I think this debate about late registration is a really interesting topic, and there are a lot of ways to think about it.
A few points:
- I think there’s pros and cons to either starting on time or starting late. (I’ll elaborate later.)
- Depending on your preferred style of play and the strategy you employ, early or late registration may favor you more or less.
- I don’t think when you enter the tournament matters as much as how well you play.
Rather than try to decide a “winner” between starting on time and starting late, I think it makes more sense to talk about the pros and cons of both approaches. Because chances are, in life sometimes you’ll be running late, and you’ll have to deal with the situation whether it’s better or worse.
Whenever I start to play, I like to play optimistically, bringing a positive attitude, so if I have to play late, I don’t want to be thinking why late entry is not as good as starting on time. I can’t do anything to roll back time and start on time; I might as well focus on whatever strengths there are to late starting, and not dwell on the negatives, other than applying whatever strategy I can to mitigating whatever weaknesses there might be, being aware of them so that I can avoid them.
Basically, I say, “Who cares? You’re here now, so play in the here and now. Play your best game.”
The only real question then is, how does the game change between opening hand and whenever you get dealt your first hand, and should that influence how you play?
Some things to ask:
If you’re starting late, how late do you have to start for it to make a meaningful difference? If you miss the first hand, does that really matter? Probably not. What about the first orbit? The first 10 minutes? The last possible second?
The point I’m making here is: “late” isn’t binary. How late? The less late you are, I would postulate, the less it matters.
Another point: What’s the play like in this tournament? Do we have a lot of wildcats playing crazy poker early, getting eliminated? Is everyone playing tight, conservative poker? The field is rarely if ever going to be uniform, there will be a range of players of varying skill, experience, good players who play with different style, and in tournaments that don’t cost money to enter, probably a decent number of less experienced/less skilled players, also playing a range of styles.
The point I’m making here is: If after the first 10 minutes, hardly any players have been eliminated, and the range between top and bottom stacks hasn’t changed dramatically, the pros/cons of late starting vs on-time starting will be different from a tournament where a significant number of players are already gone at 10 minutes. In SNG play, a 9-seat tournament typically runs right about an hour, no matter what, but I’ve played some where the first player wasn’t eliminated until nearly 30-40 minutes in, and others where 2-3 players are eliminated almost right away.
I would say in a super tight, conservative tournament, the early hands are more important. You want to be in them, to observe the play and see get a read on opponents, and the more hands you have to be able to do that, the better. And the cheaper those hands are to play, the better. Starting late, you miss those hands, and you miss the lowest blind levels, and those are disadvantages in a tournament with this type of character.
In a wild and crazy MTT, with a lot of players busting out quickly, it… depends. Do you stand to benefit from playing with the crazy players, busting them out? Or do you prefer to hang back and avoid getting all-in with the crazies? I think there can be merit to both schools of thought, and it depends on how good you are at getting a good read on those crazy opponents.
If you’re a very good player, maybe you know just when to call and take your chances calling that ridiculous all-in preflop bingo bet, and you can knock out the player and rocket to the top of the leaderboard. But I find that calling an all-in bet preflop is always a gamble. You could call with AA and still get beat by someone with 84o who just happens to luck into 2 Pair while your Aces fail to improve, or get beat because 4 other players all call all-in too, and now you’re in a 5-way pot with AA which doesn’t have the power it does when you’re isolating an opponent.
My experience is that poor play disrupts good play, so you can have solid fundamentals and play smart, and get beat by someone who plays very recklessly and takes stupid chances with their hands. These players tend to bust out early, but before they can do they can knock out a good player on a lucky break, and that player could be you.
Are you comfortable with that?
If so, I guess sign up early and good luck. Maybe you’ll outplay the crazies at your table and knock them out, get all their chips, and take the early lead in the tournament, and then hold onto it for the whole duration and end up on top.
If not, sign up on time and then hang back and watch the crazies take each other out with their ridiculous play, stay out of their way until most of them are gone and the play style settles down, and then start picking them off with your good fundamental play if you still have enough of a stack to do it with. Take the opportunity to watch and learn, and if you happen to have some good hands dealt to you that you can play and win some hands early, do so.
OR, join late. Enter the tournament after most of the craziest players have already exited. Their chips will be in the hands of stronger players, perhaps, but perhaps as well their crazy play will have knocked a few of the good players out as well. And you’ll be somewhere near the middle of the field, with about half of the field well above you and half below. You can beat up on the small stacks with your starting stack, while still avoiding getting into a risky situation with the bigger stacks, until you’ve bullied enough small stacks to turn yourself into a big stack yourself. You can exploit the asymmetry of the stack sizes of the in-progress tournament, whereas in the very beginning the stacks are symmetrical, and you have to earn the asymmetry by prevailing in the very early hands, which you may or may not do. If you join late, you don’t have to prevail – you just start with the asymmetry already created by the other players risking their hands.
The only real downside to the late start, then, that I see, is that you sacrifice the opportunity to be the one who won those chips to create asymmetry in the field. But the trade-off is that you avoid the risk of being bad-beat by poor play from crazy players who can disrupt good play by calling when they shouldn’t, or by shoving bingo-style preflop and putting you in what is in all likelihood going to be a a coin toss situation if you call, and being upset if I get eliminated because I called with good cards and it just didn’t work out my way.
To me, that’s a pretty good trade off, so I don’t mind starting late. I kinda like it.
I also don’t mind starting on time, because I can simply play super tight and avoid a lot of the crazy play anyway, and maybe once in a while I can pick off a bingo better when I get a premium hand. If I’m feeling vulnerable to bad beat/entitlement tilt, or boredom tilt, sitting through a lot of early hands and folding, folding, folding doesn’t seem like a great way to spend 10 minutes, and joining late I can get right in right as the boring/aggravating time is wrapping up.
Either way, I’m playing to outlast the money bubble, trying to make the final table, and playing to win the whole thing, and if I’m playing well I have a very good chance of doing so.