2016 WSOP and History – Buyins and Payouts

Buyin Amounts

[LL] “I just realized that when you said the new WSOP team event could be the cheapest buyin since 1978, you weren’t even adjusting for inflation”, Leroy the Lion noted.

[SS] “I was going to mention that, but I forgot. A dollar in 1978 is worth $3.65 today,1 so the $200 buyin works out to $730. This year’s potential $250 buyin is actually the cheapest in WSOP history, ahead of the $100 buyin for the 1977 Women’s Championship, which is an inflation-adjusted $392.96.

The average buyin for WSOP tournaments has also decreased over the years. It was $1,800 in 1971, which is $10,584 in today’s dollars. The average dropped under $10,000 for the first time in 1979 ($9,294) and under $5,000 for the first time in 1992 ($4,752). After bottoming out at $3,190 in 2004, the average crept up again to $5,638 in 2009.

Then the Big One for One Drop skewed everything. The million dollar-buyin event in 2012 pushed the average all the way up to $21,042. But since it’s such an outlier and so many players sell shares of themselves, it’s not unreasonable to ignore the $1,000,000 and $111,111 events. That brings the 2012 average back down to $4,106, right in line with every year since then, including 2016, which checks in at $4,407 (down $220 from 2015 because of one fewer $10,000 event and one fewer $5,000 event).”

[RR] “So the trend toward more big buyin events has ended?”

[SS] “Yes, temporarily at least. By far the most common buyin is still $1,500 (23 of 69 events this year; 387 events in the history of the WSOP). On the other hand, while there have been more $1,000 events (185) overall, there are only 11 this year compared to 13 $10,000 events (139 overall). $5,000 (160) and $2,500 (152) tournaments have been more prevalent, but expect $10,000 events to surpass them in the next few years.

On the flip side, with the new $888 buyin event this year, seven buyins have now occurred exactly once:

  1. $100: 1977 Women’s 7-Card Stud (Ladies Championship)
  2. $200: 1978 Women’s 7-Card Stud (Ladies Championship)
  3. $777: 2015 Lucky 7’s No-Limit Hold ‘Em
  4. $888: 2016 No-Limit Hold ‘Em Eight Max ($888,888 guaranteed)
  5. $3,500: 1999 No Limit Hold ‘Em
  6. $4,000: 1973 7-Card Stud
  7. $40,000: 2009 No Limit Hold ‘Em (40th Anniversary event)

None of these win my prize for the strangest buyin amount though. Every single buyin has either been a round number ending in zeroes, or a string of repeating digits. The lone exception was the $565 buyin introduced last year for two events2 and extended to three events this year. I haven’t got a clue why they didn’t go with $555 instead.”

[RR] “Well, when you’re texting, 565 stands for LOL, since those are the digits on those letters on the keypad. So maybe they thought it was a happier number.”

Rebuys

[SS] “You know what also makes people happier? Rebuys. It’d be a bummer to drive all the way here for our home tournaments and bust out right away, well before players are available for a side game. The WSOP has allowed rebuys in a small percentage of tournaments since at least 1976, when the $5,000 Deuce to Seven Draw had them. Both Pot Limit Omaha events in 1984 allowed rebuys, kicking off the rebuy era that lasted until the WSOP abruptly stopped offering them in 2009.”3

[RR] “Why?”

[SS] “Amateurs were complaining that it gave the professionals, and those with bigger bankrolls, an advantage.”

[LL] “But that’s not really true, is it? Each time you rebuy into an event, your expected value goes down. For example, the first rebuy means you’ve paid twice as much to win almost exactly the same prizes. And you also have a progressively smaller than average stack each time.”

[SS] “I think it was more from a strategic view point. You can play more aggressively if you can afford to rebuy than if you can’t.”

[LL] “I say let them rebuy as often as they want! Better return on investment for those who don’t rebuy.”

[SS] “Well, the WSOP quietly brought back rebuy events this year. For the Casino Employees event, which has no poker professionals, “players eliminated during registration period are allowed one re-entry”.

The $111,111 High Roller for One Drop, the $10,000 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship and the $1,500 2-7 Draw Lowball allow one rebuy; while the $1,111 Little One for One Drop, the $1,000 WSOP.com Online No Limit Hold ‘Em, and the $565 Pot Limit Omaha allow unlimited rebuys.”

Payout Percentages

[SS] “Another thing that makes players happy; our home tournaments pay a higher percentage of the field, usually from a fifth to a fourth. People seem to like that. In fact we like it so much, the last few players usually vote to pay the bubble boy (never mind that that just creates a new bubble boy).

It looks like the WSOP finally agrees. One of the big changes this year is that the percentage of the field that makes the money is going up from a minimum of ten percent to a minimum of fifteen percent.”

[RR] “That will make fifty percent more people happy, I think.”

[LL] “It’s not like ten percent was set in stone anyway.”

[SS] “Exactly right. While ten percent may seem to have been the fixed percentage for a long time, in reality, that’s mostly only been true of the Main Event, and even then only dating back to 2005. Before 1973 (and in 1975), all WSOP events were winner-take-all, so discussing the percentage of players paid makes no sense. But since then, the numbers have ranged wildly. Events have paid from as low as 2% (3 out of 176 players for a 1980 Seven Card Stud event) to as high as 36% (100 of 279 players in a 2005 No Limit Hold ‘Em rebuy event) and even 43% for one small event (3 of 7 players in a 1978 Limit Draw High event).3

Every year before 2012 had at least one event that paid under 10% of its field, and every year has had at least one event pay at least 13% of its field (with most years before 1989 going over 20%, a threshold that was also topped in 2012 and 2014).

The Main Event itself was winner-take-all through 1977, when 33 out of 34 players left empty-handed. The championship event paid between six and twelve percent from 1978 to 1985 then jumped to 26% in 1986, leading to seven straight years above 16%. This dropped almost steadily to 7% in 2001 and 2002 before creeping back up to 10% in 2005 where it remained until 2014. Last year, since they thought it would be cool to pay the top 1,000 places, over 15% actually got paid.”

[LL] “You know who’s going to be unhappy about this change? The guy who cashed in five straight Main Events.”

[SS] “That was Ronnie Bardah, from 2010 to 2014. Matching his 1 in 100,000 feat is now just a 1 in 13,169 accomplishment. In fact, cashing six straight times (1 in 87,791) is now easier than what he did. So, we should give the next record holder an asterisk unless they reach seven straight (1 in 585,277).”

Footnotes:

  1. All inflation figures were calculated using the U.S. Inflation Calculator.
  2. The 2015 WSOP kicked off with the $565 Casino Employees event (up from $500) and added the $565 Colossus, which drew a record 22,374 entrants. The extra $10 per player was worth $223,740 for that event alone! 2016 added a $565 Pot Limit Omaha event.
  3. An oddball 50/50 No Limit Hold ‘Em tournament in 2015 that paid half of its entrants is being ignored for this discussion. The event did not return for 2016.

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