Monday, March 16, 2009

Pain Prize Ratio

Two weeks ago Ho Chunk Casino in Baraboo, WI started Texas Holdem tournament on Sundays at 3pm. Yesterday when I arrived to a poker room they were down to 28 players. Tournament starts with the maximum of 50 players, with buy in $50, and pays top 5 places with $1000 first prize. Tournament is fast and nothing different than any tournament that we play in the bars around Madison and other parts of the country.

During the tournament break I was talking with my poker buddies Mike "Philly" and Ted. While trying to explain why I don’t play small-cheap tournaments I created a new poker lingo phrase "Pain/Prize Ratio". This is a twist on the financial Return on Investment (ROI) analysis.

Reading some articles and books I found statements by T.J. Cloutier and Chris Ferguson that they don’t play tournaments if the first place prize is les than 50 (or 40) times buy in. I played many tournaments and have a nice database, so after analyzing my stats I decided not to play small bar tournaments anymore. Playing any tournament takes some of your money and a lot of your time and combined with mental stress, creates pain. If the prize is not big enough even the winning player is losing. I don't have some table that can show this ratio, but I believe it's not hard to make one.

Consider playing this tournament once a week for one year. It’ll cost you: 52 weeks x $50 = $2600. You have to win 3 times to break even. Can you do it? If you are really good you may win even 6-7 times and have a few other prizes for a total close to $10,000 and a profit of about $7000. First place is $1000, only 20 times buy in.

Some tournaments last about 5-6 hours till heads up battle. Sometimes you may go out after just a few hands. To place 10 times in the money, you need to make 20 times final table. I’m guessing that an average per game may be 3 hours for a total of 150+ hours for the year. Again, if you are really that good tournament player and you can make profit of $7000 in 150 hours, you have an average of $45 per hour.

Now you may think that making $45 per hour is great, but my question to you is “who do you know that has results like this?” You don't have to look far, the answer is Mr. Wegas has simmilar results. Here is my tournament experience.

When I moved in August, 2006 to Madison area soon I found a big poker network, and I started to play tournaments every day. I played every game I could find from Madison and Middleton to Hollandale, Dodgevile, Monro, Blenchardville, Argyle, Peoli ... Most of the games I played was 154 in 2007. During 2008 I played only 40 tournaments, and this year I had only 3 so far. It took me only six months to realize that tournaments are waste of time. I think that I played with some success and here are the numbers.

Number of tournaments: 212
Total Hours played: 575
Average per tournament: 3 hours
Buy in: $11,090 (average buy in $52)
Prizes: $12,950 (average win $275)
Profit: $1860
Made money: 47 times = 22% of the time, more than once in 5 tournaments.
Profit per hour: $3.25
Q: Mr. Wegas, what is the main problem with small bar tournaments?
A: Not enough players, so the prize is low and doesn't justify the pain.

Now you may understand why professional players play only if the first place prize is minimum 40 times buy in. Assume that the first place prize is about 25-30% of total buy in money. With 100 players 30% = 30 times buy in. Means you want the tournament with minimum of about 150 players x 30% = 45 times buy in.

Let’s now recalculate the Ho Chunk tournament, but assume that there are 150 players every time. It still cost you $2600 for the year, but prize pool is three times bigger. Ho Chunk pays 40% for the first place, so now it’s $3000. Being a good player you can win 6-7 times, and make a few other prizes for a total of about $25,000. This pays enough for your pain. Now you can make a living by just playing Tuesday and Sunday tournaments at the Ho Chunk casino.

Q: Mr. Wegas, is there any other problem with small tournaments?
A: Sure, the bigest problem is the speed of the tournament. I'll write later a post on this topic.

Tournament Speed is part of the pain factor. You know the feeling when you are playing good but the blinds are killing you. Here is an example from yesterday. When they started the final table with 10 players an average stack was $10,000 with the big blind $1000 and $200 ante. You can not really play poker having less than 10 big blinds, so every hand is all in.

Q: So Mr. Wegas, what is your advice for us, small time tournament players?
A: The game is what it is. It's your choice to play it or not to play. But, please think about the structure and the speed of the tournament. You can learn more on this topic from the great book by legendary Arnold Snyder The Poker Tournament Formula The book explains how to rank and play this kind of tournaments.


  1. i think you need to deal with the fact that you just arent good at tournamnet poker. you have a 9% roi in live tournaments at this buy in level. you shouldnt play them, because that is a terrible return for live poker.

    my guess is youre untrained in push/fold which is basically all you need to learn to be extremely succesfull in live small buyin casino tournaments.

    this isnt a knock to your skill and if you want to say that tourneys are luck, whatever...but i think its just a different game.

  2. After playing over 200 tournaments and making money in 23% of them, I concluded that in small tournaments you can only break even. I hope you are making enough with your 9% ROI.

  3. my roi is a lot higher than 9% in live tournaments, and i dont know but id bet that my cash % is much higher than 23% as well.

    id recommend studying this