All Tournament Experiences Not Created Equal

In general, I’m a big fan of poker tournaments. On a personal level, I perform better in tournaments than I do in ring games (a fact that tells me I have some work to do on my patience in ring games). But as a writer and teacher, I’m also a fan of tournaments, because:

  1. You have a big upside with a relatively small downside.You get the chance to play with and learn from better players without risking huge sums.You get a chance to take home a trophy that will sit on your shelf longer than the cash you win will remain in your wallet.

These reasons don’t all always apply, though, as I found out today when I played in a tournament that employed a very different structure than I’m used to.

In today’s tournament, the game was limit Texas Hold ’em, and the buy-in was only $25. For that you got $200 in tournament chips, and there were unlimited $20 re-buys for the first hour. 100 players entered (fairly typical at this club), and the average number of rebuys per player is about two, so the players are usually looking at a prize pool of about $6,000, with about $2,000 of it going to the winner.

Sounds very attractive for a $25 entry fee. A shot at two grand for twenty five bucks, and lots of experience to boot. Unfortunately, the experience you gain in such an event is not particularly useful, except in other similarly structured rebuy tournaments. Let’s see why.

My table was populated by a group of what are usually called “maniacs” in poker. This doesn’t mean they are mentally unstable. It just means that they play very fast and very aggressively, in the hope of accumulating chips quickly. If they can’t, they either bust out in five minutes, or they rebuy, perhaps as many as a half dozen times.

In a situation like this-a very low entry fee tournament with cheap rebuys-you can pretty much expect to see the maniac style of play as the rule rather than the exception. Players who usually play at the 2-4 or 3-6 game have a chance to see what it feels like to raise someone $100 (even if it’s in tournament chips), and they get a little giddy.

So giddy, in fact, that just about every serious poker rule I’ve ever encountered was broken repeatedly in the first half-hour of play. Players were mis-calling their hands (e.g., announcing “full house” on the end when they had two pair or a straight or some other hand). Players who had already folded and who thus had no cards were announcing that they were raising. Players were folding out of turn, exposing cards that some players could see and some couldn’t.

When I asked the dealer to try to get things under some semblance of control (several times the out-of-turn folds affected my action), he shrugged, smiled weakly, and said “it’s pretty hard to stop ’em.” I’m not sure how he would have known this, because he never did try to “stop ’em.” Nor did any of the other three dealers who followed him. I never saw a single dealer attempt to “run the game” or do any of the things that more serious poker players expect dealers to do.

Although I was a bit ticked off at the time, I now realize it wasn’t a big deal. The club where I was playing runs bigger events very professionally. They were catering to a different kind of crowd today. My “big tournament attitude” was what was out of line, not the club’s management style.