We’re a month into 2011 and already, the poker season has revved itself into high gear. Since January 1, we’ve seen major multi-tournament events in the Bahamas, Melbourne, and now LA. If that’s not enough poker for you, then head to Vegas where you can play in a couple of smaller, but still notable, tournament series; the Caesars Winter Classic (running now) and Venetian’s venerable Deep Stack series, starting on the 28th.
And while I’m as big a fan of a good tournament – or tournament series – as the next guy, I have to ask has poker gone too far?
For a moment, let’s forget about all the money it would cost an average player to follow the circuit around the world and just look at sheer number of events that a tourney player has to choose from. I mean, if you want to become a professional hobo, there are probably worse ways to see the world than by joining the poker circus. Los Angeles, Vegas, Atlantic City, Biloxi, Paradise Island, Prague, Sao Paulo, Melbourne, London…. The world’s your oyster if you can pay the freight and handle the jet lag and inevitable food poisoning you’ll pick up somewhere along the way.
There’s too much poker to be played in too many places. All of these tournament options are slowly cannibalizing each other by stretching the player base – and the players’ bankrolls – too thin.
The fact is, there’s barely a week left on the calendar where there’s not some kind of tournament begging to be played. Even if you just confine yourself to the continental US, you can easily go months without ever sleeping in your own bed or seeing the family you used to have. Decide to play internationally and you could easily find yourself classified as a missing person unless you can regularly Skype with your loved ones to prove that you’re still alive.
Unlike real sports that have clearly defined off seasons, poker is now a year-round pursuit. You don’t get weather delays or rain outs and no one cares if it’s 10 degrees or 110 degrees outside, so long as the poker room is a comfortable 72 and the structure is good. Throw it and they will come.
So, you might ask, what’s the problem?
To put it simply, there’s just too much poker to be played in too many places and all of these tournament options are slowly cannibalizing each other by stretching the player base – and the players’ bankrolls – too thin.
Let’s look at the LAPC and the Aussie Millions, for example. Right now, many of the world’s best – and best known – pros are soaking up the summer sun down under in Australia while they compete for the Aussie Millions title. It’s a premier event and there’s no reason not to play if you can afford the time and tournament entries.
At the same time, however, another premier has just kicked off at the Commerce Casino in LA. And while the LAPC certainly won’t be lacking players, it also won’t have anywhere near the star power (at least in the poker sense) that it should have. Sure, you’ll see plenty of Hollywood celebrities at the Commerce over the coming weeks, but don’t hold your breath looking for poker luminaries like Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan or Patrik Antonius. The commute from Melbourne is just too far.
As a second-tier player, the absence of the game’s best players from tournaments like the LAPC is surely welcome. Who wants to play against tougher competition when there are hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line? But for the casual players – and for the tournament officials – the absence of these players is sorely missed.
To run a successful series, you need to attract players. And while the promise of big money is always a fine lure, the fact is, being able to advertise that you can share a table with the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Annie Duke or Howard Lederer is as much – if not more – of a draw than the money is.
Craziness, you say? No. The fact is, most casual players are never going to make a big score in a major tournament no matter how often they play. The fields are too big and the competition is too tough for them to have anything approaching a real chance to make a final table or pose for the winner’s photo. But, if they have $1,000, $2,000 or $5,000, they can easily find themselves sharing a table and playing pots with the likes of Dan Harrington or Barry Greenstein. And for most players, that opportunity – and the potential stories it can provide – is worth the money they dump into the prize pools.
Speaking of money, let’s look at what it costs to play in the biggest live tournaments these days. If you want to play a Main Event at any kind of “name” tournament series, you have to count on having an extra $10,000 burning a hole in your pocket. Barring that, you can always try to satellite into the big tourney for anywhere between $500 and $2,000 per shot. Assuming you don’t win your seat on the first try, multiple buy ins can quickly run into big money as well.
Of course, today’s big tournament series all feature plenty of side events with buy ins ranging from $500 to $5,000 for the player on a budget. Like their more expensive counterparts, these events offer some amazing ROI, provided you can work your way through the huge fields without making any catastrophic mistakes.
Now, let’s say you’re an average player who decides to take a few shots at some of these side events. Assuming you play three tourneys with an average buy-in of $1,000 each, you’ll have to finish somewhere in the top 20 of at least one event in order to break even on your investment.
Oh, and that’s without counting all of the money you’ll have to spend on travel, hotels, food, liquor, strippers and the like. Unless you can make the money on a regular basis – or have an unlimited trust fund – be prepared to watch your bankroll melt away faster than an Antarctic iceberg.
I know, I know. It looks like I’m really down on the whole tournament circuit, but the fact is, I’m really not. Like I said earlier, I like tournaments and well run tournament series. But in moderation.
Jon Katkin shares his wisdom from the Vegas felts at Chaos Theory and his golfing adventures @JaKatkin.