Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Deal and Shuffle Up

Deal and Shuffle UpA couple of nights ago I helped live blog one of the final tables for the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker. Haven’t done but a couple of those final tables thus far since I generally work the “first shift” -- i.e., the first 12 levels of a given tourney -- then my colleagues out on the left coast will take over from there. This was Day 2 of the $1,050 No-Limit Hold’em event that began with over 3,400 entrants, thereby creating a massive prize pool of more than $3.4 million.

For the one final table I did earlier in the WCOOP, that one had played out with nary a peep about chopping. This one was different, though, and those negotiations ended up being a highlight of covering the endgame.

I’ve watched final tables of big online events before -- even covering some of the big Sunday tournaments for PokerNews a good while back -- so I was already familiar with how, on Stars, for instance, the tournament director will step in and help moderate the terms of a deal once all of those left in the event express a willingness to do so. There was one funny bit that popped up the other night, though -- a little twist I hadn’t seen before -- that I thought you might find interesting.

Shortly after the tourney had gone five-handed, three of the remaining players -- the three shorter stacks -- all expressed a willingness to deal. But neither of the two chip leaders even said “no” in the chatbox, so they played on. After 20-30 more hands, though, the other two had come around and the tournament was paused as the deal was negotiated.

As frequently happens with these things, a “chip chop” was proposed and the moderator ran the numbers. Such a deal would reapportion the remaining prize money -- at that point an eye-popping $1,343,462.50, to be exact -- according to the chip stacks at the time the deal would be struck. This would mean no one would end up getting first-place money, which for this tournament was $468,045. But everyone would be getting better than fourth-place money ($178,550.50). And as PokerStars insists, $60,000 would be left “on the table” for the eventual winner.

In this case, it didn’t seem to me a deal was necessarily a no-brainer, as it sometimes can be. For instance, I was thinking about our tournament on Saturday, that PokerListings Run Good Challenge, and on the surface it would have a lot of sense for the top three in that one to have struck a deal to split the prize money instead of playing it out to see who got what. Since it was a turbo tourney with blinds increasing every five minutes, we were truly in “crapshoot” territory there at the end, and with such a steep climb between prizes ($960-$480-$160), it would’ve made sense when we were somewhat even just to say, hey, let’s chop this sucker up.

A couple of factors made that impossible for us even to consider, though: (1) we couldn’t pause the tourney, so in the time it would’ve taken simply to propose the idea and agree to it, the stack sizes would’ve changed considerably; (2) Dan from PokerListings was one of the final three, and whatever money he won was going to be rolled over into next week’s event, thus probably making it unfair to those playing in that event for us to deal for some of his winnings.

At the moment they were discussing the deal in the WCOOP tourney, the blinds were 125,000/250,000 (with a 25,000 ante), with the average stack being 10.45 million. That’s still 40-plus big blinds (though those antes were taking a significant bite, too), and in that tournament the levels lasted 30 minutes. Still a reasonable amount of play, frankly, which is why I thought perhaps they wouldn’t be dealing just yet.

However, four of the five quickly agreed to the “chip chop” terms. The one who didn’t asked for a little time to think about it. He was one of three shorter stacks, in third place overall, but sitting with only 7.9 million (compared to the 17-plus million the leader had). Finally, after a couple of minutes, he typed that he wanted an extra $20,000.

At first I chuckled a little at the request, but I quickly realized what he was doing. He was leveraging the others’ collective desire to get a deal done -- they had all seemed very willing -- and hoping they’d give in to his demand just to be able to guarantee themselves certain paydays. So he threw a number out there, easily divided by four. Maybe they’d all give him $5K from their stacks and they could then play it out...?

It was worth a shot. $20,000 is a lot of money -- more than those who’d finished as high as 13th in this event had made. But none of the other four were jumping to agree to such an idea. As the others hesistated, the chip leader made what I thought was a funny offer, an offer which essentially sunk the proposal, actually. He said he’d give a grand total $680 to the holdout. Why? Because he stood to get $340,680, and so he wanted to keep $340K and shoot for a $400K payday.

The chip leader’s underselling emboldened the others, I think, who shortly afterwards expressed their unwillingness to give the guy anything extra. Finally he realized his request wasn’t going to be granted, and so said he agreed to the “chip chop”...with one provision!

He wanted the $680, too.

To the chip leader’s credit, he quickly responded “i offered it...not gonna go back on it.” And so the holdout said, “okay, i accept with the 680.”

The deal having been made, the virtual shuffle began anew and the remaining five played it out. In fact the fellow in fifth place at the time of the deal ended up working his way back and winning the thing, taking another hour’s worth of play to do so.

Back on the beat today, and up until the WCOOP ends early next week. The prize pool for that finale -- Event No. 33, the $5,200 NLHE Main Event -- should be pretty huge. There’s a $10 million guarantee on it, which is probably the largest in online history.

Probably gonna see some dealing amid the deals at that final table next Monday, dontcha think?

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