Playing Large Tournaments
by Jason Kirk  

There are few things that characterize the poker boom better than large live multi-table tournaments. When over 800 players entered the WSOP Main Event in 2003, it was a record field for the most prestigious tournament in the world. Or the ever expanding online poker tournaments like the European Championship of Online Poker (ECOOP), a 14 days event with the smallest buy-in of $100+$9 no-limit hold'em and a guaranteed prize of $300,000. Now, it's not unusual to find fields of a similar size for much smaller buy-in tournaments during two- and three-week events at casinos around the United States; recent $300+40 no-limit hold'em tournaments in Tunica and Atlantic City have drawn well over 700 players each. If you've started thinking it's time to enter one of these monster fields to earn your share of the prize pool, there are a few things you ought to consider before jumping in head-first.


If you're going to put up more than your usual buy-in for a tournament, it pays to make sure the structure is favorable before you register. Too often, casinos that expect large fields for their smaller buy-in tournaments will employ a structure that is designed to whittle the field down quickly. One sure sign of how fast the structure moves is how quickly antes are introduced to accompany the blinds. At the recent US Poker Championship $300+40 no-limit hold'em event at Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal, a $25 ante came in on the third level. By way of contrast, the recent WSOP Circuit events in Tunica didn't introduce antes until the fifth level. The sooner antes come in, the less room most players have to play before moving all-in pre-flop becomes their only move.

Another consideration with regards to structure is how long the levels last. This is especially important for those players who are accustomed to online poker. Whereas online play averages a hand per minute, if not more, in live play you might see a hand every two minutes if everyone at the table acts quickly. If the levels in your tournament only last 40 minutes, you're going to have to make the most of every hand you're dealt. An hour to each level gives you a little more room to work with.

A poor blind structure combined with quick levels can turn a poker tournament into a crapshoot. Be sure you know what you're getting into ahead of time.

Travel Costs

Even though the expanded tournament schedule of recent years means more areas now hold big tournaments, chances are you'll have to foot the bill for traveling a fair distance to reach your tournament site of choice. Round-trip airfare can be found cheaply through diligent internet searching - if you live near a medium- to large-size airport. If not, driving is probably your only other option, and gas prices today mean that a trip over 500 miles can cost you almost as much as an airplane ticket. It's important to keep in mind that your travel costs can easily equal or surpass the buy-in for a smaller buy-in tournament, so be sure to factor these costs in when you're making preparations to play.


Just because you want to play in a large live tournament doesn't mean you have to pay full price for admission. Satellite tournaments are a great way to win your way in for a discounted price, and they're available for almost every event you can play in these days. Be prepared, however, to pay a large fee for the opportunity. A price of $30+15 (50% juice) for a single table satellite to a $300 event is not unusual. If you can afford a slightly higher satellite entry - such as $50+15 - it can pay to play these instead. The difference in competition is usually negligible, the juice is significantly lower, you earn more money for winning the satellite, and selling the vouchers or entry chips you receive from the casino is as easy as playing pocket aces.


If the final cost of playing in a large live tournament is too high for you, consider finding a few investors to back you into the tournament. A common arrangement is to sell shares which pay a certain percentage of any prize money you win, e.g. 10 shares at $30 apiece to enter a $300 tournament would each pay out 10% of your prize. The more people you know who would consider backing you in a tournament a good investment, the more shares you can sell. If you plan on keeping shares for yourself (always a good idea), be sure not to sell more shares than you need to enter the tournament. Otherwise you'll end up paying out more than you can possibly win - or running from your investors.

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