“You could be the 10th-best player in the world, but if you’re playing against the nine best, you’re the dog.”
I’m not sure who said that, but game selection has always been an important topic discussed by many top players and authors. The goal in poker is to maximize your earn rate, and a big part of that is selecting the right game to play in. Sometimes, dropping down a limit can be more profitable if the games are very tough at the limit you normally play, and sometimes, even jumping up a limit is advisable if the game is very, very soft.
But there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about game selection when it comes to multitable tournaments. The main reason, of course, is that you don’t know who your first nine opponents are going to be, since seating is random and then changes throughout a tournament. But there are many important factors (other than your own ability) that ultimately determine your profitability in any given tournament:
- Quality of Players: This, of course, is the most obvious factor. In general, the higher the buy-in, the better the overall quality of players, although this isn’t always the case, as the next factor shows.
- Satellite-Driven Tournaments: Most of the Sunday major tournaments have satellites to help players qualify. Some of the weekday nightly tournaments also have satellites. So, despite the higher buy-in, these tournaments are much more profitable than a tournament that doesn’t have satellites feeding it. For example, the second-chance tournaments on Sundays at PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker are much less profitable than their Sunday majors that have satellites.
- Tournament Structure: The better the structure, the more profitable it is for the better players. However, there is a limit to this. If the structure is too long, you might be better off playing two tournaments with a weak structure that take as long to play as one tournament with a long structure. For example, I played a tournament last January with 180 players that took more than eight hours to complete — not the best value in terms of time. Although structures in turbo tournaments are not great, they still can offer good value for the better players. What you give up early in a tournament with a weak structure, you can make up for late in the tournament against players who are not good short-stack players. At the end of the day, it is how much you make per hour that counts.
- Size of the Field: Generally, the larger the size of the field, the weaker it is. However, there is a “cost” to large fields. The deeper a good player is in a tournament, the more advantage he has. Good players exploit bubble situations. Good players understand short-stack dynamics when in the money. Good players exploit their opponents when it becomes shorthanded. Finally, when the big money is really on the line, good players are better heads-up players than their average opponent.
If you regularly play tournaments with 1,000-plus players, you won’t be making a lot of final tables, where you can utilize those superior skills over your opponents. Compare that to tournaments with 150 to 200 players, where you will be making a lot more final tables and getting to heads-up play much more often.
- Poker Site: Some poker sites are tougher than others. I’ve generally found that some of the second-tier sites have weaker players than their larger counterparts, especially if they have a casino or sports-betting arm feeding the poker site.
- Rake: There are slight differences in rake between the different poker sites. However, rebuy tournaments are a great way to play higher buy-ins for a cheaper price. Rebuy tournaments charge rake only on the initial buy-in. Therefore, a $10 rebuy tournament with a $1 rake is slightly cheaper than a $30 tournament with a $3 rake.
- Guarantees: Many sites offer prize-money guarantees. Sometimes these guarantees aren’t met from the buy-ins, because not enough players enter the tournament, which gives you an immediate overlay on your money.
- Number of Tables You Are Playing: Every top tournament player plays multiple tournaments at once. You can increase your profitability by increasing your volume. There aren’t many tournaments in the $1,500-plus range, but you can easily spend that much by playing multiple tournaments. On Sundays, the top players can spend well over $5,000 by playing multiple tournaments. However, there is a cost to this, as well. Each additional table that you are playing ultimately cuts down on your ROI [return on investment]. It is important to find the right balance.
So, now the question becomes, how can you use this information to make the best choices? The first thing you must determine is how many tables you are able to play effectively. For some players, this might be four, for others it might be eight, while others can play 12 or more. I find that eight is my max, and even then, for only an hour or two, when I will likely get down to five or six.
Once you know how many tables you can play effectively, you can then determine which ones would be more profitable. Here are some things to think about:
- Rather than playing all large-field tournaments, try playing some with 100-300 players in them, so that you will have more chances to exploit your opponents in final-table play.
- Look for tournaments with overlays.
- Open accounts at some second-tier sites.
- Take advantage of rebuy tournaments. Some players who play $30 and $50 freezeouts aren’t playing the $10 rebuy tournaments. Rebuy tournaments are a great way to step up in limits while avoiding some of the better players. Beware, however; this isn’t the case at the highest limits. The $100-$200 rebuy tournaments generally have some of the toughest fields on the Internet.
- Be careful not to play more tables than you can effectively play.
- If you like to play tournaments with $100 or higher buy-ins and have a limited bankroll, choose them carefully. A $30 rebuy tournament might be more profitable than a $100 rebuy tournament, given the tough fields in the $100 rebuy tournaments. Avoid the Sunday high buy-in tournaments that don’t have satellites for qualifiers.
- Play some heads-up sit-and-gos simply to practice for those all-important times that you will make heads-up play in a tournament.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.