Thursday, August 28, 2014

What the Winner Wins

Well, I couldn’t shut off that EPTLive stream last night, watching all of the way to the very end of the protracted heads-up battle between Sam Phillips and eventual winner Andre Lettau on my iPhone just before finally hitting the hay.

The last EPT Main Event in Monaco back in May had ended similarly, with an 18-hour final table and a heads-up match that went about 10 hours (with breaks) and lasted 237 hands. This time the final table went for something like 15 hours, and while heads-up “only” lasted 142 hands and a little over six hours with the dinner break, it was still a marathon for all involved.

The huge field of 1,496 entrants helped ensure there’d be deep stacks at the end, and Phillips and Lettau managed to work all of the way into the 600,000/1,200,000 blind level (with a 200,000 ante) before reaching a conclusion. Lettau prevailed, which meant thanks to the three-handed deal runner-up Phillips earned considerably more than did the champion, taking away more than €1,000,000 from the prize pool while Lettau ended with €794,058.

Always kind of awkward when reporting on a tournament when a deal is made and the winner isn’t the one actually earning the biggest prize. Makes for some lengthy headlines and lots of qualifying statements when referring to the event. Asterisks are sometimes needed when reporting payouts, too, reflecting adjustments made.

Such a circumstance probably also adds another layer of ambiguity preventing poker tournaments from being considered analogous to sporting events, even if they can be argued to resemble them in many other respects. We can’t really imagine, say, a pair of tennis players in the finals of a tourney stopping short of a fifth-set tiebreaker to narrow the gap between first- and second-place prize money before continuing.

Indeed, the whole process of deal-making highlights a couple of crucial differences between poker tournaments and other sports -- the fact that players pay to play, and that money is itself an element of the game.

Deals in poker tournaments often have a tangible effect on how play proceeds thereafter. Some pros don’t like making deals because of the way they lessen the money pressure their opponents may not be as equipped to handle as they are. I said yesterday how I enjoy watching the deals being made because the process can directly reflect how players play the game itself. Deals really are part of the game, one of a number of reasons why most can’t call poker a sport.

By the way, I might have mentioned this before, but I wrote a three-part series over on Learn.PokerNews some time ago about deal-making in tournaments, for those who might be interested. I was inspired to write it after watching some MicroMillions players stumbling through deals at final tables, understandably uncertain about how they worked. It covers the logistics, some strategic considerations, and includes some fun deal-making anecdotes, too -- the series starts here.

Deals also help make explicit the various reasons why people play poker tournaments, specifically the way they draw a stark distinction between playing for money and playing for the prestige of winning.

Being an EPT champion, for example, does have value, as was clearly demonstrated by the earnestly-fought battle between Phillips and Lettau yesterday. Sure, €90,000 was on the line -- perhaps a relatively small percentage of both players’ winnings, but hardly insignificant. But getting that favored position in the headlines and the subsequent “EPT champ” adjective attached to your name was worth playing for, too.

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