Thursday, July 28, 2016

Why I Played the Tournaments I Did

Sooner or later, I’m going to start talking about some of the individual tournaments I played while in Vegas last month.  I played in a bunch.

I thought as a way of introduction to this series of posts, I’d go over which tournaments I played, and also explain why I played in those particular ones.  After all, there were a near infinite number of poker tournaments being offered all around the city while I was there; how did I decide which ones to play?

Everyone probably has a different set of criteria to decide how to pick one tournament from another.  Some no doubt study the structures intensely to find the best value. I think there are even apps or spreadsheets that you can use to evaluate a structure.  Others look at the vig—some tournaments charge less juice than others.  Or they have some rooms they really like and some they really don’t like.  And of course there are guarantees.  Naturally, players tend to favor the tournaments with the biggest guarantees for their preferred price point.

I consider all of those things to some degree, but none of that is the most important thing to me.  Or to put it another way, there has to be one basic feature of a tournament for me to consider putting in the pile of tournaments that I would evaluate further for playability.

My own personal convenience. 

All those other things are nice, but if a tournament is inconvenient for me to play—by my standards of convenience of course—then I’m unlikely to be able to play my best.

What makes a tournament more or less convenient for me?  Well, as I explained at length in the post here, the two biggest things for me are starting time and dinner break.  If a tournament has a good starting time for me and offers a dinner break, then I’m likely to want to play in it,  assuming the buy-in is reasonable.  Of course, if the guarantee is low enough to suggest it might not have much of a turnout—or there is no guarantee at all—I might have to reject it.  But there are tournaments without guarantees that you just know (or at least, I just know, because it’s kind of my job) will get good turnouts.  Like pretty much any tournament at the Aria, for example.

An 11AM start is pretty much a non-starter for me, and Noon is only slightly better.  Noon on the strip is maybe doable for an exceptionally good tournament.  But 1PM would be so much better.

Since it’s my job to enter every single tournament held in Vegas into the PokerAtlas database, I got to see first hand what the tournaments were going to be like for the summer long before anyone else did.  Well maybe not that long before.  As I explained here, a fair number of rooms were pretty late with their schedules and their structures.  So I didn’t really have to time to study the tournaments as I entered them.  But before leaving for Vegas, I did take time to review them all, compare them, and I actually made my own personal spreadsheet of which tournaments running each day I would consider playing—and even ranked them in order of preference when there were several to choose from. 

Wouldn’t you know it, lucky me, there was one particular tournament that jumped out at me that was being offered almost every day that seemed like it was designed with me in mind.  It was a $150 NLH tournament at Golden Nugget.  Start time 1PM, 45-minute dinner break, and a $20K guarantee on most days.  It was so perfect that I likely would have played it even if it had a bad structure.  Fortunately, the structure was fine, 30-minute levels, blinds starting at 25/50, and a reasonably slow progression. 

Honestly, it was so perfect for me, I didn’t really have to spend a lot of time considering most of the other daytime tourneys.  They either started at 11AM or Noon, or were too expensive for me.

But there was one “big” daytime tournament that I wanted to play in, in fact, to some degree, I had timed my trip for it, based on the dates it ran last year.  That would be the WPT 500 at the Aria, a $565 buy-in with a whole ton of starting flights and a huge guarantee.  I played in it last year when it had a $2MM guarantee and really liked the format and the structure.  You can read about it hereI definitely planned on a repeat try this year.  Now last year, I played in two events at that larger (for me) price point.  I also played in the first Colossus event (see here).  This year I only budgeted for one $500+ buy-in event, and definitely preferred the WPT 500 over the WSOP event.

Why?  I really liked the Aria format, and especially the fact that if you survived to Day 2, you were automatically in the money.  In fact, you could even bust out on Day 1, and if it was late enough, you could still be in the cash.  So no worry about having to go back there on another day with a short stack, only to bust out in the first orbit of Day 2 and have absolutely nothing to show for it.  And Colossus had been such a fustercluck last year, it had kind of left a bad taste in my mouth.  Then I looked at the new structure, which had been made a lot worse. 

Colossus was at the beginning of the summer and the Aria event was at the end.  Since I couldn’t stay in Vegas forever, I picked my time in Vegas based on the WPT event.  Before I made plans, the WPT announced the dates for the tournament (but not the details). As soon as they did, I booked my room to be there for it, and thus “officially” opted out of any chance of playing Colossus.

So imagine my surprise when, quite some time later, Aria sent me the official schedule for the entire summer series showing the starting times of all the Day 1’s for the WPT 500 as 10AM.  Note: the guarantee was “only” $1MM this year, but that didn’t mean much to me, I was sure it go way past that (and I was right).

Yes, that’s 10-freaking AM in the freaking morning.  Seriously?  I was quite upset, and initially assumed I would just not play in it, even though I did kind of have my heart set on it.  And by then it was too late to go to Vegas earlier for Colossus.  BTW, Colossus had 10AM starting flights too, but it also had 4PM starting flights, and I likely would have hit up one of those if I had played.

But I got to thinking and started trying to figure out if once—just once—I could be flexible enough to play that damn thing at 10 in the morning. In response to the post I linked to at the beginning of this one, I got some suggestions on how I could make playing some of these tournaments work.  I thought about that and realized that I could just bring a sandwich with me and have it on the first break—Noon.  I don’t usually have the “ingredients” to make a sandwich with me when I’m in Vegas, but you know, they sell bread and luncheon meat and mustard in Vegas. And I could also take some nuts and some Kind bars with me to make it work.  Fortunately, there was a 45-dinner break in the tournament, so I could have a somewhat decent dinner if I lasted that long.

Once I made the mental commitment to break with tradition and bring a sack lunch to a poker tournament, I decided to re-check the tournaments in town and see if maybe there were some 11AM or Noon events that were good enough to get me to show up for, lunch in hand, as I planned to do at the Aria.

And actually—there was.  It turned out that on a number of weekends while I was there, a certain poker room was offering an event that was similar to the Golden Nugget $150 I liked, but that started at 11AM.  The buy-in was only little more than GN’s, but it had a $50K guarantee and it was still a one day event.  So I checked the details for it that I entered on PokerAtlas—I made no mention of a dinner break.

I went to the structure sheet, maybe it was mistake on my part, as unlikely as that was.  Nope, the structure sheet they had sent me made no mention of a dinner break.  Then I remembered the back and forth I had with this particular room over getting the details for their series.  I had to start entering the series with, let’s call it “generic” info.  Nothing was said about dinner breaks on any of their events.  Before I got the real structure sheets, I asked them, “What about dinner breaks?”  They replied they weren’t sure but that they didn’t think there would be any.  So when they sent me the structure without dinner breaks, it made sense.  By the way, some of their other events did indeed have dinner breaks, so it made sense to me—dinner breaks for certain events only.

I actually went to this room early in my trip, and double checked the printed structure sheets they were handing out. And indeed, there was no dinner break listed in there.  So….no dinner break, right?

Well, I’m sorry.  I’m not going to wake up early for an 11AM start, bring a damn lunch to gulp down during a break, possibly play till 2-3 in the morning, and have to gulp some crummy dinner down during a break on top of that.  That’s too much to ask.  That’s unreasonable.  So I did not play in that tournament.

Tell me, am I the only person on the planet who would refuse to play in a poker tournament they would otherwise play in because of the lack of a dinner break?  Am I just that much of a freak?  Or do you think there are others out there like me?

There is a punch line to this little part of the story.  On one of the last days they were running this particular tournament, I saw the room tweeting out that they was a possibility they wouldn’t make the guarantee and an overlay was possible.  And they kept tweeting about it and then they were tweeting when registration ended.  And I looked at the time they had and it didn’t make sense, it didn’t agree with the time I had on PokerAtlas.  And I thought, they only way that time would work was if there was an hour dinner break before registration ended.  But I knew there was no dinner break.

So I contacted them and asked and sure enough, that very tournament had a dinner break the whole time.  Grrrr…..That rather annoyed me to say the least.  Not only did I have incorrect info on PokerAtlas the whole time, but of course, I would have played in that tournament once or twice myself if they had only supplied me with the correct information.

You will note I have not mentioned the name of this poker room.  I don’t want to embarrass them.

Now, someone, either on Twitter or on a blog comment, asked me if I had played any of the WSOP Deepstacks yet.  And the answer is no, I didn’t and never planned to.  A few years ago, I tried them once or twice, but this year they made a change that made it unplayable for me. 

The $235 Deepstack used to start at 3PM.  This year they moved it to 2PM.  That’s no big deal.  But they used to have a half hour dinner break in them.  This year, they took out the dinner break.  All the breaks were 10 minutes. Those things go at least 12 hours.  Without a dinner break?  Seriously?  The question for me is not, am the only one who wouldn’t play it without a dinner break.  The question is, why would anyone play a 12-hour tournament without such a break? The only food option (other than bringing your own) is the Pizza Kitchen, which sucks and would be crowded as hell at any break.  I don’t get it.  Frankly, the Rio is so big and so crowded, that 30-minutes isn’t enough, but the times I played in the past, I never lasted long enough to confirm that.

There are other issues with the Deepstacks.  The fields are so damn large, it seems like a Herculean task to maneuver through it and get deep into the money.  Yes, a lot of people get paid, but I think the payscale is even more top heavy than the average Vegas tournament, I always hear about people getting the min-cash, or even more than the min-cash, and complaining about how small the payout is.

Also, the WSOP refuses to offer any assistance at all if players want to make a deal or chop once it gets down to a few players.  The players have to do all the calculating themselves, and then they will pay out based on the original pay scale, not based on the deal.  This could not only have tax implications but I’ve heard stories of players who agreed to a deal going to the pay window, taking a bigger prize than they agreed to with the other players, and then taking off without paying the players they made the deal with.  And since the WSOP didn’t sanction it, they will do nothing to stop the crook.

So no, I didn’t play in any Deepstacks, and was never tempted to do so.

I did find a couple of evening tournaments to play for when I worked all day and wanted a tourney during the evening.

The one I almost played was the $240 at Aria at 7PM.  I was real tempted, but I asked them what time the event was finishing up.  They told me it ran to like 5-6 AM.  Um…no thanks.  Work all day and then stay up all night playing a tourney (if I ran well, that is)?  And then my next day of work would be shot too.  I couldn’t see doing it.

But both Planet Hollywood and Golden Nugget ran $100 tourneys at 7PM that were very similar, decent structures for the price, 30-minute levels.  No prize pool guarantees.  I’d give each one a try.

So final count:  I played tournaments 6 days while up there.  I played the Golden Nugget $150 three different days, the WPT 500 at Aria once, the Golden Nugget 7PM once and the Planet Hollywood 7PM once.  How’d I do?  Well, one of these days, hopefully soon, I’ll get around to writing up the details for you.