The Monster Stack WSOP Event

Look at all the people! Image © PokerNews.

That is a lot of people!
© PokerNews

The 2014 WSOP introduced the concept of the “Monster Stack” tournament, which provides each player with a much larger starting stack than normal.

While it is a well-known fact among professionals that they have a larger edge with a larger stack compared to a smaller stack, the Monster Stack event was one of the largest of the series, attracting a whopping 7,862 players.

When I posted about my confusion on twitter, I was instantly faced with lots of people spewing blatant ignorance. Somehow over the last few years, amateurs got the idea stuck in their head that deep stacks are good for them!

In this blog post, I will explain why the Monster Stack event is bad for amateurs and what they can do to find events that give them the best chance for success.

Before I proceed, please know I am only trying to spread the truth. While it has become clear to me that countless people blindly believe incorrect concepts, if you are an amateur player who cares about money and you seek out deep stacked events consisting of a few professionals, you will quickly find your bankroll is gone.

Playing for Fun

The main reason most amateur players seem to favor deep stacked events is because they allow for “more play.” To them, this means they get to sit at the table for a longer period of time before going broke. This is, of course, correct, because they can lose more hands before becoming handcuffed by a short stack. Compared to normal $1,500 WSOP events, where you are often crippled after losing one marginally significant pot, having a larger stack in terms of big blinds will allow for longer periods of play at the table.

That isn't a lot of chips!

That isn’t a lot of chips!

I want to make it clear that sitting at the table for a long period of time should not be your goal when you enter a poker tournament, assuming you care about money. If you are only playing for entertainment, to complete a “bucket list” item, or for a story to tell your friends, this article is not for you. Those people value experience over money. There is nothing wrong with that at all. However, I try to help people who want to improve at poker, not those who blatantly do not care about knowledge and self-improvement.

In all aspects of life, you can usually find a way to trade money for experience. Most of the time for lunch, I have blended up spinach, kale, parsley, and other vegetables. Yum! However, on some days, I will go out to an overly expensive restaurant and eat fairly unhealthy (compared to raw veggies) food. When I go to a restaurant, I am voluntarily trading money, time, and health for a nice experience and pleasant tastes in my mouth. While I don’t do this too often, perhaps once per week, I enjoy it and will continue to do it.

This guy is clearly having fun. © PokerListings

This guy is clearly having fun.  © PokerListings

I think most amateur poker players who are playing poker for the experience view the Monster Stack event similarly to how I view going out to a fancy restaurant for lunch. There is nothing at all wrong with that. Trying to teach me about nutrition and getting a good value when it comes to dining out at lunch is futile because both of those things are not my goals in the least bit, just like some amateurs’ goals are not to win money in the long run.

I am not on the same page as those players looking for an experience at the poker table because we have vastly different goals. If I want to save money, time, and health, I eat spinach. If I want to spend money, relax, and eat cake, I go to lunch. If you want to maximize your equity, especially if it is certain to be negative (the goal, perhaps, should be to lose less), you should play shallow stacked events. If you want to play poker with the pros, sit at a poker table for a long time, and not instantly go broke, you should play deep stacked events. However, you must realize that you are sacrificing monetary equity for experience equity.

Of course, it is possible to have the best of both worlds, playing deep stacked with an edge, which is what the pros do, but you must accept that you will have to spend tons of time away from the table studying and at the table practicing to develop your skills. Most amateurs refuse to study away from the table and do not have adequate time to spend at the table. If you care about money, you must be realistic with yourself about your goals and your commitment to the game.

My problem occurs when someone tells me “I am playing the monster stack because the deep stack gives me an edge” and also “I play one poker tournament per year.” It is almost impossible for that player to be good at the game.  I am simply being honest and fighting ignorance. Sometimes the truth hurts.

Playing for Money

If you are playing with the intention of trying to not lose your buy-in, you must be perfectly fine with busting out at any point in a tournament. Some of my best days of the summer are when I bust out of within an hour because I get to take the rest of the day off. I would much rather bust one hour into a tournament than eight hours into it, assuming I am not in the money.

It is easy to make bad decisions with a huge stack. © PokerListings

It is easy to make bad decisions with a huge stack. © PokerListings

Most amateur players use the extra time afforded to them by having numerous big blinds by waiting around for premium hands. The problem with this is that they often cultivate an overly tight image and fail to get action with their strong holdings. Waiting around for a nut hand is useless if you only win small pots. In order to succeed in deep stacked poker, you have to get at least a touch out of line and let your opponents know you aren’t playing with only the nuts. If they think you are capable of bluffing, you will get paid off much more often.

As an example, in the Monster Stack event, which I made a point to play due to my gigantic perceived edge, someone raised to 3 big blinds and a guy who had yet to reraise over the course of eight hours all of a sudden reraised to 12 big blinds from the button out of his 75 big blind stack. I looked down and found Q-Q. I folded it with little thought.  If my opponent was even the least bit active, I would have happily doubled him up. Instead, I lost nothing. I was not surprised at all to see him turn up A-A. For the record, in tournaments with strong players who play at least marginally aggressively, I don’t think I have ever open folded Q-Q in my life. My opponent’s play cost him around $1,000 in equity and he didn’t even realize it. He was simply happy to win the pot.

Some Math

Lots of other amateurs claimed they don’t like playing short stacked because they are forced to “flip”. While getting it all-in with around 50% equity is never ideal, you will find that if you can get all-in with around 55% equity or more you will crush the competition in the long run. Believe it or not, it is difficult to do once stacks get shallow.

I will demonstrate this concept using oversimplified, but hopefully enlightening, math. In these simulations, you are forced to go all-in every hand in a heads up match. Notice in an actual poker tournament, when you get all-in, it will frequently be against one player, which is a similar situation. You must recognize that if you are overly focused on getting your money in good, you will often be blinding off, making the math much worse for you because when you win, you will not bust your opponents. This gives them the opportunity to run their stack back up, occasionally busting you despite you initially winning almost all of their chips.

Hopefully you know that if everyone has a 50% chance of winning each all-in, in an eight-person heads-up tournament, everyone will win 12.5% of the time. However, if one guy has a 55% chance of winning his flips, meaning each of his opponents has 45% chance against him and 50% against everyone else, the player with 55% will win the tournament a 16.6% of the time, which provides a hefty 32% return on investment. This is because each of his opponents will only win 11.9% of the time.

If instead of only eight people, there were 64, the player with 55% will win 2.77% of the time, which might sound minuscule, but is huge compared to everyone else, who will only win 1.54% of the time. In that event, the player with 55% will have a 77% return on investment, which is more than most top tournament players expect to have in a tournament with many more people. Hopefully you immediately recognize that if you can consistently get your money in good, you will have a larger return on investment as the field size increases.

It is important to realize that when playing deep stacked, good players do not get all-in against an amateur without a hand that can reasonably beat good, but not amazing, postflop hands, such as A-A on 9-7-4-2. It might be hard to believe, but against someone who is a good poker player, you do not want to get all-in with most one pair hands in most situations when you have more than 150 big blinds.

To make matters worse for the amateurs, pros slowly grind up their stacks with minimal risk by stealing lots of pots that do not belong to them. This allows the pros to get all-in as a significant favorite with more chips than their opponents, killing the amateur’s chances in the long run. Notice in a 64 person flipping tournament, if a really good pro has 60% equity and everyone else is neutral, he will win 4.67% of the time with a gigantic 199% return on investment. If instead, all of the stacks are super short, perhaps the best a pro can hope for is to have around 53% equity on average, cutting his return on investment to 41%, giving the amateurs a realistic shot to win in the short run.

This is why deep stacks are devastating for amateurs, assuming they care about money. This is also why you see the same pros making deep runs in major deep stacked events on a consistent basis while they put up less than stellar results in short stacked events. The math is inexorable.

How Did the Amateurs Do in the Monster Stack Event?

If you look up all of the Monster Stack final table players on the Hendon Mob database, you will see that six of the nine players are what I would consider to be mediocre pros or complete pros in the $1,500 and smaller events. Two of the players, including the eventual winner, had almost no live results, but if you take a look at the events they were playing prior to this event, you will notice they were playing mostly high stakes European tournaments. This tells me they are almost certainly strong online players. If you are an online player who plays mostly on the internet and in Europe but you can find a way to come out to beautiful Las Vegas for the WSOP, you are probably excellent at poker. Only one of the players had relatively weak results and even then, he had some.

How did You Do in the Monster Stack Event?

© PokerListings

© PokerListings

I got lots of “hate tweets” when I lost, saying that if pros have such a large edge, why didn’t I win? There is a relatively large amount of variance in any poker tournament. How any individual pro fared in the event is entirely irrelevant. You must look at how we did as a whole. Considering that most likely eight out of the nine final table players were at least mediocre pros, we likely did better than average.

That being said, I doubled my 15,000 starting stack to 30,000 without going to a showdown within the first two hours. From there, I got all-in for a giant pot with A-K as an 85% favorite in a spot where I was fairly confident my opponent had A-K, A-Q, or A-J on an A-T-8 board. He had A-Q and got a Q on the river, putting me back to 15,000. I again ground up my stack with no showdown to get to 30,000, and then I lost with A-K versus A-J all-in before the flop to bust. Within a few short hours, I got my money in as an 85% favorite for a two starting stack pot, as a 73% favorite in a four starting stack pot, and I ground up two starting stacks.

I am entirely happy with my performance. The actual outcome (I lost) is irrelevant. Remember, if you are playing poker for a living, you only care about winning equity. Money will come in the long run.

Which Events Should Amateurs Play?

So, which WSOP events should amateurs play, if they are looking for good value for their tournament dollar? They should play events that have the highest variance because those lead to the most flips. This means the typical $1,000 and $1,500 events that have shallow stacks. The Millionaire Maker event is an excellent option for such amateurs looking to play a WSOP event because the stacks are short and the prize pool is huge. If you are looking to gamble hard with at least some equity, that is the event for you. Before buying in, realize you have around a .014% chance of winning, assuming you are a break-even player.

If they play a conservative strategy, they should play events that do not punish being tight with a deep stack. Since pot limit events do not have antes, those are the ideal events for amateurs. Despite this fact, pot limit events attract some of the smallest fields of the series. This is another example of blatant ignorance at work.

My books are a good place to start!

My books are a good place to start!

Notice that the WSOP Main Event, which is a giant $10,000 buy-in event, attracts loads of players, and proudly boasts the deepest structure of all events played around the world. This is the one event amateurs should not even consider playing. Instead, they show up in droves.

Of course, the amateurs could spend their time learning the game well before tackling fairly large buy-in events, whatever stack size they provide. That would certainly be a much wiser use of their time and money. Luckily for me, most people find studying to be boring. Poker is alive and well.

Once professionals stop being short-sighted and accept that whatever is good for the amateurs, whether they know it or not, is good for the game, they will fight hard to spread the truth. Sometimes you have to ruffle a few feathers and viciously attack ignorance along the way. I am willing to fight the fight.

Thank you for reading. If you have any comments at all, feel free to share them.

21 Comments

  • DAvid says:

    Jonathan,

    Well put. I see the same things with my local tournaments.. My old card room, which had the best structure in town (15k starting stack, very slow blind level escalation), I would finish in the Top 5 (average 50 runners) over 40% of the time because I had such a huge advantage when the stacks were deeper. Sadly, mismanagement by the owner ruined the card room and the only other options in town are “turbo” events with shallow stacks that become a “push fest” by level 8, which significantly lowered my winning edge versus the same crop of players. When you’re running good (winning your races, etc.) it’s fun, but when you’re on the other side of variance it sucks!

  • Tommy Z says:

    Well Said Jonathan as usual!! Many of my poker crew and I are heading up to Cherokee for the WSOP Circuit Events over the next two weeks. I had to get a hall pass from my fiancé to head up there the day after Thanksgiving. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for all of the time, effort, and dedication you have put into your Books, Website, Webinars, Podcasts, and Videos. You truly are trying to teach us and not just sell us products. I have been doing very well at the games nearest to Atlanta using your teachings and hope to do well at Cherokee. The Million Dollar coaching and the Going Pro Series have been the most beneficial because they are like sitting there with you or upon your students shoulder. Well, here’s to good skill and kicking variance’s butt!! Keep Fighting the Fight!!

  • Bingo Buddy says:

    I have read a LOT of strategy-related poker articles, but this is my favourite one! It gets my vote in the “Poker Media Content of the Year” category in the Global Poker Index’s North American Poker Awards.

    Unfortunately, most of the live Canadian players that i know value experience over money, so they will continue to waste money buying into the highly -EV WSOP Monster Stack and other US events with 30% withholding tax for foreigners, which means they have 100% risk of ruin. 🙁

    • Thanks for the nomination! I greatly appreciate it. If you are from Canada (or anywhere with 30% withholding tax) it is quite difficult to turn a profit. Most of the super high stakes Canadian players I know don’t even play any WSOP events besides the Main Event. It is tough to beat 45% rake!

  • Alex says:

    Great article. I am a professional dealer but an amateur player. I find myself as a better player with a deeper stack because it allows me to open up my game more and not be such a rock. I like the deeper starting stack because one screwup unless ita for all my chips will not likely cripple me. I will be trying the monster stack in 2015 for my first WSOP event. I hope to see you there and hope you are a little wrong about us amateurs!

    • You are certainly correct that in the “normal” $1,500 WSOP events, one mistake can easily cost your tournament life. This is actually good for amateurs because everyone, pros included, are not immune to making one mistake. However, pros tend to not make 4 or 5 mistakes whereas most amateurs will. This is one of the reasons pros have such a large edge in deep-stacked events. Good luck in it! I hope you prove me wrong.

  • Frederick Williams says:

    Hi Jonathan! I’m from India. I just ordered 3 of your books on Amazon! I recently played the India Poker Championship and came in second at the main event! Heading to Vegas this year and I intend on reading your books by then! I do hope the books help me win a bracelet! Any advice?

    • Congrats on the score! I suggest you spend a lot of time studying the book and post any questions you have in the FloatTheTurn.com forums. Also be sure to read all of the content on this site. Good luck! Come say Hi if you see me.

  • Jonny B says:

    I’m curious about what difference does the withholding tax for foreign nationals make to profitability? Surely as a U.S. player, you end up reporting the income & pay at least 30% income tax…..?

  • Jonny B says:

    Thanks for your response.

    Yes, you can deduct your losses, but the eventual inevitable result of making money is (at least) 30% taxes on your net income. But it can still be a profitable summer!

    Are you playing the Monster Stack next week? Maybe 10,000 players this year…

    • I will be in the Monster Stack. It is certainly tough for non-US citizens who have to pay taxes only on their winnings when they are here for the WSOP. That is why lots of the good Canadian kids don’t even play the WSOP anymore.

  • nick says:

    I dont lose by mistakes – (ok many one) bu being wounded by
    AK < AQ , AA < AQ, 99 < 88, AA < 88, KThh <KJoff KK6h2h board, JJ < 99, QQ < AK, 99 < 7777, etc
    leaves little room to grind back.

  • gpo613 says:

    Back in the day a group of friends started having home tournaments. This was 2004. Myself and another guy were doing the tournament structures. Now I am old enough and was into poker before Moneymaker to know that the WSOP ME used to have a starting stack of 10K. Heck I even remember reading about the mega sats($225 buyin for the ME) having a starting stack of 225. So we tinkered a lot with starting stacks and blind structures for our home games. We then had a big buyin event once. It was $250 buyin. Our normal ones were $40-60. So we started with 25K starting stack. We started the blinds at 25/50. It didn’t take long to realize that the blinds didn’t matter much. People played more because they had more chips. Actually the game was more active than our normal games. Normally if you lost 2-3 pots you had to go into short stack mode. Not the big buyin one. People were throwing chips around a ton.

    I have come to realize that the amount of chips on the table influences the play just as much as the blinds. I have played some deep stack events in the last couple of years and saw plenty of guys having to re-enter. I sat there thinking how did they blow through all those chips so quickly.

    I have a major tournament strategy that I follow. I like to play the opposite of what most of the table is currently playing. If the table is loose then I will tighten up some knowing I will get paid off. If the table is tighter because the blinds are pressuring people then I will loosen up. The good thing is most players I play with don’t recognize when I change gears so I benefit from that as well.

  • David Jones says:

    It makes sense to me! Great insight! I’m hoping you do well in the WSOP events. I’ll be following and studying. D. Jones from Idaho

  • Juan says:

    Great read. Thanks!

    I think I’m going to put this line up on my wall.

    “Remember, if you are playing poker for a living, you only care about winning equity. Money will come in the long run.”

  • […] which = 5 minimum. The well known professional poker player and author/trainer Jonathan Little wrote a great article about how amateurs are better off playing shallower stacked tournaments where variance is higher. […]

  • Rob D says:

    Thanks for your article. I tend to like deep stack poker. I played in my first WSOP event last year which was the Monster Stack and cashed. I did play tight and used that image to my image to win one big hand an hour and steal blinds every couple of orbits. As we got near the bubble I increased my aggression. After the bubble I was on button w JJ and lost a good portion of my stack to the BB w AA. Bad read on my part. After that hand I was flipping. No skill involved at this point but got it in good and lost on the river. I think deep stacks gives players more opportunities to play poker instead of gambling on a flip. I saw pros come and go at my table based on their moves. All I know is finished ahead of Joe McKeehan.

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