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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Poker Tournaments Involve More Luck Than Regular Poker

27 August 2006

These days, poker tournaments are where all the excitement is. The World Series of Poker in Las Vegas has just completed its schedule of 45 separate tournaments involving several forms of poker.

The main event was the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Texas Hold'em tourney involving almost 9000 players. In addition, several smaller, cheaper tournaments were run to give everyday poker players a chance to make a name for themselves by either winning it, or at least finishing in the money.

But what about the financial aspects of playing tournament poker in general? How good are your odds? How much skill does it take? How much luck is involved?

Most major poker tournaments will contain anywhere from a hundred to a couple thousand players. Typically, about the top 10% of the field finishes in the money. The other 90% go home empty.

So if you play in a $1000 buy-in tournament that has say, 200 entrants, they'll pay off the final 2 tables – 18 players. The first place winner normally gets around 30% of the total money pool – $60,000 in this example. Eighteenth place will usually get back about double his buy-in – say, $2000. All finishers in between first and 18th chop up the remainder in diminishing amounts as you go down the line. Pondering those tournament components brings three realities to light.

Your Odds: Since the average tournament contestant is about a 9-to-1 underdog to get any money back, tournaments are obviously more volatile and riskier than regular poker, which is closer to a 50-50 proposition. You can win much more money in a tournament than in single table open play, but the vast majority of the time you'll go broke.

The Skill Factor: Poker is a highly skillful game. If they pay 10% of the field, good players might be only a 5-to-1 underdog to cash -- where bad players might be 20-to-1. Because of that, the better players have a long-term advantage and stand to make a profit over time. Yet, everybody's still an odds-on underdog going into each tournament.

The Luck Factor: If you're a good poker player and thereby a 5-to-1 underdog to collect 10 times your money on average -- you've got a definite edge. But if you get just moderately unlucky, that edge could take scores of tournaments to force its way into your results. You see, poker tournaments are structured to bust everybody out. That's how they eventually get down to one surviving champion. The stakes and blinds keep increasing so that nobody has enough chips to just sit there and play right. Everyone is forced to eventually take a shot with a hand they'd rather not play – and then they have to win it!

In the few smaller tournaments where I've come in the money, I thought back and realized how lucky I got by going all in four or five times and surviving. Sometimes I went all in as a favorite and sometimes as a "dog". But without winning them all, I was dogmeat.

Luck is such a big factor in tournament poker that in a two or three-year period, you've seen certain players win or finish in the money a dozen times. Three years later, you don't hear of them anymore and somebody else is winning everything. All these players were experts to be sure, but it's who got a little help from the poker gods in hugely critical situations that caused them to reverse positions.

Summary: If you're a good gambler with a winning edge, volatility is your enemy. You want to keep that to a minimum. Here's an example in probability.

A good player with a 60% chance to win in a regular poker game will run bad enough to lose his next five sessions only 1% of the time. But a good tournament player who is a 5-to-1 dog to finish in the money will bust out of his next five tournaments 40% of the time.

Poker tournaments are an adrenalin rush, for sure. If you're a weak poker player, play in those tournaments. Their "shotgun" structure will level the playing field some for you. If you're a tough player with only one lifetime in which to grind out a profit, I advise lowering your volatility by sticking to the regular games

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Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey