Introduction to Shootout Poker Tournaments

What is a multi table poker tournament shootout structure? A shootout poker tournament is one in which each table plays down to one to three players. The winners of each single table then advances to the next level.

As an example, say a poker tournament had 100 entrants consisting of 10 tables of 10 players. The entry fee is $10. The total prize pool is $1000. In this particular tournament, the top three finishers at each table advance to the next level. The winner at each table receives 1% of the prize pool or $10, second place receives 1/2% or $5 while third place receives nothing but still advances to the next level. Level one ends with 30 of the original 100 players advancing. The 10 table winners are now playing for free, having won back their entry fee.

Level 2 consists of 3 tables of 10 players. Again, the top 3 finishers advance. Each of the 3 table winners receives 2% of the prize pool or $20, second place receives 1% or $10, third place receives nothing but does advance. In the first 2 levels, there is the potential for 26 players to receive some prize money.

In the usual 100 player multi table tournament only 10 players divide up the prize pool.
Nine players now advance to the final table. The payouts are: 1st: 25% ($250), 2nd: 15% ($150), 3rd: 9% ($90), 4th: 7% ($70), 5th: 6% ($60), 6th: 5% ($50), 7th: 4% ($40), 8th: 3% ($30), 9th: 2% ($20).

If a player was able to win at his table at each level, he would win a total of $280. In a typical multi table tournament, first prize would be 30% or $300. The prize payouts are nearly the same but a greater number of players are able to receive a piece of the pie. Under this example of a shootout tournament, 30 players advance with a chance to capture part of 35 payouts, i.e 20 at level one, 6 at level 2, and 9 at the final table.

The beauty of this type of tournament structure is that it brings into play more of the skills necessary to become a truly skilled poker player. These skills are the ability to plays heads up, the ability to play short handed, the ability to read players well , the ability to play very consistently and most importantly, the ability to win.

Current multi table poker tournaments constantly strive to keep nearly full tables as players are eliminated. It is very rare that a table will have less than 7 players before it is refilled by transferring players from other tables. That means that a player never has to play at a short handed table (a short handed table is defined as a table of 5 or 6 players) until reaching the final table. Nor does a player ever have to play heads up against another player in a multi table tournament unless he is one of the two remaining players in the tournament. Without question, the truly skilled poker player knows how to play a short handed table and heads up play very well. But these skills only come into play for those players who make the final table in the current multi table tournament structure. In fact, current multi-table tournament structure favors the player who is able to play well enough to survive and outlast the field. Outlasting the field doesn’t necessarily involve playing optimum poker.

Under the shootout format, the ability to read the player becomes more important. Once the tournament starts you know your other 9 opponents. The ability to recognize tells and betting patterns becomes more important. The ability to attack another player’s weakness becomes easier as the table is slowly whittled down in size. The need to play for hours on end over several days is eliminated. Current multi-table tournaments are akin to running a marathon. A Shootout tournament is more analogous to a 10k run.

In other words, current multi-table tournaments penalize great players like Doyle Brunson or T.J. Cloutier. A person in their 60’s or 70’s can’t be expected to have the stamina to play 10 to 15 hours per day for several days. Such tournaments favor the young. But the 20 something year old player may not be the best player. Under the shootout format, it may take 6 or 8 hours to play down to a single winner if the blinds are increased every hour. The ability to focus, concentrate and play superior poker comes more into play. Age and stamina becomes less of a factor.

The shootout format also benefits the newer player. It gives the newer player more opportunity to play in short handed situations and heads up situations. It also requires all players of any skill level to get better at reading players. Under current multi-table tournament structures, as the blinds begin to rise to larger levels, a strategy of only playing the strongest 8 or 10 starting hands becomes more prevalent. The ability to bluff is greatly reduced when the table is constantly being refilled with new players whose playing style is initially unknown. Less real poker is played as more hands become allin situations in which the luckier two cards prevail.

With a shootout structure, the more skilled player will be able to utilize skills like bluffing or bet size to his/her advantage more often as the table is pared down in size. Each opponents strengths and weaknesses will become more apparent the longer they play against each other. The need to just survive to the money level is eliminated. Under a shootout structure a player has to play to win.

Under current multi-table tournament play, a player may acquire a substantial number of chips due to the quality of players he faced rather than his playing skill. If a player is lucky enough to play against new, weak or maniac players who are willing to throw a lot of chips into a pot, he may build a large stack of chips. However, a better player may have played just as well but faced stronger or more conservative players. His chip stack going into the home stretch may be substantially less even though he has won just as many hands and against better players.

With the shootout format, each player advances with substantially the same number of chips to the next level. Play at the next level starts on a level basis. Consistency and strong play become more important. Moreover, each table at each advancing level fills with strong players since only winners advance. The table is not being filled with players who are managing to just survive.

In summary, I would like to see more shootout tournaments added to the WPT and WSOP tournament schedules, as well as, online poker tournaments because it showcases more poker skills such as heads up play, short handed play, reading skills and consistency. Such tournaments will enable players of all skill levels to develop these skills sooner and better since the shootout format provides more opportunities to test these skills.