It's Friday night. You have poker chips, cards, a table and some friends that are itching to play a No-Limit Hold'em tournament, but you're not sure what kind of blind structure to use. Read on, and you'll have a pretty good idea once you're done!
Your goal for designing a blind structure for a No-Limit tournament is to create a game that rewards good poker skills, while increasing the blinds over time to encourage the tournament to finish within a reasonable amount of time (say 2~3 hours).
In general, low blinds favor the better players. As the blinds start increasing, there is less room for players to maneuver -- eventually, the shorter stacked players will be forced to go all-in preflop.
Designing a blind structure, and the M concept:
Magriel's M can be thought of as a measure of how desperate a player is in a tournament. As a player's M starts to shrink, his ability to play "good" poker diminishes.
A player's M is calculated as:
M = Player's Current Chips / (Big Blind + Small Blind + Antes per orbit)
As a rough measure of how the blinds restrict a player:
- M>20 -- A player is unrestricted
- M~10 -- A player is close to the danger zone and must play more aggressively with weaker hands
- M<=5 -- A player must move all in preflop
You'll probably want to start your players off with an M>20 and less than 100 -- unless you want a fairly long game. Starting with an M of around 30~50 will allow your players plenty of room to maneuver, while allowing you to increase the blinds gradually for a 2~3 hour game. Longer tournaments will typically start players with much deeper stacks. The WSOP, for example, starts the players with an M of 133.
- T2500 w/ 25/50 blinds, players start with M=33
- T5000 w/ 25/50 blinds, players start with M=66
Similar to a player's M, the overall tournament M (tM) is a measure of how a tournament is progressing. Typically, a tournament will end around the time when tM = 10. It is possible for the tournament to end sooner, but it's hard for it to end too much later (unless your players are VERY passive).
tM = (sum of ALL chips in play) / (Big Blind + Small Blind + 2xAntes)
Sum of all chips in play = Number of Players x Starting stack + Rebuys + Addons
If you want the shortcut method to ballpark the required blinds:
Small Blind = Sum of all chips in play / 30
Small Blind = Sum of all chips in play / 40
Ante = Small Blind / 3
Given these new bits of knowledge, we'll refine our goal for creating a tournament structure:
We want to allow the players to start with a reasonable M, and increase the blinds gradually such that tM=10 when we want the tournament to end.
Number of blind levels:
Typically, you'll want your blind levels to last at least 15 to 20 minutes so that you get at least one full orbit at a full table. For a 2 hour tournament, you have time for eight 15 minute levels. For longer games, you have the option of increasing the number of levels, or increasing the time between levels (or both!).
Blind structure Rules-of-thumb:
- Having more blind levels allows for slower blind increases
- Starting players with a larger M means that the blind increases will be more aggressive
- Avoid having level jumps of more than 2x the previous level
- Try to design your structure to color out low denomination chips as the tournament progresses
- You'll want your final blind level such that tM ~ 10
- Feel free to place additional levels after the predicted end point for the tournament to insure that the game ends for certain
Starting chip stack T1500
, 10 players, no rebuys/addons
2 hour tournament -> 8 levels at 15 minutes each
We know our 8th level should have SB = 1500x10 / 30 = 500, BB=1000
If we start our 1st level at 10/20, players have a M=50 (good).
So our structure looks as follows:
[10/20], ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, [500/1000]
Filling it in using our rules-of-thumb:
[10/20], [15/30], [25/50], [50/100], [100/200], [150/300], [300/600], [500/1000]
We see only a few 2x jumps in the blinds, otherwise the increases are fairly gentle.
An alternate method to tournament structure construction is to compute the final blind level, and use our rules-of-thumb to work backwards for the desired number of levels.
Starting chip stack T3000
, 10 players, no rebuys/addons
8 level tournament, no antes
Ending blind level: SB = 3000x10 / 30 = 1000, BB = 2000
[1000/2000], ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?
Using our rules of thumb:
[1000/2000], [800/1600], [500/1000], [300/600], [200/400], [100/200], [50/100], [25/50]
200/400 (color out T25)
800/1600 (color out T100)
Now, we just need to check the starting M. Starting M = 3000 / (25+50) = 40 -- good! We'll also need to check to make sure that we're coloring out the low denom chips at a reasonable time.
By now, you should have a good idea on how to design a blind structure. You can easily design structures to suit your needs (larger stacks, more levels, slower/faster progression, etc). The examples given are geared toward 10 player sit-n-go style tournaments with no rebuys. If you offer rebuys or if there are more players in the game, you'll have to compensate for the additional chips on the table in your tM calculations. Just keep the rules-of-thumb in mind and you'll be good to go!
Additional Blind Construction Systems
The "Gentle" Blind Structure:
If you prefer a fairly gentle blind increase system, you can try Wijwij's 2-3-4-6 blind progression system. This works well if you are using chips that are spread out by the "standard" amounts. i.e. T1, T5, T25, T100, T500, etc.
The way the 2-3-4-6 system works is that the 2-3-4-6 tells you how many of your smallest chip is equal to the small blind. For a game where your smallest chip is T1, your starting blinds are [2/4]. For a game where your smallest chip is T5, the blinds are [10/20].
10 players, starting stack T150
(colorup to T5 as smallest chip)
(colorup to T25 as smallest chip)
50/100, tM = 10 (tournament ends)
Using the 2-3-4-6 system where T5 is the smallest chip:
10 players start with T1000
(colorup to T25 as smallest chip)
(colorup to T100 as smallest chip)
300/600, tM = 11 (tournament ends)
The advantages of using the 2-3-4-6 system are that it's very easy to remember, and your colorups are at fixed intervals. Also, your blind increases are all less than double the previous level. The disadvantage is that players tend to start with smaller M's and you need more time for the tournament since there are more levels.
Similar to the 2-3-4-6 system is the 1-2-3-5-8 progression. It has no steep jumps, and it's a system that's easy to remember. If you wanted to run a T100, T1000, or T10,000 give this a try. For larger starting stacks, you can utilize the more aggressive 1-2-3-5 blind progression.
10 players with T10,000
15 min blinds, 2 hr Tournament (20 min blinds and the tournament lasts close to 3 hrs)
3000/6000, tM = 11.1 (tournament expected to end)
For a T1000 tournament, divide the above blinds by 10. For a T100 tournament, divide the above blinds by 100.
The Delayed Blind Structure:
The delayed blind structure operates on the following principles:
- We want to start with a high M
- We want the blinds to increase slowly while there are many players
- We want the blinds to increase quickly when there are fewer players (so they finish up and we can start a new game!)
Therefore, we wish to have smaller blind increases at the beginning of the game, and more aggressive 2x blind increases toward the end of the game. We can also make the later blind levels shorter in length.
10 players, T2000
2 hour structure,
9 levels -- first 4 levels @ 15 min, last 5 levels @ 12 min
25/50 (colorup T5)
150/300 (colorup T25)
600/1200, tM=11 (tournament ends)
The advantage of the "delayed" structure is that you get more play in the early part of the tournament because starting stacks will be relatively larger. However, some players don't like seeing the blinds aggressively increase toward the end of a tournament, and would prefer a more gentle progression.
Blind Structures with Antes:
Adding antes in addition to increasing the blinds allows for smaller blind increases since antes will help drive the action. Also, you can delay coloring out a smaller chip if it's being used as an ante. One major disadvantage is that counting antes (and prodding your players to ante) will be an annoyance to most players before they get used to it. You'll see antes in most casino structures since they don't bother to color out small chips unless they are forced to. Also, a paid dealer is at the table to collect the antes.
If you choose to have antes in your structure, try to keep the ante around 25%-33% of the small blind. i.e. 25 ante at 100/200, 75 or 100 ante at a 300/600 blind level.
Foxwoods, ~2hr structure, 10 players. 15 min levels
100/200 + 25 ante
200/400 + 50
300/600 + 75
400/800 + 100 ante (color T25 up after this level)
600/1200 + 200 ante tM = 11 (tournament expected to end)
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