Thursday, December 3, 2015

Should I Avoid Rooms That Have Freerolls?

Remember the post I did here about promos and how they make me stupid?  Of course you do.  I know my loyal readers memorize every word of each of my posts (because, you know, there are so few words in them anyway).

I pretty much “wrote” that post—in my mind, anyway—while driving back home from Vegas after that rather unsuccessful trip.  I was thinking a lot about the promos and how they had affected my play.  Or to be more accurate and put the blame where it belongs, how I let them affect my play.

But there was one kind of promo that was also on my mind during that drive that I didn’t talk about in that post. Freerolls.

The thing is, freerolls don’t really affect my actual play, that’s why I didn’t include a discussion of them in that post.  But not long before then, I saw or heard someone make an observation about freerolls that made me think I was making a mistake by ever playing in a room that had a freeroll as one of its promos.

Now, freerolls can be different things at different times and in different places.  I’m talking specifically about the freerolls that rooms in Vegas offers.  Freerolls that you have to qualify for by playing a certain number of hours within a certain time frame.  And that are funded by the promotional drop that they take out of each pot in a cash game (and they sometimes take it from the tournament fee, too).  I know online sites offer freerolls that you don’t have to qualify for—that’s totally different.  Your local poker room may offer freerolls that are different, maybe sometimes that are house funded.

Freerolls are offered by rooms in Vegas to get people into them and to play longer than they otherwise might to qualify for the freeroll.  The hours required aren’t that many, really, sometimes 8, or 10, or 15, or 20, usually within a week.  Then you have to show up at a certain time on a certain day and play in what is basically a turbo tournament (few starting chips and a fast structure) and if you do well enough, you win some money.  Could be $100, $200, $400, not usually more unless it’s a really big freeroll where you accumulate hours over a month or a quarter instead of a week.

The obvious thing about any freeroll in Vegas is that it is geared towards locals.  The average tourist isn’t going to be in town long enough to qualify for a freeroll, and even if they are, they might not be available for the freeroll anyway.

The fact that so many rooms on the Strip offer freerolls is proof that even the Strip poker rooms need local players to keep their rooms going.  No poker room in Vegas could survive with just visitors playing. The locals are an important part of their customer base.  And so all the poker rooms are competing for the same set of locals. Freerolls not only get players in the room, it keeps them there and prevents them from playing in a competitor’s room.

As an aside, I would love to know what the percentage of business the local base is for the average poker room in Vegas.  I have no idea.  I wonder if the rooms are able to track this (with player’s cards, I guess they can, at least partially).

Now, I’m not a Vegas local so those freerolls are clearly not aimed at me.  OTOH, I’m not a typical tourist either.  When I go to Vegas, it’s usually a minimum of 10 days at a time, so if I wanted to, I could probably qualify for most of the weekly freerolls available.  It would mean playing a lot of poker in the room that had the freeroll, largely to the exclusion of other rooms, but as you may have noticed, I tend to do that anyway.

I might be inclined to try to play in a freeroll or two if I could set the rules and more importantly, the time and day of the freeroll.  But obviously I can’t.  So unless the payout is particularly juicy, the odds of winning money are very good, and the freeroll is scheduled at a real convenient time, I’m not going to bother with it.  You may feel I am being too close-minded to the idea of freerolls—so be it. With my limited time in town, I just don’t want to have to deal with them.

Would I view them differently if I lived in Vegas?  Perhaps.  I suppose at that point I would consider them and I would have to evaluate each one’s merits.  And if the freeroll was held at a time I considered convenient, and the other details were to my liking, maybe I would work my poker schedule around a freeroll.  But I probably would only do that occasionally, not regularly.

I want to make it clear that I don’t begrudge any room for having a freeroll as one of its promos.  Poker room managers have to do what they can to get people in the room.  If the freeroll helps them do that, good for them.

And so during that drive, I started to ask myself if it makes any sense at all for me to ever play in a room that has a freeroll as one of its promos.  Because, you know, a “freeroll” isn’t really “free.”  It’s the players own money being recycled back to them.  That money that goes down the jackpot slot every pot funds all the house promos, be it a bad beat jackpot, high bonuses, cash drawings, Aces cracked, etc.  And yes, the freeroll.

Almost any other promo in a room I’d play in, I have a chance to win some of that money taken from each pot (some of what used to be my money).  I can win a cash drawing or a football drawing.  I can get a high hand or a splash pot or even Aces cracked.  I could win a bad beat jackpot.  So I always have a chance to get some of that money back.

But if I am committed to not playing in the freeroll (whether I qualify or not), there’s a part of that money I contribute that I have zero chance of getting.

Think about it, here’s how an actual Vegas freeroll works.  The locals who qualify meet at the appointed time and split up all the money the tourists so generously donate during the week.  That’s pretty much it, right?  A little simplistic perhaps but let’s face it, the whole concept is based a bunch of money being donated by players who will never show up for the freeroll.  If you had a room that was 100% locals who were all committed to showing up for the freeroll, the math wouldn’t work.  The winnings would be too little, and/or it would be way too tough to cash in the tournament.  It can only work with a lot of visitors just giving their money away thru that promo drop.

Why should I be one of those visitors generously giving my money the grinders in any room I play in?  They are usually tough players anyway.  They very well may have gotten some of my money during the week (some of them surely did).  And they are tough to get money out of as well, assuming they are good grinders.  Why should I just hand them more money, uncontested?

A question you might be asking is, “Are the games different in rooms that offer freerolls?”  Well I have definitely seen some evidence of it.  I’ve been in a few games—usually near the end of the freeroll qualifying period—where there were mostly guys talking about how close they were to getting all their hours in.  None of these players were putting any money in the pot unless they had the nuts or close to it.  So yeah, they were playing like super-nits.  But you know, if they’re grinders who can play that many hours in a week (to qualify) and still be profitable, they might not be playing very differently if there was no freeroll to qualify for.  And also, the one game I remember that was just ultra-nitty and they were all talking about how close they were to making their hours, well, if there was no freeroll, I don’t think any of them would have been there playing and the game I was at wouldn’t have existed.

But the truth is, most of the time when I play in rooms with freerolls, I don’t really notice it.  The games don’t seem any nittier than the average game in a room that doesn’t have a freeroll.  Good players don’t spew chips whether they’re trying to qualify for a freeroll or not.

On the way home, while I was vowing never to play in a room that had thr kind of promos that would affect my play, I kind of also vowed to stay away from any room that has a freeroll I don’t intend to play in.

But it’s been a few weeks, and I wonder if it really is going to make a significant difference to me.  With the amount of hours I play, how much of an impact does it have on my bottom line, just giving a certain portion of my promo drop money to the grinders?

I know a lot of the grinders are somewhat maniacally about things like rake and promo drops.  It affects their hourly rate.  Some of them will not play in a room with a promo drop, or where they take a $5 max rake instead of a $4 max rake.  But other grinders tell me that makes little difference.  Some actually prefer the promos—they think it attracts the fishier players and they more than make up for the extra rake by being in easier games where they can win more often.

But that logic probably doesn’t work with freeroll rooms.  The players that freeroll attracts are not the fish.  It’s the grinders who are tough to win money from anyway.

I’m still working this through in my mind. I doubt I will avoid freeroll rooms 100%, but I probably will play in them a lot less next time. If you have any thoughts, please let me hear them. If you only play in Vegas occasionally, do you ever give any consideration to whether a room has a freeroll in deciding whether or not to play there?  Do you avoid rooms with freerolls that you won’t be able to play in?


  1. I play mostly tournaments kind of for that reason - at least with that I know exactly how much juice is being taken out if I do just a little bit of research. I will play the "better" tournaments or occasionally ones that don't look very good but tend to draw very weak players

    When I do you play cash I try to avoid the free roll rooms - TI seems to be all or nothing want to comes to these things and when they are "all" I typically avoid their cash game.

    1. Thanks, Zourah. You do know that some rooms actually take a buck or two out of the tournament entry fee and put it towards promos (for cash players), right?

      I saw someone complaining about TI saying there are a few players always there waiting for a game for the cash/freeroll promo but frequently the game doesn't even get going.

    2. I frequently play at MGM even though I know I will never play in the freeroll because there are other things I like about the room. The freeroll does annoy me and my guess is it probably makes the games a little worse but I haven't seen a noticeable difference.

      I think promotions that benefit players for more hours played (especially if they benefit from playing a huge number of hours) are likely to make the games much worse. South Point runs a lot of freerolls and I avoid the room when they have one going on. I played there a couple of times after they started a freeroll and the guy to my left was a tough player who was almost living in that room. The table was tight, filled with regs and tough for a 1-2 game. I came back a day or two later and I recognized a lot of faces and on average those guys were better than almost all the 1-2 NL players I face. However it is a locals casino, which could also explain things (games seem pretty good when I'm there and they don't have a freeroll going though).


    3. Thanks, Steve....yes it's always a tradeoff. Since I started playing NL, I've generally avoided the locals rooms thinking they would probably be a lot nittier than the games on the strip....and also all the other players would likely know each other's game putting me at a disadvantage.

  2. I play exclusively at the Bellagio and Aria and like that they have no promotional drop. I think aces cracked promotions are ridicules and horrible for the game. I feel the same way about the drawing tickets at MGM as well.

    1. Thanks, Anony. I don't think I've ever played in a room that Aces cracked, except maybe once or twice in the very early days of my poker life, when I was playing 2/4 in low limit games.

      There's definitely something to be said in playing in those rooms that have no promo drop.

  3. what is really dumb is when the players complain if theres no drop for the promo, and wont play unless they take the extra drop

    1. Not sure what you mean, Tony. You mean in general, people who don't like to play in a room where there are NO promos? Or do you mean when the game is so short handed they won't take the promo drop, and want to wait for more players?

  4. Great topic Rob! I'm still playing full time in Vegas and while I've participated in several freerolls and made some money from them, I now mostly avoid any room with a jackpot drop. I don't like feeling compelled to get a certain amount of hours in, show up at a usually inconvenient time and pay a mandatory dealer tip up front in the hopes of getting back part of my share of the jackpot rake. Some casinos also use their jackpot funds to pay out better bonuses at certain times of the day, so if I play there outside that time I'm not getting my fair share of the promo fund. I don't buy into the theory that promo rooms have more fish. I've played lots of hours in several different rooms, and I'm convinced the games are pretty good everywhere. The best promo in town is where they give the winner an extra $1 every time they win a pot. It adds up, I can go home whenever I want and I don't have to wake up at 8am on a Saturday or whatever to play a tournament I don't want to play.

    1. Thanks, Dave. That's definitely a valid way of looking at it. If you are making a living full time playing poker in Vegas, that promo drop is definitely going to affect your hourly rate negatively over time. Can you make it back in promo wins? Maybe, and depends on the promo.

      As I said, I know some grinders do feel ok about the promos because of the players they attract but everyone's perception in this regard is subject to their own personal experience.

      Certainly, freerolls aren't attracting the kind of players you want to play against, so then you really need to factor in if you can play in the freeroll and get your money back that way.

  5. I live in Vegas, play a lot and don't play in freerolls. One reason is I tend to play in different rooms, and trying to quality for a freeroll would leave me feeling like I had less freedom. Another is the MGM is the only room I play in these days that is doing a freeroll. And finally, freerolls tend to be in the morning which would interfere with my sleep schedule which affects my poker game. I don't want to wake up early for a freeroll and risk not making any money. I feel like if I show up and might not cash, that I should be doing the freeroll a bunch of times to minimize the impact of variance, and I don't want to do that. And I might be in a negative mood if I wake up early, don't cash, go to a cash game, feel tired, and lose in that cash game. That's not the way I want to start off the week.


    1. Yeah, the timing of when they have a lot of freerolls is really bad. Who wants to wake up early on a Sunday morning just to play poker for a few hundred bucks max?

      People who prefer cash games love the flexibility of being able to play whenever you want to, no schedule. If you're a tournament player, you are used to having to show up at a certain time and place to start the grind. But the freerolls are for the cash players and suddenly they 1) have to show up on schedule and 2) play a tournament when they are used to cash game strategy, which is very different from tournament strategy.

      And yeah, disrupting your schedule to make a freeroll, possibly screwing up your whole body rhythm for days if not a week only to not even cash would really, really suck. Trust me, I know!