By KiTThere is a growing problematic trend in the poker community: many major “championship” tournaments are allowing multiple (sometimes unlimited) rebuys. In other words, if you bust out of a tournament you can just go back into your pocket and reload, like in a cash game. “Championship” is in quotes because these rebuy events should not be held in the same regard as events that don’t allow rebuys (e.g., the vast majority of WSOP bracelet events). On the face of it, this is a win-win situation for the tournament sponsor and the players – larger prize pools and more cash flow to the casino. However, there are knock-on effects when it comes to major championship events that can have a long-term negative impact on the health of the poker industry.
Here are the four main reasons why major poker rebuy tournaments are no bueno:
1) Increased edge for pros vs. amateurs
This is the predominant issue. Amateurs trying their hand at WSOP and WPT events are critical drivers of the poker industry. The professional players tend to push money back and forth between themselves, but they make their profit off of amateurs. Amateurs often win entries via low stakes tournaments or splurge on one buy-in with the dream of being the next Chris Moneymaker. Pros have larger bankrolls and financial backers that make multiple buy-ins a possibility.
Putting aside the skill of pros, this monetary advantage in rebuy tournaments gives them even more of an edge. Pros can make high variance plays early in a tournament to collect chips with the knowledge that if they bust they can just try again. This dynamic exacerbates the already commonplace practice that pros use of putting amateurs in tough decision-making spots. Amateurs with only the wherewithal for one bullet will often make decisions for their tournament life with hands like top pair, top kicker. Good pros understand this lame duck condition and know how to exploit it.
There are two ways a pro can justify the reduced economic returns of multiple buy-ins. First, the exposure of winning a WSOP bracelet event or making a TV table at a WPT event is a big boost to a pro’s image and career. Second, in rebuy “championship” events, the 1st prize take can easily amount to over $1mm. So spending $3,500, $15,000 or whatever the number may be is worthwhile. Building a big stack is easier to do when you know you have multiple bullets. The second point is fairly obvious, so more on the first.
In the good old days winning a bracelet or a WPT event led to immediate sponsorship and potentially a spot on “Poker After Dark” or some other made for TV poker show (leading to more sponsorship). It isn’t clear if the same linear progression in the current market exists given little to no advertising in the U.S., but most pros still dream of having the backing that a Daniel Negreanu or a Vanessa Selbst enjoy.
The more direct impact is nuanced but significant. Many pro players make their money in high stakes cash games with lesser players. There is a fairly large group of wealthy amateurs who play poker regularly at nosebleed stakes. These amateurs are good but not as good as the better pros. While wealthy amateurs know that inviting decorated pros to their game is a negative EV move, they still do it. For most of this crowd the thrill of playing against the best in the world is worth the loss over time. For a keen businessman, it makes for great water cooler talk to say they regularly play in a cash game with a household name like Phil Hellmuth. These games can be very lucrative for the pros so invites are highly coveted and those with the strongest pedigree are more likely to earn them.
2) Reduced quality of play
Many amateurs like to test out their home game education against the best in the world and tournaments are the best place to do it. They also like having a first row seat to watch pros play against one another. However when pros are willing to make non-standard plays to collect chips quickly, some of their moves become questionable at best.
The moves being made are more about the rebuy option than about the actual poker hand. Pros with multiple bullets behind won’t waste time nursing their short stack. They would rather quickly double up or bust. These non-standard shoves effectively give chips to others at the table. The extreme case of this happens right before a rebuy period is about to end or at the end of a flight.
While this isn’t necessarily collusion, pros understand the dynamic so you will often see those with large stacks picking these dump moves off and stacking up with questionable holdings like K4o when their “peer” shoves with 84o. In a WSOP event where there are no rebuys, you are much less likely to see a pro stack off with a move that makes you scratch your head, but in rebuy WPT events it happens all of the time.
3) Amateur deterrent
Increased edge and reduced quality of play on the part of the pro have a disastrous impact – they drive amateurs away. Once amateurs realize they are showing up to a gunfight with a dull knife, they are less likely to come back. On top of that, once they notice the play quality isn’t wizard level, the entire experience becomes less enticing. As mentioned, amateur buy-ins are really where pros make their profits. Drive them away and the industry is impaired.
4) Tournament devaluation
Part of the allure of winning a World Series of Poker bracelet is that you are one (wo)man with one buy-in going against the best of the best in the world. Those that win or make deep runs have played great poker while avoiding the multitude of traps, pitfalls and bad beats that can make poker so frustrating. If someone has a deep enough bankroll they can mitigate some of those pitfalls. If someone wins a tournament but re-entered eight times, does it mean the same?The “win-win” perception referred to earlier of these rebuy championship events probably means they won’t go anywhere until someone with clout connects reduced amateur participation with the rebuy feature. Perhaps the media and poker community will further devalue “championships” in rebuy events by doing something like tracking a player’s number of reloads for each event they cash in. Adding that information to their poker profile or even having that information negatively impact their GSI score or some of the other indices out there could change the behavior. Having multiple rebuys in a preliminary event or a weekly tournament is fine but they need to be absolutely banned in “championship” events.