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The Lure of the Deep Stack - Part I

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Oct 24, 2008


Everyone's doing it. Tournament players have been complaining so loudly, and for so long, about not being given their chance to shine in "crapshoot" competitions that both brick-and-mortar venues and online sites have sat up and taken notice. I always find it odd, incidentally, that most of the professional players I know speak of crapshoot poker tournaments with scorn, and actual crapshoots with a worrying fervour; that's a whole other column, though. A quick look down through most virtual lobbies will find the words "deep stack" and "double stack" advertising new affordably priced freezeout tournaments, with a slider that goes much higher. Now people can shove all in with A-K for 200 big blinds instead of 50, and they seem to be responding well.

Live, it seems that people are becoming more sensitive to what they regard as a deep stack. I noticed an online poster expressing outrage that his local £20 multitable tournament had described itself as "deep stack," while its 6,000 starting stack and 20-minute levels clearly didn't deserve this description.

To be fair, up until recently, there wasn't much choice when it came to live tournaments, but there is still only a small number of vocal recreational players who either enjoy the gamble of the old-school low-stakes rebuy or just can't give up multiple days to wade through a "properly" deep event. For £20, that structure doesn't seem too shabby, but if you're prepared to cough up a little more - anywhere from £100 to £1,000 - you really can have a shot at an excellently structured event.

The UK and Ireland boast some of the best-value deep-stack tournaments around. From the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour, to the DTD deep-stack tournaments, to the Irish Open, and a multitude of other excellent events in Cork and Waterford, players have more choice than ever before.

Previously, anyone wishing to experience the unique "amount of play" available in a deep-stack event needed to scrape together enough money or satellite victories for a ticket to one of the major tours' main events. The World Poker Tour, the European Poker Tour, and the odd one-off like the annual Amsterdam Master Classics or the World Series of Poker main event were the exclusive training grounds for the top live-tournament players. The same names took down many of these events - grounds for believing that a lot of chips do give the players at the top of their game even more of a chance to take down a title and a hefty chunk of prize money. Carlos Mortensen, for example, has been world champion, and has won two WPT events - one being the $25,000 grand final. More recently, the UK's own Julian Thew has won event after event, with others like Neil Channing, Sam Trickett, and Nik Persaud finding the options (opened up by a pressure-free structure) both enticing and rewarding. It also seems like even those who have reached the giddy heights of the virtual game - like Chris Moorman - try to overcome the tedium of just playing one-twenty-fourth of their usual number of tables and probably less than 2 percent of their usual number of hands per hour, to give the deep-stacked events a spin.

My own first experience in one of them came off the back of an unexpected online satellite win to the WPT Grand Prix de Paris event some years back. A £50 two-table freezeout run at a home game was my prior initiation to the concept of the decent starting stack. Although half-hour levels and 8,000 in slightly sticky chips wasn't a perfect parallel for the 10,000 stack and 90-minute clock the Aviation Club set out for its players, the idea of not having to get one's whole stack in the middle as soon as a likely opportunity presented itself was a novel and exciting one. As for the WPT, I had never gone six hours without showing down a single hand before, and it was like someone had opened a box of tricks and started to show me how a few of them worked.

I made the second day, but not the money. This was sobering, as the nonrefundable, nontransferable €10,000 buy-in alone would have more than quadrupled my entire bankroll at the time - a fact that I was in no hurry to share with the mixture of famous-looking Americans and well-heeled Frenchmen surrounding me. I said I was the heiress of an English potato magnate when questioned, and that I played only online. This conjured up entirely different images in people's minds back then. I was bitterly disappointed to bust out, but not for any reason other than the fact that I was unlikely to get another shot at one of these anytime soon, and that I had loved it. With poor time management, unnecessary travel expenses, temptation for placing all eggs in one basket, and tough fields (getting tougher), it was obvious to me even then that deep-stacked live tournaments were not a sensible use of time or bankroll for the non-sponsored, but like many others, I was, and still am, attracted to them anyway, like ladies to Dennis Rodman.

I have even played a tournament with a starting stack of 50,000 and an hour clock, which left players, who had travelled to experience it, divided as to whether there was such a thing as "too much play." (Note that they turned up anyway, displaying what I like to call the "Side Event Effect.") This is most often observed at regional festivals when players have taken a tediously long train ride the day before in order to compete in a main event with a decent structure. Upon arrival, they find that the other tournaments on offer leave a little to be desired in the way of play. Short clocks, alternate lists, no free buffet - these things annoy them, but somehow never enough to actually preclude their signing up, grumbling all the while; they're there, so they might as well play. Of course, in the instance of the super-deep-stack tournament, they weren't already there, but the novelty was just too great to turn down. If you spend a lot of time complaining about tournaments that degenerate into crapshoots, thereby negating your obvious skill edge, then when someone finally gives you what you say you want, it seems somehow cowardly to pass it by …

To be continued.

Jen Mason is a part of She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.