Monday, March 23, 2009

For the Record (Thoughts on Tracking Tournament Winnings)

Mike Matusow's cashes at the 2008 WSOPYesterday I happened to be hunting around over on Hendon Mob looking up players’ stats. That’s the comprehensive, quite reliable site that compiles poker tournament winnings and presents them in a way where one can quickly see a player’s cashes, overall earnings, year-to-year stats, and so forth. Nearly 100,000 players are listed there.

Came across one dude’s totals and when I saw his lifetime earnings had one of those “yeah, but” moments as I wondered just how many tourneys he’d actually entered. I started to think about how it would be interesting for someone to compile statistics that included the number of tourneys a person had played, thus providing some added context to the number of cashes and total winnings.

I mean, the way it looks over on Hendon Mob, everyone is winning and no one is losing. All cashes, no fees.

Was pondering this one a bit more as the day wore on. I thought that while it would be improbable to expect all tournaments everywhere to make available complete lists of entrants to a site like Hendon Mob, perhaps the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour could handle such a thing with regard to their respective series of tournaments.

If the WSOP began keeping track of all entrants this way, they could compile databases such as one finds on and its associated sites. Those guys keep track of everything everyone does it seems, including cuts made, scoring average, driving distance, greens in regulation, how they did on par threes, and so on.

If all entrants in poker tourneys were tracked, the WSOP could (say) for a given year show us who had the best ROI (return on investment) percentage, who did best in the higher buy-in events, who had the most cashes per entry, and the like. And eventually statistics could be compared from year to year, adding further information to consider when debating players’ relative abilities.

Later in the day I listened to Mike Matusow interviewed over on the Wise Hand Poker podcast (the 3/18/09 episode), and coincidentally he spoke to Wise about how in his opinion he had “the best year in the history of poker” in 2008, even though “nobody really wants to put it on record and say what kind of year [he] had.”

According to Matusow, he played in 21 tourneys, cashed in 11, made five final tables, and won one, Event No. 18 at the 2008 WSOP, the $5,000 No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven Draw w/Rebuys event. (By the way, that picture above lists Matusow’s 2008 WSOP cashes.) “Nobody realizes I only played 21 tournaments... when most people play a hundred,” he added.

Of course, 11 cashes looks impressive, anyway. But out of 21 tourneys -- if that’s accurate, well that is fairly special.

At first I thought Matusow was implicitly supporting this idea I had about keeping track of folks’ entries in order to produce stats which more closely indicated how well players were performing.

Then I realized -- what a horrible idea. Why?

Because the publication of such information, while perhaps satisfying fans’ curiosity, would likely have a detrimental effect on the players. And the tournaments, too. The WSOP or WPT would have little to gain, I would think, from showing all of its players (and the rest of the world) exactly how much they’ve lost over the course of their respective series. Could possibly discourage some from entering tourneys, even. In any event, I can’t really see how it would help.

A remarkable SharkScope graphOf course, sites like SharkScope (where the graph on the left representing one player’s stats appears) have made the publication of such information about players’ performances in online multi-table tourneys and sit-n-gos a significant part of that world, with players routinely looking up their opponents’ stats which do not hide the number of times they failed to cash. (SharkScope focuses on SNGs, while other sites provide similar info regarding MTTs.) I don’t suppose those sites have negatively affected the popularity of MTTs and SNGs -- in fact, one could perhaps argue they have added to their popularity (?) -- but I think the story for live tournament poker is considerably different.

Such are among the many special considerations those who wish to market poker as a sport -- particularly the professional tourney circuit -- have to keep in mind. The fact that most players pay their own way (aside from the lucky few whose sponsors pay their entry fees) means they cannot be treated the same as, say, those who secure PGA Tour cards or who qualify for the Sunday NASCAR races.

So it isn’t just that “nobody really wants to put it on record” how Matusow did last year. Nobody wants to put it on record how anybody did, I think. Not really.

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Blogger Gadzooks64 said...

"You want the truth?"

"You can't handle the truth!"

Amen, brother.

It's a cold harsh reality how few people can actually make a living playing tournament poker. It's a brutal, brutal reality.

That doesn't mean it's not fun for the recreational player to try but fact is that it's a soul crushing adventure. Losing repeatedly can crush your psyche. It takes a very special person to play poker successfully, and an even stronger person to succeed at tournament poker.

3/23/2009 10:08 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Interesting point, 'Zooks. Kind of suggests that the goal of becoming a professional tourney player -- something many realize is probably not really attainable but many others nonetheless pursue -- is kind of an elaborate bluff.

3/23/2009 12:01 PM  
Blogger F-Train said...

Ever since I first started playing in a regular hoome tournament with the same group of 30ish people back in 2003, I have been an opponent of tournament leaderboards that track the types of stats you mention. It's precisely because the losers were about to see how much they were losing (as was everyone else!) and soon either their pride or their wallet or both dictated to them that they should stop playing.

3/23/2009 2:02 PM  
Blogger Kevin Mathers said...


Harrah's keeps track of everyone's play at the WSOP since they started requiring people to have a Total Rewards card, which I believe was either 2005 or 2006.

3/23/2009 8:16 PM  
Blogger Kevin Mathers said...

Also, the WPT for a period of time hired STATS, Inc. to keep stats for them. I believe they got rid of them as a cost cutting measure, but some of those stats (like # of tournaments entered) would still be relevant.

3/23/2009 8:20 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Interesting -- thx, Kevmath. Like I say, it'd be quite revealing (I think) to get a gander at some of those figures, for sure.

3/23/2009 8:44 PM  
Anonymous BJ Nemeth said...

As Kevin pointed out, the biggest tours track that information, though it's not always for public consumption.

We poker reporters had some conversations about this back in 2005, trying to squeeze this information out of the WPT and the WSOP. (Back then, both were restricting the information on grounds of privacy/laziness.)

They finally realized (as did we) that as much as we'd love to use the information to compile some fascinating stats and write some interesting articles, it's just not in their interest to fully release them to us.

Last year, Harrah's was releasing that information to the media on request. If that's still the case, I hope to run some stats on ROI during the festivities this summer.

4/02/2009 1:36 AM  

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