OK so the most common complaint I get about this blog from friends who aren’t poker players is that they don’t know what the eff I’m talking about with all the slang and terminology. It would be far too difficult to explain everything, but I want to write down the absolute basics so you can at least easily follow my Twitter feed when I’m reporting my chip count from the tournaments I’m playing and have some idea what's going on.
Every tournament has a buy-in. This is the amount of money each player pays to enter the tournament. For their buy-in they each receive an equal amount of tournament chips. The amount of chips is arbitrary and need not be related to the buy-in in any way, but at the world series of poker (WSOP) this summer the number of starting chips will always be three times the buy-in. You then go play the tournament with those chips until eventually you lose all of them (or if you’re lucky until you win the tournament by winning all the chips in play). You are then paid by how many people are left when you bust out (lose all your chips). The tricky part is that only around the top 10% of finishers get paid at all (this % varies from tournament to tournament but 10% will be typical for the WSOP). For example, if a tournament had 1000 players then typically the first ~900 people to bust out would get nothing and just lose their buy-in. The top 10% will all get paid enough to at least cover their buy-in, but generally speaking unless you make the final table (the last 9 players) you will not make more than 2-10 times the buy-in. The really big prizes (relatively speaking) are typically reserved for the top 3 finishers.
Blinds/Antes: The blinds and antes are forced bets that players must make (with tournament chips of course) that force the action so there is some money in the pot at the beginning of the hand to play for. As the tournament progresses the blinds and antes increase so that the tournament can’t go on forever. Each time the blinds increase is called a level. Typically, each level in the WSOP will be an hour long, though in some special tournaments the levels will be 90 minutes or 2 hours long (the latter is the case in the main event). Depending on various factors such as how many chips we start with, how many players are in the event, and how long the levels are, most tournaments will last anywhere from 2-4 days (most events are 3 days long) though the main event with its 30K (30,000) starting chips, 6000+ players, and two hour long levels will take about 7 days of play just to reach the final table. At the WSOP it is typical to play until 2am or 3am before you get to bag up your chips and go home for some rest.
So, when I report “I have X amount of chips” what does that mean? One of the easiest ways to get a general idea how I’m doing is to compare my chip stack to the “average stack”. If I have more chips than the average I must be doing pretty well, though often times even if I am well below average the fact that I still have chips at all may mean I’m really not doing that badly if it’s late in the tournament. The average stack is given by:
Av. Stack = starting stack * players started / players left, or equivalently
Av. Stack = starting stack / % of the field left
So, for example, when half the field is left average stack is twice the starting stack. One other useful example to consider is when 10% of the field is left since that is when we “reach the money”. In this case average stack would be ten times starting stack. Therefore, whenever I have close to 10 times starting stack before we reach the money I should be a solid favourite to at least make the money. Similarly, later in the tournament another useful number to consider is the average final table stack, which you can calculate easily by putting “players left = 9” in the first formula (or occasionally players left = 8 or 6 for certain special tournaments).
Hopefully that will make following my progress this summer (via www.twitter.com/SirWatts and sirwatts.blogspot.com) easy and enjoyable. Wish me luck!