Exploiting Tournament Structures

Sometimes the very structure of a tournament gives a player an EV advantage over others. I happened across an example of such a tournament in Cannes at the WSOPE last month.

The tournament was a €500 + €50 PLO satellite to the €5300 PLO bracelet event. There were no rebuys and one add on costing €500 for double the starting chips. In other words, when you bought in, you got 4000 chips for €550, and after an hour, you could add on for a further €500 to get another 8000 chips.

The received wisdom about add ons is, that at the end of the rebuy period, a player should add on if not doing so would leave the player with below the average chipstack after everyone else has added on. This is itself can involve a bit of guesswork. Players should note that, in keeping with ICM, above a certain level, the marginal return conferred by adding on extra chips does not warrant the extra investment.

There are a few extra considerations – for example if there was a mega-fish or two at your table with lots of chips, you might want to consider adding on even if you were well above average. Conversely, if you’ve been put on a table full of pros and haven’t managed to get a stack likely to propel you beyond your current table, you might figure that the extra buy in is better invested in a clean start at another table.

Tournaments with double add ons make the marginal cost of chips almost inevitably worth the extra investment. One would have to have a great deal of chips before adding twice as many as you started with for the same price would not be worth it. Nevertheless, you will encounter a whole bunch of spin-up merchants, under-rolled and generally under-skilled players who will not add on in (double add on) tournaments despite it being in their interest to do so. That, in itself, is a good source of EV.

However, the special case with this tournament was that there were no rebuys before the add on. In other words, if a player busted in that time, they would forego the opportunity to buy extra chips at half price. Essentially, they would have bought their stack at €137.50 per 1000 chips, where all those who added on would get them at the bargain price of €87.50.

The tournament ran two nights in a row, and I did my homework on the first night – checking at the end of the add on period how many players were left and how many of them added on. Of the 28 players who entered the tournament, only 21 of them actually made the add on period and, amazingly, a mere 15 of them decided to add on. In short, of the 28 players in the tournament 13 of them – in one way or another – forewent their option to buy extra chips at half price. That is essentially dead money in the prize pool.

Armed with that knowledge, I went back the next night and deliberately didn’t register until the end of the add on period. A brief calculation based on the previous night’s numbers meant that if I entered after level 3, I would have just over average stack, and the dead money in the prize pool meant that the value of my chips even after three levels was approximately what I would have paid for them had I entered at the beginning. Just to explain what I mean by that: I had an average stack, with one in five of the players left in the tournament getting a seat, so I had paid €1050 for a one in five shot of winning a €5300 seat. In other words, I had made money without playing a hand, even though I had missed an hour of play.

Sure, I could have made yet more money had I started the tournament from the beginning, but here I risked zero chance of being eliminated before the add on, and even so I had 60 big blinds, thus there was a decent amount of play left.

This was possible given the tournament structure – i.e. the fact that there was a double add on, and the fact that you couldn’t rebuy to ensure that you reached the lucrative add on. Of course, there are other ways that structures can be +EV for players, but each case will be different. Suffice to say, it pays to keep your eyes open to these opportunities.