Last year's 2015 WSOP got people pretty excited. For one, we had more chips, which everyone assumed meant more fun. This makes sense at first glance, but once I got there, I started wondering if it was really an advantage to the players, or if this increase in chips would actually lead to more struggling and a lower hourly rate for them, and increased profit for the Rio.
When all was said and done, it turned out to be a bit of both. The structures were suited to specific kinds of players, but the ironic thing is they probably weren't suited to the types of players who were playing those events.
The events I played last summer were the $1K Hyper Tournament, which was a lot of fun. The $1.5K Millionaire Maker, which I had the pleasure of playing in the Poker Kitchen - a new and slightly odd experience for me. I also played the $1K Turbo event, which was short and sweet, but that's what you get for late registering for turbos.
I really dug the $1.5K Monster Stack - an awesome event which I call the Mini-Main, since you get similar chip stack to what you would in the Main. It's about half the stack, half the blind levels, but you do get a lot of play, and there's a lot of depth in the tournament.
Other events I played include the $3K PLO 8, which was a ton of fun (and one of my favourites), the $1.5K Extended Levels, which was not extended at all, to me, and the $1,500 PLO 8, which was my deepest run. No surprise there. It was also the tournament I cared the most about and the one I was the most excited to play.
I decided to also play a 235 Deepstack to see what all the hype was about, and it definitely lived up to that hype. Finally, I played some satellites for the Main Event, since there was such good value in playing them.
All in all, I'd consider this a light to moderate schedule, and it worked well for me.
But what's going to work for you?
I'm going to answer that question by getting back to those bigger chip stacks and more levels. This is great for amateur players who want to see more action for their buck and get more play. You can afford to lose a few pots and still have a chance to get back in the game.
The only thing wrong with this set up is that - because the events attracted so many more players - they were played 10-handed. Now, I don't know if this is the way they played in the past, or if it was nine-handed. The problem with playing 10-handed is that there isn't much you can really do most of the time, which is why Greggy probably said the full ring unlimited events should be called the 'dust bowl' - you're basically just collecting dust.
The key to playing these events is to show up early, and that way you know all the seats have been sold, but you're just playing with the people who are there. This means you may only be playing five or six handed, and you can use your skills to build your stack. This is a huge advantage, because you're accumulating a sizable stack before the other players arrive, when you’ll be forced to play patience-poker. You can put players in tough spots down the road by leveraging your stack size against their relatively smaller stacks.
The funny thing is, with all these levels added, it's not usually the pros who show up on time. It's the amateurs, and the ones with a light schedule that show up for early levels. Now, why don't the pros show up?
I suspect it has something to do with the start times, which can be around 10am and can run until 1am. It's a ridiculously long run, which requires an insane amount of stamina. They probably have other things they can do with their time, like a higher hourly they can score in the early levels of a $1,500. It's a cost/benefit analysis situation.
When you're playing these events, it's important to pay attention to the game-changer levels, which usually involves a change in the size of the antes (which a lot of people don't notice), or a skip in the blind level. This is when you're going to want to apply your tournament tactics of leveraging and applying pressure. This is when you’re going to want to stop using your cash game strategies, which are much more speculative because the stacks aren't as shallow, so the deepstack cash game approaches hold less merit.
So, this said, where is your best value at the Rio?
I'll start by saying all the events do have great value in them for a strong player: someone who is seasoned in no-limit hold'em, knows the strategies, knows how to play different stack sizes - all that stuff - but also someone who is able to play live comfortably, and is able to play long days.
It used to be that eight-10 hour days are long, but now, to accommodate all the people, days can be 12-14 hours long.
This is why you've got to think about your expectation vs. your hourly. As a versatile player, you want to show up on time to get the most out of the tournament, but that's going to require a larger time commitment than registering four or six hours in. You have to decide what's more important: your expectation of going further in the tournament, or maximizing your hourly rate.
Next you have to consider your enjoyment factor vs. your profit factor.
As you can probably imagine, the Rio is a zoo. There's a ton going on, stuff's getting moved around all the time, and it's flooded with people. This won't make for the best playing environment for certain types of people. Even if you're not one of these people, you are going to see a lot of people go on tilt, have rough days and be in generally crummy moods. If this sort of high-energy, potential high negativity environment isn't worth it for you, then maybe consider some of the more laidback daily deepstacks, rather than the daily $1,500 or daily $1K bracelet events. No, you won't get the WSOP swag in the daily deepstacks, but you can get multiple hundreds of buy-ins on your investment.
You will also want to know what events to play if you are about more than just the experience (which is all some players really want), and if you want to maximize your chances of having a winning summer.
If you're ready for it, then sure, the WSOP events that'll score you the bracelet are great. But you have to be cool with busting. You have to be comfortable with massive variance and huge fields. If you want to just win, then your best bet is to focus on smaller field MTTs exclusively. To do this, you're going to want to visit other casinos. You can play daily or nightly deepstacks, but the raking is pretty high on those events.
If you want to know where to go for alternative events, follow KevMath on Twitter. This guy knows his stuff, and has spreadsheets with all the events at all the casinos with all the buy-ins so you can handpick what events are best for you.
It's also a good idea to supplement your MTT play with cash games and single table sit 'n' gos. I've been told the cash games are the most profitable, ever, during the WSOP, and that's where the best action is - not in the tournaments.
Another place you'll find a lot of value is the multi-table mega satellites, but again, there's a bit of variance, so you have to decide how much variance you can - or want to - handle.
Vegas is a big place.
And as I've said, you don't have to stick to WSOP events. If you want to maximize your EV during the WSOP, however, you will want to stick to the popular casinos where the poker room is close to the other games, because those rooms attract people whose interest has been piqued, but they'll playing out their element.
Let’s get back to why pros register late...and why you might consider it.
I know, I know. I said to get your ass to the tables on time, but, if you're an advanced player who wants to maximize your hourly, then registering late definitely has its perks. I've done this when I had other things to do (like play cash games) that would be more profitable than sitting through early stages. But I've also registered on time when there were no other events I felt comfortable or worthwhile playing during those initial levels.
If you do register late, and if you're a skilled player, you can still spin up a stack pretty quickly because you're playing at the higher limits right away. Just keep in mind this will require a bigger bankroll that can take swings because the tournaments can be short-lived.
I know I had a couple tournaments that lasted half-an-hour or an hour. That's a quick way to blow through $1,500. I saw Phil Hellmuth late register for the $3K PLO 8 at the last second and he busted the first hand. Sure, it was probably a 55/45, but if you’re someone who wants to get a lot of value (be it money, time, entertainment), then registering late doesn't make sense - especially registering that late.
It's a personal call. If there is something you could be doing that would make you more money, or make you happier than playing that particular event (and if you're happier you can take that elation and turn it into great results at the tables later on), then late register. But if there is nothing more important than to you than playing that event, then register on time.
And if you plan to register on time, think about how long you can last in terms of stamina. Do you have enough fuel in the tank to make it to the end of a 12 hour day? If not, think about how long you can last. If you can make it 10 hours, register at the two hour mark. If you can make it eight, register at the four hour mark.
You get the idea.
You've got to weigh the value of starting early and being exhausted in the last few hours of crucial play, against the value of registering late and missing those first few hours where you could build your stack.
Also consider your expectation. If you plan to make it to day two, when your play is even more valuable, you don't want to exhaust yourself on day one.
The other question to ask yourself is this: How good are you, really, at deepstack poker?
When you identify what your main skill level is based on your stack size, you should register in the blind level that is your sweet spot or when you'd have a couple levels to play before you hit that sweet spot.
Is the Main Event EV Friendly?
That depends on what you consider valuable. If it is just to experience the WSOP, then yes, by all means, play the Main Event, skip the preliminaries. However, if you want the best chance of seeing some money for your efforts and want to really soak up all Vegas has to offer, there are better options.
Find the tournaments that match your skill set and help you play in that sweet spot. The only difference between a WSOP event and the other ones is the trophy you'll get and the size of your purse. In the events that aren't at the Rio, you'll win more often, go deep and get to apply your main edge: namely, the short hand and stack size strategy you’ve developed here. You also won't feel depleted from playing five days straight only to come up short.
I've said it once, I'll say it again: this is where clear goals and personal assessment is paramount. Playing poker should be fun and when you're perusing a realistic and worthwhile goal, poker is fun. So get out there and have some – and when you get back, make sure to tell us all about it.