The recent trend of unlimited re-entry in the world of tournament poker has brought about a widespread debate among industry insiders as to whether or not this modernized tournament structure is good or bad for poker. There are two major aspects of unlimited re-entry tournaments that cannot be disputed by anyone on either side of the issue:
1. Increased prize pools
2. Increased likelihood of a pro showing up in the winner’s circle
Increased prize pools
This is clearly a good thing for all involved. A larger prize pool is better for the players as well as the venue hosting the event. A juiced prize pool brings more excitement and awareness to its surrounding area and has the ability to attract more casual players to the event.
Increased likelihood of a pro showing up in the winner’s circle
It is clear that professional tournament players are more likely than the casual players to re-enter after losing their respective stacks. This will in turn lead to a higher percentage of pros at the final table and thus a higher percentage of tournaments won by the top most well funded pros.
Those two facts are undeniable with regards to unlimited re-entry and cannot be debated. The question remains: Is unlimited re-entry good or bad for poker?
The first effect of re-entry: Increased prize pools are great for poker. It is such an obvious point that there is no need to go into any discussion about this aspect.
Where it gets tricky is with regards to the second effect of re-entry: The Increased likelihood of a pro showing up in the winner’s circle. There is a clear downside when any amateur feels he or she is at an additional disadvantage versus a well-seasoned pro due to re-entry. Even though the amateur has the same opportunity to re-enter as the pro, he or she will have a compounding equity deficit as they both continually re-enter. The counter argument to that point is the theory that while the amateur does not vary his or her play very much on the fact that he or she may re-enter, the average professional poker player plays marginally to significantly worse knowing the option to re-enter exists. Many pros are willing to give up additional equity if they feel it increases their chances of winning an event. Tournament strategy dictates that pros should adjust their play ever so slightly in a re-entry format, but from experience I have seen it time and time again where the ‘pros’ are just throwing away real equity in a tournament knowing it only marginally increases their chance of winning the tournament. This actually bodes well for the tournament equity of an amateur. While it is true that the final table will be made up of tougher opponents on average. It must also be considered that the increased prize pool is partially gained by those same pros ‘dusting off’ in the early stages and thus boosting the prize pool. The tougher final table field should be offset by the increased payouts caused by re-entry.
Because we all agree that the pros are more likely to spend more on re-entry, we can also agree that a higher percentage of pros will be at the final table. This leads to the assumption that a higher percentage of the prize pool is straight from the pockets of the pros. While it is clear the amateur has a decreased chance of outright winning the tournament due to re-entry, it is not necessarily correct to assume the amateur has less equity in a re-entry tournament and it can be argued the exact opposite is likely the case.
By the Numbers: An example of re-entry results
We ran 3 unlimited re-entry tournaments at Parx Poker Room in Philadelphia this past month. I have the following data and would like to share it as one example of how the numbers might really pan out for re-entry tournaments. I really this is a small sample size of only three events but it is the only data of which I have access. The following is data from $300, $500, & $1500 buyin events.