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I’ve heard rumblings over the last few years about a ranking system for live tournament players. Something that tracks every buy-in and every cash and reports statistics like ROI (Return On Investment) and average finish position. My first thought on hearing about this idea was that it would be neat to have the best players rewarded with accolades for having the best ROI rather than rewarding rich players who can afford to play a huge number of tournaments. I thought that way for about three seconds.

Then I realized that this kind of system would be a terrible disaster for the poker world. It’s not just conjecture, I have seen it happen. I used to play online sit and go tournaments, and back in the days of Party Poker I made a lot of money doing it. Playing four tables at a time (hey, it was 2003, we couldn’t even resize the tables back in those days), with an ROI of nearly 15% in $100 buy-in sngs was a good living.

When a site called Sharkscope appeared, I was able to start looking up my opponents and taking notes on them before the sng even started. Soon I had notes on all of my regular opponents. And then, not even two days after I heard about the site, I saw it mentioned in a conversation in the chat window (names changed to protect the guilty).

‘Bluffer420’ – “You are terrible dude, you are down $3,000 in less than 100 games. You are awful.”

[email protected]’ – “No I’m not, I’m up in these games.”

‘Bluffer420’ – “Really. That’s not what SharkScope says…”

And then he posted a link to the other player’s Sharkscope profile which indeed proved to everyone that ‘[email protected]’ was terrible. I already knew that, I had notes on him from his play as well as from his Sharkscope profile. But he didn’t know that I knew. And now he knew that everyone knew. And I’m sure he was embarrassed. And I never saw him again.

I wanted to reach through the computer and choke the life out of ‘Bluffer420.’ As soon as ‘[email protected]’ was gone, I attacked him, telling him how stupid it was to be chasing away fish. He didn’t care. He was a break even player who blamed bad players for all of his losses. He loved Sharkscope.

And then I Went Looking For New Games

Within weeks I noticed a drop in my ROI. I noticed a drop in the results of every winning player. The games were getting tougher and I wasn’t running into bad players nearly so often. Sharkscope was mentioned again and again in the chat window, and very few players cared when I berated them for it. Within a few months, the ROI for a big winner was down to 6%. My income was cut by more than half.

When the UIGEA passed in the United States and players started to have trouble getting money on and off the sites, things got even worse. When players had to redeposit each time they ran out of money, instead of cashing in and out on a regular basis, they were forced to recognize their losses. They couldn’t lie to themselves anymore and they couldn’t simply enjoy poker like any other entertainment. Now they had to face exactly how much it cost them. This caused even more recreational players to leave the games and soon it was tough enough to beat the rake that making serious money playing sngs required 16 tables or more and perfect play, and even those people weren’t breaking six figures.

Do You Like Movies?

If a frequent moviegoer were to see the amount of money he spent on movies in a year, it might compare to what a poker player would lose in that time. And if it were a significant portion of his income he might cut back on his movie habit or even stop going and get a subscription to Netflix. That is what Sharkscope did to sit and go tournaments, and it is what a national rating system would do to live poker tournaments if ROI or average finish position were included in the statistics.

I know it can be frustrating to see players who can afford to play all the huge tournaments all over the world get a high rating on the Global Poker Index when a better player with a smaller bankroll would never stand a chance. I know you may want to see how well you stack up against the great ones. But a national rating system is not the way to go. This would not only destroy the profit in live tournaments, it might threaten their very existence.

Poker rooms are not crazy about poker tournaments. They are one of the least profitable uses of floor space in a casino, and unless we are going to get poker out of casinos, poker tournaments will never get significant sponsorship dollars or a lower fee system. If we are going to beat high juice numbers and pay travel costs, we need to be beating these tournaments for big numbers. If the ROI drops significantly, many of those big name pros won’t be playing at all and you won’t ever find out how you compare to them.

So far the idea seems to have been put on the back burner, and all we can do is hope that it stays there.



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Chris Wallace

Chris "Fox" Wallace is a professional poker, author, and poker coach from St Paul, Minnesota. While he spent most of his career playing cash games,Fox recently started playing more tournaments and won a bracelet in the $10,000 HORSE World Championship in 2014. Follow him on twitter