Mike Caro poker word is Tournament

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.

Why won’t they fix poker tournaments? At least the World Series of Poker – the pinnacle poker showcase – has a few shoot-out and heads-up events that are logically structured. But the great majority of public poker events are silly. Stupid, in fact.

They don’t test poker skills and they prove nothing. Today’s self-interview explores that undeniable truth.

Question 1: Okay, so we get it – you don’t like poker tournaments. You seldom play in them. You’re annoyed because your results keep getting compared to people who do play. We’ve heard all that from you before. But is it fair to belittle poker tournaments, just because you personally don’t like them?

Your interview skills suck.

Poker tournaments appeal to me. I’d like to play lots and lots of them. That would be great fun and a chance to prove my skills for all to see.

Question 2: So why not just shut up and play?

You’re an idiot! You’re doing an interview and you want the person you’re interviewing to shut up! Fine…

Question 3: It’s been over a minute. Are you ever going to say anything?

Question 4: Guess not. Let me ask in a different way. You have a stellar reputation and a keenly analytical mind. So, what would you like to see changed about poker tournaments?

Excellent question. I’d like to see a payout structure in which pure poker skill is rewarded.

Question 5: What’s wrong with the current payout structure?

Well, it’s just plain crazy. It punishes great poker decisions and rewards mediocrity.

Look, this isn’t some remote theory or my personal opinion. It’s just the way it is, but people have trouble grasping it. The proportional-payout system is a travesty. The flaw isn’t open to debate. It’s a mathematically provable truth – a fact.

It’s fact that when you give a percentage of the prize pool to the first-place finisher at the final table, a smaller percentage to the second-place finisher at that table, still smaller to third, and so on, you are unfairly punishing someone.

Question 6: Huh? Punishing whom?

Punishing the winner of the tournament, mostly. Let’s say there’s a million dollar prize pool. First place gets 30 percent, which is $300,000. Second place gets 20 percent, which is $200,000, third place gets 15 percent, which is $150,000, and the remaining $350,000 is paid to many other late finishers.

In order to win first place, you must gather all the chips on the table. Fifth place has gone broke. Fourth place, broke. Third place, broke. Finally, your last remaining opponent has fallen. Broke, too. You have gathered every single chip in the tournament.

Good job! But wait! Now you don’t get to cash out these $1 million in chips. What’s this? They’re taking $700,000 away from you. Hey! Give it back!

That’s the punishment. You have to win all the chips and then give most of them away to opponents you’ve already conquered. In this case, it’s a $700,000 fine paid by the winner of the tournament. Now, you might say, that’s fair because it applies to anyone who wins.


I hear you. Level playing field and stuff like that. There’s just one problem. In order to play correctly on that “level playing field,” you have to decide that first place isn’t your main objective. To make the most profit, you have to decide that this tournament isn’t about proving your poker skill, it’s about surviving to win the money.

You might stumble into first place, but that isn’t the target. The target is to survive and win some of the free money that is stolen from first-place after you lose all your chips. If you play lots of tournaments, doing that will account for most of your potential profit.

And, to me, that’s not a tournament. It’s a test of mathematical survival – one where you must avoid using many of your most profitable and skillful poker tactics in order to reduce risk.

So, go ahead and call it a poker tournament, but what’s being tested isn’t poker!

And that’s why I don’t like poker tournaments, as currently structured.

Question 7: I see. Is there a solution?

Absolutely. In fact, I’ve proposed one. You could have multiple payouts by having table winners advance, with only one champion being paid. If first-round tables are 10-handed, then 10 percent will make the money. If six-handed, about 17 percent will be paid. That’s similar to the conventional shoot-out structure, but there’s no second-place money at a table – and we take it further.

Table champs then meet each other in the next round and the winners there get more money. Finally, we end up with two heads-up matches among the final four. Winners of those get paid more and enter the grand final matchup, with a single winner getting the big bonus.

See what’s happened? In that whole structure, there was never a time when it would benefit you to sacrifice poker skills to survive. The object was always to acquire money, using your best skills. Winning a table or a match was never punished. And yet, about the same number of players got paid.

And, so, even though I’m not the interviewer, let me ask the last question: Why not? — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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  1. hi mike this is a great way for tournaments to be played it test your skill and would be played more like a normal ring game yet with the payout of a tournament hope to play in one someday

  2. I have a ideia. Sorry by my poor english. Ideia: posible cash out for each player when a player is eliminated, with max cash out is the smallest stack. I will try to explain with a example. In a 10 player freezeout tournament, buy in $1000 and $1000 in chips, when the first player was eliminated, the smallest stack have $800 in chips. Then, each player should cash out a max of $800 from her chips. What u think about this? Thx for att. Rafael Balestra, a fan from Brasil.

    1. Hi, Rafael —

      Very interesting idea. It would still require varying from normal winning ring-game strategy. So, it wouldn’t be a pure test of traditional poker skills. You’d need to consider how big the small stacks are when making decisions. But it would add a new element of thinking.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  3. this would prove who is best maybe but maybe less weak players would play feeling they don’t have a shot thus reducing money in tournaments .theres a possibility im wrong but im throwing it out there weak players with lots of patience feel we have a chance with current structure of tournaments .

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