Share the wealth
[Public service announcement: I have poker buddies on multiple continents who will have difficulty believing I wrote the following blog post. But I did. Feel free to contact me and ask obscure questions to confirm that I haven't been replaced by an alternate Lee Jones]
You know, it has to happen sometimes - I made the final table of a small local tournament on Sunday night. I lost with aces early, but for a relatively small amount. Then I got all-in with the identical two cards (the "minor" aces, if you care) and doubled up. Somewhere in there my 99 won a race against AK for all my chips. I got big value with AK against a weaker ace on an ace-high board. Nothing fancy, just some good hands and a bit of luck.
So there I am at the nine-handed final table with a moderately good stack - I'm pretty sure I'm the second chip leader - but it's like 25-30 blinds, as will happen in these things.
It was a £20+5 buy-in, one £20 rebuy, and a £20 add-on. For the £5 vig, we got a £5 bet on red/black at roulette and a buffet dinner at the tournament break. So almost everybody had £65 invested. Great value for the evening in every respect.
Beating the bubble
A couple of people busted out, and we were down to seven. Five got paid, 5th place was £100. So if you busted 5th, you were going to make about 50% on your investment. That's fine with me, and I'm squarely in the camp of long shallow payouts in tournaments (I think we had 23 runners). But here was the thing: it was past midnight and the tournament had started at 7pm. I'm pretty sure the buffet break wasn't an hour long, so we'd been playing poker for getting toward five hours. And two of our remaining players were going to go home empty-handed.
I said, "I got an idea. There's seven of us here. What if each of us reaches into his pocket and puts in £20 and we build a £140 kitty. We'll give £70 each to the people who bust 7th and 6th so they don't go home empty-handed after five hours of poker."
It took a little bit of explaining, but eventually everybody agreed that it was a fine idea. Turns out two of the guys didn't have any more cash on them, but the guy sitting next to me put in £40 extra and said, "Look - one way or another you two are about to have some cash on you - we'll sort it out then."
What a gentleman.
Short-term loss, long-term gain
Now here's the truth: there wasn't a huge chance that I was going to be 7th or 6th out. As I said, I was second chip leader and I had the chip leader on my immediate right. Furthermore, there were some very short stacks at the table. Obviously, crazy things can happen in poker, but I liked my chances.
The thing is: sometimes, even at a poker table, it's not about the money. Especially when one of those guys said he'd go to the ATM to get money so he could participate in the save, I thought, "This is so the right thing to do."
Now, before I go further, I need to say that while it's fine for a table full of people to agree to a deal or a save, they should never pressure anybody to do one. And the tournament officials have an obligation to prevent anybody trying to do so. If one person says he wants to play it out (or doesn't want to do the save), then that's what you do. I've written about this in the past, and I still believe it.
But in this case, there was quick and enthusiastic agreement to the idea, and it meant that all seven of us would be guaranteed to go home with some money in our pockets. Especially for younger, perhaps lower bankrolled players, this is a huge win. If a relatively new player comes down to the casino, plays poker for five hours, gets a free meal, and leaves with pretty much the same money he walked in with, he's likely to consider that a moderately good result. It's sure as hell a better result than going home with empty pockets. And maybe it means he'll come back next time and become part of the regular crew.
So yes, I put £20 into the kitty being pretty sure that I wasn't getting £20 in equity for my contribution. This is the part where I've grown up a lot over the years; I learned that you can get your equity back in forms other than pounds and pence, dollars and cents.
Epilogue: Because people will ask... numbers 7 and 6 busted (and were duly paid) and we got into the real money. I got knocked down by doubling up a guy's bigger pocket pair. But then I shoved ATs, got called by jacks who had me barely covered, and I flopped the flush. Shortly thereafter, a guy shoved with deuces, it folded to me in the big blind and I woke up with my third pair of aces for the night. He flopped a deuce and I rivered an ace. I ended up chopping the final two (by chips) with my friend and colleague Remy. It wasn't karma, or fate, or "because you offered the deal" or anything else. It was because I hit some cards I needed. Sometimes that's how poker goes.
But more important than the profit was the lesson I learned that it can be a fine thing to give away money at the poker table.
Lee Jones is the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars. He first joined the company in 2003 and has been involved in the professional poker world since the mid 1980's. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones.