Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dear Rob: About that Guarantee

This is going to be somewhat of a different type of post.  I found an email in my inbox the other day from Charles Hall regarding a bad experience he had playing in a tournament during the big summer series they had at Planet Hollywood.  At first, I assumed he was one of my blog readers and that’s why he was telling me his story.  But then I noticed the email came to my work email, and I realized he was writing to me as the columnist for Ante Up magazine, not as the blogger.  I’m going to reprint his original letter and then post a few of Charles’s comments that came in follow up emails.  I knew that his report would not be appropriate for Ante Up, so I asked him if I could run his email and my response in my personal blog, which he agreed to.

Rob?     I would like to tell you a story if I may.  Well, I was in Vegas where I go every year (June). I was playing the tourney at Planet Hollywood, the Quantum $300,000 guarantee. Bought in the first day and lost so I came back for the second day and bought in again, and I did ask if I was buying into the Quantum $300,000 guarantee. He said yes.  So I paid my money and sat down and played one hand! And the guy next to me just then told me they cancelled the guarantee.

I got up and went over and asked the man in charge and he said they did (cancel the guarantee) so I asked for my money back. They said no, because I played one hand. Now what I would like to ask you (after I was there 15 more days and played downtown and Aria after that)—can you write something in you mag. on this for what they did because I believe they should have told people they cancelled the guarantee.  I was late to sign up and they still didn't have (a sign about the cancelled guarantee) up.     

Thank you, Charles Hall.

Now because of my assignments for both Ante Up and PokerAtlas, I know a little bit about this. Some of what Charles said made perfect sense to me, and some of it was a bit odd.  But I think I have an explanation for all of it, and it is really most unfortunate.  I guess I should add that what Charles is telling me is just his word, and thus not verified.  But I do tend to believe that most, if not all, of what Charles is saying is very likely accurate.

It is important to note that in a subsequent email, Charles said he called PH a week or so before tournament and asked about the starting chip stack and also asked if the guarantee was still on and was told that it was.  In another email, Charles said that when he arrived late for the second day to buy in again, “the guy didn't say anything when I said that only about 40 people signed up for this big of a guarantee—he just looked at me and didn't say (anything) and I was the only one there in line.”

When I read his first email, I was feeling a little guilty, and thinking perhaps Charles was blaming me for this mix-up.  You see in my Ante Up column about the series (see here), I did talk about both Quantum tournaments (one in early May, at the very beginning of the series, the other in mid-June) having guaranteed prize pools.  The Quantum type tournaments—a staple at the Bike here in the L.A. area—were coming to Vegas for the first time, that was one of the most noteworthy things about the Goliath series PH was running. The original schedule that was distributed—back in March, I believe—showed the guarantees that I referenced in my column.  .

However, by the time the Goliath series started, the guarantees for those events had been removed, and I knew that.  Well, there’s always a potential problem when you are writing something that will be printed and not distributed for about a month.  It happens all the time.  Events in a big series get changed, starting times, chip counts, the events themselves.  An Omaha tournament can become a NLH tournament.  It happens with room updates too.  I talk about a room offering a special cash game or a unique tournament or an interesting promo and by the time the magazine hits poker rooms, it’s completely different.  Can’t be helped.  Although Ante Up has a great website, it is still basically a printed magazine made for distribution in poker rooms. 

When I got the final schedule and structures for Goliath, long after my column with the out-dated info was in poker rooms, I noticed the guarantee was no longer there, and some details about the tournaments themselves had been changed. The guarantees that had appeared on the original schedule had been replaced with “estimated prize pools” (and with smaller amounts).  It was too late to do anything about the Ante Up column.  But for PokerAtlas, I had time to correct the info I had originally entered for the Quantum tournaments based on the original info I had received weeks earlier.   So if you looked at the series on PokerAtlas before the Goliath series started, you would have seen that neither of the Quantum events had guarantees.

I do know that when the original schedule was announced, PH distributed printed schedules that showed those tournaments with guarantees.  I also know that when they changed the schedule, they distributed new schedules, without the guarantees.  I should note that there the removal of the guarantees from the Quantum events was not the only change from the original schedule.  There were quite a few tournaments that were changed or replaced with different events.  This is not all that unusual.  Tournaments in a series often get changed before and even during a series.  This series had a few more changes than most, but it also had the most events of any summer series (outside of the WSOP itself) so it is somewhat understandable.  Also, some of the events were changed, cancelled or moved just a day or two before they were to occur, mostly due to how popular some of the other tournaments were.  They actually cancelled an entire tournament the day before it was to take place because the tournament they were running the day before had such a great turnout they didn’t have room (or dealers) for the next day’s event.

I know when I finally personally visited PH, a few days after the second Quantum tournament was completed, I saw that they were distributing the correct printed schedule in the room.  But exactly when they started distributing the revised version, I can’t say.  It’s possible that the old version was distributed longer than it should have been.  And if you picked up a schedule in March when it was originally released and never went back to the room—or if you did, never thought to pick up another schedule—you would have the outdated info.

Also, when it was announced, PH posted the original schedule and tweeted out links to it.  They subsequently tweeted out links to the revised schedule. I noticed at least once they tweeted out either a link or an image of an incorrect schedule and brought it to their attention.  But the inaccuracies I noted were different tournaments, I didn’t notice if the guarantees for the Quantum events were still there or not.  I do know that after I pointed it out to them, they did tweet out only the current schedule, with all the revisions.

Now if a room takes away a guarantee at sort of the last minute, they are obligated to let players know before they buy-in.  A sign at the registration area saying, “The guarantee for today’s tournament has been cancelled.”   Or the cashier saying, “You know, there is no guarantee for that event,” when they buy the entry.  But I am thinking that PH didn’t feel the need to do that because they had removed the guarantee sometime back and had been distributing the updated information for quite some time. I can tell you that I knew about the guarantee being dropped at least a week before the Goliath series started, so that was almost a month before the event Charles played in took place.

During the second Quantum event, the one Charles played in, I do recall seeing tweets from other players expressing surprise that there was no guarantee, after they had bought in. So it wasn’t just Charles who was affected.

Sigh.  The problem is that a lot of third-party sources of poker information (like Ante Up magazine, for example) had the original info out there and probably never corrected it.  There are all kinds of places to find info on Vegas summer tournaments during this time, and it may very well be that the only sources that had the correct info were PH’s corrected links and PokerAtlas.  And Planet Hollywood is not responsible for incorrect info on third-party sites.

What about the phone call Charles made a week before asking about the guarantee?  Or the cashier apparently ignoring his mentioning the guarantee when he bought in?  Well, if it happened the way Charles said it did (and I am not questioning him, just trying to be fair to PH), I would have to say I’m not surprised. 

Rooms that run big tournament series have to bring in a lot of temporary dealers, floor people, cashiers, etc.  It is real easy for me to believe that inexperienced help didn’t have the right information—or the ability to process it—right at their finger tips.  Maybe the guy at the window when Charles bought in didn’t hear him say “guarantee.”  Maybe the guy on the phone confused the tournament with another one that had a guarantee.  Or maybe he didn’t even know what a guarantee was.

I can tell you, I call poker rooms all around the country (not just Vegas) for PokerAtlas and am amazed at what some poker room employees don’t know.  Seriously, I ask “how long are the levels?” and some go, “what?” (they might be used to calling them “rounds”). I recently tweeted about calling a room—definitely not in Vegas—to ask about new Omaha tournament they had started.  I couldn’t tell if it was a limit tournament, a pot limit tournament, or possibly a No Limit tournament.  Yes, I’ve heard of No Limit Omaha tournaments—usually run by rooms that never have spread the game and don’t realize it “should” be pot limit.  Anyway, the woman answering the phone didn’t understand my question!  I asked if she had a structure sheet she could look at. I was going to have her read it to me, until I could determine whether it was limit or what.  Fortunately, a fellow employee overheard her repeating my question and told her it was limit. 

So it is possible Charles ran into a couple of novice poker room temps who didn’t really understand about the guarantee. 

Now, I can understand why PH would think they didn’t have to put up a sign about the guarantee being taken away—in their mind they had been (recently) promoting the event as having an “estimated prize pool,” not a guaranteed one.  But since they did originally distribute information that showed a guarantee, I think it would have been a good idea to have a sign right at the registration desk.

So, I feel real bad for Charles, and I apologize for any part I played in the misunderstanding.  I suggested to him that he email the manager of the Planet Hollywood poker room and explain what happened.  I’m not sure what, if anything, will come of that, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

I am curious to hear what you folks think about how this was handled. 


  1. poker atlas phone app is full of useless incorrect info on a lot of small poker rooms, too, lists wrong games, rooms closed, casinos which no longer offer poker, etc and they clearly dont care about fixing it. they should verify by checking with the rooms every so often, instead of expecting US to turn in the errors. since they dont reply on twitter, it shows they dont care

    1. My colleagues and I reach out to the poker rooms we cover on a regular basis, usually monthly. We either call the rooms or review their websites to confirm the info.

      Our focus is on getting the tournament schedules right (both regular and the special series that are run). The cash games change much less often, and when we ask them they frequently fail to tell us about a new or changed cash game.

      As I even mentioned in the post, a lot of the time we call the rooms and they give us bad info. One time I called a casino and asked the operator if the one weekly poker tournament was still being held (the room wasn't supposed to be open when I called). I was told it was. We got an email a few days later saying they had closed the poker room awhile back. I called again....operator said no, it is still there. So I asked to speak to table games and the person there said the poker tables (all 2 of them) had been removed months earlier!

      There is a way to report a mistake directly from the app on your iPhone, have you tried that? But you know, I've had tweets we receive forwarded to me for updating, so I'm sure my colleagues have as well.

      I'm not familiar with the iPhone app since I have Android, but I've heard that there is some kind of an update button on our app that you have to hit to refresh the information too. Perhaps you need to do that.

      Obviously by necessity we give more attention to the bigger rooms. You know, like the kind of rooms you tend to be banned from.

      Sorry we can't always get timely info up there for those super small rooms you seem to obsess over that no serious poker player would likely play in.

  2. I play at small room and every month 1st Sunday N/L becomes a $ 125. Anybody who calls in for sign up is reminded its a $ 125 this means they do not drive over and become upset because it is higher than they normally play. Yes there are going to be mix ups but if I made arrangements to go to Vegas to play in a tournament that was advertised with a 100 K guarantee and they changed at the last week then this would tend to make you upset. I would really be P O'd if I bought in and played a hand, found this out, and could not get my entry back. There has to be better on sight communication between the people who sign players up. This is like the players are always responsible for knowing what tournaments they sign up for and what terms are being offered today only.

    1. Thanks, Ed, appreciate your feedback. I believe Charles said he goes to Vegas that time every year, but still had he known about the guarantee being removed he might have been able to find another tournament around town more to his liking.

      Once they put something out there about a guarantee, they probably need to be more proactive about making sure everyone buying knows the guarantee is off.

      Tough tho to do a refund after a hand has been played, pretty standard rule

    2. ED thanks for the note I really go to vegas about 4 times a year and the thing that was so bad I called them and asked before I came to play and they did say the gtd was still on and yes I know about the refund after one hand but tried !!!stilln't happy

    3. Thanks again for the email, Charles. I'm sorry for you bad experience.

  3. I do think part of the problem is lack of clear communication, or lack of knowledge by some of the temporary personnel, as you mention in your post.

    My objection really is philosophical: Changes like this make a guarantee meaningless. They advertise a guarantee, and then when it looks like they may not make the prize pool, they drop the guarantee. That is not a guarantee! "We'll have a $100,000 prize pool, if we get $100,000 worth of buy ins" is a meaningless statement that misleads players into thinking they are getting something they aren't.

    Either don't advertise a guarantee (which is fine), or honor the darn guarantee! Otherwise it really feels like bait and switch. If they are going to cancel a guarantee when things look bad, just don't offer a guarantee at all!

    1. Thanks, Bruce. A couple of things.

      On all schedules and structure sheets, there is a usually a disclaimer that the casino reserves the right to cancel or modify the tournament. That would certainly include cancelling the guarantee, assuming proper notice.

      And therein lies the second issue. They did NOT have the guarantee on the final schedule they released. It was not cancelled because they saw they weren't going to make it, it was cancelled before they had any clue how popular it was going to be.

      I may be talking out of school here, but I know that that this particular event was an arrangement they made with a third party, a person who actually has a patent on the Quantum format. The agreement on offering a guarantee had to be approved by both parties. My guess is they couldn't agree to a guarantee that both sides thought was acceptable to them.

      The problem was that there was already the first version of the schedule out there with guarantee out there, and they didn't take that into account.

    2. Bruce thank you someone who gets it!!!!!That is why I called I heard they cancelled one last year and people can say what they want I had the sheet with the 3000000 on it and I had it with me then I was in vegas but garbage can and the next 14 days was down town thanks rob and bruce

    3. The fact that they there was no way to magically reclaim all those original schedules with the guarantees, like the one you had, is reason enough for them to have posted a sign, very prominently, at the registration desk regarding the fact that there was no guarantee.