The Great Poker Debate: Players And Tournament Officials on Late Registration

In Ray Dalio’s brilliant book ‘Principles’, one of his core ‘Life Principles’ is to ‘Identify and Don’t Tolerate Problems.’

Here’s an insert from that book.

View painful problems as potential improvements that are screaming at you.

“Though it won’t feel that way at first, each and every problem you encounter is an opportunity; for that reason, it is essential that you bring them to the surface. Most people don’t like to do this, especially if it exposes their own weaknesses or the weakness of someone they care about, but successful people know they have to.”

Dietrich Fast is a World Poker Tour (WPT) Champions Club member, who follows the tramlines connected to the poker world at large, as well as selected high stakes stops, and he has a problem he finds painful, and I think it’s worthy of discussion. 

It began on October 2.

After competing in the WPT UK at Rob Yong’s Dusk till Dawn (DTD) in Nottingham, Fast tweeted the following complaint.

“Let’s get straight into this topic. We play a format which is a tournament. Nowadays, you can enter it as late as the start of Day 2 or even later. Why would someone who registers at the start of Day 2 play against the randomised average field strength, but when you late reg on Day 1, you end up playing on a late reg table with mostly regs?

“As long as there are no restrictions like “reg open until the start,” you should be able to play against the average field strength. I got asked if I knew that the guy who regged before me was my friend at WPT UK. Like WTF? What if I know he is a strong reg and isn’t my friend. I tell them yeah, and exploit the system? 

“Everyone who runs tournaments should draw the seats. It should be max-transparent, and shouldn’t open the door for friends and locals to exploit. I have played at so many venues in my life, and so far, PokerStars has done the best job in this regard. Almost all others are just not staffed enough or lazy as fuck. If you want us to come early, give us incentives. But these incentives can’t be contrary to the rules of a tournament where everyone fights against everyone!”

Fast copied in three people who have a big say in the running of live poker tournaments.

  1. Paul Campbell (ARIA)
  2. Matt Savage (WPT)
  3. Rob Yong (partypoker & DTD)

Campbell decided to keep his powder dry, but Savage and Yong did comment.

Yong went first.

“I think everyone knows I don’t like late-registration or re-entry tournaments, but the market forces them. I’ve said a lot on this, and I’ve been defeated.”

Yong is referring to his attempts to remove these stipulations from the game, to return to its purest form, which he believes is better for the ecosystem. Only each time Yong has done this, the people have voted with their feet. In Yong’s mind, it’s clear that the poker community want the opportunity to register late, and to re-enter multiple times. 

Savage also shared his opinion.

“Super tricky, and the dilemma is if we as operators do what we feel is best for the industry or the bottom line, and have big guarantees; we are forced into long registration and unlimited re-entry.”

Yong also shared two more views. 

The first was that live tournament operators lose revenue in cash games and casino games because of late-registration and re-entry, and that money ends up in the pockets of the likes of Fast. 

Yong also made it clear in various spots along the Twitter timeline that although the thought of late registration and re-entry as an operator may want to make him vomit, he appreciates the stipulations as a player. 

Does that mean Yong empathises with Fast?

Not on your nelly.


Now, you may have noticed that neither Savage nor Yong answered Fast’s question, which was what Fast perceives to be an unfair system for those that take advantage of the late registration process. 

I have an inkling that perhaps the reason Fast didn’t get a response is because of the way that he put the question. If you call a tournament organiser “lazy as fuck,” and suggest they are under-staffed, you don’t need to be the smartest egg in the box to perceive a series of froth-filled mouths. 

Back to Dalio, and one of his core principles is radical honesty and transparency, but he also believes that fostering meaningful relationships is another crucial principle. While you can construe calling someone, a ‘lazy fuck’ as ‘radical honesty’; if you add the desire to maintain a healthy relationship with said ‘lazy fuck’, then perhaps a different choice of phrase would be the order of things. 

It’s an important point because it’s mutually beneficial for poker players and tournament organisers to exchange feedback to ensure the poker ecosystem evolves in a way that benefits both parties. In short, if you want to effect a change in late registration rules, don’t begin by calling the people you need to convince to change those rules a ‘lazy fuck.’

On Late Registration in General

It’s always made my brain spasm when a Tournament Director chose to start a tournament late. Typically, it used to happen the higher up the food chain you ventured, and perhaps this is because the more you ascent through poker’s beanstalk, and get closer to those golden eggs, the more it becomes about what the players want – a crucial point we will come back to later.

In reality, there is no need to start a tournament late.

All tournaments should start on time. It sets the right tone. It’s a boundary that says, “We are professional, and we mean what we say”. Starting on time represents justice and integrity. Running late feels weak and without boundaries.

Technology allows players to buy-in from a broad range of different ways, other than turning up in person at the venue. If a player was going to arrive late, then they could register on time, and their stack put on the table, and blinds and ante’s taken from it until they turn up. 

Orpen Kisacikoglu is a non-professional frequenting the high roller circuit. Here are his views on late registration.

“I think super late-registrations are boring, and against the sportsmanship. If you’re allowed to buy-in when the blinds are 40bb or less, it becomes a flipping war. I’m not sure where the correct line is, but allowing people to buy-in with 25bb or less feels like a big stretch.”

Despite his opinion, the London-based businessman understands why late registration exists. 

“I am aware that tournaments need bigger prize pools, and that’s why most organisers allow late registration, but we have to find a better balance. I think tournament organisers should stop late registration at the start of Day 2, or later. They are the worst and incentivise a lot of players to start Day 2. We should be working as a community to get everyone seated at the beginning.”

Sam Greenwood is a professional player competing with the likes of Kisacikoglu in the biggest floats on parade, and this is what the Canadian had to say about late registration.

“I’ve been fine with the late registration boundary moving forward because it benefits top players with big bankrolls,” said Greenwood. “Money is money, and if I can get +EV opportunities to enter a tournament late, I’m happy to take it. 

“Like most questions about tournament formats/structures, I don’t think there should be a one size fits all approach. Every poker player has a different ideal structure, and it’s not necessary for every tournament to have the same structure. Different structures and formats will attract different players, that’s fine.”

Let’s think about that.

The Customer is Always Right

I didn’t go on vacation much when I was younger, but when I did, if we returned home on a Sunday, my father would walk through a fresh-faced Chernobyl to ensure he was standing outside of the pub as the barman opened up the door at noon.

If you care, you will find a way to be punctual. 

A great question to ask yourself if you are a business is “What do my customers care about?”

I pigeon-hole myself as a low-stakes poker player, and for me, a late registration rule doesn’t provide me with much value. I play for fun. Unless I have an engagement that prevents me from turning up on time, I will always be on time, because I am excited to play. 

Taking Greenwood’s philosophy, and assuming there are a plethora of like-minded people swimming around in the deeper waters of the poker ecosystem, we don’t need a late registration system. If you are going to be late, phone the tournament organiser, pay your fee, and your stack will occupy the space in front of your empty seat. 

Given that most tournaments are multiple or even unlimited re-entry if you allow the better players to register later and later then that is not going to end well for the recreational player.

However, in high stakes tournaments, where the players and the tournament organisers work a lot closer on structures because you’re typically providing a product for a small group of people, then if that group want late registration running late into Day 2, that’s what they should have. 

Greenwood’s belief that there shouldn’t be a ‘one-size fits all’ approach is wise. 

“I am not sure the effect it {late registration} has on the ecosystem of smaller stakes tournaments,” said Greenwood. “In High Rollers, I know late-reg/re-entry has driven some recreational players away, but there are other recreational players who want to get back in action as soon as possible.”

Kisacikoglu wasn’t a fan of late, late registration, and his belief also holds in the bigger games.

“I don’t see high rollers any different from other tournaments,” said Kisacikoglu. “The same principles should apply.”

It’s Not The Disco

There was always a rule when it came to the school disco – never turn up on time. 

I’m talking about status, and the need to elevate it, by appearing like you don’t get excited about a disco. It’s disco. You are too cool to get passionate about those types of things. 

Poker is not disco.

Players are not turning up late because it’s uncool to turn up on time. The better players in the game turn up late because it provides them with the most value over the long-run. While it may make the inner child of recreational players scream through the walls of one’s skull when they see the Dietrich Fasts, Orpen Kisacikoglus and Sam Greenwoods of the world arrive late – rules are rules.

Given that we have a late registration rule and that players exploit it; isn’t it appropriate to ensure that it’s fair?

As you know, Fast isn’t slow when it comes to telling you about the unfairness of the current system. The WPT Champ said to me that the initial problem arose when he late regged the WPT UK at DTD with five other people, and they all had to play at the same table, with three players from different tables.

Imagine you’re a leech farmer by day, and you play poker as a hobby by night. You’ve made it to the last few levels of Day 1, and the floor moves you to a table containing Dietrich Fast, Steffen Sontheimer, Dominik Nitsche, Christoph Vogelsang and Fedor Holz.

Fast points out that balancing tables is extra work for tournament organisers, and it’s easier to start with ‘x’ number of tables, fill them, and then add tables exclusively for players that late reg, and that’s not fair. Underneath Fast’s original tweet on this issue, the European Poker Tour (EPT) Champion, Anton Wigg, backed him.

Anyone else?

“I see this as a huge problem,” says Kisacikoglu. “Every new entry should be seated randomly. The floor should draw from all available tables, moving the next big blind on that table to another seat, or make sure to keep enough seats open around the room until late registration closes, and make a random draw out of those.”

Fast’s idea is to draw high cards at eight random tables, move those players to a new table, and backfill their spaces with the players who have registered late. 

Back to Kisacikoglu.

“I would never register late any tournament, before or after good players or friends if I knew I would be seated at the same table. It also opens up for ‘table picking,’ because if you know a weak player or reg is going to be taking advantage of the late reg rule, you can buy-in right after them to increase the likelihood you’ll be sitting next to them.”

Kisacikoglu told me that PokerStars is in the lead when it comes to doing the best job with this issue. 

“In big fields, they {PokerStars} always keep a lot of seats open on a lot of tables and keep opening new tables to move players around from random tables until the late reg closes. In smaller fields they make you draw the table first (out of all available tables), and if that table is full, they move the BB elsewhere to be able to seat you at the table you have drawn, so there is absolutely no room for table picking.”

Luca Vivaldi is the Tournament Director for the Triton Poker Series and was instrumental in creating the PokerStars rules that Kisacikoglu admires. 

Here’s Vivaldi’s view.

“Dietrich is right in saying that if you late reg you shouldn’t be playing vs the players that regged in line with you. Instead, you should be mixed in the field. I introduced this in PokerStars events a long time ago, and I’m carrying it on in Triton with extra care. It’s one of the fairest seat draw/late reg systems out there.

“Yes, it’s hard to manage, but I feel, in this day and age, it should be the standard for all operators. The draws should always be random even for late reg and Day 2 seat draws should be kept hidden to players if late reg is still open to avoid influencing the decision of players to reg or not (good tables/good seats open vs bad tables/bad seats open).”

Back to Greenwood’s point that we should take every tournament on its merit – It’s interesting to hear Vivaldi talk about making this a standard rule across all competitions. Matt Savage doesn’t agree.

“The late registration balance is delicate and not a perfect science,” said Savage. “The only way to ensure 100% randomness is to inconvenience players that show up on time. The “incentive” for showing up on time is that the play is deeper with a softer field and they should have a reasonable expectation that they won’t be pulled from their table to accommodate late registrants. 

“I handle this as best as possible, and do whatever I can to avoid late registration tables, but sometimes players that register late have to wait and their table may not be 100% random, but the most important thing is that their table will break first. Additionally, players should not be able to request a different table, especially after they have taken their seat, which seems to have become more commonplace for some reason.”

Savage’s point, that an ‘incentive’ for turning up on time means you won’t be ripped from your seat to accommodate late registrations is interesting. As one of those players who wouldn’t want that inconvenience landing on my lap, wouldn’t it make more sense to ban late registration, and force people to turn up on time?




People turn up on time.

I’ll leave this little butter-melting exercise with another word from Ray Dalio. Another of his core principles is to get to the root cause of a problem. After speaking to Rob Yong – who believes people should turn up on time, or stop complaining – and Matt Savage, who sent me a copy of an old tweet of his that read, “late registrants want to 1. Start with a full-stack, 2. Start the minute they sign up, 3 have a full table and 4, have a random draw #Reasonable.” I wonder if the reason that Fast will have to work a tad harder to get what he wants is because of that unspoken battle between status and strategy. 

Savage didn’t make that tweet up out of thin air. It relates to the people who exploit every edge of the late registration system, and the vast majority of these players will be those that compete in high roller tournaments.

Feel free to fill in the blanks, and then let us know how you feel on late registration stipulations.