OFC Tournaments Reviewed – Part 2 (Aria)

The Second Tournament this Summer was at Aria on July 1st. The $540 buy-in tournament got 87 runners, with a first place prize of $14,557. Here was the structure and rules for the tournament: at Aria:

The staff at Aria clearly took note of what happened at Golden Nugget in regards to some tables being way ahead in levels relative to other tables, and were determined to make sure that such a problem did not happen at their tournament.

Aria decided to institute a rule that after each level (8-handed levels), every table would wait until every other table was done before advancing to the next level. At first, every player was quite relieved that the problems from Golden Nugget were going to be addressed – the problem, however, was that Aria’s rule appeared to be a classic example of an over-correction, and ended up causing an unintended consequence – specifically, that the tournament ended up going on FOREVER.

The tournament started at 5PM and did not end until well into the morning – and it only ended because the final 5 agreed to chop. Many players played well into the night and were still well short of the bubble. Having to wait for that one slow table to finish up had value, but also meant the fast tables ended up waiting at the end of each level for the other tables to finish. Waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Even with 8-handed levels as opposed to 4-handed levels, it ended up becoming just a battle of who was able to maintain focus and concentration with so much downtime and waiting in-between levels.

Further compounding the problem was there was no real way to determine exactly how much longer the people who had finished a Level would have to wait. For example, when I finished Level 2, we were the second to last table to finish – 30 seconds later, we moved to the next level. However, after Level 3, we waited 5 minutes – this was in itself not horrible, but it was unclear whether it would be 30 seconds or 5 minutes. This was the problem. Especially for the fastest tables, they would finish their 8 hands, and then not know if they had enough time to go get food, go to the bathroom, go make a phone call, or whether they just had to sit there because the next level would start within the minute. Waiting 5 minutes when you know it’s 5 minutes is much more tolerable than waiting 5 minutes when you have no idea whether it will be 2 minutes or 10 minutes – specifically because if you know how much time you have, you can figure out what you want to do with said downtime.

That, moreso than the actual waiting, was what frustrated players the most – they had to stand around doing nothing because they didn’t know exactly how much longer the level would go on, because no one could tell them which table was the slowest and what hand they were on. Perhaps if each table had a easily visible scorecard so that the finished players could see where the non-finished tables were at, or perhaps if some of the breaks included a guaranteed extra few minutes – such as “the break will be 2 minutes after the last table finishes”, allowing players to better plan the downtime, then the waiting wouldn’t have been so painful. As it was, players spent many a time in the doldrums, waiting and waiting as the tournament dragged on and on. One never expected to use the word doldrums in a poker tournament review, but nonetheless, it’s absolutely the right word for what happened.

That said, the rule did serve the actual purpose for which it was instituted – the tables stayed at the same level across the board, never jumping ahead or falling behind another table. In this regard, the rule was an astounding success in ensuring a more fair tournament for every player, as no one had to fear being sent to a table way ahead or way behind the level that their previous table had just been at. In that regard, it was perfectly clear that Aria had the right idea, the rule just was too strong and went too far. The concept was clearly a good idea – making the fast tables wait for the slower tables to catch up – it just couldn’t be as often and the waiting times as indeterminate as they were during Aria’s tournament.

Otherwise, the tournament was run amazingly well. The staff did an excellent job, and the dealers were much more knowledgeable about Open Face than the dealers at Golden Nugget. The scoring system was a fairly standard system – trips were progressive, as opposed to 20, and trips in the middle weren’t worth anything, but the basic system of 2/4/6/10/15/25 for the back, double in the middle, and 6s being worth 1 point up to Aces being worth 9 points was in play – none of Golden Nugget’s silly top rules where Tens were 1 point and Jacks 5 points. Also, humorously, when Aria announced that Royalties did not trump (as they did at GN), there was a rousing ovation given by the players (just in case anyone had any thoughts that the players preferred having royalties trumped).

Aria also did a good job making sure they got alternates into the tournament, so that everyone who wanted to had a chance to participate. The staff there deserves a lot of credit, and although the tournament was excessively long, that can be chalked up to over-zealousness by the staff in ensuring that the tables stayed at the same levels to ensure a fair playing field for all. As I’ve noted before, Open Face Tournaments are entirely new, so there will always be hiccups along the way – problems will arise, rules and procedures will be introduced to counter the problems, and sometimes those rules/procedures will have unforeseen consequences that also need to be addressed. Ultimately, people will figure out what works best and the tournaments will get better. Aria’s tournament showed that something should be done to ensure the tables are at similar levels – but whatever that “something” is, it can’t be TOO powerful or TOO strict, as that ends up making the tournament feel like, you guessed it, the doldrums.

Here are two pictures from the tournament: