Finding Value Outside the Rio

Alt-WSOP tourneys may be better bet for low-stakes players

by , Jun 30, 2010 | 1:43 pm

Jon Katkin

The Poker Economy


Brand names serve an important purpose in our society. For consumers, they offer a simple shorthand that let’s you know about a product’s quality – or lack thereof – while at the same time providing a quick way to flaunt your status or hipness to the unwashed masses in our burgeoning consumer culture.

For businesses, brand names are just as important. Let your quality slip or make your product too ubiquitous and your value – both real and perceived – begins to slip. Make your product trendy or limit its availability and you’ll have customers clamoring at your door to get their hands on it.

With 57 events on the calendar, the WSOP is hardly as elitist as it was in the past, but that’s OK with the folks at Harrah’s because when it comes to poker, there is no substitute for a gold bracelet. Win an event and you join a still exclusive club that includes some of the greatest players in the world. Play your cards right, and the WSOP is a golden ticket to the top of the poker food chain. Bust out before the final table and you’ll still leave town with a great story for your friends.

For $1,500 you can play one WSOP tournament and take your chances against a single field of 3,000, or for the same money you can play five Venetian Deep Stack events against a combined field of about 2,400.

And that’s what makes the WSOP the brand when it comes to tournament poker. Win or lose, playing a WSOP event carries with it an inherent coolness that other poker players innately understand and respect. But if you’re a serious low-stakes player looking for a big summertime score in Vegas, there are actually much better options to consider outside the Rio.

Just take a look at some of the other popular tournaments currently running in Las Vegas. The Venetian’s Deep Stack, Binon’s Poker Classic, and Caesars Mega-Stack series all coincide with the WSOP, offering daily no-limit events, with $100 to $550 buy-ins. The Golden Nugget’s Grand Series is a solid option for those looking for lower-limit Stud, Omaha and HORSE.

None of the tournaments will make you a millionaire. Hell, you won’t even see anything approaching a six-figure payday. But that’s OK, because they still provide what every lower-stakes tournament player is looking for (or at least should be):


Look at this way, this year’s first $1,000 No-Limit Hold ’em tourney drew 4,345 players, with the top 10 percent getting paid and the winner taking home more than $652,000. Not bad for three days works, granted. But, let’s take a closer look at what this really means. While Aadam Daya certainly doesn’t have to worry about where is next meal is coming from for a while, Linyang Song, who finished 441st, walked away with just $1,877. After paying for his trip to town, his hotel and food, it’s likely that Song’s min-cash actually cost him money. What’s more, there were 3,904 other players who each put up $1,000 and walked away from the tournament with nothing more than a $10 food comp.

The story wasn’t much different in the year’s first $1,500 donkament, where 2,092 players entered and 216 got paid. Winner Praz Bansi walked away from the table with more than $515k while the 216th finisher min-cashed for just $2,880. The following events weren’t much different, with the next two $1K events drawing fields of 3,042 and 3,289 respectively and the $1,500 tournaments attracting an average field of 2,432 players.

For a player on a budget, that’s an awful lot of run-good necessary to make a sizable score.

Now, look at the Venetian’s Deep Stack series, which is easily the most popular non-WSOP event in town. With most daily tournaments featuring buy ins between $330 and $550, these events are certainly easier on the wallet. And, with average fields of 600 players each day, first place money is usually worth somewhere between $35,000 and $40,000. To put it another way — for $1,500 you can play one WSOP tournament and take your chances against a single field of 3,000 other players or, for the same money, you can play five Venetian events against a combined field of about 2,400.

The same holds true at Caesars, the Nugget, and Binion’s — where $1,500 goes much, much further, and your odds of cashing against smaller fields become much stronger.

Does this mean you shouldn’t play in a WSOP event? Of course not. Huge fields notwithstanding, the WSOP is the big dog of the poker world for a reason and, if your goal is to play the tournament for the experience, there’s nothing else that can compete. But, if you’re looking to come to Vegas in order to try and build a bankroll, there are better opportunities all over town.

Sure, winning a Venetian Deep Stack may not be as prestigious or lucrative as winning a WSOP event, but honestly, what good is a gold bracelet that you’re probably never going to wear anyway? And wouldn’t winning one of those be better than min-cashing in a $1,500 tournament?

For my money, I’ll take the smaller payout and the better odds any day of the week. And, if I happen to do well at the Venetian, the Rio is just a mile up the road.

Read about Katkin’s own travails on the lower-stakes Vegas tourney circuit on his personal blog Chaos Theory, and follow his chip counts on Twitter @JaKatkin. Find more of his industry opining and poker journalism here at Pokerati.

3 Comments to “Finding Value Outside the Rio ”

  1. JamesDaBear

    Great article. It’s definitely something a prospective Vegas tourist should consider. Although, seems to me the ratios remain the same. 9/10 of the field in most tournaments walk away with nothing. 7/10 of the ones who win anything don’t win enough to make it worth their trouble. From all accounts, the WSOP fields are softer than you’d find anywhere else even with all the pros playing. The huge fields make that a reasonable estimation. There just aren’t that many above average poker players in the world, much less in any one tournament in the middle of a desert in the United States. Seems to me it’s more a question of bankroll. If you’re rolled for $1500 tournaments, then play in the WSOP and play three or four (if you can’t play three or four, you probably aren’t honest about the opening assumption). If you have a lower bankroll, play something else and go for the best value you can find (money added/guarantees, comps, etc.).

  2. Derek B.

    I agree. I just got back from the WSOP and was planning on entering the $1000 donk fest, but ended up playing a $200 deep stack tourney they ran every day at the Rio. You start with 15,000 chips instead of 3,000 and it averaged about 600 entrants each day. Top prize was around $20,000. Sure you won’t win a gold bracelet, but you get 5 chances to make money instead of 1.

  3. suckoutsoup

    This article isn’t written well. The only reason a smaller field and smaller buy in mtt tournament would be better is if you don’t have the bankroll to be playing WSOP. Most of your points apply to venetian as well. You can easily play into day 2 and come in 12th and win a measly $2,000.00.
    You mention players on a budget, I’m assuming this really means players who don’t have a bankroll. In which case a person should be playing cash games and or sng’s or the smallish mtt field they can find so they have a better chance at money. Poor article for MTT. This is the exact opposite mindset one needs to take an effective approach to playing MTT’s