If you’re a seasoned multi-table tournament (MTT) player, you likely keep track of your progress using ROI (return on investment). This is particularly true in the online environment, where personal tracking software and tournament tracking sites make that number readily available.

While there’s no doubt that a healthy ROI is both good for the bankroll and says something about a player’s tournament prowess, it’s a rather odd metric, particularly for those who generate part or all of their income from playing MTTs. Contrast it, for example, to the hourly rate favored by cash-game players. That number translates easily into a domestic budget and, for some, the decision to play professionally.

There is a natural interest in maximizing this number. In figuring out a strategy to accomplish this goal, it’s first important to note that maximizing ROI will not, in general, maximize your hourly.

Learning the craft of poker tournaments

Here’s a simple illustration. UK online poker sites and their international counterparts allow players to participate in extremely cheap MTTs of a dollar or less. This is one reason online MTTs are excellent for learning the craft. In general, higher buy-ins translate into tougher fields, so the ability to practice against weaker opposition, then climb the buy-in ladder as your skills develop, is an excellent way of improving rapidly.

A good ROI for online tournament players is around 20%. But it’s immediately apparent that a 20% ROI on a $1 tournament is going to be a miserable hourly rate, even with significant multi-tabling. This is, of course, a large part of the motivation to move up in stakes. The tricky part is maintaining a solid ROI as one does so. We can maximize our ROI by playing in the cheapest MTTs, but that will not maximize our hourly rate.

Maximizing profit in online poker tournaments

What steps can we take to maximize our hourly beyond getting better at tournament poker? Again, the online realm offers some advantages. The aforementioned multi-tabling is the biggest edge over the live environment. Given how long it takes many live MTT players to reach a decision, one could argue it would be desirable to multi-table live events, but running in casinos is generally discouraged.

It requires some dedicated book-keeping to optimize your hourly rate, and this is complicated by the fact that there are no simple rules that apply to everyone. For example, the increase in hourly rate from multi-tabling isn’t simply additive. It may be you triple your hourly by playing three MTTs simultaneously instead of one, but it’s unlikely you’ll see a twelve-fold increase if you play a dozen at once. At some point, your ROI will take a significant hit, and the number of tables at which that occurs varies from person to person.

As already noted, higher buy-ins tend to have tougher fields, so you also need to find a sweet spot here for your hourly. A complicating factor, more so for live players, is that more expensive tournaments frequently have slower structures and thus consume more time, thereby depressing the hourly relative to a faster structure. A related trade-off is that faster tournament structures tend to reduce the impact of skill advantage, so that turbos generate a lower ROI.

This may all sound rather daunting, and like so much of poker, how you approach the problem and in what detail may well be dominated by quality of life issues as much as anything else. Hopefully you play poker tournaments because you enjoy them, and already have a sense for those formats in which you are most profitable. But if you’re playing for a living, it is essential that you pay some attention to maximizing your hourly rate.

Late registration in poker tournaments

One additional method for doing so was recently brought up in a discussion on our Discord server. In the early days of online poker, MTTs had a posted start time, and if you had not registered by that time, you didn’t get to play the tournament. Simple, right?

The operators of both online poker sites and bricks-and-mortar card rooms look for edges just as enthusiastically as the dedicated player. Both live and online MTT providers decided that a start time coincident with registration cut-off was not helping their hourly rate at all. All it was doing was preventing potential customers from paying them tournament juice.

Tournament late registration and re-entry is now virtually universal, and in some cases seems to me to border on the absurd. Four hours late registration and re-entry for an online tournament adds appreciably to the length of the event, cutting into our hourly, at least if we play the tournament from the posted start time.

The other issue is that some such tournaments allow registration so late that the blind increase has reduced the starting stack to as little as 10bb or less. While one can argue that 10bb is enough to play push-fold, and that if you do so well it’s a viable approach, it’s also the case that bust-outs mean the average stack is well above the starting one by this stage. It’s true you can view those bust-outs as a sort of monetary overlay, but equally your 10bb stack has a lot lower cash equity than the stacks of the majority of players you’re facing.

Despite these qualms, it is hopefully apparent that late registration does allow the possibility of reducing one’s time commitment to a MTT, so that in principle it might be a cunning ploy to boost our hourly rate. The question is really how aggressive one wants to be with the strategy. My personal approach is to take a middling path.

Planning an online poker tournament session

I have a handful of primary target tournaments for any session. Because start times are staggered and I play on a low-volume site, the only way I can multi-table from the start of my session is to fire up the first target tournament, then late register for anything appealing that is in progress. This definitely increases my hourly, with no obvious downside. Similarly, when I bust out of a tournament, I’ll usually switch in a new one that is in late registration.

To push this edge further by frequent and deliberate late registration, you’re again going to have to monitor your results. Be particularly aware of how short a starting stack you can play profitably. My personal feeling is that anything below 20bb is getting a little silly. As noted above, in detail you also need to worry about how much bigger the average stack is when you’re considering leaping in late.

One final point. None of this matters if you’re not a winning player. Figuring out how to maximize your MTT hourly is important and requires some work, but don’t neglect your studies. The best way of boosting your hourly rate is to get better at poker.