An Interview with Jonathan Little by Albert Hart
Albert: Jonathan, rebuy tournaments, where players could re-enter immediately after busting out, right at the table and in the same seat, or purchase more chips when they were short, were popular 10 to 15 years ago. But now, they have largely been replaced by re-entry tournaments, where you can re-enter, but will be assigned a new seat, and where you cannot add-on chips when you get short stacked.
I personally started avoiding rebuy tournaments when they added a double add-on at the end of the rebuy period, which generally forced players to purchase the add-on unless they had a good chip stack.
Before we move on to re-entry tournaments, how did you feel about rebuy tournaments?
Jonathan: I always enjoyed playing rebuy tournaments because, compared to re-entry tournaments, you had much more information as to when and if you should rebuy. As you stated, it is important to understand that the buy-in of rebuy events are not actually the initial price you will pay to enter the event, assuming you are trying to maximize your expectation.
For example, a $100 rebuy event may cost $500 to $800 (on average) to enter, which is way more than $100. Amateurs who buy in for $100 with no intention of rebuying or adding on have almost no chance to succeed in the long run (especially when you get bonus chips for adding on).
Albert: Re-entry tournaments were added to the WPT (World Poker Tour) in 2010.
Professionals and other poker advisers initially ignored or disliked these events.
You were quoted as not liking re-entry tournaments back in 2010:
“You would think that I would like re-entry tournaments because they favor players such as myself, but I don’t. 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.”
Do you still feel that way, or have you changed your opinion?
Jonathan: I still feel this way. These events typically play out with the amateurs buying in only once and the professionals buying in as many times as necessary. This results in there being significantly more pro entries than amateur entries, making the field tougher. Of course some players make the error of thinking that they should play maniacally during the re-entry period, so that is beneficial, but on average, pros are now winning more than their fair share of events because they can re-enter when they happen to make an early exit.
Albert: Both you and my other poker coaches, initially ignored differences in strategy when reviewing hands which I had played during the re-entry period compared to hands played after re-entry closed. Do you think we should alter our strategy while re-entries are available?
Jonathan: I do not think you should alter your default strategy simply because you can re-enter unless you get incredibly short, perhaps to 35% of a starting stack or less. Once you get that short, if you are a great player, your equity in gambling with that short stack and then buying in again if you bust is often more than the equity of playing your current stack correctly (as you would in a freezeout) to maximize its potential.
Albert: Can you summarize changes we should make to our strategy during the re-entry period. Both because we are prepared to re-enter, and because our opponents may play differently if they are prepared to re-enter.
I realize that this could be the subject of a small book, But, perhaps you could give us a couple of pointers here.
Jonathan: In general, players either play too maniacally during the re-entry period, hoping to run up a giant stack, or too tightly, hoping to not have to reach in their pocket to pull out more money. If someone is playing like a maniac because he wants to either double up or re-enter, you should adjust by giving him every opportunity to bluff.
There are some maniacs who will not care if you apply aggression and will look for every possible opportunity to gamble. Against these players, feel free to play aggressively and get all-in when you have an edge.
Against players who play tightly, not wanting to re-enter, you should look to steal their blinds and apply postflop aggression, as discussed in our book BLUFFS, Don’t be afraid to pick on the tight players just because the average player is a bit too aggressive. Always pay attention to each specific player and adjust accordingly.
Albert: At the weekly live tournament, which I play, people often make fun of the half dozen or so players who often re-enter four or more times saying things like: “So-and-so will need to take at least 5th place just to cover his re-entries”. I say to myself, “But the last re-entry was the important one – because it was the one which put him in the money.”
If you are going to re-enter at least once, doesn’t it make sense to re-enter repeatedly if the blind levels make it a reasonable cost?
Jonathan: Assuming you are playing to make the most money possible, you should re-enter whenever it will be profitable. Each time you buy in, you either win or lose some amount of equity.
Perhaps a strong player has 50% return on investment (ROI) at the start of the event due to the very deep stacks and many amateurs remaining in the field. As play progresses, the blinds will get higher and weak players will bust, reducing the strong player’s ROI. By the very end of the re-entry period, a starting stack may be only 20 big blinds and many of the weak players will be on the rail. This means that the strong player may only have 5% ROI. After you subtract the 15% rake that many poker rooms charge to enter the event, even strong players are losing money.
Albert: Some of our two-day tournaments allow re-entry up to and at the end of the first day. Typically, you would receive a starting stack, worth 6 Big Blinds for the second day action, for the initial starting price.
Does it make sense to re-enter this late, or is 6 Big Blinds just too small a stack.
Jonathan: Six big blinds is way too few, assuming there is rake. If there were no rake, the player with 6 big blinds would rarely win, but he would not have to often. Imagine 6 big blinds gave you 1/300th of the chips in play with 75 players remaining, but due to your skill edge, you think you will win 1/280th of the time. This means you will have a 7% ROI, even though you will still only win the tournament 1 in 280 times.
Again though, if there is a 15% rake, even the best players cannot justify re-entering with 6 big blinds.
Albert: What about during a standard re-entry period – the first 6 hours at our weekly one-day deep stack. I tend not to re-enter if I am getting less than somewhere between 20 and 30 Big Blinds.
You often calculate the “value” of a stack as its multiple of the initial stack times the initial entry fee – which would imply that a starting stack later in a tournament is worth the same as a starting stack at the beginning of the tournament – which would imply that a re-entry at any big blind level still makes sense.
So, what is the minimum number of blinds you re-enter at, and would you suggest a different level for your students?
Jonathan: The number of big blinds in a starting stack is the only relevant concern. If the remaining field is incredibly soft, you should be happy to re-enter with a 20 big blind stack, but if the field is tough, perhaps you should not re-enter at all.
This concept was clearly illustrated in back to back years at the Bellagio World Poker Tour event that takes place each December. One year, many pros busted early, resulting in most of the chips being in the hands of amateurs. The pros kept re-buying over and over, even with 15 big blind starting stacks. The next year, a few of the best players in the world got ahold of most of the chips by busting most of the amateurs and many strong, but not world-class, pros decided to not rebuy at all. If you have an edge, based on the strength of the remaining field, you should re-enter. If you don’t, you should stop playing.
Albert: That reminds me about multiple first day tournaments where you can either re-enter on the first day you are playing, or return and re-enter on the next first with the same number of chips, but much deeper stacked.
Does that effect you thinking about re-entering later in the day on your first “first day”?
Jonathan: The World Poker Tour event at Borgata often sports this structure. If I can buy into both starting days an unlimited number of times and also again before the start of the second day, I will buy into day 1a and if I bust, I will re-enter on day 1a within the first six hours of the 10 hour day. After that, I will wait to re-enter into day 1b and continue buying into day 1b (and before day 2) as necessary.
Albert: One advantage a re-entry tournament gives to professionals, is that they can afford to re-enter repeatedly as long as they feel they have a positive expected value for the re-entry, whereas many amateurs cannot afford to re-enter too many times.
If I, or one of your other students, is getting ready to play a re-entry tournament, to what extent should we let the cost of re-entries effect our decision to play. How many re-entries should we include in our budget calculations when deciding to enter a tournament?
Jonathan: You should treat each entry as an individual tournament. Ideally, if you cannot “afford” two or five buy-ins, it implies that you are playing way over your head, because you typically want to have at least 100 buy-ins in your bankroll for any tournament you play. Losing 20 buy-ins should not drastically alter your poker bankroll.
Each time you buy in, you are essentially registering for another tournament with the same buy-in with a worse structure. If you are gambling with a short bankroll, you must accept and understand that you are doing exactly that. Do not think that you “must” re-enter because other players are doing so. Maybe you think that you have a positive ROI with your initial stack and the soft field, but even after two hours of play, that edge diminishes.
There is nothing wrong with accurately assessing the situation and making sound decisions. I have skipped many high roller events because the fields were full of pros and I did not think I would have much of an edge. If you don’t have an edge (and especially if you are not properly bankrolled) you should not play.
It is also worth mentioning that if you are prone to tilt after you bust, your ROI on your re-entries may be quite small, or non-existent. If you are not thinking clearly, you should almost certainly not re-enter, or at least take a break to clear your mind before returning to the table.
Albert: Thank you. This has been quite informative. Any last thoughts?
Jonathan: In general, you should play re-entry events as you would play freezeouts. (Where you cannot re-enter). If it makes sense to buy into the same tournament with a worse structure, you should re-enter. If it doesn’t, you should wait for another profitable opportunity.