A clear ICM advantage
An animated Mike Matusow blew off some steam on social media this week. His target? The World Series of Poker (WSOP) and its late registration practice, particularly in marquee events such as the Poker Player’s Championship and the Main Event.
in more recent times, operators have taken this to an extreme
The problem lies in the clear ICM advantage for late registering, with players who avail of this option buying stacks of greater dollar value. Nonetheless, for years, online poker and almost every other live poker event has adopted a policy of late registration. It is also fair to say that, in more recent times, operators have taken this to an extreme with some online events, in particular, allowing registration with sub-10 big blind stacks very close to the money.
Following this trend, the WSOP has embraced late registration in all of its events. In fact, some have argued that Chris Ferguson exploited this to the max when he won the WSOP Player of the Year in 2017, with his strategy of last-minute late registering helping him get a record 23 cashes over the series.
Enough is enough for American poker pro Matusow, who believes that the system is not only unfair but also harms the prestige of the game, as well as favoring rich players.
Matusow utilizes his platform
The controversy all started with a Matusow tweet about Daniel ‘Jungleman’ Cates and his victory in this year’s PPC:
Then he turned his attention to the Main Event, with Matt Berkey pushing back:
The tweet-storm continued:
In fact, with every tweet, ‘The Mouth’ became more hyperbolic:
Into the weeds
Getting into the weeds of the issue, it’s not as clear as Matusow makes out. When you decide to register late for an event, it is a trade-off. A lot of the ‘dead money’ might be gone with the weakest players in the field already eliminated, their chips now in the stacks of more accomplished players. If you come into the Main Event after level seven, four hours into Day 2, you will have outlasted quite a few players, but you will have a less-than-average 50 big blind stack and immediately need to play catch up.
hopping into a tournament late does not give you an edge
Endgame Poker Strategy: The ICM Book by Dara O’Kearney and Barry Carter includes a section that breaks down the math of late registration, explaining the ‘ICM boost’ gained by this practice. Importantly, this makes clear that hopping into a tournament late does not give you an edge against other players, but it does buy you a stack with more value in real money terms.
There’s another flaw in Matusow’s argument. He says that late registration favors rich players who “can afford to gamble.” In reality, late registration, as a practice, massively favors the amateur. Not only does a player who gets into a tournament as late as possible start closer to the money, but they also start with an easier-to-play stack depth. It’s also fair to say that a professional player’s edge is normally larger with deeper stacks.
In summation, Matusow has a point because it is very profitable to register late for the WSOP Main Event. However, if you are a winning player, it is definitely more profitable to play one of the soft Day 1s from the start.
From my own perspective, I would have preferred to play Day 1, as I did the last time I played the WSOP Main Event in 2019. However, given that I had just arrived after a 28-hour journey to reach Las Vegas, I opted for a Day 2 registration, which gave me a day off to recover from jet lag before Day 3.
Not to be too results-based, but I am very happy with how that worked out: