Saturday, December 18, 2010

Weighing the differences

As I have mentioned several times in the past few months, when I play NLHE tournaments online these days, it's mostly on Bodog. My use of PokerStars and Full Tilt is mostly limited to playing games not offered elsewhere (HORSE and razz, in particular), as well as occasional private blogger tourneys.

I have noticed several differences in how sites do things.

1. Breaks.

A couple of years ago, both Stars and FTP adopted a coordinated break system: all multi-table tournaments take a five-minute break at 55 minutes past the hour. This makes it easy for people in multiple tournaments--even those playing across multiple sites--to get a few minutes for the bathroom, fixing a snack, moving the laundry, or whatever else needs to get done, without having to miss any hands. It's such an obvious improvement that it's hard to believe that nobody had taken this step long before. Once in a while it results in a bit of silliness, such as a break after five minutes of play in a game that starts at 3:50. But overall the benefits far outweigh such minor nuisances.

Well, Bodog still hasn't gotten the memo. Their breaks come after 60 minutes of play, period. If you're in two that started at different times, tough--sit out of one to get a few minutes away from the computer. This is really stupid, and badly needs to be changed to what now must be considered the industry standard. I am once in a while playing a NLHE on Bodog and a HORSE on Stars at the same time (there are afternoon tournaments starting an hour apart that hit my preferred sweet spot in terms of both buy-in and typical number of entrants). It would be nice if they broke at the same time.

Speaking of breaks, there is another difference I've noticed. In single-table sit-and-go tournaments, Stars has no breaks. FTP does, though it allows the break to be cut short if everybody returns early and clicks the "I'm ready" button. Sometimes those SNGs can be unusually prolonged, so I'm grateful to FTP for building in breaks, but I'm also grateful that you can agree to skip it (e.g., when down to heads-up and clearly near the end).

2. Sounds.

I know that many online players turn off sound effects except for the "your turn" alerts. I don't. I kind of like the sounds of bets and raises. It allows me to keep track of the general action even when I step away from the computer for a minute to get a drink, or whatever. Also, the sequence of sounds keeps me apprised of the action when my thoughts wander; the special "all-in" sound, in particular, tends to snap me back to attention.

With both FTP and Stars, you only get sounds (other than "your turn" alerts) from the window that is on top. If I'm playing two games at once (I never do more than that), only the active window plays sounds. With Bodog, however, it keeps playing sound effects from both games at the same time. I find this confusing. When I'm focusing on what's happening on one table, it's distracting to my poor non-multitasking brain to be hearing stuff that's going on at the other table.

I can't say that Bodog's approach is wrong or objectively worse, but it is not my preference.

3. Sitting out.

On FTP and Stars, when you sit out, the system reveals this fact to the other players. Your seat gets a clear "sitting out" label. On Bodog, however, that doesn't happen. As far as the other players can tell, you're just folding whenever it's your turn. Of course, after a while they might figure out that there's nobody driving the bus, but it's up to them to be paying enough attention to notice; the software won't help them.

I'm torn about this. I'm not sure that one approach is clearly superior than the other. The argument for the Stars/FTP way is that in a live tournament you'd be able to see who is taking a break from the table, so why not online as well? I like knowing, because it lowers the threshold for stealing if I can see that there is one fewer opponent who might play back at me. On the other hand, I'd like to think that generally I'm more attentive and observant than others at the table, so I'd like to be rewarded for being the first one to deduce that Seat 4 must be sitting out, so I can more liberally attack the blinds when he is either a blind or the button.

4. Prize structure.

Bodog has what I consider to be a clearly inferior and highly annoying means of determining the prize structure: except for the smallest tournaments (in terms of number of participants), they always pay a fixed number of tables, rather than a fixed number of spots.

Here's a typical payout structure (top center):

You can see that they jump from 9 spots paid to 18, then to 27, 36, etc. Compare that with how Stars does it:

Stars obviously doesn't care about making the number of spots paid an exact number of tables.

Consider what happens at Bodog when the 101st player joins the tournament. Before, they were going to pay 9 players out of 100, or 9% of the field. Now they're going to pay 18 out of 101, or 18% of the field. This results in a payout structure that is way too flat; the first six or eight players to exit in the money will barely get their buy-in back. Yesterday I was in one that was just on the good side of the line: We had 96 players, so nine places paid. The minimum cash for the $20+2 buyin was $87.50. I finished in a disappointing 8th place, for $112.50. But those decent prizes (for a couple hours of work) would have been greatly diluted if there had been five more players.

Conversely, on Stars, to take a comparable example, when the 97th player registers, the payout moves from 12/96, or 12.5% of the field, to 15/97, or 15.5% of the field--a much smaller jump than with the Bodog plan. I'd prefer that they do it in even finer increments, and just keep it as close to a constant percentage of the field as possible, but I don't object to the small steps used here.

Obviously, in fields over a few hundred, there isn't much difference in the two approaches, but I rarely enter such tournaments. I like the more frequent--even if smaller--cashes I get from fields of roughly 50-200, which is in a range where it makes a big difference how they do the payouts.

I have seen this in tournaments in casinos, too. Last year I sweated Cardgrrl during one of the Golden Nugget "Grand" events. They had just over one cutoff point (I think it was just over 100), and made jumps in number of spots paid by whole numbers of tables (18, as I recall). The result was that the payout structure became abnormally flat, and her min-cash barely made back her buy-in.

I don't understand the attraction of making the number of places paid an exact multiple of the number of players per table. Sure, you can say that if you make the final two tables, you're in the money. But who cares? I see no downside to there being, say, 14 spots paid for 140 entrants, rather than having to choose between either 9 (too steep a structure) or 18 (too flat). Tournament directors: Why do you have such a fondness for paying exact numbers of tables? I don't get it. (Glenn of the Missing Flops vlog disapprovingly commented about this phenomenon the other day, too.)


AlCantHang said...

FTP is a little different with the "sitting out" notice. Sort of right in the middle (unless they changed it when I wasn't looking).

In MTT's it's not obvious by looking at the table if someone is sitting out but it is clearly labeled "sitting out" if you go into the Last Hand lobby.

Rakewell said...

Cardgrrl also told me that she didn't remember seeing "sitting out" notices on FTP. I guess I had mental wires short-circuited in what I remembered having seen.