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Five Reasons Why I Play Small Stakes Tournaments During the WSOP

Five Reasons Why I Play Small Stakes Tournaments During the WSOP

The 2018 World Series of Poker is almost here and like tens of thousands of other poker players I'll be in Las Vegas, too. However, you're more likely to find me playing satellites and small stakes tournaments than in the bracelet events. Here are five reasons why.

1. Happiness is more important to me than money

My primary goal in poker is happiness. I am happiest when I am making final tables. I am much more likely to make final tables when I play small stakes tournaments with small fields than when I play the ones at the Rio.

Don't get me wrong. It would be amazing to make a World Series of Poker final table, but there's a relatively small chance of that happening. On the other hand, I can make small stakes final tables much more often. There isn't a ton of money up top in these games, but any final table makes me happy.

My poker pro friends don't have the luxury of passing up on higher value games for the sake of happiness, but I do because I am not a professional. They have bills to pay. Unfortunately for them, they do not live in vans.

2. I'm not that good at poker

Unlike my poker pro friends, I'm not that good at poker. In order for me to make deep runs consistently at the Rio, I imagine I would need to be in the top 5-10 percent of poker players in the field. I'd estimate I am probably somewhere in the top 10-20 percent. This is good enough to cash occasionally, but that's about it.

When I play small stakes tournaments, I am usually close to the top 5-10 percent of players in the field — perhaps even the top 3-5 percent during the WSOP when the best players are too busy playing the bigger games in town.

3. I profit from chop equity

The small stakes tournaments I play have an added benefit that is usually not available in bigger games. That is the ability to make profitable chops.

Given that I am one of the better players in these games, I expect to make it to the final table more often than the average player in the field. If I get there with a big stack, I will refuse a chop unless I get a very favorable deal since I expect to have a massive edge in this scenario. If I get there with a small stack, I will usually be offered a very favorable deal without even having to ask for it. Heck, sometimes they will give me a good deal as the short stack before the money bubble even bursts.

Small stakes players love to do a save for the bubble because they don't like playing hand-for-hand. I'd be shocked if this has ever happened in a WSOP event at the Rio.

4. My bankroll isn't huge

One obvious advantage of small stakes tournaments is that you don't need a very large bankroll to play them. Whenever I play the World Series of Poker Main Event, I sell the vast majority of my action and still play with a bigger percentage of my bankroll than I should.

Very few of the people playing $10,000 buy-in tournaments are properly rolled for them. In truth, most people should have at least a million dollars to play them consistently.

Needless to say, you can get by on a much smaller bankroll in smaller tournaments, but this effect is magnified even further when you consider that the fields are generally weaker as well. This means that you will win more often, further reducing your bankroll requirements.

5. There is almost always a small stakes tournament to play

Small stakes tournaments are more widely available than the bigger games, not just at the Rio during WSOP time, but everywhere.

I've often heard poker players complain about taking a trip to play a big buy-in tournament only to bust in the early levels. Since there is unlikely to be another big tournament they can jump into right away, they are generally left with a wasted work day unless they decide to fill their time playing cash games.

This is usually not a problem with small stakes tournaments. Most places have daily and nightly tournaments that give you multiple chances to play in a given day. In Las Vegas during the WSOP, I bet you could start in the morning and go casino hopping to fire as many as ten $100-$500 tournaments non-stop in order to maximize your chances of making a final table that day. This is obviously not possible in the bigger buy-in games.


My poker pro friends are right when they say that small stakes tournaments are not the most profitable way to spend your time if you are a good poker player.

That said, I generally am not simply looking for the most profitable games. With increased profit potential comes increased variance. This means I am less likely to win on any given day. Like many other recreational players, I don't want to wait for the long run. I want to win as often as possible, because winning today makes me happier than maximizing EV tomorrow.

If you're a recreational player like me, maybe small stakes tournaments are a way for you to enjoy summers in Vegas as well. Just think twice before trying to play them for a living if you have a lot of expenses.

  • For some, small stakes tournaments are a better option than bigger buy-in events during the WSOP.

  • Carlos Welch shares five reasons why he prefers small stakes tournaments over bigger buy-in events.

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