PokerStars has released the official schedule for its fifth annual Turbo Championship of Online Poker (TCOOP), to be held over the course of eleven days from Thursday, January 21 to Sunday, January 31.
Of the site’s three major annual series – the others being the Spring (SCOOP) and World (WCOOP) Championships of Online Poker – TCOOP is the most geared towards recreational players, with relatively low buy-ins and, of course, fast structures to allow for participation by players unable to commit the time required to participate in the other series. Given that PokerStars’s stated strategy for 2016 is to focus on recreational players, then, we’d expect this year’s TCOOP to take previous years’ schedules to an even greater extreme, and indeed that’s what we see.
In my experience, recreational players tend to prefer to play the familiar No-Limit Hold’em than to learn new formats, yet enjoy tournaments that seem special in some way – i.e. those with some minor twist. They also of course like the possibility of winning a huge prize on a small buy-in, which often means rebuys, phase tournaments and the like. Finally, they like to have multiple ways to win, which usually means knockout formats.
With all that in mind, let’s see how this year’s schedule breaks down. To allow for easy searching and sorting, I entered all the events into a Google spreadsheet, broken down by game, buy-in, speed, whether the table size is full (the maximum for the game in question) or short, whether there’s any sort of multiple entry, whether there’s any knockout mechanic, and whether there is any sort of other gimmick.
If you want to look at the spreadsheet yourself, you can find it HERE.
Hold’em: 32/50 (64%)
Omaha and Variants: 11/50 (22%)
Other Games: 5/50 (10%)
Mixed Events: 2/50 (4%)
The TCOOP schedule is, as expected, very heavy on No-Limit Hold’em events, which make up about two-thirds of the tournaments on offer. This isn’t particularly different from other series; last fall’s WCOOP schedule, for instance, was 63% Hold’em, i.e. nearly identical. Most of the rest, however, consists of Omaha and its variants – five tournaments each of Omaha Hi and Omaha Hi/Lo, plus one Five-Card Omaha Hi.
The only non-flop based games on offer are the three Stud variants (Stud Hi, Stud Hi/Lo and Razz) and the two No-Limit Single Draw variants (2-7 Lowball and Draw Hi). The two mixed events are the usual HORSE and 8-Game.
Buy-ins and multiple entries
No Multiple Entry (33/50 – 66%)
Under $82: 2/33 (6%)
$82: 13/33 (40%)
$215: 12/33 (36%)
Over $215: 6/33 (18%)
Rebuy / Re-Entry / Phase (17/50 – 34%)
$7.50: 3/17 (18%)
$27: 4/17 (24%)
$82: 5/17 (29%)
$109: 1/17 (6%)
$215: 4/17 (24%)
Of the events with only a single entry, which make up about two-thirds of the series, the buy-ins are mostly split evenly between $82 and $215. There are only two lower buy-in events, the lowest of which also happens to be one of the crazier events on the schedule: a 4-Max Zoom Progressive Super-Knockout, which should be enough to get anyone’s heart rate up despite the relatively low stakes. For the buy-ins above $215, we have the $530 8-Game and $2100 High-Roller, plus four $700 No-Limit Hold’em events, which includes the Main Event.
Buy-ins are much more spread out for the events which allow multiple entries, largely because these include a fairly wide variety of formats, some which lead to more buy-ins per player than others. The three $7.50 events, for instance, consist of two 3x-Turbos and one 4x-Turbo (a new, and frankly ridiculous idea), either of which can easily have players buying in ten times or more, while the four $215 events are comparatively more sober: two Optional Re-Entry, one “1R1A” (one rebuy, one add-on) and one standard rebuy.
Overall, the median buy-in for the series is $82, which is still a lot for many recreational players, but not out of reach particularly with satellites running.
Standard Turbo: 41/50 (82%)
2x/3x/4x/Hyper: 9/50 (18%)
It’s somewhat surprising that the schedule features so few of the faster formats, but this is likely a matter of value for money. After all, the weekly $215 Sunday Supersonic hyper-turbo is one of the sharkiest events on the site; although recreational players enjoy microstakes hyper-turbos, they may want to expect more than 20 or 30 minutes of playtime on average when they’re shelling out larger sums.
Full: 28/50 (56%)
Short: 22/50 (44%)
Here we have another surprise, in that short-handed tables are usually seen as better for professionals than for amateurs, because they force a greater degree of aggression. And yet, we see nearly an even split between full table and short-handed play. I see two reasons for this.
The first is that, with the exception of Fixed-Limit Omaha Hi/Lo and Heads-Up Pot-Limit Omaha, all of the Omaha events are 6-Max. This makes sense, as 6-Max is a much more popular format for Omaha than it is for Hold’em, even among recreational players. Players have consistently been asking PokerStars to change full-ring Omaha events to 6-Max in the various tournament series over the years, and now they’ve gone whole hog and done away with the full-ring events entirely.
The second reason is that, as we’re about to see, there are a number of Progressive Knockout events on the schedule, all but two of which are short-handed. Short-handed play makes sense for this format, regardless of whether we’re thinking about pros or recreational players. Professional players prefer Progressive Knockouts to be short-handed because it allows greater opportunity to seek out bounties through skill rather than hoping to pick up a big hand at the right time; meanwhile, amateur players tend to be overly aggressive early on in bounty tournaments in general, and switching to a smaller table size makes this less of an error for them and possibly even a good adjustment.
No Knockout: 41/50 (82%)
PSKO/PUKO: 9/50 (18%)
There are no regular Knockout or Super-Knockout events this year, but there are multiple Progressive Super-Knockouts and even a couple of newly-introduced Progressive Ultra-Knockouts. Both feature the “progressive” mechanic in which half of a player’s bounty goes to the eliminating player’s account, while the other half gets added to the latter’s own bounty, ballooning the value of knocking others out as the tournament progresses.
In the case of the standard Super-Knockouts, half of a player’s buy-in goes to their starting bounty and the other half into the standard prize pool. With the Progressive Ultra-Knockouts, it’s a whopping 75% going to the bounty and only 25% into the prize pool. Even in a Progressive Super-Knockout, it’s very often the case that a player’s winnings from bounties exceeds their cash for finish position; the Ultra-Knockout format means this will be the case for nearly everyone, so it’ll be interesting to see how those play out.
No Gimmick: 39/50 (78%)
Gimmick (see below): 11/50 (22%)
There are a number of other gimmicks which appear on the schedule once or twice each: Shootout, Zoom, Big Antes, Ante Up, Deep Stack, Ultra-Deep Stack and 10-Stack. In total, these account for about a fifth of the series. The most notable thing here is that last year’s experiment – the Ultra-Deep stack event, which I played and wrote about at the time – seems to have been a success, as there are two to be had this year.
Abnormal is normal
Looking at the breakdown in each of these categories on its own, it may seem like the TCOOP schedule is not all that quirky. After all, Hold’em events outnumber all other games, single-entry events outnumber multiple entries, regular turbos outnumber faster formats, full table games outnumber short-handed, non-knockouts outnumber knockouts, and no-gimmicks outnumber gimmicks.
However, when you put all these things together, what you come up with is that there are almost no “normal” events on the schedule. There are, in total, only five events which are full-ring, single-entry, turbo No-Limit Hold’em with no additional twists, and of those five, three feature abnormal buy-ins: a $33 Saturday Speedway Special Edition, the $700 Main Event, and the $2100 High-Roller. Additionally, the latter two of those also have deeper-than-normal starting stacks due to their special status, so they can’t really be counted as “ordinary” events anyway.
What that leaves is Events #4 and #44 (both $82 buy-ins) as the only straightforward events with a typical buy-in on the schedule. When you look at it that way, it’s clear why the response from the forums community (largely made up of online pros) has been that this year’s schedule seems absurdly heavy on the gambling and the gimmicks. But that’s the whole point; those players still have their WCOOP in the fall (and the option to play the high-tier SCOOP events in the spring). This series is more about fun and potential upside than it is about ROI… and it looks fun enough that it might bring me out of retirement to play an event or two.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
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