lot more than 60 players qualify.  Registration begins at 8:30AM Sunday morning and if you’re not one of the first 60, they will let alternates in as players bust out, but for only the first four levels.  If you’re on the alternate list when the fifth level starts, you don’t get in, tough luck. 

I asked around and found out that they had been getting more than 60 players routinely, and had been turning people away (they had run at least half a dozen of them before I qualified for my first one).  The 60 seats were filling up before 10AM. 

In other words, if I wanted to play, I would have to get to the MGM poker room well before 10AM on a Sunday morning.

Do you know what I’m usually doing at 10AM on a Sunday morning when I’m in Vegas?  Either sleeping or trying to drag my tired ass out of bed.  Like a lot of folks, I usually stay up pretty late on a Saturday nite in Vegas.  I rarely get out of bed before 9AM on any day when I’m up there.

The thought of waking up early enough to get over to the MGM poker room by 9:30 AM to register for a freakin’ poker tournament didn’t have a whole lot of appeal to me (I was told by a reliable source that if I got there by 9:30, I’d have “no trouble” getting one of the first 60 seats).

So, the whole week leading up to it, I pretty much dismissed the idea of playing in it.  I mean, there was no way I was going to set an alarm to wake up early enough to make it, that was for sure.  Set an alarm to play poker?  Not me.

But……if I happened to wake up unusually early that morning, and if it seemed as if I could get over there without breaking my neck, I might consider it.  So I was playing it by ear.  If I wake up Sunday morning and it’s 10:05, no sweat.  Normal day.  If I do happen to wake up early enough….well, maybe.

As it happened, I got to bed Saturday night even a little bit later than usual.  I was sure the 10AM tourney wasn’t in the cards (so-to-speak).

But on Sunday morning, I woke up around 7AM (so less than 4 hours sleep).  Not unusual, happens a lot.  Usually I am able to fall back asleep for a few more hours.  But not this time.  I dunno if it was because the freeroll was in the back of my mind or what, but I tossed and turned and the more I did, the more awake I became.

Finally I thought….well, if I’m not going to go back to sleep, I might as well try to score some free money.

So I hustled and headed down to the MGM—just a short drive from where I was staying—and managed to get to the poker room at around 9:15AM.  Inasmuch as I’ve never pulled an all-nighter since I started playing poker, I’m pretty sure that this was the earliest I’d ever been in a poker room, anywhere.

I paid my five bucks to register and I asked and found out that I was something like the 26th person to register.  So I made it in plenty of time.  However, they did sell out, they had alternates and they didn’t get all the alternates in, so yes, I needed to get there before 10AM.

I killed time checking my twitter feed and talking to some friends, and was ready to go—drowsy, but awake—at 10AM.

To say this tournament is a turbo is an insult to turbos.  It’s a turbo on speed.  A 5K starting stack, and 12-minute levels.  Yes, twelve-minutes.  It is pretty much guaranteed to be just a shove-fest by the time registration ends 48-minutes into it, if not sooner.  Honestly, there’s so little actual poker that can be played that it would be just as fair to get the 60 of us in a room and just have us randomly draw out envelopes with amounts on them.  Now, I’m not complaining about the structure, it’s basically a freeroll and I totally understand them not wanting this to last a long time.  I’m just explaining it.

I had asked around and was told that the tournament usually takes around 2-1/2 hours to complete (one of the reasons I could play in it—I knew there’d be plenty of time for lunch after it was over, and not even a late lunch).  And that is one of the problems.  The room is insufficiently staffed for it.

Ordinarily at 10AM on a Sunday, they wouldn’t need much staff, right?  But now, they are just adding six tables all at once, they need extra dealers, extra floor people, someone to actually run the tournament.  And they have to bring all these folks in for…..2 -1/2 hours.  Then they can go back to their regular staffing.  And btw, they do have their regular tournament that’s going to start at 11AM. I think they get two or three tables tops for that tournament.

Before the tournament began, I chatted with a couple of the daytime dealers I know, and realized they were coming in an hour early on Sundays now for just this event.  Depending on how the day went, they might have had to work overtime at the end of the day.  But the important thing is, they really had the bare minimum, and I do mean bare minimum, to staff this freeroll.  Because those six tournament tables are going to break pretty fast, and in 2 -1/2 hours they’re all going to be gone, and then they won’t need all that staff.  Note: Now that their football promo has kicked in, and they are doing drawings for the afternoon games, they probably will need that extra staff for their cash games, which will likely be busier than they were on this Sunday, the last Sunday before the NFL season started.

While I understand the desire not to be overstaffed and pay a bunch of dealers to basically do nothing, I also have to say that, if you are offering this as a promotion to your players, as something to give people to a reason to play more hours there, I do think you are obligated to make the experience as pleasant as possible for the players.

I don’t want to offend any of my MGM friends, but honestly, there were times when this thing was basically just a fustercluck.

The person running the event this day is someone I would consider one of my poker pals. You might even assume she’s someone who has been mentioned on this blog a time or two.  But for this post, the only way I’m going to refer to her as OTD (as in, “overworked tournament director”).  The strange things I saw happening are not things I blame on her.  Not at all. I know that she is perfectly capable of running such an event flawlessly; she has a boatload of experience as a floor person, a dealer, and as a poker player. She just didn’t have enough help.

So for example, just as they were about to announce the start of the tournament, they suddenly noticed that there was no dealer at one of the tables.  They had to scramble to find a dealer who could take that table, and then had to wait for him to hand out the chips, check the receipts, prepare the decks, etc.

I was also mentally prepared for something I knew I wasn’t going to like—the disappearance of a tournament clock.  I have played enough at the MGM to know that they are not set up to display two separate tournament clocks if they are running two separate tournaments.  I see this at 10PM most evenings when the 7PM tourney is still going, and suddenly it resets so it can display the clock for the 10PM tourney.  The remaining 7PM players are on their own.

I hate that and frankly I don’t understand it.  I once experienced this myself when I played a tournament at—of all places—the M Resort.  They started two tournaments an hour apart and the one I was playing in was short-changed, no visible clock, we had to rely an unattentive floor person to very occasionally tell us how many minutes left in a level.  I publically complained about it—but not here on the blog.  I did a post in the AVP forums about it.

I was assured that the software used to run these tournaments could be programmed so that you could run two different tournaments at a time and display two different clocks.  Both Venetian and Aria use the same program for the tournaments and I’ve been in those rooms when they were indeed showing two separate tournament clocks for separate events.  It baffles me that MGM can’t handle this.

So I knew that if I lasted long enough, sometime during the fifth level the clock I was checking would disappear and we would all be relatively clueless as to when the levels were about to change and when the breaks were coming.  The breaks are a big deal.  For some reason, MGM likes to have only 5 minute breaks for their tournaments.  In the evening, when the club is open, it can easily take you five minutes just to negotiate the pedestrian traffic to get to the restrooms, let alone do your business.  For this tournament, traffic wasn’t an issue, but with such short breaks, deciding to leave a minute or two before the break, if you could see that the blinds wouldn’t come to you in that time and give you a chance to take the break a minute or two earlier so you don’t come back late, would’ve been nice, but it wasn’t an option.

Now, OTD could have been circulating and giving us the time remaining constantly (using a hand timer, I believe), but she had way too many other things to do. As soon they stopped allowing alternates, at the start of level five where the blinds were 50/300/600, players started busting out almost by the minute.  After all, if you had your original 5K stack, you had barely more than 8 big blinds and a tournament “M” of less than 5.  So now OTD had to keep picking up seat cards and keep counting seats to see if she needed to move players to balance tables, and then move them, and while moving them she would hear three or four cries of “seat open” and who knows, by then she might have to break a table.  All while the clock is running down, 12 minutes at a time.  Wonder Woman would have a hard time keeping up with this.

This led to one of the oddest things I’ve seen in a poker tournament.  After breaking two tables, by the time everyone was settled at the four remaining ones we were actually pretty close to the final 30, which is important because the final 30 all get paid.  It seemed that I had just settled into my new seat when OTD was saying we were down to 32, and then she said 31.  And then a dealer shouted “seat open” which meant that a) another table could be broken, leaving us with three tables and b) everyone left would get some money.  Nice!

So they broke the fourth table and those players started filling their new seats.  I was not at the table that had been broken, and a few players from the broken table came to make our table full (10-handed).  It didn’t take long for someone to shove light and get busted.  This happened at our table.  Now, there was so much commotion going on with the new players taking their seats, I hadn’t followed that hand as closely as I would have liked.  So I can’t say for sure if there was a chance that the light shover only made his move because he knew he was in the money, or if he might very well have made the same move regardless because he was so short-stacked. But I have to believe that, at the very least, he came to the decision a lot easier because he was in the money. 

So he got up and went to look to see about how he could get paid his min-cash of $75.  As he stood up, nearby was OTD and a player with a rack of tournament chips and a seat card.  And suddenly OTD was telling the player with the chips and the seat card, “Oh here….you can take this seat. Now we’re down to 30 players.”  WTF?  The guy who had just busted 31st, not 30th as we had all thought, was asking OTD where he could go to get his $75.  OTD said nervously, “Ummm…..come with me.”

With that, she went over to the table where the shift supervisor was set up to pay everyone.  I had to turn my attention to the game.  The player who had just been seated explained that the seat card he had been given when they broke his table was no good, someone was already sitting in that seat.  He had gone to OTD and she went looking for an open seat to place him at.  There weren’t any.  Because she had too much on her plate, there had been a mistake and they had broken the last table one player too soon.

This meant a couple of things. For one thing, the guy who just busted, thinking he was in the money, was out of the money.  As I said above, I’m not sure if he would have played it the same way or not had he known he was on the bubble and not in the money, but obviously that kind of knowledge is crucial to determining how to play a hand.

I saw them talking and I am not completely certain how they compensated him for this error.  I assume they did something for him because of the goof.  I’m not sure if the gaming authorities would allow him to be paid $75 out of the promo fund (where all the other payouts were coming from). My best guess, based on partial information I was able to pick up, is that they gave the guy additional comps on his player’s card.  The full $75?  Not sure.

The other point is that the player left roaming around, looking for a seat, probably benefited from the mix-up.  Even tho he had a decent stack, at this point in the tournament, no one really had a big stack due to the turbo structure of the tournament.  Missing out on antes and the possibility of having to post blinds for a few hands was likely more advantageous than playing.  Because really, this was just a crapshoot at this point in the tournament.

Wow. I am afraid I am going to have to make this a two-parter and talk about my personal tournament performance next time.  I really hadn’t intended this to be a two-parter, but it’s time for me to post this and I’m just not finished.  And honestly, I had no idea this post would be so long; you know my reputation for being concise. 

In the next part, which I should post about 48 hours from now, I will talk about some hands and how I did overall, and then explain why my experience led me to come up with a suggestion for a new TDA rule (which I mentioned here).  (Note:  The follow-up is now posted here).


  1. Been following for about a year, great stuff! Did you ever write about the transition from 2-4L to 1-2NL? I'm starting that transition myself, would love advice/to read about your experience. (Links please!)

    1. Thanks very much Anony, I appreciate it.

      Well, I actually did a post called "The Difference Between Limit Poker and No Limit Poker" was mostly about the social action, not the poker itself, and it served to set up my first really popular post, my first meeting with my now good pal, Prudence. Here's the link to that:

      Now, I never really did posts SPECIFICALLY about the differences, but really, the whole first year my posts about NL games I played really cover that topic, directly or at least indirectly, you can read those and see how I learned and adjusted to NL.

      What I would suggest you do is click on the label I have "No Limit". At the time, I thought it would be so rare that I labeled all the posts where I played NL (either cash or tourns) that way. I've stopped doing that since I play NL pretty much exclusively now, but the old posts with those labels are still there. Click on that label and read the oldest posts first, I think that might be what you are looking for.

      Good luck!

    2. Thanks for the link- though after reading that write up on it's own- I'm not sure I want to make the switch!

      Thanks again.

    3. Heh heh...there are obviously plus and minuses...but remember, this blog is now filled with fun, crazy, funny sessions that took place at the NL table, not just the limit table. Plus you can win--and lose--a lot more money playing NL.

  2. Now they have all this extra staff there and all these extra poker players there early Sunday morning for the free roll but because they don't get credit for the free roll by playing cash on Sunday most leave after the tournament. Kind of silly to set it up this way.

    1. Excellent point, Nappy, I hadn't thought of that. Really makes no sense not to count hours on Sunday, especially since they are bringing them in for the freeroll. After all, they do count hours on Friday and Saturday their biggest days. Weird.

  3. This is blatantly a mgt decision , using the old, "get them in for free and they will drop cash elsewhere" stunt. Maybe they think people will have lunch in the hotel, blah, blah. Obviously, if it isn't organised properly, people will vote with their feet, unless they are just promo miners. If people are leaving straight afterwards, this won't last long.
    As for the software, the Aria and the MGM user the same tournament clock software, (as does nearly everywhere else), so a multi clock is possible. Sounds like a training issue.

    1. Ben, regarding the tournaments, I did think of one problem they may have with the clocks. In their current location, they don't have many TV's, and it just may be impossible to use another one for a second clock. If their remodel ever gets done, and they ad more TV's, maybe at the same time they'll pay someone to reprogram the Bravo clock so that they can use it for two tourneys simultaneously.

      Interesting, the time I had the same experience at M Resort, they also used the same Bravo clock that Aria, Venetian, and MGM use.

  4. You described the exact reason why I don't have any interest in this tournament. It's too early for me. I wouldn't mind the money but I hate getting up much earlier than usual when I don't have to do that.

    1. Actually, Anony, most freerolls start early. I think that 20 for 20 CET wide one they ran last year started at 9AM. Obviously they are not going to run them during times when they are normally busy and might have to not add cash games until it plays out.

      That said, getting up to play poker that early is crazy. Next time I play it, I'll just arrange to pull an all nighter!

  5. Replies
    1. She certainly filled out that Wonder Woman costume very well back in the day. I haven't seen her lately, tho.

    2. she was in the movie( super troopers and dukes of hazzard remake) couple years ago. u could do her without the Trader Joe's bag. was watching old made 4 TV six million dollar man and bionic woman movies today. GOOD TIMES

    3. Good to know, anger. When I catch her on Tinder, I'll leave the bag at home.