Saturday, July 02, 2005



Feeling the need for speed, I had a bash at a Party Poker $30 speed tournament. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was thinking that, with 100 players left, 12K in my stack and the blinds at 500-1000, I was in a good position. Someone started stalling. Soon enough 8 players on my table were taking the maximum time over every decision, and 2 of them were deliberately disconnecting. The next 4 hands took 15 minutes. I lost three of them, and that was the end of me.

Of course if I had won a hand or two I would still have had good chips, but by the time we had reached the money I think the average stack would have been around one big blind, if that. I don't like to use the word, but that really would have been a crapshoot. So what can be done ?

Well first of all I would suggest that it seems ridiculous to allow people to take 30 seconds pre-flop in a speed tournament. Give them 10 and if you don't like it, play a normal comp instead. And if you get disconnected, baby that's tough. Secondly I think the payout structure has to be causing a lot of this. With 400 runners, 50th paid $60 and I think it was only about double that for 11th. The temptation to hang on for 50th with a few chips is too high. There's no reason why online tournaments can't pay a small increment for each place - the whole "5th table gets $60, 4th table gets $70" structure is a hangover from B+M tournaments where you don't want arguments about who was 46th and who was 45th all day long. Then in this case you could start paying small amounts at 100th or so. Even if these were less than the buyin, so what.

You pay your money and take your choice. Experience and anecdotal evidence suggests that emailing Party about this would be a complete waste of time. I was about to say it was only a small tournament, then again it was $3000 for the winner which isn't chump change. But apparently the stalling is also quite common in the big Sunday night comps. If you play these and you want to play some hands rather than stare at the wall for about an hour, it might be worth suggesting a payout structure alteration. Of course some bozos will keep stalling anyway, but it might help.

These so-called 'speed' tournaments always descend into madness. They really need to put in place some sort of system to stop all the time-wasting. Sure, give everyone 10 or 15 seconds to act, but how about this - if they time out for the third time, they should be given a penalty. How about 5 minutes sitting out - now that would really fuck them up. And if they time out again, make it 10 minutes. I'd love to see that (but then I am a sadist).

If you've got a dodgy connection, as I used to before moving back to civilisation, the answer is simple. Don't play speed tournaments. Or move out of the sticks.

I played one on Stars recently where towards the end we literally saw ONE HAND PER LEVEL. Speed my arse.
Whatever they do on Poker In Europe, their speed tournaments seem to run OK. I think it's a combination of less time to act, smaller fields and smaller prizes for the lowest places. And at the risk of offending, stalling seems to be much more prevalent on the sites with a large American player population, like Stars and Party. Anyway the ones on PIE are good fun, and more profitable than you might expect.

It seems to me that, provided you are aware of what is going to happen, your edge in these "speed" tournaments, which are then subject to serious stalling tactics, actually increases.

There's an odd paradox here. As the short stacks stall, they get fewer hands at lower blind levels. Taken to the extreme, if you could stall for a very long time, then eventually the blinds would reach levels where the short stacks would be eliminated.

So the paradox is that the short stacks should be trying to get as many hands in as possible while the blinds are still at the level that they are (high, but lower than they will be), while the big stacks should be stalling.

But it doesn't happen that way.

So, presumably the strategy would be to attempt to get to a stack level rather higher than you felt was "comfortable". The stalling then starts and, rather than moan, you play along, stalling as well, before either putting in an all-in raise and stealing the pot (if there are two stallers in the BB and SB and you are in late position), or throwing away your hand (if you are in early position).

Then, as soon as the money arrives, you go back into your shell.

I exploited a variant of this in the Flamingo, where the blinds go up from 200-400 to 500-1000 in a single bound, catching out the unwary. The trick is to go manic at the 200-400 level.

Hi Pete,

Yes it was a bit of a moan-up but I find it helps to get things off my chest !

I have thought a bit about stalling. It obviously can't hurt everyone in a zero-sum game. There are two factors at work. 1) It hurts the short stacks and helps the big stacks. 2) It hurts good players and helps bad players for the simple reason that the good player has fewer hands and opportunities to use his skill before the blinds gobble him up. In the case where the majority of the players are stalling, I believe the second factor is more relevant.

Have another look at my example. With 12K chips, blinds 500-1000 and average stack around 4500 I'm in great shape. However three hands later the blinds are now 2000-4000. Your biggest edge in these tournaments is when you have between about 7-18 small blinds in your stack and you can steal worthwhile pots. That's when you can "go manic" profitably. In this case, the profitable zone has come and gone in no time at all. Just three hands in which to exploit my edge.

I believe that the simple disadvantage of playing fewer hands in the "profitable zone" far more than offsets any preparation that you can do before the stalling starts. Often it all happens so quickly (in terms of hands played of course) that your stack goes from "too big to steal" to "too small to steal" without you having been able to do anything. In your Flamingo example you've got a whole level at 200-400 to get busy. In a Party Speed tournament this maps down to one hand !

I wasn't referring to you comments after. What I meanst was, how can the skilful player exploit this in a tournament?

Clearly the rapid increase in blind levels increases the volatility, but speed tourneys do this anyway, because you EXPECT fewer hands per level. But increase in volatility does not directly equal reduction in skill. It just increases the apparent luck level in the short term.

So, what I meant was, look to see when the stalling starts, ad make your moves for the one level (or two) before it starts. This could involve going for a double-up rather than a blind-steal. So, if the 200-400 is one hand, then start moving at 50-100.

Having said all this, I agree that stalling is a major irritant; I'm just trying to work out ways to turn it to an advantage.

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