Why True Freeze-outs No Longer Make Sense for Every Canadian Event


The topic of allowing re-entry into tournaments that are not “labeled” or advertised as “re-buy” events is always one of considerable debate amongst players, especially those that have been around long enough to remember capped “freeze-out” fields. Edmonton’s ABS Casino group recently made an announcement regarding the limiting of each player to one re-entry per event with a buy-in over $200.  Just why this seems so appropriate for today’s game may warrant a deeper look at how we got here in the first place…

A half decade ago, poker was in what many consider the “Moneymaker” boom, not to mention a much stronger world economy.  Tournaments in the west were, more often than not, completely sold-out or with more than ample prize-pools to justify turning “busted out” players away.

“Alternate” or wait lists began, as though players always have the option of  pre-paying to ensure a seat, nobody really likes “tying up” money, especially the casual player who is still on the fence about a “road trip” or “day off”.  City driving or Canadian winter traveling could see a players plans of attending messed up pretty quickly and upon arriving too late at a capped event, these players were obviously disappointed Accepting a waiting list to give them a shot to play became pretty standard practice of courtesy. It wasn’t long however, that players busting out early or wanting a bit of extra sleep saw an opportunity in this system, which brought forth a few valid, but somewhat complicated situations;

If they are going to let more players in, what is the big deal if it is a new player, or another entry by the same player?

As long as those that have not had a chance to play are given priority and the re-entry is seated randomly, what is the big deal?

If the field still has room after they are knocked out again, what is the difference if they buy another seat?

In “my own game”, I don’t often re-enter or play in re-buy tournaments. Like many other recreational players, my reasons are part bankroll, part quality of play. But that’s not to say I don’t like the option. Sometimes I have started off on the wrong foot, other times I may have lost a big draw and I believe the table is soft enough and prize-pool big enough to justify a “re-load.” I never mind seeing more money going into the pay-outs, after all, we all enter with the intentions of taking some of it home. Poker theory tells us that we want our opponents to make mistakes and when we lose a hand as a favorite, really we are still winning long term. Whether it is a new player or one who’s playing style I don’t particularly agree with is really a moot point, in order to win or cash I have to defeat or outlast and adapt to X amount of entries. With that said, I still very much agree there is a balance…

While it all means money in the prize-pool and for the hosting venue, it was pretty hard not to see the strong points of arguments made by both player wanting to re-enter and casinos. Besides that, often times the player asking to be allowed back in truly took an ugly beat and if they travelled half way across the country to get there, it’s understandable why they would put up a fight for one of the “open” stacks being blinded off right in front of them.

On the other hand, it can be very frustrating and a hard pill to swallow to see “high roller” players make “loose” $300-$1500 entry coin flips early in the game, stack off some players,  spew it all away shortly after and race back to another table and repeat the process several more times.
You all get the point, but I can’t fault them for having the money to do so.  Whether they earned it on or of the felt, the fundamentals of poker also say a person can play his or her cards however she chooses and when we are on the “good end of things”, we certainly don’t mind.
The problem is that “major championship tournaments” should also carry an element of “fear of loss” or “putting a player to the “test for their tournament life”. This is the very reason the players in question should be in favor of the one re-entry format.  This is their edge; the “dead money” has a hard time detaching and making the same plays or marginal calls.  If it happens to backfire a few times for the well rolled player and they get knocked out for the day, there is still plenty of action on the cash tables.

Should casinos in some areas take it one step further and make most events strict “freeze-outs”?

Gone are the days of 600 player fields for multiple starting events here in Alberta; the last few years have made this quite clear. Blame it on the economy, whether it’s up or down. There are at least a half dozen casinos within a 3 hour driving radius or more casinos running major event tournament series, sometimes just a few weeks apart. Players wanted the events, casinos saw the opportunity in supplying them and the vast majority of these series are successful in both the people attending and the venues themselves are at least satisfied.

While a few other provinces can boast massive freeze-out fields, they also only have a few facilities capable of hosting the numbers and run only or two series a year.  Players in these massively populated areas and venues get very few chances to play in large field, medium buy-in events, pretty much giving the event a “monopoly” like advantage to sell-out; for lack of a better description coming to mind.

Alberta could follow suit by running fewer, but is stuck scheduling around “fierce” competition. Who is going to be willing to turn away those tournament players knowing that someone else is more than willing to accommodate them?

The situation presents other “pit-falls” in that, once again, “fear of loss” is removed from the equation. You don’t have to really make any big plans to go play in a major series; if you miss one, there will be another just around the corner. It’s just a matter of choosing the ones you like.

We still want big turn-outs though and remember the big pay-days of capped fields. With our own population spreading out to their favorite events, that leaves the “out of town” crowd to fill the voids.

If someone is going to spend money on travel and accommodations and a sell-out is far from guaranteed, we are stuck offering “re-entry” in its place. Essentially putting on the table the offer of; “You can have a couple of tries and we will get the number of entries as high as reasonably possible.”
It’s not limited to Alberta anymore either; Casino Regina has also started allowing re-entry to keep numbers at what players have come to expect and it’s a very good decision in my opinion. Manitoba Lotteries watch many potential dollars make the semi-annual trip to Regina and decided to get in the game themselves; scheduling a huge event weeks after a decade old staple stop; effectively keeping many player dollars in town in the process with a massive local turn-out. Again we see a former “monopoly” situation, now adapting to stay competitive and offer players the best available option to increase potential winnings. Where Winnipeg players would have ordinarily flocked to Regina, the difference from those that were satisfied to save their money for a fill of poker at home has to be made up by local Regina players that can afford to re-enter.

In closing, we are left with several choices:

a) Choke off the opportunity to play as often; by limiting events and forcing players to make it a priority to attend what is offered.

b) We can ignore field sizes and get rid of re-entry all together and just play for whatever is available after late registration closes.

C) Try to find the balance.

The first choice will most definitely result in larger fields, but will in the process many recreational players may also lose interest. The second will result in smaller, less motivating prize-pools in Alberta and Saskatchewan, again discouraging some players from participating or traveling in; most likely negatively out-weighing the number of players who won’t play if just a single re-entry is allowed.

Hopefully, the third option is the perfect balance for today’s poker landscape. I believe it is and that other casinos will eventually follow suit or have their events “knocked down” the proverbial player priority list.

Only time will tell.

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Jon Harnish
35 year old recreational player, husband and father of three from Calgary, Alberta. Enjoy lower stakes cash games including PLO and limit Omaha 8. Any of the micro-stakes HORSE games will play online MTTS and SNGs. Live, Tournaments and Satellites up to $550. I love the game but am far to social to take it seriously and sometimes give up a little to much information at the table because I enjoy discussing the game, so decided it was safest for my bankroll to take up writing about the game. That way I still get to meet the cool people and opinions on the game, but with a little less risk. Writing wise, currently a regular contributor to Poker Pro Canada, like to write profiles, previews and recaps the most. formally wrote for Canadian Poker Player Canada. My Poker Blogs have been featured on CardPlayer Social and SpadeClub as "Recommended" or in newsletters on several occasions and Pokerweblogs as "Blog of the Month". Past projects included organizing and promoting major events with the Canadian Poker Tour, introducing Big Slick Poker Tour to Southern Alberta and directing events and finals.



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