The Value of a Tournament

Discussion in 'Blackjack Tournament Strategy' started by Monkeysystem, Jan 23, 2015.


What is the most important factor you consider when deciding whether to play in a tournament?

Poll closed Feb 22, 2015.
  1. The tournament provides an overlay and benefits such as a free/reduced cost room.

    2 vote(s)
  2. The final table prizes are distributed relatively evenly, making bigger winners of more players.

    6 vote(s)
  3. I like to try for the biggest first-place prize possible.

    0 vote(s)
  4. I like a format that favors skilled players.

    8 vote(s)
  5. The tournament is well-run.

    6 vote(s)
  6. I don't care, just give me more tournaments!

    0 vote(s)
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Monkeysystem

    Monkeysystem Top Member Staff Member

    What do you folks find important in a tournament? What would make it a make-or-break decision if you had to factor in travel costs, etc? What factors are more important than others?

    Some factors to consider are things like:

    - Overlay. What percentage of the buy-ins/entry fees are returned to the players as prize money, gifts, etc. With overlay the casino is returning more than the total amount of buy-ins to the players.

    - Prize distribution. Is most of the prize money locked up in first place? In the top two or top three places? Do non-advancing semifinalists get paid?

    - Rules. Does the format favor strong players? Are there dumb rules such as one hand in each round pays 5x on blackjacks? Can you go all-in on every hand? What percentage of the starting bankroll is the maximum bet? What is your favorite format?

    - Professionalism. Does the tournament staff enforce the rules tightly or loosely? Do they have a history of favoring certain players when a decision concerning the rules is made?
    Ternamint likes this.
  2. gronbog

    gronbog Top Member

    I chose tournaments that are well run and favour skilled players. With those two in place, I feel confident that I can turn most tournaments into a positive EV situation for myself. The format that favours skilled players gives me an edge and a well run tournament, to me, means that the rules will be enforced uniformly, which will help to preserve that edge.
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  3. Billy C

    Billy C Top Member

    That was my choice, too. It had 100% of the vote at the time (being I was the first voter).
  4. PlayHunter

    PlayHunter Active Member

    Very interesting subject. I think most are factors to consider. I will elaborate below. Btw, I didn't vote.

    I have very little experience with live offline blackjack tournaments. But I have some with backgammon ones and the principles should be similar I believe. First thing to me is if there is likely to be an overlay in prizes. If is not, then how big is the house take in? If is more than 15% (my backgammon skill level is expert) I say pass (unless I win my entry via a cheap qualifier), without accounting road and room expenses. I figure you have to play only against rookies (and still depends against how many) to still have an edge if the house take in is 25%.

    The tournament also must be well run or otherwise your per-estimated win chances are likely to be diminished. Last time (just before Christmas) I've came in a tournament that advertised 11 hours of backgammon play per day. I said OK, I can do it. But I was surprised to see I had to play 15 hours per day, and I am 100% sure that in the last games I have done some mistakes which under normal stress conditions I wouldn't have made.

    At blackjack I like rules that gives many options with the cards at hand. As an example, I liked the most UltimateBet EBJT format (the secret bet maybe not so much, but still interesting). And as a comparison, I really don't like Microgaming EBJT's (very little skill involved there, just some few basic principles). Also I understand it is very easily to favour some certain players in offline blackjack tournaments. Simply when the favoured goes all-in and gets bad cards the dealer intentionally misdeal so he can re-deal the whole table. - How much this accounts for?
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  5. gronbog

    gronbog Top Member

    Another factor is the skill level of the competition. I have two examples:
    1. There is a place local to me that holds regular tournaments in a variety of games. Some of them use an accumulation format, which most skilled players dislike. I however love to play them because the locals have not yet figured out how to play an accumulation event. The result is that the threshold scores for advancing are very small and can be reached with a high success rate. Higher than most table-advance situations. This makes these tournaments more valuable to me than some traditional table-advance events. Although the strategy is mindless, this is still a situation where a knowledgeable (and hence, skilled?) player has an advantage.

    2. Cruise ship tournaments: You know, the ones where they play 7 hand rounds all afternoon and the top 7 scores of the day make up the final table. I always enter, always make the final table and in 4 entries have placed 1, 2, 2, 1 (my wife won one of the times I finished second). Once again, because the other players have no idea how to approach the situation. For almost no effort, I've made some decent cash playing these.
    If you look at tournaments as potential EV, you'll find opportunities that you might otherwise overlook.
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  6. LeftNut

    LeftNut Top Member

    Been pondering this for a while before responding, so here it goes.....

    An overlay is very nice but, as players, we are far too focused on this. Obviously we are expected to give them side play but many don't, then the casino gets frustrated and trashes the BJT forever. What's wrong with the house making a few bucks or at least breaking even? They aren't charitable organizations. If they don't make money, they have no motivation to host a BJT.
    THIS is the one that really grinds my gears. Why the hell do BJT's always have to have such a top-loaded prize payout? I asked a couple of Tournament Directors at fairly big events and got the same response from both of them. Because we've always done it that way. Well, damn, everyone used to think the world was flat, too. I own (with my partner) a series of bowling tournaments in Michigan, we have become the biggest series of that kind in the state. We never ever pay more than 30% of the prize fund to the winner and 25% of the bowlers earn at least their entry fee back. More cashers means more happy customers, who are likely to return and try again. Our game is suffering badly and I firmly believe that this nonsense of giving at least 50% of the prize money to one player is a strong cause of it. Doing that causes many more entrants to leave empty-handed and it doesn't take many experiences like that to make them decide that it isn't worth the effort/expense. The old saying goes "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Problem is, it's broken and needs fixing.

    This one made me laugh. Monkey's comment about 5x BJ's on one hand is due to a monthly BJT at MGM Detroit, which I haven't bothered posting because it's such garbage. On one hand about 3/4 of the way thru every round, a natural pay 5x. And the first round is table elimination one-advance. Everyone sits on their stacks until that hand then shove big bets, whoever gets the Willy Wonka golden ticket moves on. I've tried to reason with the management but they think they've built the better mousetrap.

    One of the great things about the Soo and Ignace BJT's in Michigan is the enforcement of the rules, although you'll occasionally encounter a dealer who exhibits a serious lack of familiarity with them. The TD's there won't take any crap and enforce rules unilaterally.

    It's one thing to favor the preferred high-rollers with perks like comped entries but it's another thing entirely when the house stacks the game in favor of those folks. Stuffing the drawing bin for wild cards, giving them a virtually insurmountable advantage with extra chips at the start of a round, allowing them to start their tournament in the semifinals, etc. The business reasons for sucking up to the favored players makes sense but don't screw everyone else to do it.

    On the subject of valuation of a tournament, here's how I do it. Add together ALL of the costs that are directly attributable. Entry fee, travel costs (car mileage or airfare), etc. For myself, because I have a job with zero paid days off, I have to figure in lost workdays as well. Then take the total prize fund and divide that by the anticipated number of entrants to get the seat value. If the seat value isn't at least 90% of the expenses then I'm gonna have to think about it. If the percentage comes in at 80 or worse...... nope.

    The availability of decent games to give the house a solid level of side play is important as well. If they've got something even just reasonably playable, I'll sit there and pound out 10,000 hands a day. Give me crapola to play and I'll spend the time watching others throw their money away. For example, when Meskwaki first started running BJT's, they had a pretty darn good video poker option - full-pay PickEm. That suddenly vanished and the remainder of their VP is shockingly horrid. Last time I went there, I'm very sad to say that they didn't get much action from me, perhaps a few hours on a CowPie (PaiGow) table. Haven't been back in maybe 3 or 4 years.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
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  7. rookie789

    rookie789 Active Member

    I'm unsure the date of your most recent cruise but I took 3 cruises in 2014 and observed the cruise BJ tournaments on each, both qualifing and final rounds.

    All tables I observed every player was all-in the first hand because they were told the $ amount they had to achieve prior to the first hand they played, roughly 4 X BR. With potentially 200 or more players paying $15 each entry fee and a prize pool of $500 the cruise BJ tournament was a very negative EV event.

    The cruise BJ tournament winners were determined by cards dealt not an unknown accumulation strategy.

    My hats off to you for a 1, 2, 2, 1 cruise tournament record but I doubt players were informed prior to their session the dollar amount they had to achieve to sit at the final table.
  8. gronbog

    gronbog Top Member

    You're right that very few had any clue of what was required in the tournaments I played. Furthermore, most of those who did know or who played the final few tables, and could clearly see the leader board, failed to bet enough to have any chance of making it.

    The 4 events I played were spread out over a long period of time, on a variety of cruise lines, with the first being around the year 2000. The last one was last year, in the spring of 2014. Even so, perhaps folks are learning, and it sounds like the tournament staff on your cruises was more than willing to help them with that.

    In a technical sense the qualifying round skill level of the field was elevated by the tournament staff on your cruises, turning it into a negative EV situation. The lesson is not to assume the skill level of the competition in this kind of situation, but to observe and evaluate it as you wisely did.
    PlayHunter likes this.
  9. LeftNut

    LeftNut Top Member

    Bumping this thread.

    As I write this, I find it very interesting that absolutely nobody has voted for bigger first-place prizes or for overlays.
  10. PlayHunter

    PlayHunter Active Member

    Bigger prize for the top place means higher variance and this is not what an advantage player would desire I believe.

    As for overlays, I am surprised too. (I just gave my vote for it by the way.) But I guess this is not something viable for organizers and more or less we are here to probably try and set something lucrative which to revive and enhance casinos desire to offer more frequent Blackjack Tournaments.
    LeftNut likes this.
  11. Ternamint

    Ternamint Member

    Is Seat Value based on total entrants or just the number of entrants you must beat? If all tables are 6 seated and it's 2-advance in round 1, 2-advance in round 2, 1 advance from round 3 to the FT and the FT is 6 seats, you must beat 4, 4, 5, 5(for 1st, 4 for 2nd etc...). Would you divide $50K total prize by 216 entrants, 198 of whom you won't play or have to beat, or by the 18 players you will face?
  12. LeftNut

    LeftNut Top Member

    I determine seat value by dividing the total prize fund by the total number of entrants. Others may differ.
    Ternamint likes this.
  13. Ternamint

    Ternamint Member

    For example: $20,000 cash + $20,000 promo chips = about $30,000 / expected entrants 150 = $200
    Assuming no other comps, are you only willing to spend $200 aprox to enter (including travel and other overhead)?

    I assume you are better than 50% of the entrants at least, and you are equally lucky. I would divide by about 113 for you (75 entrants are competitive and 75/2 for average luck). This gets you to $265 seat value.

    Mulligans seem to be more valuable than Re-entry. Would you travel to a no re-entry event? If so, would you add a factor for the mulligan and subtract a factor of no reentry?

    It also seems that the experts do not like unlimited max bets. Is this true for just the final hand, final few hands or when all hands can be all-in? Do you subtract and add for these rules? Which ones? All-in favors luck I assume.

    Top loaded payouts seem to really suck. Do most FTs chop (I can research that. I think I asked it before)? Would you consider anything other than an even chop? If several hands were played and/or a player or two go out, would you chop by giving more to the chip leader like they do in poker?

    I'd like to play some tourneys but they really seem -EV for the most part. Do you play them because their fun, free, get you to a place with other plays, etc... and close to even ev or do you expect to win over time? It would be interesting to know the lifetime win numbers for some of you or the average win per tournament you have made.
  14. London Colin

    London Colin Top Member

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  15. gronbog

    gronbog Top Member

    For calculating the value of your seat assuming everything is equal for everyone, the method used by Leftnut is correct and easy.

    For a tournament structured in way you describe, I get 324 seats needed (54 tables of 6 players each becomes 18 tables of 6 players becomes 6 tables of 6 players becomes 1 final table of 6 players).

    Your idea of considering only the players you compete against seems contradictory, but it actually isn't. However, dividing by 324 and by 18 obviously can't both be correct.

    It's easy to see that dividing by 324 is a quick way to obtain your average win assuming everything is equal for everyone. To do the same by considering only those you play against, you need to get the combined probability of advancing past each round. In this case, the probability of advancing to the final table is

    2/6 x 2/6 x 1/ 6 = 4/216 = 1/54

    The value of our seat then becomes 1/54 x (1/6 x P) where P is the total prize pool. This becomes 1/324 x P or P/324 as expected. Note that this holds true regardless of how the prizes are distributed at the final table.

    Say the prizes are P1, P2, P3, ..., P6 where the sum of the prizes is P. Our seat value is then

    1/54 x (1/6 x P1 + 1/6 x P2 + ... +1/6 x P6) or
    1/54 x (1/6 x (P1 + P2 + ... + P6)) or
    1/54 x (1/6 x P) or

    as before.

    The shortcut formula is valid for all tournament formats, including those with rebuys, mulligans, wildcards, etc., as long as the assumption that all is equal for everyone holds. The value of using the generalized method is that you can make adjustments to account for the fact that all may not be equal for everyone. For example, for a skilled player, the probability of advancing out of the first round should be higher than 2/6.
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  16. gronbog

    gronbog Top Member

    I play for all of these reasons. Without giving any specific numbers, I can tell you that I have made more money playing table games tournaments (not just blackjack and no poker) than any other form of advantage play I engage in. I will qualify that by admitting that I have been lucky enough to have regular access to events in which the general skill level of the field has been quite low. Some of these events no longer exist and this is slowly changing in the one local event that I still have access to.
    Ternamint likes this.
  17. gronbog

    gronbog Top Member

    This depends on the skill level of the field. As I said above, one of the reasons I have done well in tournaments is that the skill level of the players at my local events has been low. No limit betting has been a great help for me in these events because these players are mostly unwilling to make large bets when necessary. This makes my large bets much more effective when I need to make them.

    Against skilled players, no limit betting is not such a good thing. There is a balance. A maximum bet which is too small can make things difficult if you fall behind.
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