How to play rebuy tournaments

Rebuy tournaments are available at most online poker sites and land based casinos today. As opposed to ordinary freezeout tournaments, a rebuy tournament allows players to take up more chips during an initial period of the tournament – the rebuy period.

It usually lasts for two or three blind levels, but may vary from poker site to poker site. After the rebuy period you have the opportunity to buy chips one last time (the add-on), and then the tournament is played out to its conclusion in the exact same manner as a freezeout tournament.

This modified tournament format gives rise to a number of strategy considerations that you need to be aware of when entering a rebuy tournament.

Analyzing the structure for rebuys and add-ons

Rebuy tournaments come in a multitude of flavors. Several parameters need to be considered when evaluating a specific rebuy and add-on tournament: number of rebuys allowed, rebuy conditions, add-on conditions, the price and size of rebuys and add-ons, etc.

In some rebuy tournaments a single rebuy is allowed and only if all your chips are gone. This may for example be used to prevent early eliminations in a land-based tournament where people come a long way to play. The other extreme is online tournaments that allow an unlimited number of rebuys under the single restriction that you can only rebuy if you have less chips than you started with.

Add-ons are available only at the end of the rebuy period and independently of your stack. Mostly only one add-on is allowed, but you may find rebuy tournaments allowing more add-ons (still at one single point in time, though).

A quite degenerated version of rebuy & add-on tournaments that some online poker rooms offer is when you start with 500 chips and can make unlimited rebuys as long as you don’t have more than 1500 chips – and with three add-ons. This leads to a situation where players more or less automatically make two rebuys right at the start, always fill up with three rebuys when they go broke, and then make three add-ons, thus making nine buy-ins – as a minimum.

Count on spending more time and money

An obvious difference from regular freezeout tournaments is that rebuy tournaments are more expensive. Typically you need to expect making at least one rebuy and one add-on, that is, a total of three buy-ins. Of course, having allowance four yet one or two rebuys increases you room to maneuver.

As a consequence, you need to adjust your buy-in level downwards. For example, if you usually play in $30 freezeout tournaments, you would typically choose rebuy tournaments at around $10, depending on the rebuy and add-on conditions.

Rebuy tournaments also require much more time than freezeout tournaments with the same number of entrants. This is for two reasons. First, there is the opening rebuy period during which very few players will be eliminated. So the freezeout part of the tournament starts at more or less the same number of players but one hour later (or so).

Second, thanks to the rebuy frenzy taking place during the rebuy period, when the freezeout part starts the average stack tends to be deeper than in a standard freezeout tournament, even though the blind level has been increased a couple of times. Consequently, to estimate how long a rebuy tournament will be, you may have to regard it as a deep-stack freezeout tournament with a later start.

Advantages of rebuy tournaments

On the other hand, rebuy tournaments with a decent structure can be very nice as long as you feel comfortable with the required level of expenses. If players make a lot of rebuys, the enlarged prize pool may get very tempting. Not least so if you manage to keep your own rebuys below average. However, trying to make as few rebuys as possible is not a self-evident goal, as will be discussed below.

Another aspect that should appeal to the serious poker player is the increased average stack incurred by a large number of rebuys. If you manage to stay alive in the tournament with a decent stack, and given that the poker site uses a good blind structure, you will be playing deep stack poker for a long time once the rebuy period has been closed.

Conservative rebuy strategy

But let’s start at the beginning. How should you adjust your strategy to the particular conditions of the rebuy period? Well, this is actually a matter of discussion. Let’s have a look at the different stances, which lead to very different strategies.

In one end of the scale we find the old school theorists, such as Mason Malmouth and David Sklansky, who look at things through quite thick mathematical goggles. Using a couple of very natural simplifications it can be shown that there is no positive expected value in making a rebuy as long as you are not very short-stacked. Add-ons on the other hand give an increased mathematical expectation except for the case when you have a very big stack at the end of the rebuy period. This stance leads to a conservative rebuy strategy where you basically make as few rebuys as possible.

While the strategy may be mathematically sound, and might temperate your poker bankroll swings, it does not take into account the advantage of playing with a big stack in a big bet poker game (that is, no-limit or pot-limit poker).

Aggressive rebuy strategy

At the other end of the scale we find the expansive and daring big bet poker players who will go to almost any length in order to build up a really big stack. For example, renowned poker pro Daniel Negreanu has been known to make more than 40 rebuys in a tournament! Even though this might be a bit on the expensive side, there are some strong arguments for a more generous attitude towards rebuys.

First of all, in big bet poker, sitting with a big stack is a very real advantage. It is no coincidence that cash game players usually try to play with as deep a stack as possible and re-fill as soon as they take a hit. With a big stack you can apply great pressure on players with smaller stacks.

Strange as it may sound, when it comes to mathematical expectation a chip in a big stack is worth slightly less than a corresponding chip in a small stack. Due to this effect, big stacks play cheaper than small stacks in the same pot, something which will induce big stacks to bet more and raise more than the cards would normally motivate, while small stacks will be more reluctant to make the required investment.

Another advantage of playing with a big stack is that you do not risk immediate elimination when you go up against a smaller stack. You can jab and stab at a lot of pots and keep building your stack without taking any great risks, and you may force opponents out of pots by moving all in without putting your existence at risk. A big stack is a very good insurance against busting out of a tournament. And not busting out is the only way to win!

Backed up by these facts, a lot of poker players make all available rebuys in order to play with a big stack. Combined with extremely loose starting hand requirements during the rebuy period (see below), they often manage to claim a solid position for the rest of the tournament. Of course, such a strategy can prove very expensive and each player must do his or her own assessment of whether it is a winning proposition or not.

For natural reasons, in fixed limit tournaments the big stack argument is not as relevant.

Pumping up your table

An interesting effect of playing wild poker and making a ridiculous amount of rebuys is that you can “pump up” the table you are sitting at. Due to all your rebuys, and possibly other players’ as well, the total amount of chips at the poker table increases very much and, in a sense, a fair share of them are still yours. You can still get them back at a decent probability.

If you manage to do so, you will have much more chips than you could possibly collect by making a single buy-in and playing safely. It works as though you would lend chips to the other players at the table and then have them refunded. Of course, for this trick to work it is important that the table does not break. Different poker sites break up tables according to different rules, and you would be well advised to read them through.

The crazy rebuy bug at Party Poker

An extreme case of ‘rebuy rich’ tournaments are those at PartyPoker. Due to a software bug, players can pump their stacks more or less at will. The trick is to put all your chips on the table. For, as soon as you are all in, the poker client will let you make a rebuy (or actually two). It doesn’t matter if all the other players fold to your raise or if you win the hand. The rebuys will go through and the chips will be added to your stack regardless. Of course, some players use this bug to make a preposterous amount of rebuys.

In those tournaments, coming in with a conservative approach is probably doomed to failure. Even if you play smartly and manage to double up a couple of times through your maniac opponents, your stack is bound to be way below those of the chip leaders when the rebuy period is finished.

Game strategy during the rebuy period

One great asset of poker is that there is rarely one single correct game strategy. Successful players can be seen using quite different styles, and this holds true for the rebuy period of rebuy and add-on tournaments as well.

A lot of players will start out playing very loosely in an effort to amass a comfortable stack. Since there is no risk of being eliminated (as long as you don’t reach your rebuy cap) moving in again and again with marginal hands may seem like a good idea.

Some players choose a somehow less extreme strategy, playing somewhat more hands than usual and moving in a bit more lightheartedly than they would do in a freezeout tournament.

As always in poker, a player can profit by adjusting to the strategy of other players. If you know that a lot of players at your table will take off in a crazy all-in battle early on, you might want to sit back and wait for a strong starting hand before going in and hopefully doubling up. Your chances of making it all the way are certainly smaller than if you would use a more aggressive rebuy strategy, but if you get lucky (or at least not unlucky), there is a very nice overlay for you due to other players’ accumulated buy-ins.

As usual when playing against a loose opponent, if you notice that your opponents play very loose, of course you can loosen up your own requirements a bit. You won’t need as strong a hand as usual to beat them.

Combinations of game strategy and rebuy strategy

Of course, a loose and wild poker game strategy couples naturally with a generous rebuy strategy, and more conservative strategies are usually combined with conservative rebuy strategies. But you may combine tight play with loose rebuy requirements, making sure that you always play with as big a stack as possible. Also, you could conceivably combine a loose game strategy with a conservative rebuy strategy, taking great risks in the hopes of doubling up quickly while only re-filling once or twice and then giving it up if it doesn’t bare.

Game strategy after the rebuy period

Once the rebuy period is over, the poker tournament goes on like a regular freezeout. Many players will change their style of play considerably at this stage, tightening up and playing more for survival than fast stack expansion. Stacks will generally be deep on average, and you will need to use all parts of a fully fledged poker tournament strategy just as you use to – selecting tactics depending on the size of your stack, the stack of your opponents, the number of players at the table, the prize structure, and so on.

And as always when playing poker sites, don’t forget to look out for the best poker bonus!

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