Sweet Spot

The following is a message based on payout structures from the Venetian Deepstack Extravaganza series (this PDF is no longer on the Venetian web site, the link goes to the invaluable archive.org).

Everyone likes to maximize their money, and the conventional wisdom says: “More entries, more money.” But as we know from brutal experience, we don’t always win the top prize. How do you make the most of your tournament dollar? Plan for the average.

Obviously, if you don’t make the money at all, you’re a loser. But if you do make the cash, what can you expect to make, on the average? Field size has a lot to do with that.

While the money up top is always great, looking at payout structures like the Venetian’s makes clear that there’s a “sweet spot” in tournament size for anyone who cashes on a regular basis.

This chart shows the minimum, median, and maximum payout from a single full table to 200 players based on every $100 per player in the prize pool.

Number of Entrants
(min% / med% / max%)
Minimum PayoutsMedian PayoutsMaximum Payouts
(20 / 30 / 50)
(7 / 20 / 35)
(3.8 / 7 / 32)
(2 / 4.5 / 30)
(1.6 / 2.7 / 27)

Or, graphically:


What’s being represented here? Specifically, it’s the bounds of the smallest possible cash (someone who beats 90% of the field) in red, the person who beats 100% of the field (minus themselves, of course) in purple, and the person who makes it halfway through the cash by beating 95% of the field (in green). There is, of course, variation in payout structures, but there is always a point at which the maximum prize begins to exponentially outstrip the median. In the case of the Venetian Deepstack structure, that shift happens at 60 players, when the median value goes from nearly 60% of the maximum payout to a mere quarter of the max. In the zone between 30 and 59 entries, the median payout is almost three times the minimum cash, in the next zone, it’s only double. In the last zone represented in these charts, the median cash is just 10% of the maximum, and only 160% of the min-cash.

Playing tournaments with 4 to 7 tables then becomes a quantity game, with maximum prizes from just under 900-1900% profit and median cashes of around 500-1000% profit. For players with and ITM of 20%, those size games should be good targets.