Thursday, April 14, 2016

All Noon Poker Tournaments Should Serve Free Pizza

Let’s get back to the highlights, which were actually lowlights, of my March Madness trip to Vegas.  The trip was only a week, so just one weekend, the first weekend of March Madness.  It’s actually been awhile since a Vegas visit for me didn’t include at least two weekends.  And generally I only play tournaments on the weekends.

Now as you must have come to realize by now, I have a love/hate relationship with poker tournaments.  They do tend drive me crazy.  I always gripe about the payouts, and they are increasingly inconvenient for me to play.  There are plenty of reasons for me to stop playing them altogether.

And yet….well, here’s the thing.  I’ve become increasingly convinced over time that I am actually a much better tournament player than I am a cash player.  And of course, the best way to get a nice score moneywise is to run really deep in a tournament.  You just have to accept the wider variance.  But I’ve been running deep in tournament after tournament lately, and cashing in my share too.

As an aside, I’ve taken a serious look recently at the tournaments in the L.A. area rooms that are available to me. And you know what?  As a general rule, they tend to suck.  I don’t want to call out any rooms by name (at this point, I have too high a profile in the poker community to be comfortable doing that), so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  The tournaments here that are in anyway comparable (time and/or buy-in wise) to the Aria & Binion’s tournaments I like seem to have pretty bad structures.  And the timing of them (and lack of meal breaks) make them even less attractive to me.

So basically, if I am to going to continue to pursue tournament poker, Vegas it is. 

Anticipating the trip, I was trying to figure out how to play in a Saturday tournament under the new arrangement.  As I mentioned in the post here, Binion’s moved the start time of its big Saturday tournament to 1PM, which is much less convenient for me.  And Aria now starts both its Friday and Saturday tournaments at 11AM, with neither a lunch or a dinner break.  And that post explains why I find that objectionable.  I’m just not ready to try to figure out a way to play a 8-10 hour tournament without meal breaks that starts that friggin’ early.

I thought I had the answer.  Instead of playing Aria on Saturday, I’d just play it on Sunday.  The Sunday tournament, at least for now, is still at 1PM and is still $125 (Friday & Saturday it’s $240 but the buy-in doesn’t bother me).  That seemed like a pretty good solution.

But then, not too far in advance of my trip, I received word (as part of my job) that Aria was going to have a special series of tournaments for the first weekend of the basketball tournament.  Thursday through Sunday, the 7PM tournaments were all cancelled and the daytime tournament would be $355 and start at 10AM.

Yeah, 10AM.  Well, if I don’t like an 11AM start, you can imagine how I feel about a 10AM start.  Especially with no meal breaks.  Totally out of the question.

Another aside.  Without getting any official explanation, I knew instantly why Aria was doing this.  For this weekend, they would be packed.  They could easily fill all their tables just with cash games. They were purposely trying to limit the number of tournament tables they needed so they could spread more cash games.  The early start time helped too.  They would only need a few tournament tables by late afternoon when the waiting lists for the cash games figured to be huge. 

I briefly considered Binion’s at 1PM on Saturday.  But 1PM downtown is tough.  And also, I was concerned I wouldn’t like my parking options downtown on such a busy weekend for the city (I won’t go into detail on that).  So I decide to pass on that.

I was trying to come up with a plan C or D when I heard from Mark over at the Stratosphere.  At sort of the last minute, he was able to schedule a “Stratstack” tournament for that Saturday. I wrote about playing one previously here.  It’s a pretty nice $110 tournament and it figured to get a decent turnout on this particular weekend.  It was an excellent bit of luck (finally!) for me.

Now the tournament starts at Noon and yes, you’re right, that’s earlier than I’d like.  But here’s the really nice thing about the Stratstack.  At the first break, the serve free pizza.  In other words, instead of rushing through a too-early lunch at my temporary residence, I could just have my (free) lunch at around 2PM, a more normal time. What if I busted out before the first break?  Well you can bet I would have hung around to get my free pizza.  After all, I would have paid $110 for it.

The free pizza is such a great idea for tournaments that start early. I wish more rooms would do it. To be sure, it’s not the greatest pizza in the world, but I’ve had plenty that’s way worse and it provides enough fuel to keep a poker player going until dinner.

For $110 you get a $20K starting stack and 30-minute levels.  They ended up with 68 players for a $5,440 prize pool.  First place was $2,067.  Second place was $925, third was $598.  Does that sound right?  How is second place less than half of first?  Another payscale for me to complain about.  They were paying 8 with the dreaded min cash being a mere $218.  Gee, they couldn’t have made it $220 for an even money payback?  Or better, $225 so you could tip $5 and still get double your investment back?  I guess I’m asking too much.

Of course, that’s pretty much my complaint with every tournament I play.  Hence the love/hate relationship.

This was my third day in town and my third consecutive day of being card-dead.  I was actually so very card dead that I was able to last a long time just because I wasn’t losing chips very fast, so few hands did I play.  That is not the preferred way to make a deep run in a tournament of course.

Spoiler alert—I didn’t cash.  I had so little to play that for the first five levels I jotted down about three hands.  I won the very first pot from the small blind with King-4 off on a board of K-3-3.  I did get pocket Queens, raised, had one caller, and took the pot with a c-bet. In the small blind it folded to me with Ace-Jack, I raised and the big blind folded.  I checked from the big blind with Queen-8 vs. the small blind and caught a straight on a four-flush board.  But my straight held.

So, those few small pots, combined with not getting decent enough cards to lose chips with, actually had me ahead of the starting stack  I started level 6 with $24,400 (blinds were 50/500/1000).  And then finally, I awoke from my slumber and actually got a few hands to play in rapid succession.  I was actually unable to keep up with my notes so I may have some of the details wrong.

I opened to $2,700 with Jack-9 of clubs, no call.

In the cut-off, I opened to $2,700 with Jack-10 off.  The big blind called “raise” and put out $5K.  The dealer told him he had to make it $5,400.  The player protested, but the dealer said no, he had to double my bet.  It was only another $400 so he put it out.

Of course, the dealer was wrong.  This was preflop, so my raise had been $1,700.  The min raise was another $1,700, he could have bet as little $4,400. I almost protested myself, I would have preferred $5k to $5,400.  But I didn’t want to advertise the weakness of my hand so I let it go.  I couldn’t fold for such a small amount (especially since I’d have position) so I called and we were heads up.

The flop was King-Jack-10, rainbow.  He checked I bet $7K.  He shoved.  I called and was thus all in.  He showed two Queens and didn’t improve.  That brought my stack to $49,450.

I limped in with pocket deuces but folded to a big raise.

Now at level 7 (100/800/1600), In the big blind I had Ace-Queen off.  The button and the small blind limped in.  I added $7K to my blind.  The button folded, the small blind called for less and showed Queen-10.  I caught an Ace and took it.

After one limper, I made it $8k from the button with King-10 of hearts.  It folded back to the limper who shoved.  It was only $17K total and I couldn’t see folding. He had pocket 6’s.  I flopped a flush draw.  He turned a set.  I missed the river.  That hurt.

That took me down to $38,700 by the time I could count my stack again.

I limped/called $4K with pocket 3’s and missed, folded.

After a limper I raised to $8k with pocket Queens, no call.

Under the gun I opened to $5500 with King-Queen off and didn’t get a call.

On the button, after two limpers I made it $9K with pocket Aces.  Both limpers called.  The flop was all spades and I didn’t have the Ace of spades.  The first player checked, the second to act shoved, for about $17K.  I knew this guy. I recognized him as an MGM reg.  I’ve played with numerous times before, and he’s a major nit.  Seriously, he sits there in the cash game and plays fewer hands than I do.  So I was sure there was no way he would make that move without a very big hand.  There was just no chance my Aces were any good.  I reluctantly folded.  The other guy tanked for a bit and then called.  The MGM reg that I had pegged as a total nit showed Queen-8 off, no spades.  He had nothing.  Zilch, nada.  It was a total bluff. You could have knocked me over with a feather. The other guy had King-Queen, the Queen was a spade.  I couldn’t believe I had folded the best hand.  No, the flush didn’t hit.  Instead, the MGM reg (just a cash game nit, not a tournament nit, apparently) went runner-runner for a straight using the 8.  Unbelievable. I made a bad play but it turned out to be the right (results-oriented thinking). 

In the big blind I called a short stack’s shove with Ace-King off.  He had Jack-8 of spades.  There was both an Ace and a Jack on the flop.  Nothing else came.  He was done for the day.

I think that was level 8 and I failed to make note of the change.  There was actually a level there that there were relatively few hands dealt.  First, our table broke.  We actually were down to two tables when I moved.  Then, at the new table, there were two huge stacks all in against each other.  When the hand was decided, it appeared that the loser had the smaller stack, but there was no way to be sure without counting both stacks.  And the dealer had a bit of a problem doing that, she had to start over.  It took a lot of time to confirm that the loser was busto, but he was and we finally got to play another hand.

So we were now at level 9 (300/1500/3000) and I was down to $26K.  In other words, desperate I open shoved with King-Queen and the big blind called.  He had King-Queen too for the chopped pot.  He said he only called because he was the blind.

I was under $20K and my shoving range was wide.  The big stack at the table limped into a pot. He was the guy who had one won that monster pot that took so long to count.  Since then, he had entered a lot of pots preflop, sometimes raising, sometimes limping. It folded to me and I was only a few hands away from being the blind.  I had Ace-2 of hearts and decided to shove.  I figured the big stack had a low-medium pair or big cards but not an Ace.  I was sure he would have raised with an Ace.  In hindsight, I’m not sure if my logic was solid.  I think with his stack, compared to mine, if it folded back to him and he would have called even with just a pair of threes.  And with any pair he had, it would have been worse than a coin flip for me.  So I guess my shove was a mistake.

I was very surprised when he flipped over Ace-Jack.  At that point in the tournament, and with his stack, how the hell could he not have raised with Ace-Jack?  Seemed very strange.  The Ace on the flop didn’t change anything, but the Jack on the turn left me drawing dead.  And I was done.

I had played about 5 hours and I busted something like 17th or 18th.  No money to show for it.  But I had a long run and actually had a brief period where I was getting cards to play.  It gave me hope that things were getting better.


  1. Just found your blog and enjoyed the post. I'm more of a cash game player for some of the reasons you described...I can always find a reason to complain about the payout structure. I also hate having to commit to a certain start time and then you're committed sitting there for as long as it takes. I usually find myself bored during tournaments.

    1. Thanks. I know a lot of people feel just the games are boring and tournaments are exciting. Tournaments are certainly more structured and more like a might actually have to set an alarm to play in one. Definitely plusses and minuses to each.

  2. Most normal top-heavy payout structures pay 50% of the prize pool to the top two spots. Normally first getting 30% and second getting 20%. At the Strat they paid 55% to the top two spots of which 38% went to first and 17% to second. Seven of the eight players cashing at the Strat in that tournament got BONED!

    1. It does seem to be an odd scale. I keep forgetting to ask the managers and TD's I'm friendly with how they come up with the payouts. I know it's been an issue at the WSOP for some events.

  3. You are aware that the payout structure doesn't matter as you can always offer to chop a tournament or change the payout structure at the end. The only numbers that should matter are what % of people are getting paid and what % of the buy in is the house taking.

    1. Thanks...but its not that easy. Once a payscale is out there, the players all have a certain expectation, and any change would have to be agreed upon by ALL the players still alive. So changing is not easy.

      In all the tournaments where I've lasted a long time (with one exception I believe,I small tourney I actually won) and been down to the last few players, a deal has always been made. But you know, if the scale is out of whack, its going to affect how the chip leader feels about making any deal.

      I mean just that scale alone might have made the chip leader less likely to make any deal when they were down to three players, say. Or demand a better deal than he might deserve if the scale originally was "fairer."

    2. If down to 3 players and you have one super-stack he might say I'll gladly take $2500 of the $5440 prize pool and you guys can chop what is left over. That moves first place's slice from 38% to 50%. I have never been the one to propose a chop, but I do listen to negotiations and if found reasonable I do accept chop offers.

    3. I've seen all kind of arrangements, including a 6-way even split w/o regard t chip count (I liked that one, I made out very well with that). But if the original pay scale is bad, that will affect the likely deal.

  4. Rob, it sounds like a fun non stressfull afternoon. You pay $110 which is not too bad. Then, they kind of encourage the players to make the chips last until the free pizza arrives haha. Lastly, you get some cards and try to make the final table. I'm going to give blogging a shot so stop by if you have some time to kill.

    1. Thanks, wasn't a bad afternoon noon....if I coulda made some money.

      Good luck with the blog I will definitely check it out.