During a poker tournament, you may be absent from the table and miss one or more hands. This can occur by accident or on purpose. A common cause is showing up late for the commencement of play, eitherBob Ciaffone is one of America’s best-known poker players, writers, and teachers. He has numerous poker tournament wins and placings, the most prominent being third place in the 1987 World Championship. He has been a poker teacher since 1995, with his students having earned well over a million dollars in tournament play. Bob's website is www.pokercoach.us at the start of the event or after a break. There could be other reasons, such as going over to talk to a friend, fielding or making a phone call (which is not allowed at the table these days), or walking partway across the room to get something to drink from the waiter or waitress.
For me, and I am sure many others, there is often a decision to make regarding whether to wait for a scheduled break to use the restroom or make a dash during play. One does not like to miss any tournament hands, but it could be even worse to be uncomfortable and possibly make a bad decision as a result (not to mention the adverse effect on the enjoyment of playing).
During my play in the 2005 World Series of Poker championship event, an incident occurred that made me want to calculate mathematically exactly how expensive it was to miss a hand. Here’s what happened:
On my third day of competing, there were about 300 of us left in the tournament. We were in the money already, as the 2005 event attracted 5,619 competitors and paid 560 places. The structure at this point was blinds of $1,200-$2,400 with a $400 ante, meaning it cost each of the nine players at the table $7,200 per round, or $800 per hand. I was the short stack at my table with about $100,000 in chips, although relative to the whole field, my stack size was about average. (In the third volume of Daniel Harrington’s outstanding series of books on no-limit hold’em tournament play, he uses the term “Q” to mathematically express the average chip count at any point, reflecting its importance in calculating a player’s equity.)
At this time, it was nearly an hour until the next break, and I needed to use the restroom soon. Whatever the cost of missed hands was, playing with a distracting discomfort could easily cost me more. So, when it looked like a big pot was starting to develop, I decided to make my dash.
As I was finishing up in the restroom, the plastic zipper on the front of my pants broke, and I was unable to zip up properly. I wrestled with it for about half a minute or so, but it became increasingly obvious that the damage was irreparable, and it was stuck in an open position.
I exited the restroom and went over to the registration desk, which was nearby in the same corridor. I explained my plight to the lady there, and asked if she had a safety pin. She did not, but managed to come up with a large paper clip, which was better than nothing. I thanked her and sped off.
When I returned to the playing area, I told Tournament Director Johnny Grooms what had happened. He said he would try to get me some help. I went back to my seat at the table (and was happy to be sitting instead of standing). My guess is that the added time caused by the broken zipper cost me at least one hand, maybe two. A few minutes later, one of the ladies on the poker staff came over to the table and handed me a safety pin. The way she smiled while walking over, and chuckled a little when handing it to me, made it obvious that she had been told the purpose of the pin.
Not long afterward, perhaps an hour, I was knocked out of the tournament in 276th place. My two red aces on the button got cracked by two lowly deuces in the big blind when a third one came on the flop. After collecting my $24,365 in prize money, I went back to the apartment where I was staying, emptied my pockets, and threw the useless pair of pants into the trash container under the kitchen sink. My bedtime thoughts included wondering whether I would be embarrassed by being shown on TV, as I had to stand up as ESPN filmed my exit from the tournament.
When I went out for dinner the next day with three of my friends, I told them about the incident. Their first suggestion was to stop buying pants from that manufacturer. Then, they told me that I should consider suing the manufacturer for selling a faulty product. Just in case that was good advice, when I went back to the apartment, I fished the pants out of the trash and kept them for evidence. Then, I tried to calculate exactly how much the broken zipper had cost me.
Here is the way I figured the real cost of missing a poker hand at that stage of play. Remember that my chip count of about $100,000 was average for the field at that point, which helps simplify the math.
Assume for theoretical ease of calculation that I am an average player (even though I am far more experienced than most of the field). With 300 players left, an average player with an average chip count should beat half the field, finishing in 150th place. Each hand missed at the blind structure we were playing cost $800, based on apportioning the per-round total cost equally for each hand. So, one hand cost me 0.008 percent of my stack, reducing my chances in the event by that amount. For still being in the event, I had locked up $24,365, and my equity at that point was $46,245 (150th place). This means I figured to win $21,880 more at that point, my expected value. Take 0.008 percent (the amount my stack was reduced by missing one hand) of $21,880 and you get $175.04, the amount per hand that my expected value was reduced. That is what you might call an expensive pit stop.
Here are some conclusions that you can draw from this analysis:
1. Missing a hand at the start of an event does not cost much.
2. Missing a hand once you are in the money gets expensive in events with a large prize pool.
3. The shorter your stack, the more expensive it is to miss a hand, because a higher percentage of your stack is removed.
4. The later in a tournament it is, the more expensive it becomes to miss a hand.
I have a suggestion to make to tournament directors. You can see that missing a hand at the final table has a horrific cost, especially in the world championship event itself, where millions of dollars are at stake. I suggest that we should adopt a lenient attitude toward unscheduled restroom breaks at the final table of a tournament. (This is often done as a courtesy even now.) Let’s allow a quick pit stop by a competitor upon request — with the proviso that the tournament director can revoke this privilege if a player abuses it. At that point in play, being absent from the table in the WSOP is liable to cost a player upward of $10,000 per hand. An unscheduled five-minute break for all of the players, as opposed to someone getting blinded off while running the 100-yard dash, seems like a fair way to do things.
ReadyBetGo! is an independent gambling news and information service. If you plan to play in casinos, ensure
that you are not breaking any local laws. It's up to you to know the legality of your actions when you gamble.