Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Year of the Guarantee

The idea for this blog post came to me from a Vegas poker room manager. I don’t want to say which one, because I’m not sure exactly how his employers would feel about this.  So I won’t name him.  But anyway, after reading my last Ante Up column (this one), said poker room manager contacted me with a suggestion for a column.  He had noticed that this year, almost all the special summer series in Vegas coinciding with the WSOP have guaranteed prize pools on most of their tournaments.  And he wondered if a room or two—or more—might just end up taking a big hit.  There are only so many poker players.  And there are an awful lot of poker tournaments in a seven-week span that have guarantees.  And players can only play one tournament a day (well, maybe more, if they bust the first one early enough).

So will a few poker rooms end up losing a lot of money this summer with their guarantees?

I guess I’ll tell you this much about the manager who suggested this:  He doesn’t run one of the rooms that has a summer series. 

Anyway, by the time he suggested this, it was way too late to do anything for Ante Up, at least the speculative part of it.  My next column (the one I’m about to file, not the one that will appear in a week or so) will be out pretty much after the WSOP is over.  Besides, to the extent that such a column might be considered negative about the poker biz, I’m not sure the editors of Ante Up would be all that thrilled with the idea.

But actually, I think what he was really talking about was tracking all these guaranteed tournaments and seeing how many miss the guarantee, and by how much.  That would be done after the summer was over, and I might just do something like that for Ante Up, depending on the actual results.  The trouble with that is, I dunno anyway to track that other than manually, which would be a bitch.  The results of all the tournaments are easily accessible, but someone (me?) would have to match each tournament with a guarantee with the actual prize pool and see if the pool was just the guaranteed amount or more.  If it was just the guaranteed amount, you would have to calculate how much money the house had to cough up to meet the guarantee.  Tedious.

So we’ll see about that.  But the speculative part of this exercise, well that I can do right here, and I will.

Now, as part of my day job, entering all these tournaments series on PokerAtlas, I certainly noticed the increase in the number of tournaments with guarantees.  This is happening both in the series events and even in the dailies.

Until I started working for PokerAtlas, I didn’t pay that much attention to the summer series, I was still a 2/4 limit player in those days, and high priced tournaments weren’t my thing.  But this is the third year now I’ve entered the series tournaments on PokerAtlas (or AVP, before the merger), and written about them for Ante Up.  So I’ve seen the changes over the years.

I sure don’t remember a lot of guarantees the first year I did this, or even last year.  But this year, it’s almost all of them.

Start with the Golden Nugget Grand Poker Series, which this year is part of the Ante Up Poker Tour.  Before he left, the former manager, Sam Minutello, put together a great schedule with great structures (see here). Note that the level times increase throughout all the tournaments, from 30 minutes, to 45 minutes, to 60 minutes.  Not all the tournaments have guarantees, but all the weekend ones, usually $350 NLH events, have $100K guarantees.  My recollection is that the Nugget usually had some guaranteed tournaments in past GPS series, so this isn’t a change in that respect.

Across the street (or the sidewalk, really), there’s the Binion’s Classic (here).  This year all the afternoon events have guarantees, usually $10K for relatively low buy-in events.  Pretty sure they didn’t have all those guarantees last year…some, but not all. 

Both the Venetian and Planet Hollywood (here and here) have every single event guaranteed. The Venetian, the biggest series outside of the WSOP, is offering $11 Million in guaranteed prize pools.  This is something that has progressed with them over time.  Pretty sure that when I first started working on their DSE events, they didn’t have any guarantees.  Every series since, they’ve added more and more guarantees.  BTW, they’ve also added guarantees to their regular dailies over this time.  They used to not have any daily guarantees, now their entire schedule is guaranteed, even when there is no DSE going on. 

In the case of Planet Hollywood, it’s harder to compare.  They are new to big summer series scene, having taken over from the corporate sibling Caesars Palace when that room down-sized.  I recall a lot of guarantees last year, when they first entered the scene in a big way, but this year, they are offering $4.75 Million in guarantees over their entire schedule. I believe Caesars used to have some guarantees when they had a big summer series, but not many.

Wynn (here) is also guaranteeing every event in their series.  But they did the same thing last year, so nothing new.

So who isn’t offering guarantees?  Well, first up, the Orleans (here) has no guarantees at all.  Never has had them, to my knowledge.  But they do their series early and don’t really compete with the WSOP or the other big series, so it probably won’t affect their business.  Well, except for the fact that this year Venetian is starting its DSE early and at the same time as the Orleans, so maybe that will hurt their business.

And then there’s Aria (see here), which isn’t offering guarantees.  Well, except for their big, 10 Day 1’s WPT500 affair, which offers a $2 Million prize pool.  But the dailies that are not part of the WPT500—which of course make up the bulk of the schedule—have no guarantees.

And then of course there’s the big enchilada, the WSOP.  Only a few of the bracelet events offer guarantees.  And the daily deepstacks, a popular feature of the WSOP, have no guarantees.

So how does it all shake out?  Anyone care to make predictions?

One possibility—the daily deepstacks at the Rio will take a hit as players would prefer to find a tournament with a guarantee (and possibly even more enticing—the chance of a big overlay).  I dunno.  The deepstacks are so popular and in the past, the fields have been so huge that I don’t think the lack of a guarantee is going to keep players away.  Plus, they get so many players just from being at the WSOP venue—and from players busting out early at bracelet events—they would seem to be bullet-proof.

But the Aria is the one that I most wonder about.  When they are not running one of the Day 1’s for the WPT500, will attendance be down as players find a tournament somewhere else around town with a guarantee?  Or does the overall reputation of the Aria make this a non-issue?

Of course, in this age of Twitter and other forms of instant communication, will the numbers fluctuate as word gets out that Room A is having trouble meeting the guarantees (“overlay alert”) while Room B is hitting them easily?  If a room misses the guarantee a few times will it suddenly be hit with a big wave of players looking for some casino money?  If the word gets out that Aria is having the huge fields that people have come to expect, that will make it easier for players to decide to play there (unless they want to hunt for an overlay).

And here’s the big question—are there just too many guarantees and are the guarantees to big for Vegas to handle?  Will there be enough players—tournament players—to enable all the rooms to hit their guarantees most of the time.  I’m sure all the rooms expect to miss a guarantee here and there.  And if they feel the guarantee increased overall attendance, they’ll be fine with that.  But if they keep having to put a bunch of their own money into their prize pools, it could be unpleasant for a poker room manager or two.  I can also envision a room or two having to cancel their guarantees (going forward) if they find that they consistently are not reaching them.

This will be an especially interesting summer to observe.  The year of the guarantee—boom or bust?


  1. #1stworldGTDpokertourneyproblems i weep 4 these poker rooms. WTF happen to this blog??

    1. Want some cheese to go along with that wine?

      You got your boobies this time, is there no satisfying you?

    2. how about some sour diesel to go with this delicious Baja Blast that was only $3 for a 12 pack at Walmart BIIIIIIIIIIIITCHES!!

  2. Who is the new poker manager at the Golden Nugget?

    1. Andy Rich. That's referenced in my next Ante Up column, which I'll probably post here in a couple of days. The new issue is in poker rooms, at least it's already out in Florida.

  3. "boom or bust?..." (So clever, I see what you did there.)

    I'll have the bust, please.

  4. Rob Tournament directors are like sport book line makers. They have to know what the turn out is going to be. The casinos I play at for 10 K guarantees have $125 buy ins so you figure that $ 100 goes to prize pool and $ 25 goes to running the tournament and dealers cost. I have noticed the vig going up. Some tournaments are now at $ 140 for 10 K. Its harder for the players to make money even if they min cash because of the vig. With rebuys or reentries being part of these tournaments I do not see the casinos losing money on these tournaments. Side note the WSOP 235 deep stack get 1000 or more runners making the prize pool so big that players think they can hit the lottery and make it thru these fields for a nice overlay.

    1. Thanks, Ed.

      Believe me, if the poker rooms have to start putting in a bunch of overlays because they're not getting enough players,, they will be losing money and the big bosses will not be pleased.

    2. Aria is super busy in the summer with lists for 1-3 NL having as many as 50-100 names.


    3. Yeah....hopefully that will ease up a bit when they add all those extra tables for the Aria classic.