Lately there's been a significant growth in the number of tournaments that stay open for late registration.

It's a good thing in that it allows a far greater number of entrants, and you don't have to miss your favourite tournament because you're still playing the final table of one you started ages ago.

Now, with a tournament that has 2 hours of late registration, and standard 12-15 minute blinds, is it best to join at the start, when you'll have 150 BBs, or near the end of late reg, when you'll have around 30 BBs?

I know it sounds simple and you should just start with loads of BBs, but at the start you'll be battling far more players, giving you both a greater chance of building a large stack but a somewhat equal chance of going out early.

When you join 5 minutes before the end of late registration you usually have roughly half the average stack, but with that comes up to half the number of total entrants still running, so half the number of opponents as well as a more clear view of the table dynamics due to stack sizes etc.

What should I factor in, and if possible, how could I calculate my expected value for entering at various different stages of late registration?


You should enter the tournament as early as possible. Presumably, you're participating in the tournament because you have some sort of edge against the field. In other words, you should be playing the tournament because it is profitable for you to do so.

Playing the earlier stages of the tournament lets you play more hands against your opponents, which (particularly in the long run) reduces variance (see the law of large numbers).

Playing the earlier stages of the tournament also lets you play against the weakest players who are likely to make massive mistakes early on that get them eliminated quickly. Being able to capitalize on these mistakes and get a large stack early is a huge opportunity that you shouldn't pass up.

Finally, the earlier stages of the tournament have deeper stacks. Instead of getting into lots of marginal spots where you're coin-flipping preflop you'll have more room to navigate postflop. Your skill over your opponents is more easily realized with deeper stacks.

  • I like your reasoning, I'm inclined to accept :)
    – Dom
    Oct 18 '13 at 17:07
  • +1 couldn't have said it better myself
    – Radu Murzea
    Oct 18 '13 at 20:09

As you said, it is easy. You want to start with the maximum BB's. Play tight in beginning to increase your stack. If you join as shortstack with around 30 bb's you can be an easy victim by someone who pushes you all in without any problems. That will not happen in the beginning phase, because everyone has the same amount of bb's.. as you said, easy. :))

now the factor:

if the entry fee for the SNG / tournament is LOW meaning some dollars , the gambling increases, because many people don't care enough. For example 1 $ sit 'n' go. You can join the table, go afk and take a bath. That really works, so for low money tournaments starting late can be good. The bigger the prize the earlier you should go in, maybe you miss some good hands?

Disadvantage, if you start early you will probably stay in longer in tournament and your concentration will suffer from time. That's only my opinion of course.


No one has answered the actual answer to the question. ICM. ICM stands for Independent Chip Model, taking storm in the late 2000's. ICM determines the value of chips at a given point in the tournament based on pay structure, and players remaining. In essence, the more chips you accumulate, the less they are worth, since the tourney is not a winner take all. At the start of a tourney, say you start with 1000 chips, and the buy in is $100. If you double up first hand, how much MONEY are your 2000 chips worth? $200? Unfortunately for you, since hardly any tournaments are winner take all, your chips are going to be worth less than $200. This is where late registration comes in. Late registration increases the chance of cashing the tournament in most cases drastically, and you are coming in at a huge survival advantage, and, at worst, a small ICM plus expected value edge on the field, with the same mathematical chance of winning. This is a seemingly higher variance play than registering on time, but the math is simply on the side of late registration.

  • Do you really have the same mathematical chance of winning as a player who has 300 BBs while you have 10 BBs? How do you justify assigning a monetary value to your chip stack before you're at the payout stage? - until the bubble bursts your chips are worth nothing but a shot at winning. I've upvoted as it's an interesting answer, but it's also a bit confusing.
    – Dom
    Dec 1 '14 at 22:51

I guess the best answer to this is that you should join whenever you will have a stack that you are comfortable playing with.

If you are comfortable playing with a short stack then join right at the end of the late reg. (This what i do quite often). As long as you have over 10bb then you have a little bit of play before you have to be in Shove Fold mode.

If you are not good as a short stack then, either join straight away, or wait 30 mins or so!

  • 1
    I find anything less than 15 BBs a shove/fold type stack. I won't just shove only, I'll commit my stack to a pot I choose to play (raise 30 - 60% of my stack preflop) making it clear to the other players that I'm not afraid to stack off with my hand, and discouraging bluffers. Personally I don't enjoy being at risk of going out as soon as I join though, but it really depends on the speed of the blinds and my buy-in. For micro buy-ins I'd probably wait, whereas for buy-ins that are a little higher, I want more value for my money and time to play. The higher the stakes, the harder the opponents.
    – Dom
    Sep 14 '13 at 20:54

Considering you are a winning player you should register the tournament as early as possible, because as deepstacked as you are your edge will be bigger and overall variance lower, resulting in a higher ROI. However, if you late reg you will end up spending less time in that particular tournament, resulting in you being able to play more tournaments throughout the day.

To conclude, both sides have an advantage and a disadvantage and you should be somewhere in the middle. A good rule of thump is you should register when the ante kicks in. You will still be reasonably deepstacked and you are able to play more hands as opposed to pre-ante, resulting in an optimal hourly rate.


I like the accepted answer but I disagree with "get a large stack early".

Playing big pots to build a stack early is risky. Even a fish can wake up with or draw to the nuts.

Play pot control unless you have the nuts or are sure you have the best hand. It is better to be up 20% at the end of registration where you minimized risk than to double and have put your stack at risk. Early on you can often still get action from a weaker player when you do hit the nuts.

Say you go all in twice where you are a 2:1 favorite. There is only a 44% chance you win both. There is a 56% chance you bust out of the tournament. Even 4:1 (pair over pair pre) you go all in 3 times there is a 50% chance you will get stacked. If you build your stack you are not going to have as many situation where you are all in against a bigger stack. Avoid mixing it up with a bigger stack but some times it will play out that way. If they know you will fold anything but the nuts they will take advantage of you.

At a certain point (unless you are dominating the tournament) your stack to blind ratio is going to catch up and you can no longer play pot control. Ideally you can get in the money and never have put your whole stack at risk.

If you don't think you are better than the average field you should not be playing. Start early and build your stack.


Even the best player in the world only has a 90% chance of making the Add On/Cut Off period from the start of a tournament. By late registering I have a 100% chance. 😉

  • But with 1/2 stack you also have less chance of advancing.
    – paparazzo
    May 6 '18 at 12:02

Right...Agree with dom that at higher stakes where my edge is in the negative I want value for my $...so even if I get knocked out on the bubble I feel I have at least "paid for" some high stakes experience. If I cash I am over the moon...I have "been paid" for the lesson I received! For large field turbos Id want to miss no more than half of the hour late reg., for regular speeds one hour of the 2 hour late reg.. For MTT SNGs I want to be there from the start...you get too short too quick else. Riceman

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