Is Juice a Killer?


Juice’s last moments in “Sons of Anarchy”

What if the 2Pair Poker Tour came to Oregon and nobody came?

Well some people came to Eugene for their first excursion outside of California, though not nearly as many as they were hoping for. Their first tournament last Thursday, scheduled for two days, only had 20 entries and played out in one day. The first day of their $880 Championship this weekend—with an expected prize pool of $100,000—only picked up 19 entries on the first of two starting days, and 25 on the second, for a prize pool of just over $34K.

I think there are a lot of reasons for this, but one that’s been bandied about in Facebook comments has been the “high juice” charged by the event. Portland players have gotten used to tournaments where the “social club” door fee is the only money paid to the house. The dealers are unpaid “volunteers” who work for tips from the players who cash in tournaments. They look askance at a tournament (like most of the scheduled 2Pair events) with a $350 buy-in that includes a $10 dealer bonus (not on the structure sheet), a $10 service charge, $40 for administration, and an additional $125 removed from the prize pool for a player of the series award. If they pay $350 total, they expect $340 of it to go to the prize pool, dammit!

I’m not entirely convinced that the juice was the problem with turnout (see below) as opposed to it just being a thing for poker players to bitch about, but the bitching has convinced me that either I’m tipping Portland dealers a lot more than the average, or that Portland players are mathematically-challenged.

2Pair’s first event had 20 entries. $290 of the buy-in went to the prize pool, with $125 taken out of the prize pool going toward the Player of the Series award (a package to a $100,000 guaranteed championship in May). 20 x $290 = $5,800. $5,800 – $125 = $5,625. Three places paid: $2,840 (~50%), $1,700 (~30%), and $1,135 (~20%). That’s $281.25 into the prize pool for each entry.

Let’s compare two tournaments. Both have 20 entries. Both have prize pools of $5,625. Both pay three places 50%/30%/20%. In Tournament J, you pay $350, with $281.25 going into the prize pool. In Tournament T, you pay $291.25, with $10 as your door fee, and if you cash, you pay a tip.

Now, I’ve been derided by colleagues of being unusually generous with my tournament tipping in Portland. I’ve given 10% at pretty much all levels, including my first big win, when the guy who took second place just dropped $20 for his $3,000 cash. From observation and asking around, that seems to be pretty standard in smaller tournaments around town, although the amount on big tournaments is reportedly less, and can be greatly impacted if one of the top cashers is particularly stingy, as my opponent was.

In the table below, I’ve worked up numbers for a few variations of tip levels. It shows both 10% and 5%, where you either pay the tip based on the entire prize or just on the difference between the prize and buy-in.

 20th to 4th Place Finish
(wins $0)
3rd Place Finish
(wins $1,135)
2nd Place Finish
(wins $1,700)
1st Place Finish
(wins $2,840)
Tournament J (cost $350)result: $350 loss
(-100% ROI)
result: $785 profit
(+224% ROI)
result: $1,350 profit
(+386% ROI)
result: $2,490 profit
(+711% ROI)
Tournament T10Z (cost $291.25) + 10% prize for tipresult: $291.25 loss
(-100% ROI)
result: $843.75 - $115 tip = $728.75 profit
result: $1,408.75 - $170 tip = $1,238.75 profit
result: $2,548.75 - $285 tip = $2,268.75 profit
Tournament T10P (cost $291.25) + 10% (prize-cost) for tipresult: $291.25 loss
(-100% ROI)
result: $843.75 - $85 tip = $758.75 profit
result: $1,408.75 - $140 tip = $1,268.75 profit
result: $2,548.75 - $255 tip = $2,293.75 profit
Tournament T05Z (cost $291.25) + 5% prize for tipresult: $291.25 loss
(-100% ROI)
result: $843.75 - $57.50 tip = $786.25 profit
result: $1,408.75 - $85 tip = $1,323.75 profit
result: $2,548.75 - $142.50 tip = $2406.25 profit
Tournament T05P (cost $291.25) + 5% (prize-cost) for tipresult: $291.25 loss
(-100% ROI)
result: $843.75 - $42.50 tip = $801.25 profit
result: $1,408.75 - $70 tip = $1,338.75 profit
result: $2,548.75 - $127.50 tip = $2,421.25 profit
Tournament T0 (cost $291.25) + stiff the dealersresult: $291.25 loss
(-100% ROI)
result: $843.75 profit
result: $1,408.75 profit
result: $2,548.75 profit

The first thing to note is that if you’re playing in a Portland club and you stiff the dealers, you do, of course, make more money, though you might find yourself somewhat unwelcome. In every spot, you make a whopping $59 in absolute value. That translates to less than 8% of the profit of the 3rd place finisher in Tournament J.

In fact, unless you are stiffing the dealers, in absolute dollar value, you’re better off playing Tournament J than any of the T tournaments, because everyone else who entered the tournament has helped pay the tournament cost before you collect your prize.

“But Poker Mutant,” I hear you say, “haven’t you been ragging on about ROI for, like, forever?” This is very true, your break-even ITM for median cashes in tournaments of this size goes from just under 21% in Tournament J down to 17% if you’re Stiffy McStifferson in Tournament T0. The difference there is small enough that I don’t think all of the whining about the juice is warranted. And if you’re one of the people who claims ROI doesn’t matter, then the fact that the dollar payoff is higher makes worries about juice at the 20% level 2Pair was charging just silly. What’s going on is that everyone else is paying the money you’d tip in Portland up front.

Personally, I hope that 2Pair doesn’t take the small turnout to heart. It’s the holiday season, people are busy with a lot of stuff. Don’t schedule the event during the only break people have between the West Coast WSOP Circuit stops, the Wildhorse Fall Round-Up, an HPT event in Vegas, and Christmas. At least not in Eugene. Portland could sustain a week’s worth of $340-$400 buy-in tournaments, but there obviously weren’t enough local players in Eugene to keep it up, and if people are going to have to travel, they’re going to want to know the games are definitely going to run and that the payoff is going to be worth their time. I think that was more of an issue for the turnout than the juice. The materials looked great, the livestream was nice after they got the technical issues worked out (I’m watching WSOP icon Lon McEachern and Portland’s Liz Tedder on the Championship final table as I write this). Kudos to them for a nice try.