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The Merits of a Casino Poker League

CASINO LEAGUES – HOW TO CONTINUE THE MOMENTUM

Over the last few years, with the emergence of more card rooms and greater number of Poker competitions, Poker in the community is becoming a very popular pastime. To promote themselves, casinos throughout the United Kingdom have been running so called "Poker Leagues".

The leagues are, in general, all run in the same manner,


  1. The league runs over a set period
  2. Points are awarded for attending the competition
  3. Bonus points are also awarded, usually to the finalists, on the position you attain in the competition on a sliding scale from first to tenth – 1st gets the most points etc.
  4. At the end of the stated period of the league, a final is then held between, say, the top ten finishers, where they then play a one off game for the prize on offer. The prizes are generally provided by the casino, and usually consists of the first prize being that of a small car, and cash provided to the runner up and third place.
These leagues, in principal are an excellent idea. They not only promote the casino in a good light, but also attract many people into the casinos whom would not ordinarily attend. These people maybe in the form of new players who are attracted by the opportunity of winning a car, or established players, playing in competitions that they would not normally play in. This has a healthy, although temporary, effect on the game. The numbers of players are increased, the prize fund is greater, new players are being attracted, and people are getting the chance to play with some of the more experienced players, which allows them the benefit of watching some of the different techniques and styles of play. Looking at attendance’s in Blackpool Grosvenor casino, the Sunday £5 competition has gone from an average number of players 55 [prize fund £1,810] to 93 [prize fund £2,550] since the introduction of the league, and the Monday night game has also showed a similar trend, from 40 players [£2,100 prize fund] to 71 players [£3,770 prize fund].

The question for the casino’s and the poker community, is, how do you continue the momentum that the league has generated. How do you keep new players interested, and how do you attract the established players to attend the smaller competitions.

To continue the good support from both parties – casino and players, we have to look at the structure of the league, and also what drives people to want to play poker on a regular basis. The leagues in general are not representative of who the best players are, they place far too much emphasis on attending the competition, rather than the position that you finish. The points awarded do not take account of other aspects that should be considered, for example, you would in theory achieve the same points for winning a £5 competition with 30 people, as for winning a £1000 competition with 150 people. Clearly the difference in difficulty in winning these two competitions is vast. The reverse of this, is that it not fair on people who cannot afford to play in these more expensive competitions, to be excluded from attaining points in what is supposed to be a level playing field for all. Somehow, a compromise must be found. This takes us back to the other part of this topic, what drives people to play poker on a regular basis. Generally poker players can be split into the following categories; novice, casual player, internet player - turning to live games, seasoned player, semi-professional and professional. In most of these categories, people want to play, enjoy themselves, and most importantly – win.

Over time, the best players are judged by how much money they win, and how many tournaments they win, not on how many tournaments that they actually played. It is a strange occurrence that is unique to the poker leagues that they are more likely to be won by someone who attends the most games rather than wins the most games. It is like West Ham United winning the premiership at football, because they played a game every day and ended up with 200 points over the league period, where as Chelsea and Manchester United only ended up with 100 points because they could only play half as many games as West Ham due to playing on a European and World Stage. The players who play in the league should all want the same thing, and that is a format that allows them to compare themselves to others and challenge each other as to whom is the best player over a period of time. To support this, the casino has to be involved, however, to expect the casino to offer a prize pool in the region of £15,000 - £20,000 every time a league is run is unfair. If the numbers continued to grow because of the league involvement, then this is a benefit to the casino, and as such I am sure that they would be prepared to play some part in the prize fund. However, a self-sustained league format must be developed, but run under the casino supervision, but essentially funded by the poker community themselves.

In looking at finding a fair way to hold a league, the following points are essential

  1. All participants have an equal chance of winning the major prize
  2. Points are awarded on prize money attained - this would then take into account the number of players playing the tournament
  3. A minimum number of events must be played in the period to enable players to qualify for winning the major prize.
  4. A maximum number of events are to be taken into consideration – this is to allow for players not being able to attend all competitions
If we take the current league at Blackpool Grosvenor Casino as a typical example, these leagues are played over 105 days, during the period 27th June 2005 to 9th October 2005. The following prizes are on offer to the winners of each of the play-offs, for their respective leagues.
  • Division One – a mini cooper, MP3 player and a portable DVD player
  • Division Two – 42” Plasma screen, MP3 player and a portable DVD player
  • Division Three – Laptop Computer, MP3 player and a portable DVD player
  • Division Four – Digital Camcorder, MP3 player and a portable DVD player
To play in all of these competitions, it would cost you in the region of £2000 plus the £200 for the casino rake, this does not include any amount of buy-ins or top ups. If you assume that to play in all of the events, and under the current format, this would give you the greatest chance of winning the main prize, it will cost approximately £5000 if you only bought in and topped up an average of 2.5 times per competition. For some people the cost will be considerably higher, and if you took this as an annual figure it would mean spending around £15,000 a year playing poker. To an average working person, this figure is too high to enable them to compete with more affluent people and professional poker players. This after all is the whole purpose for having the leagues, and that is to maintain the current popularity of the game.

The way I would propose to run the leagues, meeting the four criteria above, is as follows, and again uses the current Blackpool Grosvenor Casino league as an example.
The people who finish 1st and 2nd in the following respective leagues will play the final. All points are based upon the amount of money that a player collects in prize money [deals if allowed, must be taken into consideration]

  1. £5 Competition League – of which there are approximately 14 competitions – to qualify you must play a minimum of 10, and only a maximum of 12 competition results are taken into account.
  2. £10 Competition League – of which there are approximately 29 competitions – to qualify you must play a minimum of 20, and only a maximum of 24 competition results are taken into account
  3. £20 and £30 Competition League – of which there are approximately 28 competitions – to qualify you must play a minimum of 20, and only a maximum of 24 competition results are taken into account
  4. £50 and above Competition League – of which there are approximately 13 competitions – to qualify you must play a minimum of 6, and only a maximum of 10 competition results are taken into account
  5. Overall League – of which there are approximately 84, this would be a total prize money league, for all competitions, and there is no minimum and maximum competitions taken into account for this.
The leagues are open to anyone to play in, and you can attempt to qualify through more than one league. However, some thought would have to be given if a person qualified through more than one league, I think a reasonable argument is that you could only qualify once, and the people who finished behind you in the respective leagues, would play off against each other for the final place.

The grand final, which could be marketed in a very favourable way for both the casino and poker community, would be made up, probably, with people from various backgrounds and abilities, all competing for the major prize, of say the car. The prizes that are on offer in the current league would then be presented to all of the finalists in respective of their finishing order in the final.

This type of format should also encourage people to compete on a regular basis, in all competitions throughout the year or period of the league. It allows people to play in as many competitions as they feel comfortable, knowing that they may improve on their current best 10 finishes for example in the £50 and above league, but it also allows those people with a limited bankroll, to at least play in 6 of the competitions to try to enable themselves the chance of qualification. I also think it would help to curb the amount of dealing that currently happens at the final tables, as if you sat with an opponent that is close behind you in the league, then you would be better of attempting to knock him out than split the prize fund with him.

To address the point in regards to a self-funding prize structure, the casino would collect a fixed fee of £5 per person, per competition. The chart below itemises the breakdown of the competitions at Blackpool Grosvenor Casino for a random week.

 BuyinCasinoDayRunnersPrize Fund
 101Mon793950
 505Tue588250
 101Fri1205920
 202Sat918160
 50.5Sun1002605
 303Sun686000
Total12512.5051634885

Taking the 516 total players, not all people may wish to contribute to the league system, for example they may be visiting the town for only one week. Therefore, taking an arbitrary figure that assumed 80% of people were interested in playing, 412 players would contribute £5 each, which would total a prize fund of £2,060 per week, and using the current 15 week league format, a quite staggering £30,000 prize fund at the end of the period. The maximum total that an individual would pay into the fund in a week, if they played in all competitions, is £30.

If the casino then wished to add something to this fund as an added bonus, then quite clearly the prizes on offer would be substantial, and I think that the current euphoric feeling in the poker community would and could be carried forward throughout the years ahead.

To use this format could also, in time, allow the various casinos around the UK to run a national wide league under similar conditions to the current national competition, where each casino holds a £100 satellite competitions, which the winners play of in a grand final at Walsall. Each casino could run their own leagues, and the prize fund would be added to that from all the casinos around the country, and people would qualify and play in a Mega final.

In general terms, the poker community is thriving, new people are coming into the game in vast numbers, and what we must do, and it is in everyone’s interests, is keep people interested in the game, and keep the games interesting to play in.

Chris "SpuddyD" Flint


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