The Top Up Turbo at the 2016 WSOP Is a Great Idea Gone Wrong

Steve Ruddock : June 3rd, 2016

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It’s no secret I’m a big fan of the melding of online and live poker. But it has to be done right, and when you’re taking a bold leap forward every possible scenario has to be weighed and thought through. Reason being, the poker world is a hyper-critical place, where every misstep, every failure to consider, is magnified as it’s dissected and debated by a segment of the population that is analytical and used to reducing complicated matters into binary decisions.

* this article has been updated to include the live Top Up Turbo Sit & Go’s available at the Rio.

Had the World Series of Poker done a better job weighing the ramifications of an altogether new format, Event #4, the Top Up Turbo, they may have found it wanting. The issue with the Top Up Turbo likely goes unnoticed at first glance, but believe me, once the poker world gets a whiff of it, it will dominate 2+2 and social media.

Here’s the problem as I see it.

The Top Up Turbo is a $1,000 No limit Holdem event with a starting stack of 5,000 chips. The tournament also offers players two options to increase their starting stack to 10,000 chips:

  • Option 1: Purchase an additional 5,000 chips for $1,000.
  • Option #2: Place first, second, or third in a $55 Top Up Turbo Sit & Go at WSOP.com or live at the Rio. The Top Up Turbo S&G’s are 10-man tournaments with standard prize-pool structures – the capability to receive an additional 5,000 chips in Event #4 is simply an added bonus for the three players who cash.

If you haven’t caught on to the underlying issue, let me make it clear.

Imagine if instead of playing in an online tournament, anyone purchasing Monster Headphones in the Rio lobby the week before the tournament was given extra chips?

Or, better yet, imagine if WSOP.com ran a promotional satellite offering 10 Main Event seats, but instead of the $100,000 worth of entry fees being added to the prize-pool of the Main Event, the players were just seated at the tables?

This is essentially what is being done in the Turbo Top Up, only instead of giving away a free seat, they are giving away a free add-on.

The Top Up Turbo structure effectively offers an add-on at the start of the event, but some people have been awarded the add-on because of a previous, unrelated-to-the-prize-pool purchase. These additional chips just appear, and there isn’t a corresponding increase to the tournament’s prize-pool to account for them.

In a normal online satellite the buy-ins from the participants are used to purchase the seats to the larger tournament, increasing the number of entries and the prize-pool. The Top Up Turbo online S&G’s have the opposite impact; instead of bolstering the main tournament’s prize-pool they are detracting from it.

What seems like a really interesting way to drive traffic online, and at the same time, entice online players to register for Event #4 at the 2016 WSOP, also creates a not so small problem, as the unpaid for extra chips coming from the online players greatly impact a player’s equity in the tournament.

If everyone is aware of the inherent disadvantage a player is at if they don’t qualify for a Top Up online there wouldn’t be an issue. But I don’t think this is the case.

A simplified model of the Top Up Turbo

For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume the Top Up Turbo is a single table Sit & Go with a standard payout table of 50%, 30%, and 20%. And to simplify everything even further I’m going to pretend the tournament is rake free.

Assuming we have 10 equally skilled players:

  • five of whom qualified for the Top Up online;
  • three paid the extra $1,000 for the Top Up;
  • and two rejected the Top Up.

Here’s how their equity breaks down for the $13,000 prize-pool (10 buy-ins, plus three players paying an extra $1,000 for a Top Up):

  • The players who received an online Top Up: Paid $1,000 to win $1,518 for a net of +$518
  • The players who purchased additional chips: Paid $2,000 to win $1,518 for a net of -$482
  • The players who rejected the additional chips: Paid $1,000 to win $790 for a net of -$210

When you consider the implications, it makes zero senseĀ  to play this event if you haven’t qualified for a Top Up online.

Actually, since the online Top Up S&G’s are raked, the GTO play is for all the players considering playing in Event #4 to collude against the WSOP, resulting in no one playing in an online Top Up S&G, and either no one or everyone purchasing additional chips.

Bottom line

I do not envy the WSOP having to deal with players who are unaware of the mechanics of this event, and I can imagine many an irate player when they learn some people received the extra chips at the start of the event without the WSOP adding another $1,000 to the prize-pool (or $900 when you account for the rake).

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