Thursday, August 22, 2019

Falling Into The Abyss

Have you heard about "The Abyss"?

That's the name of a tournament being offered at the Commerce as part of their coming tournament series. And it's unique.  As it says right on the structure sheet, "The Abyss seeks to become the deepest tournament in poker history."

Now, they are not making it the deepest tournament in poker history by starting with a humongous starting stack.  No, not at all. It's 20K to start off the tourney.  The buy-in is $360.

What makes this tournament the deepest in history are the levels on day 1.  Or should I say, "level" on day 1.  You see there's only one level.  It's 100/200 with a 200 big blind ante.  But that level remains constant for the entirety of day 1.  The blinds do not increase at all during day 1. All the day 1's (all four of them) will play exactly 8 hours (from 3pm-11pm).

Not only that, but the first two hours of day 2 continue at 100/200/200 for the first two hours.  So if you can keep your stack (or at least part of it), you can play a 10-hour level of 100/200/200. After that, the levels go to 20-minutes until level 25-28 (30-minutes), then levels 29+ are 40-minutes.

You can see the structure for yourself here.  You should definitely take a look at it.

What do you think?  I think my first reaction when I saw it was, "OMG."  Or perhaps it was, "WTF???"  It certainly is different.

I started thinking about the ramifications of the unusual structure.  It is going to play differently than any other tournament.  I mean for the entire first day (and then some), it's going to be more like a deep-stacked cash game than a tournament.  For all that time, there's no pressure on you to be aggressive to build that stack. You can certainly afford to be patient (really, really patient).

So figure a lot of folks would play tight.  If everyone did that, for the entire time, would anyone bust out?  Well sure, there are bust-outs in the first level of every tournament, just not a lot.  Not as many as there are in the 10th level, for sure.  And of course you will have some cooler hands that will bust even the tightest players, you know AA vs KK, that sort of thing.

But everyone is not going to just sit back and wait for Aces and Kings. And that wouldn't be the smart way to play anyway.  Be selective yes, of course.  No need to force the issue when you have plenty of big blinds to play with.  But the goal for day 1 would obviously to be to build up that stack.  And of course, no matter, people will bleed chips.  But going a few orbits without playing a hand, and just losing the blinds, will obviously be a lot less costly in this tourney than any other.

And no doubt, no matter the slow structure (at least for day 1), you can bet you will run into those players that you run into at any poker game you've ever played—the guys who love to gamble and who love to put pressure on you by being aggressive.  The guys who are willing to shove a lot to either bet you out of the hand or take their chances. In a cash game, these folks come prepared to dig into their wallets multiple times and keep reloading.

In this tournament, they can't quite do it, but they can re-enter the same flight one time.  So you may have people who are prepared to buy in twice a day for the four day 1's.  Ten buy-ins if necessary to score.

There's another interesting feature of this tournament I haven't mentioned yet.  You can buy in directly to day 2, for the first two hours of day 2, while the blinds are the same as they were for all of day 1.  So then the question becomes, why even bother with playing day1?

I mean, if you just show up for day 2, you will have the same number of big blinds as you would if you bought in at the beginning of day 1. In any other tournament that leaves registration open through the beginning of day 2, you will start off short-stacked, and the pressure to find an early double-up is enormous.  Not the case here.

Or is it?  Presumably, if you enter on day 2, you'll be facing some pretty big stacks.  Even though the blinds will be low, they'll be able to bet your off hands and you may just have to put your stack at risk anyway.  Now I talked to Justin Hammer, the Commerce tournament coordinator, via Twitter about his expectations for this event. Along with Matt Savage, Justin is the designer of this structure.  He is putting the "over/under" on the percentage of day 1 players who survive to day 2 at 50%.  That would make the average day 2 stack 200 big blinds.  Personally I think less than 50% will make it through but Justin is the expert.  In that case, you'll have half the average stack if you just plan to start on day 2, but of course they'll be many larger than average stacks (and of course some short stacks too).

So it seems to me if you are skipping day 1, you are putting yourself at a big disadvantage in trying to cash.  With so many expected to make it to day 2, this of course is not one of those tourneys where there's a payout just for surviving day 1, where you can bust out late in day 1 and get some money. However, they will pay the top three chip leaders at the end of each day 1 $360.  In other words, you'd get your buy-in back.  But only three players per flight get that.

Thus, if you are going to make it worthwhile to play this tournament, you need to score big on day 2, and the best way to do that would be to build up a nice big stack on day 1 during that 8-hour long 100/200/200 session.

But then you have to evaluate the day 2 structure.  You can't complain about the structure in a tourney that has the first level play for 10 hours can you?  Well….if you look at what happens after that, starting two hours into day 2 (right after registration closes), you see those levels are 20-minutes for the next 22 levels. Really, it's not at all a bad structure, except for the fact that it has the 20-minute levels.  Shouldn't a $360 tourney have longer levels?  Well the answer is, when you average out the length of the levels starting with a 10-hour level, it's very player friendly indeed.  But if you look at it from the standpoint of just entering on day 2, not so much.  It's all a matter of perspective. Of course, there's a $250K guarantee for this event, so that is a nice selling point.

One of the first things I thought of when I saw the structure was, this is set-up to be hugely favorable to the pros and the tournament grinders at the expense of the recreational players.  As much as we recs love the deepstack structures, it's true that the better the structure, the better it is for the better players.  In the long run, given enough time, they know how to extract the chips better than the amateurs.  This is extreme in that regard, giving those pros 10 hours to use that 100 BB starting stack to get the chips from the weaker players.

I decided to ask a well-known pro (and bracelet holder) about just that topic. I promised I wouldn't identify him but I'll bet you've all heard of him.  He agreed with me that the structure greatly favors the pros, but he pointed something else out that I hadn't considered.  He said the better regular players were likely to skip day 1 altogether because they'd have a better hourly waiting until day 2.  They'd more likely play a decent stakes cash game where they could make more money.  Interesting.

If all the good players don't show up until day 2, that edge they have from a deep, deep structure diminishes.  But if everyone just shows up for day 2, they'll all be playing a $360 tourney with a fast structure.  A bit ironic.

So I am really curious as to who shows up for this event, and when they show up.  Since this the first of its kind, no one really knows what to expect.

Will I be playing in it?  As fascinated as I am by the concept, I will not.  The thought of spending my entire weekend (Saturday, and then hopefully Sunday) at Commerce is not appealing.  Nothing against Commerce, it's an awesome poker room, but for me the commute is just awful.  I'd have to be there from 3pm to 11pm on Saturday and if I still had chips I'd have to make a return a return trip three hours earlier on Sunday.  Recall that the last time I played a two-day tourney at Commerce (here), I was kind of grateful that although I cashed, I didn't have to drive back down there the following day.

Also, there is no dinner break. In fact if you look at the structure sheet, there appears to be no breaks at all on day1!  I suppose they figure that with such low blinds the whole day, folks can afford to take their bathroom breaks during play and not lose much.  But squeezing in a dinner break that way seems awkward to say the least.

So why not just plan on playing day 2? Because, as I pointed out, I'd be facing a lot of bigger stacks in a tournament with a fast structure.  Not ideal for my style of play.  Actually the format for day 1 is ideal for my style of play, I suppose.  But I don't want to have to deal with the traffic to Commerce two days in a row when there's no guarantee I'd get a penny back on day 2.

Instead, I'll follow the tweets and see how other players react to this creative idea.  Even though I won't be playing in it, I think it's great that Justin and Matt are trying something so new and different.  Experiments like this can only improve the poker experience for players in the long run.  Way to go, Commerce!

Let me know your thoughts on this type of tournament.  Is there something I haven't thought of? 


  1. blinds 100-200 20,000 chips thats the same as blinds 1-2 200 buyin cash game. but thats certainly not a "deepstacked cash game". so i fail to see how its "deepstacked"

    1. Its 100 big blinds. That's what most people buy into a cash game for, so it's deep stacked as opposed to short stack like the games in L.A. I mean you can only buy into the Commerce 1-2 game for 20 big blinds, right? So it's deep stacked compared to that.

      It's like a Vegas 1-2. Although most rooms allow a $300 buy-in, the average player buys in for $200 to start at 200 bb's.

      That's all I meant.

  2. Is there any such thing as a $100 motel within 30 minutes of CC? I've never played in the LA area but would you be able to skip your drive home and do a cheap motel at a much more reasonable distance to CC?

    1. Dunno, Lester. But even if there was....even if there was a $50 motel (that wasn't roach-infested), it wouldn't be worth it. When you consider how bad the minimum payouts are, unless I was guaranteed a top 3 or so finish (which I never could be), it would be -EV to do it.

      But appreciate the thought.