How do you play rebuy tournaments? Part One
The Rebuy Tournament is the mainstay of cardroom action around the world for the average Joe. These days, large festival tournaments are restricted to freezeouts (one stack of chips and thats it) or double-chance options (half your stack at the beginning – half later), or even the occasional one rebuy (or top-up) option event. Things changed a little this year as The World Series of Poker 2007 had 5 rebuy events out of a total of 55, up from 3 of 45 the previous year. Thats not by chance; it’s because the professional advisors saw the popularity of these events and more so the value in them as players.
The beauty of the rebuy format for the smart poker player (or Bigger Deal reader as we like to call them), is that all your hard worked-out freezeout strategy is perfectly valid in a rebuy tournament, after the rebuys have finished. Its the bit before the final rebuy that has even the best players divided as to the correct strategy. Or, I should say, strategies.
Making things more complicated, when analysing the rebuy format, are a set of variables such as the entry fee, the length of buy-in time, the initial chip stack, the ante level (or blinds), the average chip stack, the venue and the number of runners. Making things easier is the widespread use of tournament display screens and efficient software in brick-house cardrooms with all the information you would have online.
There’s a lot going on in these things but I hope to show the path through the maze, for some at least.
First, to rebuy, or not to rebuy.
The only thing you have to contemplate when considering a rebuy is whether your equity in the tournament will be more than the rebuy value. If it is then do so, if not, don’t. That’s easier said than done so getting some rules in your head before playing can save you money and make it a value event – after all, value is what we want.
Let’s start with chip stack and ante level (or blinds) as these two are related. In some events the blind levels increase during the rebuy period. If the big blind gets bigger than one tenth of your new stack then it’s time to quit the event. You simply don’t have enough chips to reduce the number of players when you really want to get heads up. More so, when you do connect you are unlikely to have enough in front of you to make it pay. That one was easy.
Entry fee and the venue are also related. Its not so obvious but where you are playing determines what sort of people will enter the tournament and how much spare cash they have. Hopefully you are playing tournaments with lots of regular guys and dolls who have real jobs and to whom money has real value. I have found over the last 15 years that aggressive rebuy tactics (coming from most players in the event) occur when the entry price is about one tenth of their weekly spending money. At that level, rebuys seem to average about 3 per person (including top-ups etc). The same group playing at half the entry level buy-in average 5 times and at twice the entry level about 1.8 times (e.g.: £/$ 20, 10, 40).
Where there is uniformly aggressive buying in, that is your chance. Many of these people are chasing the money they have already buried and are buying in when it’s past the time to quit. These are the events you should be playing in. More on this later.
Some venues use rebuy windows that are just too long, and this is a trap. Of course you can win with "a chip and chair" but that’s not a license to pay good money to find out whether it will come true for you. If the average stack has past the level of three times the rebuy stack, then you have to be up against some real muppets to purchase a new stack. Otherwise, don’t. If it’s past four, then quit.
The number of players in an event is not so important as you can only play on one table at a time, and they are generally self regulating. Thus if you have your set of rules in place, the rest will take care of itself. One thing to remember is that the table you find yourself on may well ‘under-buy’ the average for the event as a whole. Don’t get fooled by a low average chip stack at your table.
The top-up is another annoying question for players to answer. Once again the real question is : Will your extra twenty bucks worth of chips make you worth more than twenty bucks in equity?. The answer is almost never except for a few circumstances.
When you have a really low buy-in rate, say around one per person, then the average stack will be around the two buy-in level. If you have below average chips then a top-up will guarantee all your hands getting full value and that you have the ability to play in the style you have adopted. Further to this, many of the players will respond to the generally low and equal stack-size and so take the top-up. Unless your stack is large, go with them.
Also, when you have about 7-8 big blinds and a top-up will take you into the 13 or more zone, then it’s not a bad thing. These are narrow windows so it’s not going to happen often.
And so onto the entry level. I have seen many players over the years participating in events that are completely the wrong size for them. Maybe their local venue has a once-a-month event that has a buy-in five times their normal level. If you can’t afford to buy in when it’s necessary, then you have given the advantage to those around you. Just don’t play. You want to get value, not give it. Likewise, when dropping down in size, players tend to ignore the value of the money and all hope of good decision-making goes out of the window. Again, don’t play.
Finally, if you find the rebuy event to be little more than a freezeout because everyone is playing tight and in a well-disciplined manner, then it’s no longer offering you value. There’s always another tournament around the corner, or even online. The online world offers more choice, but you have to expend effort locating that easily affordable tournament, yet not too small, that has 3 or more rebuys on average. The best advice is to watch some in action, not least for the information telling you how long 600 players take to find a winner. It might be a bit too long for you – and if it is, then that is just more pressure on your decision-making.
Now of course I hear people saying that these rules don’t fit into the different playing strategies that they or the really top players exhibit. Wrong, say I, and in the next part I’ll explain why three really different styles can all adopt the same rules.
Good hunting, Horatio.