Why I Don't Play Tournaments

Happy New Year Just Hands Nation! I’m delighted to say that after weeks of bricking the majority of my goals I was finally able to have a week where I (nearly) successfully completed all four. I played for 36 hours, studied for 9 (close enough), meditated 3 times, and ran twice. So, I fell a bit short with the studying and running but given all the family/ holiday activities I’ve had going on I’m happy with it. I also managed to keep my 6-week winning streak alive, although for most of the week it looked like it was going to come to an end. Fortunately, I had a God-mode session last night and was able to dig myself out of pretty big hole and book another winning week.

Somewhat unexpectedly, I played in my first tournament this week. I’ve stayed away from tournaments at the Jack up until now mainly because the structures are usually pretty bad. The starting stacks are generally somewhere between 60 and 100 BB’s and each level only last 15 or 20 minutes. In addition, at least for the early levels, the blinds often increase 2x what they were previously, which effectively cuts each players’ stack in half. All of this makes it so the average stack is only 10-15 BB’s (or sometimes less) in the later stages of the tournaments, which kind of eliminates any post-flop skill advantage we would have if the effective stacks were larger since most of the hands will be finished preflop.

I thought that this tournament would be different. I first noticed it being advertised on Bravo as a $150+10 with a $10k guarantee with 30 minute levels. Players started with 20k in chips and blinds started at just 25/50, so 400 BB’s total. I wasn’t able to get a definitive answer from the floor on the increase in blinds for each level, but I assumed it couldn’t be that unreasonable. Even if they increased 100% for the first few levels I thought that we would still be deep enough later in the tournament such that I’d have a decent edge. So, this being a better structured tournament relative to the normal ones, the guarantee, and having an old poker friend of mine in town with an itch to play a tournament, this led me to decide to play in my first live donkament.

I prepared for the tournament in a multitude of ways. First, I fired up training videos both on RunItOnce and UpSwing and sharpened my understanding of what my preflop ranges should look like and learned about ICM, of which I really had no prior knowledge. I developed a sort of pre-game plan to try to play the early levels somewhat conservatively to instill a tighter image upon myself and then to really open up and play a lot more aggressively once the blinds were larger and antes began. I then tried to get some actual tournament experience by playing a few micro tourneys on Ignition. I felt these tournaments would be decent for getting a feel for playing less deep and also thought the fields would be pretty similar in skill to the one I was planning to play.

By the day of the tournament, I felt well prepared and ready to play my best (and bink one time!). Unfortunately, the poker gods had other things in mind. To start things off, I was bitterly disappointed when I learned that the 30-minute blind levels I had read about on Bravo were a typo, and the actual time for each level was only 20 minutes. I then found out that each tournament table was made up of 10 seats which was annoying both because I felt like I was getting to know the people sitting adjacent to me a little too well and because it forced me to play a slightly tighter preflop range than I had originally planned. I was also disappointed when the blinds proceeded to increase from 25/50 to 50/100 to 100/200 for the first 3 levels, and 50% increments in the following levels. This resulted in exactly the kind of scenario I wanted to avoid, an essentially dumbed-down version of poker where the vast majority of our decisions are made preflop and it's hard to have much of a skill edge.

It was a pretty unexciting six hours for me. My stack peaked at about 50k (which I think was like 14 BB’s at the time) and I really was never able to get much going, mostly as a result of me being card dead. It ended with me having to open shove my 7-8 BB stack with A7s and losing to pocket queens. Just like that, I was out in 50-something place and was totally empty handed, which was frustrating. Busting is so much worse a feeling when you can’t just pull out another buy-in and hop back in the game like you can in cash. Playing this tournament definitely reminded me why I don’t play tournaments, and I can assure you all I won’t be playing any others at the Jack anytime soon (unless they improve the structures). It was a crap shoot compared to playing cash and while I still think I had a decent edge over nearly the entire field, I’m certain my edge in cash games is larger. Still, it was fun to switch things up a little bit and learn a little bit about tournament play, and I hope to play some better structured tournaments in the future.

I also forgot to mention that my buddy was able to cash and make the final table of the tournament. The final table decided to take a 9-way chop and he was able to walk away with a solid 4-figure profit (shout out to Aar, nice job!). I’ll end this rant on donkaments with that, and will talk to you all next week.