Thursday, 27 October 2011

Time Tourneys - Learn Them, Play Them, Beat Them

PokerStars has recently introduced a new type of tournament called Time Tourneys. These are tournaments that last for a set period of time (between 15 and 180 minutes). After they end the prizepool is chopped up based on the remaining players chip count.

I asked my twitter followers who had played these tournaments for their feedback. Opinions were mixed but I was surprised at the amount of just plain wrong opinions. These tournaments aren't crapshoots and your strategy shouldn't be to try to double up and then fold into the money.

[  ] ICM. [X] cEV

When playing the new Time Tourneys there are no ICM implications at all. In a normal tournament payout structure, if you pay $10 to enter, getting 1000 chips and then double up to 2000 chips, the equity of your 2000 chips is less than $20. The most extreme way to think of this is that the winner at the end of a standard tournament will have 100% of the chips in play but only be awarded say 15% of the prizepool.

In Time Tourneys the value of one chip stays constant at all times. If you buy in for $10 and double up then your stack is worth $20. Double up again, your stack is worth $40.

Time Tourneys are like playing a cash game where you and your opponents are committed to playing for a certain period of time, with no option to reload. Of course they play much shallower than a cash game, with large blinds and antes forcing a lot of action.

[  ] Flop / Turn / River. [X] Push / Fold / Call 

In Time Tourneys you generally begin with a stack of 15-25BBs and there is a 1/10BB ante. There is some room to make some 2.25x raises to call or fold to a shove in the first level or 2 but it soon becomes a game of push or fold. Even if you run up a big stack, half the table will have stacks shorter than 10BB so it still effectively makes it a push/fold game.

This doesn't make Time Tourneys crapshoots, it makes them highly profitable if you study push/fold math and are able to put your opponents on accurate shoving and calling ranges. As this is just a cEV game you can easily study these situations using an ICM calculator that is set to cEV mode or you can even do it manually with the help of a calculator and PokerStove.

[  ] Bubble

There is no bubble. The time left until the tournament ends should theoretically make no difference to your play. There is no need to play tighter as the end time approaches as it's not like trying to fold into the money in a satellite. You don't gain any equity by folding into the money. It's more like a cash game where everyone is forced to leave the table at a certain time.

Imagine such a scenario at your local cardroom, where they close at 6am and the table has a bunch of people who are up a lot and a bunch of people that are stuck and sitting with short stacks. It wouldn't be uncommon for the winners to start nitting it up as closing time approaches, trying to book a win, and the smaller stacks to start playing very loose to try to get unstuck.

The fact that the game is about to end shouldn't affect how people play, as the next hand is the next hand, whether it's in one minute, one day or one week's time. But it does affect how people play and therefore you should adjust your own play by looking out for these situations where big stacks are nitting it up and you can start stealing their blinds more liberally, or by calling with a wider range than normal when you believe a short stack is shoving looser in an attempt at a last minute double-up.

The only time it would be worth stalling is if you think it's going to be close whether or not you will be forced to pay the big blind on the last hand. In cash games the sensible thing to do when you quit a session is click "sit out next big blind". It's much more important to avoid paying the BB on your last hand in Time Tourneys as the blinds are much bigger. If the BB is 600 in the last level and you started with 2500 chips then you would be forfeiting a value of 1/4 a buyin to post the BB.

Tourney Length

Time Tourneys vary in length. 15, 30, 60, 90, 120 and 180 minutes. The longer the tournament, the higher the variance but the higher the winrate a good player can expect, since you are just playing the same push/fold game but for longer. In theory, in the long run you should make the same amount of total profit playing x 60 minute tournaments as you would playing x*4 15 minute tournaments, assuming the skill level of your opponents remains constant. However there are several factors to consider.

The tournament fee is constant regardless of the tournament length. So you pay 1/12th of the vig to play x 180 minute tournaments as you would to play x*12 15 minute tournaments. In a $10+1 180 minute tourney you are paying a $1 vig to run up a $10 stack for 3 hours, but to run up a $10 stack for 3 hours playing twelve of the 15 minute tourneys you will pay a $12 vig. This is a huge factor that will affect your winrate greatly.

Weaker players tend to bust out earlier, as the cream rises to the top. You are likely to be playing against overall weaker players when you are playing the shorter (15 / 30 minute) tournaments as you are when playing the longer (120 / 180 minute) tournaments.

So you can think of it like playing in a cardroom where they charge each player an hourly fee instead of raking the pots. If you have a choice of cardrooms and one is charging $x per 3 hours and another is charging $x per 15 minutes, you will want to play at the room with the $x per 3 hours fee. But then you look at the $x per 15 minutes room and see that there are many more bad players in that game. So you have to decide on balance which is best for you to play.

Of course, the shorter tournaments come with a lot less variance, and to some people that may be worth paying extra for. In a 15 minute tournament you may only get it all-in and called once, but in a 180 minute tournament it will happen many many times as the blinds rise.

Let's Gogogo

I encourage everyone to give Time Tourneys a try. They are kicking off every 15 minutes in the PokerStars client and you can find them by filtering for Time (new) under Format in the Tourney Filter option.

Right now the buyins vary from $1 to $11. I'm sure that we will see some bigger buyins if this format becomes popular. But for now try them out and send all your feedback to

1 comment:

  1. Sigh, you really are the worlds best blogger. Great post on the Time Tourneys, double guarantee this Saturday on the Countdown too :D and on all of the Saturday Line-Up - wiiii