Thirty-One Tips: 25. Understand a Calcutta

Posted on 25. Jan, 2011 by in Ethics and Morals, Pool Rooms, Tournament Reports

Get into the action at a tournament through the Calcutta.

A friend of mine asked me to clarify exactly how a Calcutta works at a pool tournament.  I have been to many Calcuttas and I witnessed a first just last weekend at Fargo Billiards.  The full field player auction of 82 players gathered over $10,000 into the side pot.

Fargo Billiards Midwinter Payouts 2011

Great payouts for the 82 players that braved the -20 degree weather!

Most people know that North Dakota is doing very well despite the recession, but I thought the big money was in the Western part of the state near the oil fields!  Here’s the breakdown of a Calcutta that I sent to my buddy.

Howdy partner!

I’ll be happy to explain the Calcutta for you.  Sometimes they also call it a “Player Auction” which occurs before the tournament begins.  Money collected in the bidding is paid out to the owner of the player(s) they bought before the tournament began. Sometimes in a tournament with 32 players, the Calcutta will pay out the top 4 spots.  The cash in the bidding pot might be split up as follows: 1st place 40%, 2nd place 30%, 3rd place 20%, and 4th place 10%.

Sometimes players feeling confident will purchase themselves in the Calcutta so they have a chance to win a nice side pot if they finish high enough in the tournament.  Most often, it is a spectator or other player that buys someone in the Calcutta. Many times, some friends will form a small “corporation” and pool their money to buy several players to they have a few chances to get one of their players into the Calcutta money payout.  With very, very few exceptions, the player ALWAYS has the option to seek out their “Owner” and purchase half of themselves back.  The winning bidder must accept half their bid in cash from the player and then each party owns half and are each entitled to half the Calcutta prize money if the player finishes in a payout slot.

The auction begins before the tournament.  The list of players is printed out for all players and spectators in the pool room to examine the list and evaluate who they think might have the best chance to do well in the tournament.  This whole Calcutta procedure must happen just after registrations for the tournament is cut off but before the draw is done and the matches are posted on the tournament bracket.  This would give Calcutta participants an unfair advantage and cause a huge bottleneck if people tried to see which of the top players might have the easiest path to the finals.

The Calcutta always begins with a couple of “Wild Cards” or “Pick of the Litter” or “Pick of the Fields.”  The auctioneer begins accepting bids on a player to be named by the high bidder.  These couple of players are typically the best guys around, but in a talented field, the final couple of bidders might actually be thinking of different players.  Usually these first 2 bids set the tone and the high water mark for the rest of the bids.  After bidding closes on the first bid ($750 going once, twice, SOLD!) the winning bidder must announce to the whole room who they choose.  That player is then sold and the process is repeated for the second “Wild Card.”

After the first two bidders choice picks, the rest of the field is auctioned off one at a time down the list.  The auctioneer says “Next player for sale is Mike Fieldhammer, player and instructor from Minneapolis. Where’s Mike?  Raise your hand please, Mike. There he is! Mike, do you have $50 on yourself? Yes! Okay, do I hear $100 for Mike Fieldhammer?”  And so on until every player in the field is sold.

Sometimes in a smaller Calcutta, some of the less talented players won’t get any buyers and the player might not want to purchase himself either.  In these cases, all unsold players go into a pool of players called “The Field.”  At the end of the auction, “The Field” is then sold to the highest bidder.  Say there are 5 players in “The Field”, the auctioneer will read off the players that are lumped together and bidding progresses as usual.  Anyone who buys “The Field” cashes in if ANY of those players finish in the payout positions.  Players in “The Field” have no option to purchase half themselves.  They had their chance to buy all of themselves during regular bidding and it isn’t fair to the owner of “The Field” because it would be impossible to figure an equitable payment for a fraction of the winning bid.

The Calcutta can be an exciting way for spectators and players to get in on the action at a pool tournament.  It can be a great way to increase drama, viewership of the final few matches, and to increase the prize monies paid out on the day. Many people enjoy using their knowledge of how each player competes to get a leg up on other bidders.  It is much like bettors at a racetrack handicapping the field and picking the horse they think has the best odds of winning the race.  In fact, at Calcuttas players are often referred to as “Horses!”

Hope that helps,


One thing that I must stress is that I am absolutely against any kind of garnishing the Calcutta monies for the pool room or tournament director to make a little extra profit.  Sure, I understand that it is some extra work to run a Calcutta, but the room or TD should already be paid for putting on the event.  I believe that getting greedy by withholding cash is a terrible practice that hurts the image of the event and sours players on bidding.  The wise guys who buy players figure odds and returns on investments and scoff at a tampered prize pool.  I say to those rooms and TD’s that skim, please leave it as a bonus for the Calcutta participants.  The prize money will be higher and more players and spectators will come to an event that is on the level!

Fargo Billiards takes it one step further. I’ve got to say again what a first class operation Mike Page and Rory run at Fargo Billiards & Gastropub.  There was another first for me at a pool tournament.  They laid out a free breakfast for players an hour before the Calcutta began.  The auction started at 11 a.m. Saturday, so delicious scrambled eggs, bacon, bagels, muffins,  and coffee was laid out and it was fantastic.  I think it a was very generous gesture to thank players for attending the second annual event in -20 degree Fargo weather.  It also had benefit of getting many people into the building in the morning and putting them in a giving mood to add some extra action into the Calcutta.

Fargo Billiards & Gastropub


One Response to “Thirty-One Tips: 25. Understand a Calcutta”

  1. Robert

    03. Sep, 2018

    My “Room” has never been paid to host a tournament. I have always paid out to the tournament director and added money to the pot in order to increase attendance. I would hope that if a few thousand dollars gets thrown in to the Calcutta, I should get a percentage of it. It is extremely difficult to host a tournament when players walk in with their own coffee, breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks. Hell, I’ve even seen people bring in beer. I f I am not charging any greens fees, how the heck am I supposed to get my money back?

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