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This may come as a shock to you, but when I was a child, I loved Halloween. I KNOW, RIGHT? In that way I differed from absolutely nobody. I usually dressed up like a clown for trick-or-treating – except for the one day it was actually warm on Halloween in Wisconsin and I decided to wear a black wool trenchcoat and a rubber monster mask – and routinely filled my plastic pumpkin to the brim. I liked most of the goodies I got, but there were a few I hated: popcorn balls, Good ‘n Plenty, and pennies come to mind. Then there was a brand of bubble gum called Dubble Bubble. Nobody ever bought this during any other time of year; it was purely a Halloween gum. I never appreciated receiving it. Gum is boring and clearly not as good as most candies. But when I eventually got around to unwrapping one, it wasn’t bad. Dare I say I actually ended up liking Dubble Bubble.  dubble bubble

I suspect there might be poker players that will feel the same way about a new tournament format that will be introduced by PokerStars at next year’s PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA). It is called, coincidentally, a Double Bubble tourney (see what I did there?), and it certainly represents a significant change in tournament payouts.

In a Double Bubble tournament, when the tournament field gets cut in half, all of the remaining players will get their buy-ins plus tournament fees back. The rest of the prize pool – the buy-ins from the half of the field that was eliminated – will then be “distributed in an 8% payout structure.” So, the top 50 percent of the field will at least break even and the top eight percent overall will win a share of the other half of the prize pool. As PokerStars’ Head of Poker Communications Lee Jones said on the PokerStars blog, there are now two bubbles: one at 50 percent and one at eight percent. Hence, the name “Double Bubble.”

In the blog post, Jones explained the thought process behind the creation of the Double Bubble tournament. “As time has progressed,” he said, “most of us in the business have come to believe that paying out more of the field is better. That is, increasing the number of players who get something back is preferable to putting an extra bonus on top of the already staggering size of the prizes at the top.”

He then expounded upon some reasons why he and other decision makers decided that taking prize money away from the top couple finishers wouldn’t be a bad thing. “First, look at all the final table deals,” Jones said. “If everybody really wanted that almost unimaginably large first prize, then deals wouldn’t happen. But in point of fact, they happen almost all the time. No matter whether it’s nervous amateurs afraid of playing for huge sums, or seasoned pros trying to reduce the variance, there seems to be a universal appetite for deal-making.”

The top two or three finishers opt for a smaller potential winner’s payout on a consistent enough basis, Jones reasons, that most people should not be concerned with a top prize that already starts smaller than it normally would.

Then he talked about the bubble portion of the tournament:

And let’s talk about the bubble. For all the people who talked about not wanting to min-cash, look at the wave of “chip and a chair” behaviour as the bubble approaches. Those people are not making ICM-optimal decisions to maximize their chances for a final table; they’re doing whatever it will take to get to the money. The very smallest minimum payoff.

My point is this: whatever people’s plans and dreams are at the beginning of a tournament, for most folks, there comes a point where locking up some money right now is preferable to the possibility of more money later. Call it the “Bird in the hand” theory.

Jones admits the obvious: that Double Bubble tournaments are not the way to go for someone who is gunning for a gigantic score. “But if you want some good fun with nominally a 50% chance of getting your money back, and the chance to still win some nice prizes deep in, maybe Double Bubbles are just the thing for you,” he said.

The Double Bubble format will only be used in a few tournaments at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure; most of the tournaments will still be more traditional format.

Reactions to the Double Bubble idea have been mixed so far. On Two Plus Two, one poster briefly addressed both sides of the equation: “This is absolutely great for people who aren’t rolled for high stakes MTTs and satellite players, not so good for those who can sell shares or have big rolls. Variance will be lowered massively as a result and fish won’t go as bust as quickly. Plus there are massive ICM implications near each bubble in these so pros can make tons of chips once it gets remotely close to the first bubble or 2nd bubble.”

Others see it as more of a rake-grab. As one person wrote, “Terrible idea imo. Players don’t play hours/days in the hope of getting their money back. As far as I can see, the main effect of this is to spread prize pools which will maximise rake over time. I agree with the view that if the prize pool is to be spread this widely then rake should be chopped correspondingly.”

Another poster said, “… the reality is somewhere in the middle as some players would like very much the experience of playing for a full day, feeling the rush etc. and end up with their money back. Many on here wouldn’t but some guy getting off a boat at the PCA might enjoy the experience. As long as these tourneys are used extremely sparingly I think they’re ok.”

He added, “This format should never be accepted online under any circumstances as it’s essentially a rake trap and the risk of collusion is massive.”

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