Daily no limit hold’em tournaments have seemingly unlimited structures. Among the poker rooms and casinos within a 2 hour drive from where I live in Massachusetts there are numerous options. In a given week I can find a tournament that varies on pretty much any dimension: freeze-out vs. rebuy; add on sizes; blind levels from 15 minutes to an hour; no antes at all to antes that kick in as early as the 4th level; and buy in amounts from $30 to over $200.
However, it’s rare that, despite these infinite combinations, a single existing local tournament meets my personal Platonic ideal. Also, as I sit around a table and ask other players what they like and don’t like about the local tournament options, I hear an incredible range of conflicting preferences. These differences seem to be dictated by factors such as how much disposable income and time they have, their playing style, their tolerance for rebuys, whether they are attracted to playing cash as well, and their patience for the variety of playing styles that different tournament structures attract.
My current regular tournament is offered several days a week at a card room about an hour from my home. The buy-in is $50, and it has 20 minute blinds (with one 40 minute blind at the 500/1000 level), starts with 15,000 chips with a first level of 25-50, has no rebuys or add-ons, no antes, and usually draws between 50 (on a weeknight) and 150 players (on Saturday night). The blind structures are fairly typical through the 500/1,000 level, but steeply increase after that: 1,000/2,000, 1,500/3,000, 2,000/4,000, 4,000/8,000, 5,000/10,000, 10,000/20,000, 20,000/40,000. By 20k/40k people are begging for a merciful end to the shovefest and trying to work out a chop. This tournament is usually done within 6-7 hours.
The range of players who frequent this tournament is extreme, from a player dubbed “All-In Freddy” who will push his whole stack forward early and often with a vast range of hands, to several rocks who fail to get their chips all-in despite having quad Queens (true story). There are players who will chase every gut-shot draw to the river no matter the bet size, and skilled players who vary and disguise their play well. Fortunately, I like most of the floors and dealers and most players are able to keep in perspective that this is a $50 tournament.What is your ideal regular tournament structure? Click To Tweet
However, having played a number of daily tournament structures, even this current favorite comes up a bit short for me. I take particular issue with the steeply rising blinds at the end of the tournament which drive almost every game to a chop long before the final three players.
Here’s my personal ideal daily tournament structure:
Starting Chip Stack: 20,000
Rebuy and/or Add On: 1 Rebuy/No Add On
Blind Structure: Start at 25/50, but raise more gradually mid-tournament than my current tournament (i.e., has the 400/800, 600/1,200, 800/1,600, 1,200/2,400 levels).
Antes: None or antes that do not kick in before level 6. I am torn about this one: antes slow down the dealing in each hand, but push the action mid and late tournament.
Tournament Size: Between 80 and 100 players.
Percent of Players Paid: 10% (the new wave of paying 15% may win me over in time, but I’m staying old school for now)
My personal drivers for my preferred structure are a balance of affordability (2 kids going to college in the next five years keeps me away from higher buy-ins currently) and a prolonged period of solid poker to be played before the all-ins start every other hand.
What is your ideal regular tournament structure? What are the main factors that drive your preferences?
Interested to hear others’ take on this.
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I like the 15% payout. It keeps players interested and allows them to play more tournaments. That, in turn, can increase the size of the field. FYI, don’t bother playing the regular daily tourneys at Hollywood St Louis. 10K starting chips, blind start at 100-200, 20 minutes level with antes at the 5th level, normal 10% payout. Welcome to the Shove Fest.
Yeah, that 15% is one dimension I am open to for the reasons you mention. May be more a matter of getting used to that as a possibility.
Starting with a 50BB depth is a pretty shallow structure. You can get pot committed pretty darn quickly in the first couple levels, and be a position where you are in shove or fold decision-making very early. Not my style certainly.
I prefer slower structure games, but only if the 1st place payout is at least 30 x buyin, preferable 60x buyin.
The only games I have weekly access to are 20 min blinds, (they don’t call them turbos but they should)
It took me a while to adjust to them , wider range, more aggression but they are OK for fun and practice.
Even a shove fest requires some talent, you need to know with what cards, at what blind and stake levels and against whom and in what positions to push.
20 minute blinds are the structure of most of the tournaments I have access to locally as well. A little faster than ideal obviously. Agreed short-stack shoving has a lot of considerations so takes some skill, experience and judgment.
My preference is a much flatter and wider payout structure. 15% minimum but more important is the flattening of the amounts. Here’s my logic. Almost everyone who reaches the final 30 in a field of 200 (15%) has proven him or herself to be relatively skillful. To make it to a final table you are definitely a good player (relative to the field). By the time this happens, blinds are quite high which means luck starts to play a more important role.
I always try to get the last 6 or so players (when I am one of them) to agree to making the ladder steps much smaller.
For example rather than $1800 for 2’nd and $3100 for 1’st I much prefer spreading the money back resulting something like $ 1600 and $2000. I am still going to work my butt off to win that last $400 and the “glory”.
I detest losing a huge amount of cash when I skillfully get the other guy all-in preflop and my AA gets cracked by a 10 high rainbow strait. I’m ok with the bad beat, it’s the money issue.
We like to say this game is mostly skill and only a small part luck. Top end loaded payout structures don’t reflect that.
Lately when I get down to final 5-6 or fewer, I have been suggesting the “let’s all take $800 and play down for the last $1,000” or something like that as opposed to the flat chop or some equity chop. The last $1,000 then usually gets chopped by the final 2 resulting in pretty flat payouts to those final 5-6 but breaks down the resistance of the players who really think they are the strongest players and want to play it out.
But I really like your idea of keeping a ladder particularly by making it less extreme between the top two rungs and redistributing some of that delta. May try suggesting that next time I am in the final few.
Paul Gearan , I guess he issue is “how do we get our local tourney directors to buy in to setting a payout ladder that isn’t so steep.” Maybe they want to encourage chops to get the game over sooner but I think a flatter payout might attract more entrants. I will try to sell the concept to my local casino. It just seem to make so much sense. The “best” players rarely win or even cash in the big events. I love playing tournament poker but when, in reality, just making the money is a big win and the difference between 5’th and 2’nd is as much luck as it is skill and 2’nd pays 3 times what 5’th pays I think we might as well turn the final table into a blackjack tournament. Thanks for your post
Good luck in your quest with your local casino! I agree that a flatter structure would likely award more evenly. I’d be interested to know how poker players would vote on a wider versus flatter structure. I tend to guess most would like as you suggest, but not absolutely sure.
I think we need a variety of structures, I support options.
One could be play to the chop. In this structure, the goal is to make the next table.
if 3 tables pay, players busting-out would chop payout for positions 19-27 ,
table two would chop position 26 to 10, and table one would chop 9 thru 1.
I would only suggest this far larger tournaments 300 or more players, smaller ones need to keep the current 10%.
Several time in these shorter tournaments I have seen a BBL, bad but lucky player, amass a ton of chips and I rejoice and hope that [A]he makes it to the final table. and [B] nobody else knows what I know about his lack of real skill. ie, I’m thinking- hold on to those buddy so I know where to find them at the final table, and several times it has worked out just perfectly.
I agree, as the blinds grow there is more luck involved, but there is still room for skill; hand choice and position become very, very important., player styles very important and being able to adjust your play depending on your chip stake, big, mid and small stakes is crucial.
God, I wish I could play this game as good as I can talk it. Hugoism #6
Don’t we all wish that! I have to start logging these Hugoisms.
I remember when I started playing and the BBLs really drove me nuts, but like you I love seeing them accumulate chips early. Those are exactly who you want to your right late in tournaments.