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Tournaments: Starting Times, Length of Playing Day, And Late Entries

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Jan 12, 2022

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I generally approve of the standard starting times in poker tournaments. Typically, tournaments with early starts begin at some time between 11 am and 1 pm. Those with late starts begin between 3 pm and 6 pm. Some casinos also offer smaller events that start each evening.

Senior and super-senior events always start early. I’m not sure why this is, but I hate it. Some misguided Tournament Director must have decided that old people get up early. Among my friends, most non-golfing seniors get up late and stay up late. It is only younger adults with jobs and kids who are forced to get up early.

Almost all tournaments schedule very long days. A typical WSOP day may last 13 hours (including breaks and bagging chips at the end of the session.) This makes endurance a very important skill.

Many players would love a playing day that lasted only eight or nine hours, like any other job, and is already longer most other games or sports. I overheard someone complaining that playing poker tournaments was like working in a factory during the early days of the industrial revolution. Someone else responded that at least we now have bathroom breaks and no child laborers.

For one-day tournaments, the solution is to enter late. Even two-day tournaments can be entered late on day 1, and then only a rare few survive to end of day 2. For longer events, the middle days can be incredibly long, tough grinds. I would prefer shorter playing days. Players could be eliminated at the same rate per day by increasing antes and blinds a little more quickly.

Late Entries

During the WSOP Mike Matusow tweeted that late entries shouldn’t be allowed, stating that it gives a large advantage to players who register at the last possible moment when a lot of the field has already been eliminated. He even went so far as to say that late registration has “destroyed the integrity of tournament poker.” Plenty of other top players responded to Mike that it was actually a disadvantage to register late, and good overall for the other players in the field.

It is hard to imagine why Mike, who thinks late entries are advantageous, wouldn’t want to enter late. Just self-destructive, I guess. I think that anything that gives players more options and will attract more players is desirable.

Advantages of Entering Early

• You get to play the maximum number of hours against the weakest players. These players are often broke and eliminated by the time entries close, and late entrants miss the opportunity to play against them.
• You become familiar with everyone at your table (which often won’t break for hours) and will be capable of making more informed decisions later, when stakes are higher.
• You might accumulate a large stack early and be able to intimidate players looking to survive.
• Some tournaments offer reduced entry fees for early registrants, and you may be able to avoid lines by purchasing your entry the night before.

Advantages of Entering Late

• If you survive to late in the day, you will be more energetic and focused than players who have played four more hours than you have. I prefer to enter late, and often feel that I am still fresh when other players are starting to fade.
• Players who also play cash games may find their ROI or dollars per hour earnings are higher if they play a few hours of cash instead of entering the tournament at the start. For example, a player entering at the beginning of a $1,000 buy-in tournament may average a return of $1,500 ($500 profit.) If he enters late, his average return may only be $1,300. However, if he can average $100 per hour in a cash game, his total profit is $700. (And if the cash game is really good, there is always an option to skip the tournament.)
• I’m not sure who they are, but there are some poker players who also have a life. Late entries give them an opportunity to spend time with their friends and families (and maybe even have a relaxed meal or see a movie.) ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow aka The Bald Eagle or Zebra is a very successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 40 years. With two WSOP bracelets, over 60 cashes, and a few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his Vegas gaming time to poker, and can be found in cash games at Aria and Bellagio and at tournaments during the WSOP. When escaping from poker, he spends the spring and the fall in New York City where he hangs out at his bars: Doc Holliday’s, The Library, and DBA.