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Can Registering Late for Tournaments Maximize Your $/Hour?

Buy-In Strategy for Full Tilt’s Multientry Tournaments suggested when you should take multiple entries to start a tournament – and when you shouldn’t. That blog post left one issue unresolved: when (if ever) should you re-enter a multientry tournament after going busto? Re-entering a multientry tournament after going busto is synonymous with entering a tournament late. Therefore, the question really comes down to when registering late is okay – and when it isn’t. The rest of this blog post is devoted to the general issue of late registration and maximization of hourly win rate.

Let’s start with the easiest case: if you play -cEV poker when deeply stacked, then registering as late as possible is the best thing you can do if playing a tournament where the betting format is pot-limit or no-limit. Obviously, you’d like to develop your game to where you’re +cEV at all stack depths. However, playing strategically sound poker isn’t the only aspect of being a winning poker player. Knowing your weaknesses and playing to your strengths are just as important.

Suppose that you play -cEV limit “whatever poker variant” a tournament is. Stack depth isn’t really an issue in limit tournaments. If you play -cEV with 30 big bets, you’re going to play -cEV with 15 big bets as well. In pot-limit and particularly no-limit, excellent short-stack skills can make up for poor deep-stack skills – meaning that someone with a -cEV deep-stacked game can still end up playing a tournament profitably. In limit, the situation doesn’t change. As a result, your best bet (if your goal is to win money in the long-run) is simply never to enter the limit tournament. However, if your goal is to minimize your losses, then again, you should register as late as possible in order to minimize the number of -cEV hands you play.

Having addressed the relatively easy issue of players who play -cEV poker during the late registration period, let’s move on to the tricky issue: players who play +cEV poker during the late registration period (and beyond). If you fall into this category, registering late will adversely affect your ROI. Thinking strictly with respect to maximizing ROI, you’re better off entering a fresh tournament of the same buy-in than registering late. However, if your goal is to maximize your hourly win rate, the decision to late register becomes much more complicated.

Let’s take an $11+$1 Rush On Demand SNG at Full Tilt to motivate the discussion. Rush On Demand SNGs at Full Tilt allow late registration through level 5. Players start with 2,000 chips, and the first 5 blind levels are:

  • T15-T30
  • T20-T40
  • T25-T50
  • T30-T60
  • T40-T80

Suppose that your winrate in each of these levels is 3PTBB/100, and suppose that you play 15 hands per blind level. This means that you make .45 PTBB/Blind Level. On average, your stack at the end of the fifth level will be T2,000 + .45(T60 + T80 + T100 + T120 + T160) = T2,234. In a tournament where the average final table stack is on the order of T40,000-T60,000, an extra T234 at the end of level 5 doesn’t seem like a lot. Shaving 15 minutes off a tournament that takes about 2 hours would seem like the best play with respect to maximizing hourly win rate. However, let’s consider a few factors:

  • Unless you only plan on single-tabling, you’re going to be playing a session consisting of multiple tournaments. Therefore, other than the very start of your session, there are no real time-savings to be realized by registering late.

  • Average stack at the end of the fifth level is a poor number to look at. At the end of the fifth level, you really have a distribution of possible stacks (where you have some probability of having each possible stack). One of the big benefits of playing from the start as a +cEV deep-stack is the opportunity to win lots of chips from poor players who are most abundant at the start of a tournament. You might not have a 4K+ stack at the end of the 5th level very often, but the times you do have such a stack are, at the very least, non-negligible contributors to your overall ROI (though at this time, I have no idea precisely how important they are…doing so would require statistical analysis of a very large tournament database)

Keeping these factors in mind, the following are my current recommendations regarding late registration for players who are +cEV during the late registration period (and beyond):

  • Registering late adversely affects ROI, but if you’re +cEV at all stages of a tournament, your ROI should be positive regardless of whether you enter.* Therefore, if there’s only one possible tournament that you can enter – and it happens to be in late registration – then you should go ahead and enter.

  • Registering late makes sense as an online session is drawing to a close. Suppose you plan on ending your session in 1.5 hours. 1.5 hours isn’t enough to play a fresh tournament of interest to completion, but 1.5 hours is enough to play a tournament of interest in late registration to completion – go ahead and enter the tournament in late registration.

  • It’s uncertain whether it’s beginning a session (live or online) with late registrations serves to optimize hourly win rate because of competing trends. On the one hand, registering late reduces session time. On the other hand, registering late adversely affects ROI. Even if you played neutral cEV poker during the late registration period, it’s tough to say what the best play is. My intuition on the matter is that early tournament play is more important than many players seem to believe and, as a result, beginning a session with late registrations probably serves to decrease your session hourly. However, I’m by no means certain about my intuition on this matter – I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if statistical analysis on a player with a huge sample set proved my intuition wrong.

May Your EV Always be Positive!

Tony Guerrera

*I guess it’s technically possible for your ROI to be negative if you make bad decisions once play is no longer purely with respect to cEV (like at the final 1-2 tables)


Feel free to repost this as long as you include the following author box (including hyperlinks):

Tony Guerrera is an established poker author, an instructor at PocketFives Training, a member of Team Moshman, and host of the popular poker strategy podcast, Killer Poker Analysis. Tony blogs about decision optimization on and off the felt at


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