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Re-Entry Tournaments -- Good or Bad for Poker?

The Players Speak Out About An Emerging Trend On The Tournament Circuit


Jack McClellandOne of the most polarizing issues in the poker world today is the emergence of re-entry tournaments and whether or not they are good for the overall health of the poker industry and economy.

A re-entry event is different from a rebuy event in that a player cannot “re-entry” until he has been already eliminated from the tournament. While some events allow players to buy back in immediately, others force them to wait until the next starting day.

The concept is nothing new, but in a down economy, re-entry events have become the latest trend on the always-evolving tournament circuit.

The theory is that by lowering the buy-in and allowing players to re-enter the tournament, you’ll get the best of both worlds. Those with the bankrolls to gamble it up in the early levels will juice the prize pool and those with smaller bankrolls will get to enjoy a shot at a big payday for a smaller entry fee.

Bellagio tournament director Jack McClelland’s current main event isn’t a re-entry, but he did experiment with the new freezeout variation during his preliminary events. When asked whether it was casino profit, the need for change or customer demand that motivated him to host the event, he said, “all of the above.”

“When things were really rolling in the poker world, we had tons of players for our regular freezeouts,” said McClelland. “Then when the economy took a dive, we tried to increase our prize pools by offering rebuys. Those didn’t really work out, because they scared away those with lower bankrolls who couldn’t afford multiple buy-ins. So far, it looks like re-entry events appeal to players of all bankrolls. The buy-ins are low enough to bring in casual players, but still allow the pros to come in and do their thing.”

Will FaillaThe World Poker Tour has popularized these events in the last year, lowering their buy-ins at some marquee stops in California, New Jersey and Florida to $3,500 from their traditional $10,000 and creating multiple starting days. The end result has been bigger fields, but also more money for the host casino. Not only are the players raked on each re-entry, but they are also staying at the casinos for longer periods of time, taking up rooms in the hotel and filling the restaurants each night.

Will Failla won the first re-entry event of WPT Season X, the Legends of Poker main event at the Bicycle Casino back in August. That event saw 181 players eliminated on the first starting day, of which 116 re-registered for day 1B. Failla didn’t have to go beyond his first buy-in in that event, but the casino undoubtedly benefited from the added entrants, taking an additional $23,200 in rake and another $12,180 in fees. *

“It’s just the way things are right now,” said Failla. “The casinos are finding a way to take some extra rake and please their customers. People don’t want to travel across the country, play for an hour and then be sent home, but they are going to pay for it one way or another, not only in the poker room, but also in the hotels and restaurants. I’ll admit, I’m one of those guys. It may not be fair to everyone, but I’d be foolish not take advantage of it.”

Failla wasn’t the only one who felt that re-entry tournaments gave the tournament regulars an advantage. Jonathan Little has made four final tables, won two titles and cashed for over $3.5 million on the WPT, but even he doesn’t like re-entry tournaments.

Jonathan Little“You would think that I would like re-entry tournaments because they favor players such as myself, but I don’t,” said Little. “I think these types of events put the casual players at a tremendous disadvantage and in general, put the entire game in jeopardy. The bottom line is that if the fish keep going broke and stop playing entirely, then the poker community as a whole will suffer. That’s why I think the whole re-entry thing is a little shortsighted.”

Christian Harder, who has made two WPT final tables and cashed for nearly $1 million, agreed with Little, but argued that it is more difficult for some players to secure a backing arrangement for re-entry events, lowering the field size and the prize pool in the long run.

“Re-entry tournaments actually hurt the poker community, because players who can only afford one buy-in are less likely to play, knowing they have a built-in disadvantage,” said Harder. “It especially hurts those players who are backed because it’s tough for backers to justify spending more than one buy-in on their horses. Their total cost is uncertain, so they wind up leaving their players on the rail instead.”

Former WPT champion Kevin Saul went further, explaining why those with only one buy-in were at such as disadvantage. “It’s up to the backer’s discretion, but most of the players that I know who are getting backed for these events are generally getting two bullets,” said Saul. “But if they don’t, then they most often elect to play on the second starting day and treat it like any other tournament. That being said, those players are at a disadvantage. Anytime you are offered a chance to increase your equity and you don’t take it, you are basically throwing money away.”

But does another chance at the tournament really offer an advantage? After all, these players who re-enter are paying twice as much for a shot at the same first-place prize.

Kathy Liebert“I’m a big fan of re-entry tournaments because it allows me to gamble a little more on my first try,” said six-time WPT final tablist Kathy Liebert. “If I go bust it’s not a big deal because I’ll have another shot, but if I can get hold of a bunch of chips, I’ll be that much more dangerous in the next stage of the tournament. Frankly, I don’t buy the fact that the casual player, or satellite winner, is hurt by re-entries. If anything, they’ll benefit from players like me who are more likely to spew chips away by gambling.”

Tony Dunst, host of the WPT’s The Raw Deal, echoed Liebert’s opinion, stating that although the casinos are profiting from a re-entry, the player is coming out ahead in the long run.

“There are people complaining that the re-entries are raked, unlike a traditional rebuy, but you have to realize that a re-entry is like playing another tournament entirely,” said Dunst. “Only this time, you don’t have to pay for the added expenses of travel and hotels. If anything, the average guy on the circuit saves money with re-entry events.”

Though there are players on both sides of the fence, there are also those who believe re-entry events are great in moderation.

“I like freezeouts that only allow one re-entry,” said Failla. “Let’s take for example a $5,000 tournament. If you let people go crazy with their re-entries, then you might have players in the field who go off for six or seven buy-ins. Then again, you’ll still have the guys in the event that either won a satellite or only have that $5,000 to play with. How is that a level playing field? I think that one re-entry is the best compromise for both sides of the argument.”

Tony Dunst“I think that if the tournament is limited to only one re-entry, then it’s great for the game,” said Faraz Jaka, two-time WPT final tablist. “Those who manage to do something with their one buy-in now get a tremendous boost in equity because everyone else is adding to the prize pool. I’m not convinced of the opinion that it allows the more-bankrolled players to buy their way to a title. A re-entry is the same as when you hold a $25,000 event, because only certain players can afford to play in that tournament as well.”

Frankly, the reason these events have been so successful is because the players keep showing up and more importantly, keep re-entering. They might not like it, but they are inevitably voting with their wallets. When the poker world is ready to change once again, the savvy poker room managers will be there to adapt and meet the new demand, whatever it may be. But until then, players will have to plan their buy-ins accordingly.

*These numbers were calculated based on the additional rake received, along with the 3% of each buy-in that is held for tournament staff.