Stacks are deep and bad players are giving away chips early in tournaments. So why do some of the best poker players usually show up late?
I recently returned from a gig at the World Poker Tour Merit Cyprus Classic.
The schedule called for 10 levels on Day 1A and Day 1B with late registration remaining open until the end of the sixth level.
Sam Trickett, Michael Mizrachi, Marvin Rettenmaier and Alexey Rybin all registered as late as possible.
What do all of these players have in common? None of them has to worry about the €4.4k buy-in and all of them have experienced much success in either poker or business.
Alexey Rybin actually ended the day as the chip leader before going on to win the competition, proving that you can register as late as possible and still go all the way.
But this doesn't necessarily mean it’s a sound strategy, and if not why do poker player act this way when their job is to seek out and exploit +EV spots?
I believe the reasons players register late for tournaments are three-fold.
1. They are drunk, jet-lagged, unwell or tired. Either way they need more rest.
2. They are not adept at playing deep-stacked poker.
3. They have a big ego and don’t want to look uncool.
Too Cool to Show Up on Time
I believe the main reason people register late is because of their ego.
It’s a rite of passage for poker players who become successful after winning a series of tournaments. It suddenly becomes uncool for professional poker players to be seated on time, waiting for the tournament director to announce shuffle up and deal.
“Can you imagine Trickett, Rettenmaier or Mizrachi sitting at a half-empty table whilst completing a player release form?” says Ivey Poker team pro John Eames.
I have to concur with Eames. In today’s climate none of the players mentioned above will be raring to go when the blinds are 50/100. But there was a time in the not too distant past when at least two out of the three would have been.
Have the structures suddenly changed thus creating an advantage for the better players who arrive late? Of course not. The only thing that has changed is the players' success. Their bankrolls have swelled and so have their egos.
Mizrachi joined after the dinner break at the end of Day 1A and his stack was gone within the hour. We were all expecting to see him on Day 1B but the day's ten levels came and went without any sign of the WPT Champions Club member.
He then tried to buy in on Day 2 because his advisers had told him incorrectly that registration was still open.
Even had this been true he would have started the day with 30,000 chips with blinds at 600/1,200 and a 200 ante. Surely a man of his supposed talent could expect to make it to Day 2 in a more advantageous position?
In the end he flew to Cyprus and effectively missed the competition because of this lackadaisical attitude of registering late.
Late Registration Clearly -EV
“I’m really not a fan of registering late. I can understand if you have a really late night, but when you are getting so many gifts in the lower levels I never want to turn up late,” said German pro Manig Loeser.
The Mizrachi situation saddened me in a way. It made me realize that for some people poker has become an inconvenience. Just a way of making money, and the quicker it was over and the money deposited in the bank the better.
People who enjoy what they do for a living need to be prized away from work; so why are poker players avoiding playing poker?
“You can see it that way. They are playing for the title and just want to run up a stack even if that means losing EV by missing the lower levels,” said Loeser.
“It depends how good someone is. A player who isn’t adept at deep-stacked poker might think they may get outplayed in a large field with deep stacks, so it may make sense for these types of players to register later,” said Eames.
“But who is ever going to admit that they late reg because of a lack of skill? Some do it just to look cool.”
I think, given the choice, a lot of the successful professional players would skip the first day altogether and just start Day 2 with 25 big blinds.
This flies in the face of everything that all the books, all the training sites and all of the coaching have taught me about poker strategy. I’m starting to think a high percentage of poker players fall into the "do what I say, not what I do"brigade.
Late Registration Usually Means Tough Starting Table
When speaking to Kelly Kim on the subject in Cyprus he said, “You start with a huge stack in the first level, but if you run good you may only chip up 10-15k, whereas if you run good in the fourth or fifth level you could double your stack.
“The important thing about tournaments is the table draw," explained Kim. "I sometimes reg late to avoid tough table draws.”
I disagree with Kim on this one. Table draws are extremely important but registering late only increases the likelihood that you will have a much tougher table draw.
At EPT London I watched players like Mike McDonald, Martin Jacobson and Dan Smith all lined up like ducks because they regged late.
During an interview with Smith he told me that the tournament organizers should be looking at this problem and avoiding it. I couldn’t help but think that there was already a way to avoid it – just turn up on time.
“When I see a lot of top players all playing on the same late-reg table I think that’s just plain stupid,” said Eames.
If you turn up late you'll be competing with opponents who have bigger stacks than you, and if you're a good player you shouldn't be turning your nose up at deep-stacked poker, instead choosing to flip. You'll have no reads on anyone at your table and will have missed all of the +EV opportunities bad players were giving away at the beginning of the game.
Poker players are smart people. They know all of this. It’s not new, and this is why I firmly believe the decision to turn up late in a poker tournament is no different than turning up late at the school disco.
It’s just not cool man, not cool at all.