Free Mini at The Orleans

Gambling tournaments come in two forms: majors and minis. Major tournaments are multi day events with high entry fees, often real-money buy-ins and large prize pools. Minis are single-day events with low fees and are played with non-negotiable chips for smaller prizes.

One of the best minis to show up in a while is a Wednesday-night baccarat tourney at The Orleans Hotel & Casino that debuted a month or so ago. There is a $50 entry fee and a $3,000 prize pool; each player starts with $3,000 in nonnegotiable tournament chips and plays a round of 20 hands. Whoever ends up with the most chips goes to the semifinals, where the top two totals advance to a six-player final table. The winner takes down a cool $2,000, and the remainder of the pool is split among the other finalists depending on finishing position.

There are a lot of favorable elements at work here. Among them, the risk is limited to the $50 entry, the prize is large enough to get excited about and it’s just plain fun to play. Plus, depending on how many players enter, you might even have what’s known as an “equity advantage” in the game: Since the $3,000 prize is guaranteed, you have a theoretical advantage anytime there are fewer than 60 entries total, since 60 is the break-even point where money paid in prizes equals the total taken in (60 players x $50 entry = $3,000).

It works the other way, too, though. Since the tournament has a capacity of 108 players, you could wind up playing for only $3,000 when much more was collected—usually not a good gamble. It’s kind of complicated, but you don’t have to sweat it, because lately The Orleans has been running the tournament for free. That’s right: no entry fee at all and the same $3,000 prize pool. Now you can’t lose money, and with a full house of 108 players, your mathematical expectation (skill not considered) is a return of $27.78.

As long as the tournament is free, it will fill up. That means you’ll have to get there early to nab a spot. The first round starts at 8 p.m., but registration opens at 6 p.m. and you should try to get there even earlier. If you’re 50 or older, you can parlay the tourney with the property’s “Young at Heart” promotion that also runs that day, offering a club-point multiplier and a $15 dining credit after playing $300 through a machine. Plus, The Orleans has some of the best video poker schedules in town.

You may have clocked that I mentioned skill being a factor. The bad news is, tournaments are highly skill-dependent, and novices will get that $27.78 expectation cut into by the good players. The positive news is, the most important skill in a tournament is betting your money liberally. Bet big whenever you’re not in the lead and you’ll have it half-licked.

Anthony Curtis is the publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and