Is Arriving Late to a Tournament a Good or Bad Idea?
If you happen to follow professional poker players Daniel Negreanu and/or Shaun Deeb on Twitter, you might have noticed over the weekend the two of them engaging in a debate regarding the topic of arriving late to play in tournaments.
We've all seen Phil Hellmuth do it over and over again on television at the World Series of Poker, namely, delay his arrival only to join a tournament after the first few levels have completed. Sure, doing so enables a guy like Hellmuth to draw more attention to his theatrical entrances at the WSOP, but is there some other reason why pros do this? That is to say, is there some sort of strategic benefit to starting tournaments late?
The conversation between Negreanu and Deeb (and a few others who chimed in as well) began after Negreanu had jumped into one of the last events of the recently concluded World Championship of Online Poker at PokerStars. It was the $2,100 H.O.R.S.E. tournament, and after taking his seat just before the end of the lengthy three-hour late registration period, Negreanu noticed his starting stack still wasn't that far from the average as very few players had busted out by that point.
That inspired Negreanu to tell his almost 270,000 Twitter followers that "skipping the first 3 hours of the 2k WCOOP HORSE for the best player in the field has a very minimal [e]ffect on his chances of winning."
Deeb disagreed, calling Negreanu's statement "the worst advice," and the debate continued from there.
For new tourney players there are probably at least three factors worth highlighting with regard to this particular debate over the H.O.R.S.E. tournament that Negreanu and Deeb were discussing.
- Unlike no-limit hold'em tournaments, H.O.R.S.E. involves fixed-limit betting for all five games (hold'em, Omaha hi/lo, razz, seven-card stud, and seven-card stud hi/lo). Tournament strategy differs greatly when talking about no-limit events versus fixed-limit tournaments.
- As mentioned, the structure for the event Negreanu and Deeb were discussing was relatively "deep" or "slow" for an online tournament, which was one reason why most of the players hadn't yet busted when Negreanu jumped into the tournament three hours late. Another was the fact that since it was a fixed-limit tournament, players weren't going "all in" at the start as they could only make the (relatively small) fixed-limit bets.
- Negreanu specifically referred to "the best player in the field" when making his statement, thus he wasn't suggesting his claim applied to all players. Nor did he specifically say there was any benefit to starting late, but rather not much of a drawback.
With those factors in mind, let's consider just a moment how most of us would be mistaken to take Negreanu's statement as "advice" for tournament play. Indeed, Negreanu himself responded to Deeb to say it wasn't advice at all that he was delivering, but rather just an observation, and a relatively specific one at that.
Most new players are likely going to try a no-limit hold'em tournament when just starting out, and probably an inexpensive one, too. Low buy-in NLHE tourneys both live and online generally feature "fast" structures — that is, short levels and blinds/antes that increase quickly — which means getting into the game late is probably a bad idea in most cases. In fact, if you do decide to be like Hellmuth and arrive late to a typical low buy-in live tournament, you'll discover the blinds and antes are already big enough to put you in danger with your starting stack.
Say you're playing a $60 NLHE tournament that features 15-minute levels in which you start with 6,000 chips, and that late registration lasts for an hour, meaning you can join the tournament as late as the start of Level 5.
Blinds for Level 1 are 25/50, meaning you have 120 big blinds in your stack if you're there for the first hands. But by Level 5 the blinds are 200/400, meaning if you only start then, you'll be down to just 15 big blinds for your first hand!
Even experienced players would prefer not to start a tournament with such a handicap, never mind those who are relatively new to tournament poker. The fact is, when we see Hellmuth waltzing in four hours late to the WSOP Main Event, he knows the structure is so slow there (with two-hour levels and super deep stacks) the difference between starting at noon or 4 p.m. is relatively minor.
Returning to the Negreanu-Deeb debate, then, don't mistake what Negreanu was saying about a specific, somewhat specialized tournament and situation for general tourney advice. If you're new player especially, getting to the tournament on time is not a bad idea at all, for several reasons:
- You'll get to start with a "deeper" stack, relatively speaking, and thus will have both more options when playing hands and more margin for error, too
- You'll get dealt more hands at lower stakes, thus enabling you to get comfortable with game play as well as start to get some ideas about your opponents
- You'll get more "bang for your buck," especially in the low buy-in tourneys with fast structures
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