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Uneven Heads

A little less than a week ago, Loretta8 hosted the first in a weekly series of Heads-Up Tournaments. If you want more details, I suggest you check out Loretta's blog.

As a Heads-Up aficionado, I've played in a slew of heads-up tournaments. I was playing poker at the Wall Street Game last night when I got into a brief discussion with Alceste about the new blogger HU tournament's format. He had a complaint that I have heard more than once since the event.

In any HU tournament, the ideal scenario is to have a clean bracket. 4 players, 8 players, 16 players, 32 players and so forth. When you have more or less than those ideal numbers, there is a natural problem. Either players will be given a "bye" and will be considered to have automatically "won" their first tournament, allowing them to advance to the next round whereas others have to actually play the first round; or, some players have to play for the empty bracket spots. Its really just two ways to look at the same situation. If there are 17 players, player #16 and #17 may have to play against each other to determine who gets the last spot in the 16-person bracket. Conversely, if there are 15 players, player #15 may get a bye to round 2. While players #1-14 play each other, player #15 gets to automatically move on to the 8-person second round.

The first question that needs to be asked is whether these HU blogger tournaments should be capped at a pre-determined "ideal" number, likely 32. In my opinion, the answer is a resounding, No. The more players, the large the prize pool. Plus, this is largely an inclusive game, instead of an exclusive one.

The main argument for capping the game at an ideal field number is that everyone is perfectly even in the battle they must face to make it to the final table. But if we accept the fact that this is a series and the byes are determined at random, the minor "bad luck" of not getting a bye should be counteracted by the fact that you won't get that "bad luck" week in and week out.

Let's assume, then, that we won't cap the amount of players. Is there any way to even the playing field?

The answer is Yes, but apparently a lot of people don't like it. The tournament, at least in its initial incarnation, had an interesting format. If you received a "bye" in the first round, which happened to a majority of the players, you started the next round with 1500. If you did not get a bye and had to beat someone to advance, you took 3000 to the next round (your initial 1500 + the 1500 you took off of your opponent. As a result, some people faced a deficit in their first round. The "bye" players started their first match with 1500 against some players without first round byes, who started the match with 3000.

The travesty! If you were one of those "bye" players, you may've immediately felt the outrage of starting a tournament significantly outchipped. And I shall say to you, Quit your bitching! If you didn't get your bye in the first round, there was a 50% chance that you would've busted (all things being equal). Why shouldn't the non-bye people receive some benefit to offset the negatives of having to play an additional round.

It sucks to be outchipped. So what?! Any decent player should be able to confidently overcome a 2:1 chip deficit. It might not feel "fair" but what about the other schmo. Consider this. In a field of 35, 6 players will not get a bye and have to play an extra round to get down to the round of 32. After that, they will have to play another 5 matches to win, for a total of 6 wins. The bye players only have to win 5 matches. That might not seem like a big deal, but even the best players will have difficulty putting together 6 consecutive wins in a row, HU.

And here's another aspect. If you overcome your double-stacked opponent, you will take those chips with you to the next round. By the late rounds, everything will most likely even up and the chip differences will be less dramatic, but the point is, there is actually a benefit even to the bye players who end up outchipped against an opponent right at the starting gate. If they succeed in vanquishing their foe, they go into the next round with the juiced stack.

It's all perspective, but there are a dozen different ways to demonstrate that in the end, the guy with the bye and the guy without the bye will face equal struggles to first place. For instance, one way to look at it is that the guy without the bye has to win 3000 chips to advance to the round of 16 (1500 from one competitor to make it to the round of 32, and 1500 from their next competitor to make it to the round of 16). The player with the bye also has to win 3000 to get to the round of 16 (3000 all from the non-bye player in the round of 32). And so on.

In the end, it becomes an issue of what you are trying to test. If you are trying to test how players do against each other when starting from a purely even starting point EVERY ROUND, then you are not necessarily interested in equality anyway. The players who get byes get a MAJOR advantage. A better test would be to simply play single table HU SNGs. If you are trying to test who can go the furthest in a HU tournament, with all of the participants starting on equal footing, then the format of the original blogger HU event is the way to go.

Agree? Disagree? Hey, those are just my two cents.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 3:32 PM,


At 4:55 PM, Blogger Memphis MOJO said...

Enjoy your posts. Look everyday and am disappointed when there isn't new material.

The "ideal numbers" that you mentioned are also referred to as powers of 2. 2 times 2 = 4. 2 times 2 times 2 = 8, etc.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger RaisingCayne said...

Yeah, I like your points! I for one was shocked at the apparent consensus with the "outrage" over the structure. I did NOT get a 1st round bye, and my 2nd round opponent, Bdidde I believe, was irate over the 2:1 chip scenario. It made some intuitive since to me, compensating for my having to play an additional round... but where I found it intuitive, it was evident that the majority did NOT. Many were irate, and Loretta immediately changed future tourneys to be capped at 32. Which, while it solves the issue, is a bummer that the prize pool is so limited.

Have a great long weekend Jordan!

At 6:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any decent player should be able to confidently overcome a 2:1 chip deficit.

... even the best players will have difficulty putting together 6 consecutive wins in a row, HU.

Is it April 1st? Reading the first statement made me think the entire post is a joke, because it's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read about poker and you can't be serious. It's also completely at odds with the second statement. How can you claim that skill is important enough that a good player can "confidently" overcome an enormous handicap (you didn't even stipulate that he is playing a bad player), but then state that the best players would have difficulty winning 6 in a row? Would he be more likely to win if we gave him a 2:1 chip deficit? He could then be "confident" of winning each one of the 6 ...

The only fair solution is to have the number of people falling between powers of two pay half the tournament fee, and then forcing them to play one match against each other to enter the full bracket. Assuming a uniform distribution of skill, it can be proven that this gives each player the same EV of their tournament buyin no matter where they start.

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Fuel55 said...

I have to agree with anonymous - 2:1 is tough to overcome with 6 minute levels.

At 12:53 AM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Actually, I stand corrected. Anonymous has come up with a better solution with the half buyins. And looking at those statements are pretty contradictory. Point taken.

I just mean that being at a 2:1 deficit shouldn't be treated as a death sentence. 2:1 can be overcome.

Capping at 32 is a good solution too.

At 2:09 AM, Blogger Schaubs said...

2:1 is only in the first roung no? If you overcome this "deficeit" in the second round (by the way, you had a nice easy bye in the first round where you could watch various matches and get a feel for the flow of the games) then you have obtained a stack after two rounds that is significant.

More math?

32 is fine.

I wish they had a $50 token or something in between the $26 and the $75... then the prize pool could grow a bit...

Call up Full Tilt!

At 9:10 AM, Blogger KajaPoker said...

there is no mechanism to do a half buy in. it doesn't make sense to cap the number of players.

but the biggest problem i see is that it is not really bracket based but more random (and even if not and you have 17 players, you will end up this way). so you might end up getting a bye and then playing another bye player 1.5k:1.5k but end up with 3K after your first win. while another player does the 2:1 and ends up with 4.5K - that's how they ended up with an 18k:12k at the later levels.

At 8:13 PM, Blogger KJ said...

but the point is, there is actually a benefit even to the bye players who end up outchipped against an opponent right at the starting gate. If they succeed in vanquishing their foe, they go into the next round with the juiced stack.

That might be incorrect.

In a format of 15 plyrs + 1 bye. The plyr with the bye will be outchipped in EVERY single one round. If he/she succeed, his/her juiced satck of 4500 (3000 + 1500) will be against a 6000 (3000 + 3000. Then 10500 against a 12000... so on.

It's the same situation for a plyr w/o a bye who succeed against plyr with bye. Chances are in the next rounds they will be outchipped even though they won the same amount of HUs than their opponents.

Capping is the right thing to do, I also like the idea of plyrs playing for the empty brackets with half buy-in and half starting chips.

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Bayne_S said...

In semifinals of 1st tourney a 18k chip player was matched against a 12k chip player.

I think the attendance dropping from 40 to 6 1st to 2nd week shows format is a bust with current structure.


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