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Merge Network Angers Players with Tournament Schedule Changes

mergeThe tournament schedule at the US-facing Merge Network has undergone numerous tweaks in recent months, as the network has been fine-tuning its efforts to extract as many dollars per log-on from its customers.  Has the network finally gone too far, and sacrificed adequate game play in its efforts to keep the money stream flowing?

That’s the consensus appearing on discussion forums in the wake of the latest series of changes to the Merge tournament schedule, which went into effect October 1st.  We’ve mentioned in the past how almost all tourneys on the network have been changed to re-entry formats, excepting a tiny number of very minor “All in or Fold” events and similar special-gimmick tourneys.

Among the latest series of changes are an extension of the late-registration period to more than two hours for many events — including turbo tournaments, which comprise a fair percentage of Merge’s offerings — making these tournaments all but unplayable.  The rising hue and cry from the network’s players may force Merge to pull back from the trend, which demonstrates that a good idea piled on in heaps and gobs stops being a good idea at some point.

The overall range of the extended late-registration period appears to run from about an hour and a half for weekday, off-hour tourneys, to as long as four hours for some of the high-volume weekend affairs.  What Merge doesn’t seem to realize is that the approach is a traffic-killer for casual players, a truism that’s already been brought to Merge’s attention by numerous “regulars” posting on major discussion forums.  One of the largest is the “Merge / Carbon discussion thread” at 2+2, the main area for discussions of topics not related to deposits, cashouts, and other financial considerations, which are found elsewhere.

It turns out that the lengthening of late-registration periods isn’t the only recent change, which also includes the abolishment of tourneys that have, too frequently, offered overlays, and of some events that don’t seem to meet some internal corporate threshold for generated rake.

While getting rid of tourneys with chronic overlays is expected, as they’re a drag on a company’s bottom line, getting rid of small-field tourneys in non-hold’em or non-Omaha poker variants is another one of those head-scratchers of late from Merge: Not a lot of people play those events, but those that do participate simply because they want to play something other than NLHE or Omaha.  And if one already has the software in place, as Merge does, it costs very little to keep on providing them on the site.

The problem right now is best described as follows: The collective of changes installed at Merge right now is terrible for the casual player, as they force such players to invest both time and money beyond their normal comfort zones for such offerings.  The long-term effect of the changes will be turn off exactly that type of player that Merge and other networks most desire, a player who keeps a few hundred dollars in action on the site, dabbles occasionally, but is no serious threat to remove thousands of dollars from any given network’s economy.

An example tournament is in order.  I’ll use one that I played in on the site myself last night, a $10+1 H.O.R.S.E. event, non-turbo, with 10-minute levels.  Merge has run that or a similar H.O.R.S.E. tourney nightly for several years.  I’ll also note that I ran very deep in this tournament, mention not noted as a humblebrag (as I was fortunate to do so), but simply to illustrate that I was on hand to witness the laughable carnage that the structure caused.

Officially, including all re-entries, there were 62 buy-ins, producing a prize pool of $620.  No one’s getting rich here.  But an examination of those 62 entries shows that they were produced by only 28 players, a rate of entry per player that exceeds most re-buy tourneys.  Even worse is that the action disprportionately sucks all those re-entries from players around the bubble.

Here’s a little table I constructed for last night’s tourney, showing the player (names munged), the number of bullets fired (entries and reentries, by number), and the prize money eventually won by the top nine.  (Merge pays 1 in 7, I believe.)  The following is very instructive:

C———–                          1                              $204.29

R————-                       1 2                          $136.40

W———-                          1                              $81.22

C———–                          1                              $54.25

K——–                               1                              $39.99

M——-                                1 2                          $31.31

D——                                   1 2 3 4                    $26.97

S—————–                 1 2 3 4 5 6             $23.87

R—–                                     1 2                          $21.70

R—————-                   1 2 3 4 5 6                          

M——                                  1 2 3 4 5 6 7

B——–                                1 2

J——-                                  1

M———-                           1

H———–                          1

C——-                                  1 2 3 4 5 6

M———–                         1

G—–                                    1 2

A——-                                 1 2

N————-                       1

B————–                      1

x————                          1 2 3

k——–                                 1

K———-                             1 2 3

R——-                                  1

D————-                        1

B—–                                      1

S———-                              1 

What you see reflected in the above is bubble desperation, but what you need to understand the whole picture is a sense of the blinds, rebuy amounts and chip stacks as that action occurred.  The bubble came about in Level 11 or so of the event, a limit hold’em level of 750/1,500.

And the amount of chips each re-entry brought?  3,000.

That’s right: Players chasing a bubble cash were forced to either abandon the event or buy in for two big blinds and hope for a couple of quick double-ups to escape the bubble carnage, with most of the chips already in play concentrated in a few big stacks, who basically reaped the carnage.

It was a horrible display of desperation brought on by one of the worst tourney structures I’ve ever seen.  Player after player finally gave up in face of the odds.  However, at the outset, no one could have foreseen exactly how the bubble would play out, since no one knows exactly how many players will venture in during late registration.

When the bubble finally broke, the carnage continued; four more players were eliminated in the next three hands.

Now here’s the takeaway: A deep-bankrolled player on a network such as Merge might have several thousand dollars on the site, and not have to worry about six or seven $11 re-entries.  But most players don’t have that luxury, and what events like this do is raise the specter of casual players losing significant chunks of smaller bankrolls in fruitless bubble chases.  It’s either that or participate in 50-cent and one-dollar MTTS, which a lot of players find not worth the bother.

And then there’s the time factor.  Here’s another of the hidden jokes from the above tourney: Total late registration time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.  Total time of complete tournament: 3 hours, 6 minutes.  That’s several levels beyond ridiculous.

What Merge may not really comprehend is that casual players don’t mind putting in three or four hours to play a small online tourney, but they don’t necessarily want to be forced to do so, nor forced to put in $70 or $80 to compete on what is, on its face, an $11 tourney.  Instead, these casual players will enter, and expect that if they get knocked out early, they can try something else or log off and try again another day.  With its unrealistic demands and structures, Merge is creating tournaments that can only have one lasting effect, that of driving casual players away in droves.

The “recreational player” won’t put up with structures like the above for long, simply because they cannot afford to.  Merge either has to wake up, backtrack on some of those changes, or lose that part of its business.

For the record, I cashed, wasn’t among those who fired all those bullets, and yet I still complained to the network and to the site I play through, Carbon Poker. This is the response I got:

Thank you for contacting us.
Please note that Management has decided to make some changes on the tournaments structure, based on a variety of factors including popularity, time-zone considerations, player’s feedback, etc.
We will be sure to pass on your comments to the Cardroom Manager.

If “Management” thinks the latest changes are productive, then they need to reconsider. That’s the bottom line.

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