Deal or no Deal

It’s crucial you weigh up the pros and cons of a major tournament deal before you do anything

With the growth of online tournaments in the past few years, we have seen the development of deal-making happening more often in the cyber world of poker tournaments. With some of the top prizes adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and with such a huge spike in the top five paying spots, ignoring the power of deal-making late in a tournament could be a costly mistake for players lucky enough to reach a final table.

There is an often-quoted phrase amongst poker players along the lines of ‘I only play to win’. While such a view must be respected in some quarters, it’s crucial this should not cloud the reality of you walking away from the table with a handsome return. Remember, if you let your ego – or greed – get in the way of a deal, it could end up costing you a significant amount of money in the long run.

There are many dynamics to consider in the tournament you are playing in and you have to weigh these up with what you could potentially make from shaking hands on a deal.

First refusal

Personally, I have been offered deals on several occasions. Some I have accepted, some I have negotiated on and some I have flat-out refused. Like I said, there are a number of factors to consider when looking at a potential deal. First and foremost is the amount of the top prizes and the difference between the top paying positions. I have outright accepted a deal with six players left where everyone was pretty close in chips and I would need to finish better than third place to top the money. The deal put my prize amount just a little over third place had the tournament been played out.

At that point in time, despite feeling like I had an edge in experience over the other players still in the tournament, the reality was that one bad hand or coin flip situation could have cost me a significant amount of money. Another factor was that the blinds were fairly aggressive and pretty soon the tournament was going to turn into a crapshoot all-in fest.

Taking the deal allowed me to be in control of a situation that could have got out of hand. It would have been foolish – in my opinion – to refuse the deal. I may have refused such a deal in that scenario if the blinds vs chip stacks were at a point where there was still a lot of play left, giving me enough room to manoeuvre. However, in most online tournaments, there is not that much play left, therefore refusing this deal based on my ego would have been foolhardy.

Getting support

One major consideration to take into account is whether or not the online site you are playing on supports dealmaking. If the site does – and it has a system set up to help you with this – then it will increase your safety in making that potential deal. If the site does not support or guarantee the deal, then you have to trust the player – or players – you are cutting the money with.


If you do not know the player – or players – then you have to take every precaution you can before agreeing to the deal. Blindly trusting someone in the hope they will transfer the amount you agreed on could obviously cost you money if that person does not honour their word and the site does not force them to. Therefore, if you are making a deal with someone online who you do not know, I would suggest a couple of things.

First of all, try and get the person in question to transfer the money in advance. Not many will do this, but it is worth asking for it. Secondly, log the hand and table numbers where the chat was located, just in case you have to go back to that online site’s support and try and get them involved. It may not work if you get shafted, but potentially it might be your only hope.

Chip equity

Some of the best deals you can make are based on a chip equity split. This simply means that if there are, say five players left, everyone calculates their chip percentage in comparison to the total chips in play. This way, the chip leader is guaranteed more than the player who has the lowest stack.

With chip equity splits, generally speaking, every player gets a fair amount, even though the lowest stack will still make more money than if he busted out in fifth position. One popular thing to do in this situation is to leave an amount aside for the eventual winner.

The top five positions may be for $500,000 combined, but the players may agree to a chip equity split. This may leave $30,000, for example, for first place. This way, each player is guaranteed his chip equity cut of $470,000, with the $30,000 bonus going to the eventual winner of the tournament. I believe this is one of the fairest deals you can make at the table – and one that leaves every player happy with their return overall.

Changing faces

Okay, it’s crucial you take note of this next point: making a deal such as the one I have just described will change the mood of the players involved. It will take the pressure off and will probably make them take more risks – safe in the knowledge they already have a safe return in the bank. Basically speaking, the manner of play will probably turn into a crapshoot from here on in, because the players will play with less fear than before. You may be okay with this (because you could be securing a pretty good payday for yourself). If this is the case, then there should be no problem. But, if you honestly feel you have a huge edge against your competitors, then maybe you should consider declining that particular deal.

I guess there will be instances in a game where you need to take a chance – and this will be no different. But remember, this is poker, and while you may be taking chances, you cannot ignore the luck factor. Going your own way could result in you losing a fair amount of money.

Saver deal

Another good option for players to look into is with online satellite tournaments, where the top prize may be a seat into a main event, with some money over and above for travel expenses. A typical World Series of Poker package online is worth around $12,000 in total – $10,000 being for the seat itself into the main event, with $2,000 allocated for travel and expenses.

You may find yourself in a super satellite online where there are two $12,000 packages with four players left. An arrangement to potentially look into here is some sort of saver deal. I have seen many deals at this point in time where the third and fourth-placed finishers get what is called a save of $1,000 each. It does not have to be $1,000, obviously, but that way the bottom two finishers do not walk away empty-handed, and the top finishers get their seats and some travel money. In a cash tournament, the third and fourth-placed finishers will typically still do well financially, whereas in a satellite situation, they will be in danger of walking away with nothing for their troubles.

Final words

Before you cut or accept the deal proposed to you, make sure it is a fair one. Many players – simply in the belief they are a better player than you – will offer you, or request, a silly deal compared to the chip equity on the table. Even if a player has an experience advantage over you, it’s important to remember that with the blinds and antes being as high as they usually will be at this stage of a tournament, making a bad deal – just to get a bit more money – would not be a particularly wise decision. The luck factor may outweigh your disadvantage against your opponent. My suggestion is to stick to your guns and try to cut a better deal before you accept it. I have actually been offered first place money before, just because my opponent wanted the glory by taking the title.

To me, the money outweighs the privilege of having my name on the trophy, so this was understandably an easy decision for me to make and it was a silly deal proposed by my opponent. Was I wrong by agreeing to give him first place? I guess this is a judgment call, but personally it was an offer I was never going to decline.

Prizepools are becoming huge online and ignoring the power of a deal late in a tournament could be a costly mistake on your behalf. Again, don’t let your ego outweigh your earning potential and your reduction in risk to make a better payday. But, never simply jump in without taking into account all the options available.

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