Cash game players will often derisively refer to poker tournaments as lotteries. This isn’t entirely true, of course, but tournament play does come with much greater variance, and even the best players can go dozens of events without a major cash. That said, the fact that better players will win out in the end stops poker tournaments from truly being “lotteries.”
At least, that was true until recently. Over the last six months, online poker’s latest trend has been the introduction of so-called “lottery” sit-and-gos, tournaments in which even the players aren’t aware of the prize pool until after the tournament begins. The tournaments still reward skill, but those rewards can vary wildly from tournament to tournament.
The fascination with lottery SNGs began in August 2013, when Winamax introduced a game known as Expresso Poker. That game allowed players to join fast-paced, three-player SNGs that would award the winner somewhere between 2x and 1,000x the buy-in they paid. That meant that while the final prize would often be a little smaller than in a traditional tournament, it would sometimes be unbelievably large.
Soon thereafter, iPoker launched a similar tournament structure named Twister. In June, Full Tilt Poker added their own lotteries with Jackpot Sit & Go Tournaments. And just this week, PokerStars has started to test their version of the format, known as Spin & Go, in the Spanish market.
The appeal of such tournaments isn’t hard to see. For high-volume players, the long-term expectation is basically the same as if they were playing a turbo three-man tournament with a traditional prize pool. But for more casual players, these lottery tournaments turn every visit to the tables into a shot at a huge jackpot.
“From the random prize pool draw at start of play to the fast-paced structure and format, Jackpot Sit & Go Tournaments have been designed to provide players, even if they only have a few minutes to play, a truly exciting way to compete for big prizes,” wrote Full Tilt Poker Director of Marketing Sarne Lightman in a press release.
While the basic format of these tournaments is the same just about everywhere, there have been a few attempts at innovation. Full Tilt Poker in particular has put a unique spin on these lotteries, offering a bigger 2,000x prize that is awarded just three times out of every 100,000 tournaments played. They also make sure everyone at the table gets something in the case that a tournament has a prize pool of 100x or more: the winner will get 75 percent of the prize pool, while second place gets 15 percent, and the third-place player gets the final 10 percent.
While PokerStars is just now jumping on the lottery SNG bandwagon, they are also in some ways the creator of the format. Back around the time of the celebration of the site’s 100-billionth hand, PokerStars ran a promotion known as Golden Sit & Gos. At that time, virtually any one-table tournament could randomly be selected as a Golden SNG, which would instantly increase the prize pool. Those tournaments could see the purse doubled, quadrupled, or even multiplied tenfold.