Best Poker Tournaments

Finding the Best Poker Tournaments: How Does Your Favorite Rate?

Tournament poker players all have their favorite poker tournaments. But there is a general lack of agreement among players on which tournaments are the best. Are my criteria for poker tournament quality the same as yours? The reasons that one player loves a particular tournament will be completely different from those offered by a second player for loving another.  Some want huge fields and potentially big payouts. Others like smaller, fast structured tournaments that will be done in less than 6 hours. And still others just like the dealers and staff who run certain tournaments. How do you break down and evaluate the criteria that meet your requirements for the best poker tournaments? As fans of tournament poker, and having thought way too much about such things, we’ll share our take on how we evaluate poker tournament quality.

Your Poker Tournament Goals

Like most things in life, evaluating the best poker tournaments is largely in the eyes of the beholder.  While we’ll get to markers of objective quality later, “fit” is where we need to start. And determining how a tournament fits your needs starts with your goals for playing. While these may be in line with your general reasons for playing poker, some players enter tournaments for very different reasons than they play cash.

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The Playground Poker Club is a great cardroom outside of Montreal

Playground Poker Club Room Review

The Playground Poker Club outside of Montreal is one of our favorite card rooms. We first visited three years ago after seeing a major televised tournament held there and expected grand things. While our initial approach to the card room elicited a ‘”this can’t be right” reaction, upon entry all was revealed. We returned last month (December 2019) and were excited to see further evolution. The Playground Poker Club is truly an elite North American venue for poker.

Playground Poker Club Setting 

The Playground Poker Club is located in Kahnawake, Quebec. It is about a twenty minute drive from Montreal. However, the drive can vary substantially – dependant more on construction status than the amount of traffic. Returning to Montreal around midnight after one tournament took well over an hour, with bridge repairs narrowing many stretches to one lane. As we discussed in our travel post about Montreal, road conditions are a fearsome obstacle to contend with.  If you’re staying in downtown Montreal, this is one of the Playground’s biggest drawbacks. Taking a bus or a short car ride to the Casino de Montreal becomes an attractive alternative in the winter when the weather is bad or you’re not feeling adventurous.

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play poker in New England

The New England Poker Revolution

Massachusetts first legalized casinos all the way back in 2011. Poker in New England started to feel the effects of the new law in May 2018 with the opening of the MGM Springfield. However, it was the opening of Encore Boston Harbor this summer that really revolutionized New England poker. Encore took the New England poker cash scene by storm over the summer, and is now impacting New England tournament numbers as well. Speculation has run rampant over the past few years about how the new Massachusetts sites would impact existing poker rooms in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Some expected a poker room apocalypse. Others believed the impact would be minimal, as few players would hassle with Boston traffic or make the long haul to Springfield. As interested parties, we thought we would review recent changes in the New England poker scene.

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He's got poker skills

Hidden Poker Skills

Poker players typically spend their “training time” learning specific poker skills related to playing hands. Skills such as reading boards, calculating equity and pot odds, and understanding ranges, are all core to becoming a better player. However, players (particularly recreational players) are less likely to attend to  other aspects of the game that are equally critical to success. In order to develop a rounded game, you also need to develop these four hidden poker skills.

Hidden Poker Skill I: Honest Self-Assessment of Your Physical State

Heather and I generally play poker on weekends. Given that we largely play tournaments, we often have just a single window of time to play.  Sometimes when pulling out of the driveway, one of us will say “God, I’m tired.” The other will offer an insincere, perfunctory “We don’t have to go if you’re exhausted.” However, we know full well that the response will be “Shut up and drive.”

We’ve never tracked whether these low energy days correlate with poor performance. We probably should, but likely won’t for now, because our weekly poker tournament time is sacrosanct. However, if you have the ability to play frequently, and certainly if you play at higher stakes, you should make sure you are rested, alert, and at full capacity before deciding to play. Peak performance is unlikely when you’re tired or sluggish.

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You Can’t Escape the Poker Rake

Every player knows that the key to profiting at poker is playing well.  If you don’t play well, you’re toast long-term. Unfortunately, playing well is not enough. Equally important is understanding how other factors impact your potential profitability. As we have discussed before, there are many ancillary costs of playing poker, and it is important that you make a plan to combat them.  Most importantly, however, card rooms don’t survive on good cheer. They take a piece of the action out of every hand. Understanding how your card room takes their piece of the action, the poker rake, is critical in determining how your potential wins, or losses, will be impacted.

Cash Games and Poker Rake

Poker Rake

Let’s imagine for a moment that a 10-handed table has started with each player buying in for $200. Our imaginary casino’s poker rake is $1 for every $10 in the pot, up to $5 total (fairly typical). If the median pot is $30, the average hand loses $3 in every pot. Although there is some variation, on average, there are about 30 hands dealt an hour. We’ll also assume that nobody busted and re-bought or left and was replaced by a new player. The overall rake paid is $90 (30*$3) in that hour; thus, the “average” player will lose $9 in poker rake (or 4.5% of his/her stack) per hour.

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