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Industry Insiders: Poker Payout & POY Formula Guru Thomas “TomSki” Sanduski

There’s no denying that players and poker fans love the Player of the Year races, just ask. Shaun Deb and Daniel Negreanu who often argue World Series of Poker (WSOP) Player of the Year. Similarly, point rankings, such as that of European Super High Roller Bowl won by Phil Iveyhelp fuel competition, while payout structures often pique player interest (we’re looking at you Allen Kesler).

Although we know about POY races and payout structures, have you ever wondered how they are designed? Chances are that many of the ones you follow, like the WSOP change from paying 10% field to 15%, were designed by Thomas “TomSki” Sanduskico-founder of the Zimmerle-TomSki POY method.

PokerNews recently sat down with Sanduski to discuss a bit more of an often unexplored area of ​​the poker industry.

The origin of “TomSki”

Sanduski, 60, was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, but moved to Las Vegas in 1985.

Sanduski was a high school track star who became a state champion after running the mile in just 4:22 in 1979. He then attended the University of Oklahoma where he earned a bachelor of science degree in computer science .

“I then moved to Reno for a year before moving to Las Vegas,” he said. “I worked at the Las Vegas Hilton Superbook when it opened in 1988. Then, in the late 1990s, I worked for a slot machine manufacturer that was designing new types of video poker games. 2000s, I also wrote a video poker strategy column for Summary of poker magazine under the name of the pen “TomSki. »

As for poker itself, TomSki first learned in 1977 playing against his track buddies when he was a sophomore in high school.

“I immediately fell in love with the game. I tried to read all the poker strategy books but there were very few at the time. We followed what little coverage there was on the Main Event of the WSOP and we took the nicknames of the players. I was Bobby “The Owl” Baldwin. When I moved to Nevada after college, I played $3-$6 Limit Hold’em after work. I moved up to the $10-$20 limit and was making more at poker than at work, so I quit working at the Hilton and played poker full time for nine years.

He continued, “At the time, limit hold’em was the only game, and no-limit didn’t become popular until the early 2000s with the explosion of online poker. After quitting my job as a video poker designer, I started playing no-limit hold’em and also started playing tournaments, and I’ve been doing that ever since.

POY Features

Daniel Negreanu POY
Daniel Negreanu is still competing for WSOP POY.

In any type of points classification or POY race, there is a lot of math involved. So what kind of work goes into designing a POY and/or payment plan?

“A good POY formula must carefully balance field size, adhesion, and placement,” Sanduski explained factually. “All existing POY formulas used by large sites have flaws in this regard. They can overvalue high buy-ins or wins, or undervalue 5% finishes in large fields, or overvalue min-cash. Some have caps on field size and buy-ins or number of scored events because their formulas cannot handle outlier events with massive fields or high buy-in amounts. Robert Zimmerle and I’ve created a POY formula that doesn’t need caps and can more accurately gauge tournament performance better than any existing POY used.

This formula is called the Zimmerle-TomSki POY method, which takes into account and reduces the outlier effects of big buy-in events and large on-field events.

“In 2017, Chris Ferguson won the WSOP POY with an incredible 23 wins. He eventually won a bracelet in the European leg of the series, but so far he seemed to have racked up most of his points on min-cash type finishes,” Sanduski explained. “For example, the WSOP formula at the time awarded 23% of the points awarded for a win in a field of 600 players at a 90th place min-cash. Many, including Daniel Negreanu, felt that was too many points. for min cash.

He continued: “The Global POY Poker Index (GPI) also rewards 24% for a min-cash of 600 players. Our method corrects for this and would award around 7% to a min-cash in a field of 600 players. Our method reduced Ferguson’s min-cash enough for the official sixth-place finisher Kenny Hallaert would have won POY according to our formula. Hallaert only had 10 cashes, but he made $820,000 and his average result was 95.5% compared to Ferguson’s $438,000 and 91.7%. Our method is able to mitigate the outlier effects of big buy-in events and large field events, so we don’t need to cap buy-in amounts or field sizes or limit the number events counted as required by the GPI method.
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What about payments?

Traditionally, the payouts were quite high in favor of the winner of a tournament. In fact, many events in the early days of the WSOP were win-win.

“In 1985, a $1,000 WSOP event with 342 players only paid out nine seats,” Sanduski pointed out. “Players complained about this and over the next few years up to 23% of the pitch was paid, but this was then reduced to a standard level of 10% in the early 1990s. With the massive increase of field sizes after 2003, most payouts did not adjust the amount paid in first place accordingly, and so even today too much money is often paid out to the winner.

“A decision to pay 15% of the field against 10% allows 50% more players to cash in and walk away with a positive feeling and more money to participate in other events.”

He continued: “It no longer makes sense to pay 15% for first place in a field of 6,000 players as it does in an 800 player field when 8-9% would be more reasonable. In addition, a decision to pay 15% of the field against 10% allows 50% more players to cash in and walk away with a positive feeling and more money to participate in other events. And flattening payouts at the top where the tax rate can reach 40% allows more money to stay in the poker economy.

For Sanduski, a good tournament payout formula needs to have a few parameters in place such as the percentage of the field to pay (he thinks 15% seems ideal), re-entries being treated as an addition to the size of the field, the amount of the min-cash, a logarithmic formula for the percentage paid in first place, and each salary jump should have a higher ratio from top to bottom.

“For example, if the first pays 1.5 times more than the second, then the second should pay less than 1.5 times more than the third, not more than 1.5 times,” he said. “An exception to this can be made a few jumps in salary all the way down to payouts.

What is Sanduski up to today?

Thomas “TomSki” Sanduski in the early days.

Outside of the poker industry, Sanduski wrote trading software in 1999 called Video Poker Strategy Master which prints out an optimal strategy for video poker players to use so that they don’t make mistakes when deciding which cards to keep on the deal.

More recently in 2016, he consulted the WSOP’s Jack Effect and Tyler Pipal to recalibrate their payout tables (this would be the payout change from 10% to 15% of the field.

“I then consulted Matt Savage to the World Poker Tour (WPT) to create a new payout table for the WPT main events,” Sanduski said. “I have not yet actively pursued the adoption of our POY formula, but I hope to do so in the near future.”

Plus, you can sometimes find Sanduski having fun at the $1-$3 No-Limit Hold’em games in Las Vegas because like many who work in the poker industry, he also loves to gamble!

Check out more industry insiders here!

*Images courtesy of Thomas “TomSki” Sanduski.

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Chad Holloway

United States Editor-in-Chief

American editor, co-host of the PokerNews podcast and winner of the 2013 WSOP bracelet.