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Turbo Tournies...Where is the skill?

Turbo Tournies...Where is the skill? 0001

Today, a staple of online poker life is the turbo tournament. Turbo tournaments feature blinds that go up blindingly fast, and "efficient" tournament models that often see a tournament run its full course in 60 or 90 minutes. To survive in these super fast tournaments, you really need to be playing one out of every five or six hands, so playing premium cards is simply not an option. One must put ones money in with alarming frequency, and hope to get lucky.

When turbo tournaments started showing up online about a year and a half ago, I bit the hook for a minute, and started playing these action heavy, fast & furious shootouts. But I quickly learned that whatever skill edge I may (or may not!) have had against the hundreds of online opponents evaporated in these events, and I was forced to put my money in with a very small edge, or when I knew I was behind, but had to gamble.

I certainly understand the place for these tournaments, and I think that they can be a fun change up to the normal online tourney. More and more though, I am noticing that these tournaments are becoming the rule at some sites, instead of the exception. For example, one of the top online sites is offering super satellites to some events on the European Poker Tour – a desirable tournament indeed. But, other than buying directly into the super ($360 + $20) your ONLY multi-table means to get into these supers are via turbo tournaments. There are no "feeder" tournaments into these supers except turbo tournaments. Two tier super-satellite tournaments have been a staple of online poker life since online poker went multi table a few years back. You might remember some guy who won a two-tiered satellite to earn his seat into the 2003 WSOP....I think his name was Moneymaker.

Also, I have begun to notice that at certain sites, the majority of tournaments offered are of the turbo variety. I think this all bodes very poorly for the long-term future of tournament poker online. Players who are conditioned by these events where you pretty much have to put your chips in before your seat is warm are getting a very poor model to base their tournament play on, and indeed are getting a flawed poker education. For online rooms to base their play model on turbo tournies make sense for them in one respect: get 'em in, get 'em out. Much like the models for the early fast food restaurants, you offer something quick, and satisfactory, instead of offering an experience.

As most poker players have learned, tournament poker is a high variance game. Even the best players won't win all that often (especially against the huge fields todays tournaments attract). In turbo tournaments, the blinds may go up three to four times faster, but the variance is ten times (or more) higher. All of the above facts lead me to wonder if turbo tournaments, or at least their proliferation online, are a positive thing for the game.

For example, I just went online to three sites to see how many of their next ten tournaments offered were turbo tournaments. At site #1 (one of the biggies) three of your next ten tournaments offered were turbo. However, at two of the smaller sites I play at one offered five turbos in the next ten, and the other offered six of the next ten as turbos!

All of this leads me to wonder how the young players of today (the vast majority of which are learning their craft online) will function in the "real" world of brick and mortar poker tournaments. Will they take their hyper aggressive style that is necessary to thrive in turbo tournaments, and try to apply it in their traditional structured tournament play? One cannot think of their chances as very good if they do try to apply the hyper aggressive model to "normal" tournament play.

One of the things that inspired my writing of this article is that I was at the Bike in Los Angeles the other day, and overheard two young players talking about their online play. One player said to the other "I'm a turbo specialist". For some reason, this made my skin crawl. I thought about it a lot, and decided that the young player in question could actually BE a turbo specialist (not sure what that really means, though), and thought to myself if there was such a thing as a turbo specialist, it might not be that bad of a thing to be in 2005. If one half of the tournaments offered at your favorite online card room played to what you felt were your strengths, you would be thrilled....right?

Still, I feel that a traditionally structured poker tournament (yes, even in non turbo online tournaments the blinds still go up faster), are more a test of skill. It seems to me, more and more online rooms are trying to figure out the most efficient way to make a buck for their bottom line. Make no mistake - these online rooms are businesses, and should absolutely do what they feel is best for their businesses – I do not begrudge them for that one bit. I am well aware that the rake on live games will continue to be by far an online rooms biggest revenue source, but to compete, an online room must offer a full tournament menu. These wonderfully "efficient" turbo tournaments seem like they are becoming a more dominant part of that tournament menu. I simply wonder what the effect on the poker world, and specifically the tournament poker world these "efficiencies" in the new world order of online poker will bring.

I really hope that the turbo tournament becomes an exception, and not the rule of online tournament play. To a great degree, this is up to the players. If turbo tournaments draw as well as more traditionally structured tournaments do…why wouldn't the online rooms continue to offer more and more turbo tournaments as part of their overall offerings. The tournaments are over faster, and get the players back to their live games, or into another tournament faster.

I always prefer a nice meal to fast food, but if the only options are fast food restaurants, what kind of choice do I have?

What do you think?

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