Spins & Knockout formats have replaced the old school Single Table Tournament, can this classic online format be saved?
Last week PokerStars changed their SNG offering so that six max SNGs became five max, in an attempt to speed up registrations and get games running faster. No doubt some will see it as a ‘rake grab’ but I commented that SNGs really need a shot in the arm. While it is a very small change to a niche format, this one hit me a little bit because six max SNGs were my bread and butter game back in the day.
SNGs are a dying format which is a real shame because they were a great way to learn poker, especially ICM, back in the day. In fact a lot of the great MTT players today cut their teeth in SNGs at the start, but they get skipped altogether by most these days. It is even a struggle to get the 45-man and 180-man SNGs running these days which were a grinder’s favourite.
So what exactly can we do to get SNGs back up on their feet?
Do they need saving?
I guess the first question is do they even need saving? The increased marketing focus on MTTs has not helped SNGs but the real hammer blow to them was the rise of Lottery SNGs like Spin & Go. Players who want to play a quick format with a clear winner at the end are much more attracted by Spins. They are faster, well suited for mobile and have the promise of big money. Recreational players go to Spins and therefore so do the regs.
The other small change to traditional SNGs is that KO SNGs are much more popular, mirroring their evolution in tournaments and also the new Grand Tour Lottery SNG at PokerStars. That is just the way poker is going, recreational players like being rewarded for bust outs and they are harder to solve so the professionals like them.
So in the same way that No Limit Hold’em replaced Limit Hold’em, maybe we are seeing the natural disruption of one format and another filling it’s place. I have always had a soft spot for traditional SNGs, so I still would like to see them get a life line.
It strikes me that if Stars are replacing six max with five max, we might see nine max replaced with eight max. I’d suggest if that is the way we are heading, why not make all of them seven max? Nine and six max SNGs play quite differently and I would suggest this would be a natural way to combine the two player pools and improve liquidity. You could pay three players, which would spread the money around more than nine max, with a 3.5/2/1.5 buy-in payout. That would be similar to the 3.5/1.5 payout you get in five max SNGs.
The 1.5 buy-in payout for mincashing is the sort of things that regulars might argue against but I think they might be a welcome compromise for recreational players. Unibet have been doing these already in five max SNGs and they are also the only site to have a x1.5 multiplier in their HexaPro Lottery SNG. This allows them to award more big multipliers and from a recreational perspective they are disappointed with a x2 anyway, so their disappointment at a x1.5 is not much greater.
Can a lottery prize pool work?
Realistically to get a big shot in the arm, SNGs need a big loyalty promotion attached, like Battle of the Planets back in the day. Unibet recently had a rake free month which saw an uptick in SNG traffic and I have seen similar surges whenever another site has tried an SNG promotion, but they always fall back to old levels when the promo is over.
Whether it is a grinder leaderboard promotion or changing the number of players, these solutions might slow the decline but it really is putting a band aid on a bullet wound. I think the only way online poker can revitalise traditional SNGs if they can somehow incorporate the Lottery SNG model of a variable prize pool. So the SNG still has the same ratio of payouts to the top 2/3 finishers, but the prize pool itself has the potential to be bigger.
That is already happening to a small extent in that Spin & Go Max awards more than one finisher when a full table is seated, but it sadly does not get much action compared to Spin & Go and the number of runners & payouts is random.
I love SNGs but sadly I think the writing is on the wall for them in the traditional format. Recreational players prefer Spin & Go or knockout formats, and online poker operators prefer those too for myriad reasons. There are more profitable formats out there today but I would implore those of you who haven’t given them a try to do so, because they are fun and the best way to learn the fundamentals of ICM.
Do SNGs need saving? Let us know in the comments: