Poker Tournaments: You Get What You Pay For
Oct. 7, 2011, Posted by Brandon.Adams
During the first three rounds of singles play at this year's US Open, fourteen players retired just before or during their matches. Later in the tournament, Andy Murray wrote on Twitter, "Is the 18th pull out in the US Open telling the tennis authorities anything?? No?? Thought not...." Murray believes that the length of the tennis season and the lack of rest was the primary cause of the record number of retirements. Murray has been active in leading a group of top players towards creating a union of sorts that seeks to create a more player-friendly Tour.
Now, no one is going to feel bad for poker players and their oh-so-grueling schedules of ten-hour poker days followed by expensive sushi dinners. But the fact remains that some stops on the poker tour are just better than others. And it is players' behavior that shapes the poker tour.
The need to continuously guard precarious bankrolls forces upon poker players a certain type of savviness in all dealings. But poker players seem naïve in the area of poker tournaments. A tournament organizer observing the poker world would not be far off if his views were, "These guys just like to gamble. They don't care much what the rake is."
It should be clear to poker players that if they don't alter their behavior in the face of increasing rakes, then rakes will increase. If players are equally likely to show up at tournaments with poor playing areas and poor player service, as they are for tournaments that are outstanding in those areas, then tournament conditions can be expected to continually deteriorate. If players continue to show up at tournaments in states with high state taxes at the cage, then those tournaments will continue to exist, and other states might decide that adding those taxes is a good idea.
It is in the poker community's interest to strongly support tournaments that represent a big improvement in player conditions. I think the poor performance of the 2010 WSOP Circuit Tour was a completely failure on the part of the poker community. How would the community not support a series of poker stops with first-rate media coverage, great player service, and exceptionally low rakes? The Circuit Tour hosted a $1 million dollar freeroll at the end of the year for the top 100 players of the Tour. Part of this money came from player rakes, but the net effect was that the tournaments were rake-free or better for players that concentrated on high buy-in tournaments. Bizarrely, the attendance at the four main Championship events – Chicago, Atlantic City, Rincon, and New Orleans – was abysmal. Rincon's $10k event saw 98 entrants. New Orleans drew only 75, despite the fact that the final two days of play were televised, and the top 20 finishers were a near lock to gain entry into the $1 million, 100-player freeroll three weeks later.
What would the ideal poker calendar look like? It's clear that players of all types have made the World Series of Poker in June and July the central event on their poker calendar. I have no expectation that this will change. Players know approximately what the WSOP calendar looks like each summer and they can slice it up any way they like. Players know what to expect from the WSOP; it's rarely dazzling, but it's almost always run in an extremely professional and efficient manner. The Main Event is the focal point of poker in every way, especially with regard to outside media attention, and it is also poker's unofficial social convention. Rakes at the WSOP have increased each year, but within a reasonable bound. Overall, tournaments at the WSOP are by far the cheapest of the year, as players are able to bundle as many tournaments as they'd like into the same trip, at a time and place where living is easy and cheap.
It's my opinion that the ideal poker calendar would consist of the WSOP, plus a number of lesser "destination" tournaments where one is able to choose from a quite full calendar of events. The destination tournaments should offer low rake, very low taxes, a fun mix of amateur players and pros, and good media coverage. The destination does not have to be as inexpensive as, say, Vegas in the summer, but it should offer good value.
The WSOP Europe looks to have staying power on the poker tour as an exclusive, marquee event. Its continual challenge has been to provide enough media value to players to overcome the high costs of playing the event (it has always been held at expensive and relatively hard to reach locations, and the schedule is fairly short). This year it faces the additional obstacle of a 4% French tax on winnings. Overall, I expect this tournament to succeed, if only because it's the only tournament outside of the Vegas WSOP to guarantee major media coverage in 2011/2012. I predict that media coverage will continue to be a major draw for poker tournaments, even in the absence of site deals.
I find it hard to support poker stops whose main purpose is the promotion of associated online sites. It's not clear to me why poker players would stand for being charged full rake at what our essentially marketing events. Also, why is it that the economics for tournament rake (3% house plus 3% for staff) have remained unchanged, despite the huge explosion in field sizes? I mean, if the PCA gets 3000 players for the Main Event, that's $30 million; do they really need $900k from that event to pay staff, as well as the 3% that they pull from every other event at the PCA?
The Epic Poker League is clearly an endeavor that players should support. This is a structure that is just obviously good for poker. I say that as someone who missed qualifying for the league by $50k or so. I struggle to see how the economics of the league will work out, but I'm certainly rooting for it, and it will be worth supporting even if the money added to the prize pools turns out to be slightly lower next year. My guess is that the League will need to see major corporate sponsors support their cause if they are to continue in upcoming years.
The poker calendar that we have in store for 2011-2012 starts with WSOP Europe, then winds its way through minor stops on the EPL, WPT, and EPT, before capping off with the WSOP in Vegas in June and July. I will also be watching the Asia Pacific Poker Tour, the Asian Poker Tour, and the Aussie Millions with interest, to see how tournament poker fares in Asia. I'll likely attend the WSOP Europe, Aussie Millions, the EPT Main Event, and the WSOP, with maybe only a couple of other events thrown in.
As players, we each should look to design our schedule in such a way that we support those events that are best for us, and for the playing community as a whole. If a tournament shows a disregard for the player experience, please nix it from your schedule next year! And be a nit – speak out about tournaments that kick up vig with no justification, and avoid tournaments in high tax jurisdictions. My hope is that we will see an evolution of the tournament calendar in coming years towards a schedule that has fewer, but higher quality, tournaments. I hope that the 2012/2013 tournament calendar will see more big, must-attend, destination tournaments from August through May.
Originally from New Orleans, Brandon Adams entered the Doctorate in Business Administration program at Harvard Business School in 2001 (he went ABD in May 2004). Brandon taught eighteen courses at Harvard, including twelve sections of “Behavioral Finance” and two sections of “Fun and Games” (game theory). Most recently, he taught four sections of “The US in the World Economy,"in 2009 and 2010.
He’s been a regular in the biggest poker games held over the past five years. He's played on High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark, and numerous other televised cash games and tournaments. Adams is the author of the self-published Broke: A Poker Novel. He is also the Founder of ExpertInsight.com, a digital business that uses the internet’s sweet spot – disintermediation – to connect experts in all fields with those who need consultation services.