Over the last several years, tournament directors have tried to come up with new ideas for poker events. There have been all-in-or-fold tourneys, where you either bet everything or release your cards. There have been ante-only tourneys, where there are no blinds, but every player must add to the pot on every hand. There have been 50/50 tourneys, where you only have to out-last half of the field, and then the tournament ends with everyone getting paid equally.
This weekend at the PokerStars European Poker Tour Grand Final in Monte Carlo, organizers introduced another new idea: the Second Best Hold’em tournament, in which the player with the second-best cards won each hand. I heard about this from poker pro Jennifer Shahade, who live-tweeted as she played in the event. At one point, she reported that she had four-bet jammed pre-flop with seven-three offsuit and been called by a guy with six-deuce offsuit. But when the flop came six-deuce-seven, her one pair was worse than his two pair, so she won the pot.
Martin Harris at the PokerStars blog told of a couple of other odd moments:
The first hand saw the UTG player raise 4x and get one caller, then check after the flop came 6♦T♦3♣. His opponent fired a bet and he laughingly folded his hand face up — T♠3♦ for two pair. (The winner had 5♣2♣.) On the next hand a player open-folded K♣K♠, and the table broke up in laughter again.
Later, Martin quoted Jennifer on the strategic thinking necessary in a second-best tournament:
“Multi-way is actually pretty hard,” said Shahade, referring to how tricky it can be with several in the pot to finish with exactly the second-best hand, not to mention figure out how to negotiate your way through the betting. “If there’s two people who are engaged in playing against you and one of them is making a mistake, then that mistake can hurt you. So it’s an interesting in terms of game theory, but I can’t really figure out anything past that yet. Heads-up is easy, though — there you’re just thinking of hand values and reversing them.”
In case you’re wondering, no, the prize money for second place in the event was not bigger than for first place — although that would have made for an interesting heads-up matchup. All you’d have to do is leave the table, so your blinds and antes increased your opponent’s stack while yours diminished.