EPT12 Barcelona: Why the writing on the bag is far from set in stone
In the hour after play finished last night, as reporters were fretting over their keyboards and cursing because "it always f---- does this when I'm in a hurry" the Team PokerStars Pro Andre Akkari wandered into the press room.
It's difficult to wipe a smile from Akkari's face at the worst of times, but when he has just bagged 543,500 chips in the biggest EPT tournament ever held (the average was 148,000), it's a smile that stretches from Mancio Lima in the west to Recife in the east.
Despite the grin, Akkari was in tune with a lot of the frustrations in the press room. Until Nick Petrangelo won an enormous pot at the very death, Akkari had seemed to be cruising to the overnight chip lead, and those reporters had been preparing reports to that effect. Akkari beamed through the door and said, "If you need me to be chip leader, just tell me. I'll write any figure you want on the bag."
As you'll know if you've ever made Day 2 of a major poker tournament, but perhaps as you may not know if you haven't, the chip-bagging process at the end of the day is not a precise science.
There's no poker equivalent of the Coinstar machines you see in supermarkets that allows players to tip a pile of chips into a trough and have them counted precisely, spitting out paperclips, arcade tokens, loose change from that trip to Thailand and Carter/Mondale campaign buttons. And even if there was, they would not be portable enough to be carted around to every table (and no poker player is going to give up 15 percent for any charity.)
And yet, for the purposes of tournament integrity and media reporting -- and most significantly, a player's own own peace of mind -- anyone still with chips at the end of the day is required to declare how many they have. They are asked to count them and declare a number, which they write on the front of the tightly-sealed bag that sits under lock and key overnight.
Here's the thing: the number that gets written on the bag is not independently verified. In practical terms, that would be an exceptionally arduous process, and also not really necessary. It is clear in the tournament terms and conditions that a player is responsible for his or her chips at all times, and even if he or she writes 500,000 on the bag, he or she will still only start the next day with precisely the number that is in there.
False reporting, for whatever reason, is of absolutely no material gain. Akkari would have been welcome to declare his chip stack as larger than Petrangelo's, but when the pair stacked them up again at the start of play today, Petrangelo's would have been bigger. That would have been a fact.
I did a bit of a straw poll in the press room and among tournament officials this afternoon, asking each a simple question: out of every 100 bags of chips sealed at the end of any given tournament day, how many have an inaccurate count written on the front?
The lowest estimate was eight; the highest 38. But none suspected foul play. Some players (typically veterans of the game) are only interested in a rough estimate of their stack size, preferring to get the counting done quickly and get to their dinner reservation in good time. Patrik Antonius, for instance, cuts his towers of high denomination chips and then scrawls, for instance, "190K" on the bag, that being broadly good enough.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who want to count their chips down to the last 25 but, after ten hours of play, find it to be pretty difficult. Perhaps stacks aren't exactly in piles of 20s when they're tipped into the bag; perhaps a 500 chip is mistaken for a 5,000; perhaps a player meant to write an eight but wrote a six. All of this combines to introduce the possibility of error -- unintentional and harmless, but an error nonetheless.
(There are also players who wish to fly under the radar and under-report their chip counts to allow them to swerve the incoming interview requests. Fair enough.)
It's the kind of thing that gets less and less as a tournament reaches it's business end, where fewer players and more meaningful stack-sizes means folk examine things far more closely.
But regardless of everything, once the bag is reopened at the start of the next day, there will only be the number of chips in there that were put there 12 hours before.
That will be the case all the way until one player has all the chips in the room. There will be no arguing with that.
You can follow all the action from the various tournament floors on PokerStars Blog. The Main Event action will be on the Main Event page. And everything from the side events is on the side events page. It will be busy over there today. There's also EPT Live for your video-based needs.
You can also begin plotting your own bid for EPT glory by downloading the PokerStars client and having a crack. Follow this EPT event via the EPT app. There you will get all the latest news, chip counts and payouts. You can download it on Android or IOS.