The Top 5 Issues with Online Tournament Poker in New Jersey

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Tournaments are arguably the purest form of poker. Unlike cash-games, they force participants to effectively adapt to myriad scenarios. Concepts such as ICM, push-fold ranges, and blind structures all play integral roles in MTTs, yet have no place in full ring games.

If run effectively, online tournaments can attract an influx of grinders, many of whom will mix it up on the cash-game tables while they’re waiting. Which is why New Jersey’s iPoker operators should take a good hard look at their MTT schedules, because right now they’re plagued by a collection of crippling flaws.

The following issues reflect my own personal grievances with the Garden State’s online tournaments, and not those of the community at large – although, many of these same sentiments are echoed by members of the Two Plus Two forums.

5. Oh PLO, where art thou?

Between the state’s three top iPoker networks – Party / Borgata, and AAPN (, there are exactly one weekly and three daily tournaments that aren’t of the Hold’em variety, as follows:

  • Party / Borgata – $10 R&A $750 Guaranteed PLO 6-Max (Daily)
  • 888 – $10 buy-in, $250 Guaranteed PLO (Daily)
  • 888 – $10 buy-in, $200 Guaranteed O8 (Daily)
  • WSOP – $27.50 R&A, $2,000 Guaranteed PLO (Weekly)

Slim pickings.

To its credit, Party / Borgata did introduce several non-Hold’em MTTs as part of its upcoming Garden State Super Series, but what kind of turnouts can they realistically expect if new players have little opportunity to acclimate themselves to the game?

Problem is, there’s currently little incentive for operators to host anything other than Hold’em tournaments, as the few they do generally fail to meet their guarantees.

Yet, I’m of the mind that were a non-Hold’em focused promotion be introduced, players hesitant to play PLO or other games might give them a go, with some becoming familiar enough with the format to start playing on a more regular basis.

Taking a small monetary loss now may pay dividends in the future.

4. Party / Borgata’s nightly schedule

What confounds me the most about Party / Borgata’s daily tournament schedule is that despite only offering nine nightly guaranteed tournaments, two of them are $5,000 guaranteed freezeouts with the exact same blind structure, buy-in and starting chip stack – and they’re held only one hour apart.

Yet there are no guaranteed bounties, 6-max Hold’em events or nothing even remotely resembling anything a 6 or 9-max turbo. The complete absence of turbo tournaments is particularly alarming, as “get-in, get-out” formats tend to do well when players have work the next morning.

That being said, the introduction of one $5k guaranteed was an excellent idea, as it allows players that busted the $10k early a second chance.

My suggestions: Keep the 9 pm $5k, eliminate the 8 pm, and replace it with another flagship tournament. I’m sure players distraught over the removal of the exceedingly popular $750 guaranteed bounty would love to see its revival. That’s a good place to start.

Convert the Daily Triple Chance ($10 buy-in plus 2x rebuys) into a turbo and it may start to reach its guarantee more regularly. And round things out with at least one freezeout in the $20 to $30 range.

3.’s R&A fixation

One reason to host re-buy and add-on tournaments is that it allows a small market – such as New Jersey – to support bigger guarantees. From the player’s perspective, R&A’s provide greater value than traditional freezeouts, especially for those who accumulate chips without having to reload the clip.

But they also have their limitations, the primary one being that they force players on a budget into a severe disadvantage, which could ultimately dissuade them from signing up altogether.’s nightly schedule ultimately comes across to me as unimaginative for two reasons.

One, all but one or two of their nightly tournaments are R&A NLHE tournaments. That wouldn’t be so bad if at least three of them didn’t feature the same buy-in and very similar structures, with a fourth only differing in blind length.

And for players committed to enrolling in every guaranteed tournament available, it probably doesn’t matter. But what about the casual grinder, who will be on the constant lookout for high value tournaments?

If given the choice between three nearly identical tournaments, only differing in guaranteed prize pool, which one would you choose: the one with a $1,000 guarantee or a $5,000?

Now if the $5,000 were a bounty, a 6-max or something different, you might consider playing both. Variation is key.

WSOP had the right idea when they introduced a knockout tournament, and they should be commended for keeping things fresh with regular mini-tournament series events.

But as with Party / Borgata, WSOP’s nightly schedule is desperately in need of reform, with fewer R&A’s, a few more nightly MTTs, and less conservative guarantees.

Otherwise, in terms of blind structures, starting stack sizes and payouts, I feel they’re in good shape.

2. 888’s timid approach to guarantees

Here’s what I don’t get about 888 – for a site that seems to have no issue with giving away money in the form of $888 to $5,000 freerolls and is prone to offering cash-game players 50% rakeback or more, why are its tournament guarantees so conservative?

Very few grinders are going to see the appeal of ponying up $20 for a $750 guarantee, or $100 for a $2,000 – simply not going to happen.

The sad thing is that 888 features one of the better tournament schedules in New Jersey. If each of its guarantees were say doubled, the site would undoubtedly lose money initially, but buzz has a way of getting around in small markets, especially if that buzz was combined with tournament leaderboards or an MTT-focused promotion.

1. Party’s payout structure

Topping the list of confounding issues with NJ-based online tournaments is Party / Borgata’s much maligned payout structure. The subject of much scorn since the early days of regulated poker, Party has yet to amend what is probably the primary complaint among the network’s regular players.

The way I see it, there are two main problems.

One, paying 20 percent of the field – especially when there is a long late registration period – is far too many. This encourages players to sign up for tournaments right as late reg is about to close, try and double up quickly and score at least a min cash.

Last time I checked, that wasn’t an optimal way to approach tournament poker.

Worse, is that players who make the final table aren’t receiving a just piece of the prize pool. Again, it’s not as bad as it once was, but there are still tournaments where the jumps between places five through nine are virtually static due to the fact that so many places are paid.

Live tournaments pay out approximately 9 to 11 percent of the field; online typically a bit more. But 20 percent provides little recourse for players who rely on tournament winnings to sustain their lifestyle.

I’m one of many who feel this way.

Final thoughts

Once PokerStars enters New Jersey, other iGaming operators are going to be hard-pressed to survive regulated online poker’s next evolutionary phase.

But should they hope to stay relevant in what will likely become a significantly bigger and more competitive pool, it’s imperative they take a good hard look at their tournament schedules, listen to player feedback, and right the wrongs.

As we saw with 888, any site can run a fire sale promotion and temporarily boost traffic numbers. But it’s their day-to-day operations that will ultimately dictate growth.

- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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