Can we “fix” antes?

By April 23, 2018 No Comments

There are some innovations happening in Texas Hold’em tournament poker in regards to antes. Let’s talk about it!

What are antes?

Antes are forced bets, like blinds, but are but in the pot by EVERY player at the table before EVERY hand. Unlike blinds they do not count as part of the player’s pre-flop bet, they are pulled into the pot immediately.

Why should we play with antes?

Antes make every pot bigger which encourages action. A structure with antes will favor more aggressive players as it is more costly to just fold and wait for a hand.

What is the downside?

The downside, especially with amateur players is the pace of play. It can be painfully slow to collect everyone’s antes before the hand is dealt. You know that one player that you always have to tell when they are in the blinds? Well, you are going to have to tell them to put their ante in every hand too. Not to mention, when you are one ante short and everyone is sure that they put it in already.

How can we fix it?

An emerging trend in cash games and tournaments is to have a single player put in the ante for the entire table. So one player, typically either the big blind or the button, put in the antes for the entire table, typically the size of the big blind. So these chips are put into the pot (not a part of that person’s bet). This has the advantages of standard antes without the downside of slower play. Another advantage, less discussed, but important on the practical side, is that you don’t need the smaller denomination chips for antes. This means you can color up sooner, and you have more flexibility at the start of the tournament. If the lowest chip value in your chipset is 25 then you can either start with blinds of 25-50 (no ante) and add in antes only after several levels, or you can start with bigger blinds and antes from the start. But that will require bigger starting stacks and more chips. With a single ante the size of the big blind, you can start the tournament from level 1 with antes, and it doesn’t require more chips.

Sounds perfect, right? Not exactly, there are some issues to consider.

First, let’s compare the choice of a Button Ante vs the Big Blind Ante

Button Ante

Having the button put in the ante for the table has some advantages. The button isn’t already posting a forced bet in the form of a blind, so the impact for a single hand is less than on the big blind. Also, some supporters of this choice point out, that you should be playing more hands and more aggressively on the button, so putting more chips in the pot from this position should be less painful, psychologically.

The biggest issue with the button ante, and it is a big one, is that there isn’t always a player on the button. In the case where the player in the small blind is eliminated, there is a dead button the next hand, so there is no one to post the antes for the table. The possible solutions to this specific case?

  • Have the entire table post a traditional ante for just that one hand with the dead button.
  • Play one hand without antes

If we go with the first solution, then you have to keep the smaller value chips around for just this one case. If you go with the second solution then the winner of that hand feels a bit cheated by not winning the antes as well. It is for this reason that a lot of tournaments are looking at using Big Blind Antes

Big Blind Ante

The big advantage with this option is that there is ALWAYS a big blind. There is never a dead Big Blind. When you have really deep stacks, this is really the best solution. The issue comes in here when the blinds get big and stacks are short and you get hit with the big blind plus the table ante, it can be pretty painful.

It gets even more complicated when the player in the big blind doesn’t have enough to cover both the big blind and the antes. What if they have less than the big blind? Which is posted first, the ante or the big blind?

The community is a bit split on this. Apparently, the high roller tournaments at Aria have been using the Big Blind Ante and the players thought this through and decided the best solution is to have the big blind post first. But not all tournament directors are convinced. Daniel Negreanu had a heated Twitter discussion with some TD’s about this very question. I tend to agree with Kid Poker on this one. It is best explained with an example:

Let’s say blinds are 500/1000 with a big blind ante of 1000. The player in the big blind has 800 in her stack. She goes all-in, gets 3 callers, and wins the hand. How much does she win? Let’s look at the two scenarios:

Pay Ante first and then Big Blind

In this case, she posts the 800 as an ante, has nothing left to post the blinds. She wins the hand and can only win back her 800 in antes in the main pot despite the 3 callers. The next hand she posts her small blind and only has 300 behind. Seems pretty unfair.

Pay Big Blind first then Ante

In this case, she posts 800 as the big blind and has nothing left to post the antes. So this pot, there are no antes. She gets 3 callers and wins the pot. She wins back her 800 plus 800 from each of the callers, giving her a pot of 3200. Still short, but she can post the small blind and have 2700 left to play with.  This seems to be the better of the two options.

Other issues

Having the table ante be equal to the big blind is a good solution when playing 9 handed. But what about short-handed play? What if it is a short-handed tournament? What if there are only 3 or 4 players left? Some poker rooms have a rule that over 6 players the table ante is the size of the big blind with 6-handed and under it becomes the size of a small blind. This seems like a good compromise.

But there is far from being consistency from tournament director to tournament director on this point.

What does this mean for Blind Valet?

I have been looking into how to support single player table antes within Blind Valet. With all the complexity and open discussion on this issue, I will probably wait until there becomes a standard in the industry before looking into a detailed solution. In the short term, I plan on adding in a “Table Ante” option that will just show the value of the big blind. This is a very simple solution, but will be sufficient for the majority of the tournaments. I will leave it up to individual tournament directors to manage the details of applying the rule.