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The Lure of the Deep Stack - Part II

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Nov 30, 2008


Last month, I investigated the growing trend for live-tournament promoters to give players the slow, deep structures they have been calling for during the past few years; lots of chips, levels that seem to stretch for days, and all the play that could be desired in a world where everyone seems to consider that the only reason they are not at the top of the tournament leader board is that they aren't given the tools with which to maximise their skill edge.

Joe Beevers and Ludovic Lacay

The extreme to which I've seen this concept taken was the European Deepstack tournament, with a 50,000 starting stack and hour clock, which pushed the envelope when it came to the endurance of its players (and dealers) and divided the opinions of the pros who had fit it into their diaries. Some (Ludovic Lacay, Gary Clarke) revelled in their thousand big blinds with the enthusiasm of a small child given unlimited access to the pick 'n' mix at the cinema, while others (Joe Grech, Joe Beevers) grumbled at the amount of their precious time consumed by a tournament that they could conceivably be playing for nearly four days with nothing to show for it but repetitive strain injury from chip riffling.

This surely represents the limit to which organisers' generosity with starting stacks can be pushed. Even so, someone managed to stack themselves with an overpair versus the flopped nut straight within the first level, play progressed at a rate far greater than the organisers anticipated, and the whole thing tidily finished within the four days allotted for its conclusion. In the same way that anyone who has deadlines finds that work mysteriously expands to fill the time available, poker tournaments condense at a rate at which they tend to finish on time.

Online tournaments with fields of multiple-thousand runners and generous clocks don't have the restrictions (venue reservations, costs of travel and accommodation for players, staff and dealers) that affect their live counterparts. The major Sunday tournaments regularly attract fields that would be eye-opening at any live festival, and players often play for half a day or more with only a five-minute break every hour. Large guaranteed prize pools together with attractive structures are magnets for online players of all sorts. Get enough players into a turbo $10 rebuy event and sites can offer large guarantees and attract extraordinarily large fields. This is the main difference between live and online tournaments on offer, and the reason why the lure of the deep stack is much stronger in the live arena.

Fellow journalist and player Adam "Snoopy" Goulding exclusively plays cash games online, and will produce actual cash to play with actual cards and chips only for a tournament with a worthy enough structure. "Worthy" in his eyes seems to equate to "most like a cash game," and of course the deeper and slower a tournament, the more similar it is, in the early stages, to a cash game. The similarities end when you consider that live events are usually nine- or 10-handed, the hands per hour take a nose dive, and the blinds go up. This might sound obvious, but even the most deep of tournaments can end up in danger of being labelled "crapshoot" right at the end, when it should be testing the shorthanded and heads-up skill of the competitors.

An exception to this was the 2007 Bellagio World Poker Tour $25,000 event, which ended up with shockingly short blinds levels as the competing interests of the TV company and the final few players resulted in levels shrunk to a quarter of their previous length, and angry noises from the audience. Time/money/media considerations like these could affect only a live tournament, and the result is the same - to remove the deep, slow elements right when it matters most. Since then, however, there has not been a repeat of this, and promoters are having to deal with an increasingly spoiled-for-choice group of players who have at least the threat of going elsewhere to hold over them (although the "side-event effect" combined with TV time for sponsors often overrides this) if they don't tweak their structures to maintain their integrity.

Some people actually look out for this exact property, though. With neither the time nor bankroll to spare for deep-stack events, there will always be those looking for a quick fix, or happy to play enough crapshoots to even out the variance. Regular weekday tournaments in casinos around the country simply can't stretch to multiple days, or start before players finish work, and numbers and structures are extendable only so far. It comes down to the fact that live players' specific requirements can all be met, but just not everywhere, and all the time, and that deep-stack tournaments are not for everyone.

Online, too, there has emerged a trend for "deep and steep" tournaments. Lots of chips, rapidly escalating blinds - is this the happy medium keeping both the pushbot and the calculating player inside us all happy? Probably not. But having started offering a variety of stacks and blinds levels for a variety of prices (and seeing the increased interest because of it), cardrooms and poker sites are going to have to keep it up, which has got to be good for the game. It will also keep giving everyone something to moan about, depending on their preferences.

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