Stud: Making deals in tournaments

stud-thumb.jpgby Adam STUDSTOOD Roberts

With the annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) just around the corner, I thought that I would continue discussing various aspects of tournaments.

This blog will concentrate more on aspects of "deal making" in tournaments, as opposed to actual hand strategy or deciding which events to enter. Making deals towards the end of a specific event is sometimes controversial, but it's nothing new. It has been going on for many years.

There is nothing dishonest, cowardly, or underhanded about it. Deals are usually sanctioned by the Tournament Director, and agreed to by all of the players involved.
What usually happens is when 2-4 players are left in a given event, and their chips are somewhat equal, they may begin discussing how to split the prize money that is left in a percentage other than it is scheduled for in the prize payouts.

For discussion's sake, let's say that in a certain tournament, first place is worth $100K, second place is worth $75K, third place is worth $50K, and fourth place is worth $25K.
In theory, if we're going to make a deal, the simplest thing would be for everyone to have the same size chip stack, and be equally skilled. In that case, everyone could lay equal claim to ¼ of the prize pool, or $62.5K. Such a deal would be fair to each player, by any reasonable standard.

This is almost never the case. There will always be a disparity between one or more remaining players with regards to their chip stacks. If that happens to be the case, rarely will one of those remaining players with the higher percentage of chips want to make an even deal. And they would be correct, since their expected value is higher, based on the chips and probable cash outs in higher positions.

Players may choose to split evenly despite the chip disparity, but this is to the mathematical disadvantage of the bigger stacks.

Making a deal will usually depend on other factors. The things to consider may include:

  • The caliber of the remaining players at the table, with emphasis on their playing ability and experience in this situation
  • The playing limits (structure) remaining in that specific event
  • How many hours have you have already played, how many hours are anticipated to be remaining
  • The prize money being given out for the event
  • The monetary percentage offer being made with regards to a split
  • How much you need the money if the chop is favorable to you, as opposed to how much you want to win the event
  • I'd like to discuss how some of these factors played out in a situation from my personal experience.

    In 2001, I got lucky enough to make a final table of an event at the WSOP. When it got down to three players, we all had similar amounts of chips, but I had the least out of the three of us.

    My two opponents proposed that we chop equally. I refused, even though mathematically it was a fair deal for me. I said no because I felt that I was a better player than my two opponents in that situation, and that my situation was "worth more" as a result. I asked them to give me a bigger percentage, even though my chip count alone did not warrant my request. I didn't expect them to accept, and they didn't. Fortunately, for me, I won the tournament, but it did not have to turn out that way. Despite my feeling that I was the best player of the three, there is much short term luck involved in these types of settings. Late in events, the limits you are playing are so disproportionate compared to the amount of chips you have. It becomes almost a "crapshoot", with luck being as great (or greater) a factor than how much better you play. Every hand can drastically change the results.
    I actually have been in situations where I had a prohibitive chip lead and did not win the event. In those events (yes, there were a few), even though I had a big chip lead I actually would have considered making an appropriate deal if I had been asked, because of the reasons I just mentioned. In these events, the prize money was far less than what you will reap in the WSOP or other big time events (live or online).

    In this year's WSOP, most of their events will be three days in length, which means that the limits will go up in smaller increments than before, and perhaps the rounds will be longer. This is different than online events. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I personally have no strong preference as to how a given event is structured, but it might affect my decision to make a deal, if I get the opportunity. If I think skill is still at a premium, and I think I have an edge in skill, I will be more likely to want to play on than to make a deal.

    If you have already played for three days, even with getting good rest, you may prefer making a deal, as opposed to continuing to play on. You will need to make a judgment as to whether your stamina will affect your ability to play effectively. I hope that this will not need to be factored into your decision too much. You should try to be mentally and physically prepared in that situation to play your best, no matter how long the event may take. But if you're not at your best, you might be better off taking a deal. What if you didn't sleep well in anticipation of the final table, and find yourself not playing your best? Or you discover that your opponents are significantly better players than you? In those situations, or other similar ones, you could be better off taking an advantageous deal.

    I can certainly understand if your decision might be affected by the amount of prize money at stake, most specifically if the difference between the first four or so places is very large. Personally, I try not to let that affect my decision. I have chopped small tournaments when I felt that it was the most prudent thing to do (for various reasons), and I have gambled in bigger payout events. In bigger tournaments, it can be disconcerting to play heads-up for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially for low- or medium-stakes players. If first place in an event is worth $100K more than second place, and guaranteeing yourself an additional $40K or $50K will have a significant effect on your life (like paying off a mortgage, or you child's college tuition) then you have a big incentive to lock up that extra money.

    I have made deals three times at the WSOP, in 1994, 1997 and 2001. My decisions in those events were based on many of the aforementioned factors, but more specifically I agreed to those deals because of the disparity in prize money between 1st and 2nd place, the fact that the amount of remaining chips my opponent had compared to mine was very close, and the fact that the limits were already very high (and getting higher) compared to the chips we had. Taking into account those factors, I felt the percentage deal we agreed to was in my favor. Although I did make these deals, I did so despite feeling that I was better than my opponent, and I do not regret it.
    We will continue on this topic next week.

    In the meantime, you can find me in the $10/$20 and $30/$60 limit games in our Stud section, as well as in our weekend $215 buy-in tournaments for Stud games. Please check the starting times of each of those events under Tourney > Special in the PokerStars lobby.

    Feel free to contact me with any questions, suggestions or thoughts at adamr@pokerstars.com.

    See you at the tables!

    Brad Willis
    @BradWillis in Strategy