Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tournament Chop Etiquette

I read a story the other day about chopping up the prize pool at the end of a big mtt, and it reminded me of something that I have been through a couple of times myself and which I've seen other bloggers address in their blogs from time to time as well: the bragadoccio that goes on in chopping negotiations at the end of big tournaments.

Let's go back a few years first, to the first time I won the 50-50 tournament on full tilt. I distinctly recall as we got down to the final 3 or 4 players remaining, discussions of a chop were raised by one of the players (possibly me), and a fairly active debate ensued before we ended up throwing in the towel and just playing on. One player in particular -- the guy who was a close second in chips at the time behind only myself -- was very difficult to get involved in any chop, because he simply was not willing to give up hardly anything from the top prize amount. Why, you may ask, since he was not even the chip leader at the time? Because, as he repeatedly explained it to everyone else still alive in the tournament, he was the best tournament player remaining and thus, despite his non-chip-leading stack, he actually had the best chance of winning the tournament outright.

To be honest, I dismissed this as the ranting of pompous-ass douchebag, opted to decline any further chop discussions shortly after I heard it, and went on to win the tournament and the 11k first prize. And to tell the truth, I didn't really think about it again. At the time I definitely remember being very taken aback by another player at the table trying to take advantage of the others remaining in the tournament by his unjustified claim of being "better", but that part of the story quickly faded from my memory as is often the case when you throw in 11k of cashish to help wash away the negative memories.

Fast forward now to last summer, at the final table of the $540 Venetian Deep Stack event where I recorded my largest ever poker tournament score. With eight players left at the final table, an older Asian guy a few seats to my right with the 5th place stack (admittedly, 3rd through 5th were all fairly close at the time) suggests we consider chopping, and then proceeds to be far and away the biggest barrier to getting a chop done because he insists on getting at least $35,000, which was roughly the average of 2nd and 3rd place money according to the payout schedule for the tournament. I calmly asked him how he can possibly expect to get nearly 2nd place money with a 5th place stack and eight players remaining in any tournament, and he just as calmly fires right back at me, "Because I'm the best player at this table." Immediately I heard those deja vu bells going dingalingaling in my head and I was immediately reminded of my experience when discussing the 50-50 chop a few years earlier.

Once we got down to six players left at the Venetian -- after the cocky Asian dude had busted in 6th place and stormed off in anger with his 9k payout -- we tried to chop, and once again we tried when five players were left, but at this point with angry Asian man gone, it was the chip leader who held up our chances of a chop, and he unabashedly informed us as he insisted on about 150% of the second place payout to agree to a chop that he has several five-figure scores this year online in poker tournaments and that he knows he is the best, most experienced player at the table and thus would not be willing to settle for something much less than the first-place payout which he in his own warped mind claims to know he is going to win anyways.

Every time I have heard someone say this in mtt chop discussions, my immediate reaction is total revilement. It's seriously repulsive to me for one person to tell three or four other guys who have just made it through 20+ hours of no-limit, one-mistake-and-you're-dead poker that he is definitively better than they are and that he therefore deserves the lion's share of the remaining prize pool. I mean, by definition everyone who is left in the final few spots of a large mtt has performed great over the course of the tournament and is clearly playing great poker. Poker tournaments are so much based on in-the-moment decision-making and trends that ultimately I don't even think there is much to be said for "overall tournament skill" in the context of discussions around chopping up the prize pool in a single particular tournament. Plus, and this is just my opinion here, but I think you come off sounding like a total and complete goofball, pompous, horse's ass if you tell a bunch of guys who've been battling it out in the same game and have survived with you for days on end that you are somehow "inherently" better than them and thus deserve more consideration. Does anyone ever fall for this line?

With me, ultimately the proof is in the pudding. Because, make no mistake about it, at every final table I have ever been at, ever -- including major online series like FTOPS and UBOC, $200 weekly online majors, nightly online events and otherwise, as well as several live events in casinos around the U.S. -- I haven't just thought I was the best player there, I've known I was the best player there. Every single time. And if you read here often then you know I am always willing to discuss a fair chop given how luck-based late final table can be in the largest mtt's. And yet, you won't have caught me dead ever even trying to argue to anyone that I deserve more than my fair share of the prize pool according to my chip stack, because I somehow have some extra skill advantage over everyone else. In a discussion about how much to chop a prize pool by, that just doesn't seem like a relevant consideration to me.

The bottom line from my viewpoint is simple: Perceived poker tournament skill differential can make a lot of sense in deciding not to chop and instead to play it out for all the marbles. If you think you're better than everyone else, then play the tournament out, and win it. Take the first prize money that you believe your superior skill will bring you at any final table. But once you've decided to entertain the thought of a chop, the larger stacks will simply need to give up money to the smaller stacks if they wish to secure one of the larger payouts, or the notion of a chop will never work no matter how good the individuals involved think they are. Something about trying to agree to a chop only if it steals money from others in favor of you because of your alleged superior overall poker "skill" just rubs me the wrong way.

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Blogger Josie said...

"I haven't just thought I was the best player there, I've known I was the best player there. Every single time" Big LOL baby! Pride goeth before the fall.

Other than that line - really interesting post. I always have big problems with guys wanting to chop in live tourneys - and still don't know best course of action.

12:49 AM  
Blogger Guy Fawkes said...

Great post Hammer.
I haven't ran into so many entitled 'better players' as you, but I can only imagine how sweet it must be when they get busted.
On a sidenote, do you usually chop using ICM?

4:08 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...


I'm not much of an ICM guy myself. Frankly I don't like to sweat the math of the chop all that much. To me it is an inexact science by definition, not a math exercise that is best determined by a formula. I tend to just try to reason out what I think makes the most sense given the number of players and the amount left in the prize pool, rather than use ICM or some other precise mathematical formula.

6:59 AM  

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