Attention tournament players: You’re in a tough business. I recently asked a fellow pro what he thought a good winning percentage was in tournament play. He said if you cashed 15-20 percent of the time consider yourself a winning tournament player. He said most tournaments pay the top 10 percent so cashing is difficult.
I have a different outlook when it comes to tournament play: Knowing you must beat 90 percent of the field to cash tournaments can become expensive.
When you factor the low-end payout is usually only 1 percent of the prize pool you must seriously think about where your money may be better spent. Of course, the lure of the big payout is the major attraction.
My friend Joe Conti played in the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event and finished 666th, the last player to cash ($21,230). The player in 667th place (the bubble) got nothing. Joe earned a nice payday for the $10,000 entry . . . or did he?
The prize pool of $64,431,779 was divided among the 666 players like this: 604-666 earned $21,230; 541-603 earned $23,160. Having beaten more than 90 percent of a field of 6,844 entries the payoff was only about double the buy-in; not what you would call a good return on investment for the achievement.
Even the large fields don’t seem to be a major detractor to a determined player. The risk-reward ratio seems worth the challenge, and the allure of fame and fortune certainly add to the fascination.
But most players won’t enter the WSOP main. They will, however, enter many low-priced tournaments, which can quickly eat up the average player’s bankroll. It’s only a $100 or $350 tournament, which doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but seldom do these events offer the proper ROI.
In cheaper tournaments the rake can be large compared to the ROI. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for the house making money, without the house we wouldn’t have a safe place to play. But the average player doesn’t realize the price to chase a small payoff. These players often don’t have the skill required to go deep in tournaments. The proof is in the results. Over the years I’ve made a study of many players, professional and amateur, and a consistent pattern evolved: The better players make the money, while the unskilled players fall by the way side.
I’d like to think an average player who would like to protect his bankroll would be inclined to play cash games at a comfortable level. Cash games, when played properly, ensure an enjoyment level that’s seldom enjoyed in tournament play. Every cardroom offers a variety of games and limits. Tournament play is for the player who has an iron will and can accept rejection consistently. The art of losing isn’t hard to master for the unskilled tournament player.
— Antonio Pinzari is the former host of Poker Wars and has been playing poker professionally since the ’70s.