As we all know, no matter how great you are, winning a poker tournament can be extremely difficult to do (unless you’re Jeremy Dresch). This is why it can often be difficult for a poker player to measure one’s success. It feels like we are failing so often…but are we?
I’ve always asked myself, how often should I be cashing? As in all poker discussions there are variables when answering this question. If you win one tournament or cash high enough your ITM (in the money) cash rate can be less. Conversely, if you are one to cash often but hit the money with a short stack and fizzle out, you’ll need to cash more often. This is obvious I know.
The best baseball players in the world fail 65% – 70% of the time if they are a .300+ hitter. The odds are even worse for a poker player.
When determining a successful cash rate, the level of competition is certainly a factor. The best online MTT (multi-table tournament) players generally finish ITM at a rate of 11-12% when the buy-in is $100+. THAT’S IT! About 1 out of 10! It is similar for medium stakes buy-in MTT players ($26-$75). It is usually true though that players with a higher ITM have a lower ROI% (return on investment). I’m using online stats here because there are sites that track this information, so apply it to live multi-table tournaments as you see fit.
This means that the players who hold on to simply get into the money often play less aggressive when just trying to cash and short-stack themselves. They will cash often but generally not go deep, earning themselves less money per cash.
This is why ROI is the number a player should be more concerned with. On the other hand, if you are putting yourself in position to cash often, eventually you will get lucky or bust through for a possible big pay day.
So what’s a decent ROI? Again, that depends on a few factors. What’s your primary motivation for playing MTTs? How many MTTs are you playing? Etc. Some good (high buy-in) MTT players have an ROI of +25% but are playing a high volume of tournaments. Others may be +150%.
Ultimately, you really want to shoot for the final table when playing MTTs. At first you might want to just play for the money, which is fine, but without a big score along the way it’ll be difficult to maintain a bankroll, let alone actually increasing it.
This is why I cringe often when I see players chop at final tables. Its hard enough to get there let alone wasting that rare opportunity for a big pay day (even if you’re short stacked). Typically you’re one hand away from turning the tide. Without that big pay day, you’ll always be grinding with your bankroll.
MTTs are a tough go, until you get a decent cash that is. This is why most MTT players suggest not playing an MTT that is more than 2% of your bankroll.
I think if you just focus on improving your game along the way, gaining more experience all the time, play with good bankroll management, etc., the bankroll will take care of itself (in other words…. you don’t need to calculate that you’d need to be cashing 40% of the time).
To show you an example from personal experience, and again I’m showing you online stats because they are tracked. In the calendar year 2007 (the last time I had time to play poker somewhat regularly to generate a decent sample size), I played 132 tournaments on PokerStars and was in the money 22 times for a cash (ITM) rate of 17%, which is considered very high. My average buy-in was $118. But most importantly, I won 2 tournaments.
On a side note, as we discuss in the Lance Harris article, some online MTT pros play 12 tournaments at a time or 17+ per day. That puts my 132 tournaments in a year sample size to shame.
So as a player in 2007, I succeeded 17% of the time (failed 83%), won only 2 of the 132 tournaments I played and from that was ranked in the top 1,091 of 145,624 players on that site. My ROI was 206%.
The moral of the story is this, its perfectly common to go 10, 15 or even more tournaments in a row without a cash. This can feel discouraging especially if you’re a live-game player since you’re probably playing one tournament per day at the most. It can seem like forever. That’s poker, it’s the law of large numbers. You need a large sample size which is hundreds of tournaments at the least to determine your success.
This is why its important to manage your bankroll, so you can withstand the normal and expected downswings.
Don’t forget, if you are good enough and fortunate enough to get to a final table, don’t be a pansy. Seize the moment. This is a bankroll defining moment.Bryan Mileski is the President and Publisher of Minnesota Poker Magazine, and also the co-founder of the Mid-States Poker Tour. Contact Bryan at email@example.com