Friday, September 15, 2006

To Deal or Not To Deal

That is the question.

I have half-written about three different posts already just from last night's poker action at the Hammer Household, which you will then read about sometime next week I imagine, if ever. But something else has come up this week, and it only really hit me late yesterday just how much varied opinion there is on this topic, when I heard yet another poker playing friend, this time my college buddy buckhoya who got me into online poker in the first place, suggesting he didn't like my decision to make a deal at the final table of the $11 Rebuy Madness on pokerstars that I took down on Tuesday of this week. I've heard so many divergent opinions on this topic since my win this week that I think it's the perfect subject of today's post. As usual, I am really hoping to get a good sampling of opinions on the subject of making deals in tournaments from my regular readers, or from people who just happen to end up at this post today because they're searching for porn sex, sex videos or maybe even just carmen electra on the internet and have somehow magically ended up here.

So here was the story: We were down to 4 players left in the $11 rebuy tournament at 10:15pm ET nightly this past Tuesday on pokerstars. We've been playing close to 7 hours straight, and the current chip stacks are as follows (all of the following numbers are approximations, but close ones. I'm just too lazy to go back and read my own posts to verify):

Current 1st place: 4.5 million chips
Current 2nd place: 3.5 million chips
Hoyazo (Current 3rd place): 1.6 million chips
Current 4th place: 1.3 million chips

The money awarded for the top 4 places in this tournament structure is as follows:

Eventual 1st place: $15,100
Eventual 2nd place: $8,900
Eventual 3rd place: $5,800
Eventual 4th place: $4,300

After I suggested that we consider a deal, pokerstars support paused the tournament for us and did the quick calculations for us for a proposed split based on our relative chip stacks. It took pokerstars support a good five minutes to generate the numbers, but when they did here was the offer:

Current 1st place receives: $11,100
Current 2nd place receives: $10,100
Hoyazo (Current 3rd place) receives: $6,900
Current 4th place receives: $6,400

So the question is, if you are me, do you take this deal?

I think I will quickly offer up my feelings on the topic now, since obviously I took the deal so I think it was a good idea. But I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts, mostly because this happens to be a topic that I thought everyone would agree with me on, but it turns out there is a lot of dissenion about it after all. That kind of thing is always a fun surprise for me when it comes to the world of poker, so I will describe my reasoning on taking the deal and my theory about making deals in general, and I'd love if people want to share their views as well, on this rainy Friday morning in New York City.

In this case, as I mentioned above, not only did I approve the deal proposed above, but I'm the one who suggested doing a deal in the first place. And there's a simple reason why I was in favor of dealing: I was in a distant third place in chip stack at the time. There was obviously some chance that I could come back and win the entire event if we played it out, thus netting the $15,100 first prize in the process. No doubt I believed there was a chance of that happening. Nonetheless, however, the fact remained that I had only approximately 15% of the total chips outstanding, while the leader had over three times my stack, and 2nd place had over twice my stack as well. That meant I was going to have to be winning multiple allins just to get out of the hole here. Now those of you who know me or play with me or read the blog a lot know I am kind of a pompous ass. I absolutely believed without a doubt that I was the best player at the table at that time. But I also know that the fact that my chipstack is so much lower than the others at the table, and in fact is more or less even with 4th place at the time as well, all of those facts correspond with math involving my probability of winning the tournament that simply cannot be ignored. Even Phil Ivey isn't going to win many tournaments starting with 100,000 chips to three other people's 500,000 chips. Ok well maybe Phil Ivey would. But nobody else. Having a severe chip deficit at a shorthanded table in an mtt is not a good situation to be in, mathematically speaking, and no amount of confidence or bravado could convince me that I had anything but a not-great chance of coming back to finish in 2nd or 3rd place in the tournament.

I thought 4th place was possible (obviously) given my chip stack, 4th place's stack, and the distance between us and the 2nd and 1st place stacks -- let's assign a 33% probability to that. I figured me ending in 3rd place was the most likely outcome given the relative stacks at the time -- so I would assign a 40% probability to that outcome. Then I would say I had only a 10% chance of coming back to win the entire tournament, which leaves 17% chance of me ending up in second place. Now obviously these numbers are nothing more than pure guesses, but they are educated guesses based on the amount of chips each of us held at that point in time, and what I knew about the players at the table, and about their play versus my play in no-limit holdem.

So if you take my four probabilities assigned above, we can calculate my expected equity in the remaining prize pool of $34,100:

35% chance x $4,300 = $1,505
40% chance x $5,800 = $2,320
15% chance x $8,900 = $1,335
10% chance x $15,100 = $1,510

This totals around $6,600 in equity that I expect to have in the final four prize pool given the above probabilities. And again, obviously they are all total approximations, each of which I'm sure could be argued with. The bottom line though is that I felt fairly comfortable that I was no more than 25% to get back into the top two spots in this event given where we were at in chips at the time. Thus I felt it was at least 75% likely that I would end up in either 3rd or 4th place, netting me either $4300 or $5800. So, when I was offered nearly $6900, a full grand more than 3rd place money, and more than my expected equity calculation produced, I took it. I took it pretty quick in fact. This way I managed to lock in something near the middle of 2nd place and 3rd place money in a situation where I thought I had a low chance of actually making it to 2nd place money, and a higher chance of ending in 4th even than of ending in 2nd place. The chip differential was just too large to my detriment for me to feel confident enough to give up the locked-in $6900. I loved the deal.

In general, I am usually willing to do a deal at the final table of a big tournament. When the money gets big enough, I am typically willing to lock in a certain price if I can take some of the risk out of the game. I've played long enough and been to enough final tables to know first-hand how random luck can scrooge you out of literally thousands (millions, on the big tv events) of dollars in the flick of a card. Don't forget you're reading the blog of a guy who once lost heads-up at the final table of a $10 mtt on partypoker when my Ace-high lost to my opponent's Hammer with him allin when he flopped quad 7s on me. I don't want something like that to happen and have it cost me -- literally -- $6000, like could happen in this tournament if I get bad beat from 1st to out in 2nd place. So I liked the idea of doing a deal here in the case of the $11 rebuy tourney this week, and the fact that I could lock in a full thousand dollars more than 3rd place money pretty much iced it for me.

I have declined to do deals at the final table when I think I'm in good position to win or take second in a major tournament. I've declined when in the chip lead or even when in 2nd or 3rd out of 6 players remaining. In those circumstances, the math makes for so many more eventual possibilities than just the current chipstacks of the remaining opponents. But in this case, with 4 players left and me in a distant third, a deal that locked in at a solid price for me sounded right up my alley.

What do you think?


Blogger Nijle said...

I think you got roughly seven thousand dollars for playing poker on the internet.

What more can you say about that?

If ppl are giving you shit for taking the deal think about the shit #1 guy was getting form his friends. But here's the thing. By making a deal, and taking said deal, you gauranteed more money for yourself. No risk. Same for the 1st place guy. He got 11k rather than 14k but it was a sure bet. He could have donked out and came in 4th!

I think it was a good decision by everyone involved.

Instead of posting this long winded examination of taking deals at final tables, your endearing readers would rather know what exactly you are going to do with 7k? Are you going to cash it all out? How does that work on pokerstars, do they send you a check? How long does it take to get it?

Inquiring minds want to know ... rub it in a bit!

9:24 PM  
Blogger Iakaris aka I.A.K. said...

I can't believe you got called on that. Seriously.

You can be the best player of the four left, but if Greenstein thinks the edge that provides heads-up is about 5%, what the hell does that mean 4 four-way with you starting essentially tied in 3/4 and back by a considerable pile of chips?

Not only do I like the deal, from your POV I love it. And not to be a prick about it, but has anyone questioning this very sound move actually final tabled a deep-field MTT? Even if you're playing great, the combination of fortunes that have to be with you is considerable. To blithely turn your back on that knowledge and say, "oh, I'm the best here, I'll play it out from third" is beyond bravado - it would've been delusional. Especially given how favourable your cut was for your place.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Max said...

It's hard to disagree with your calculations. Your insight of the determining factors for these calculations was far better than anyone who could dispute it.

In this situation I would gladly take the deal. My play tends to deteriorate exponentially as I get tired. I too am an aggressive, situational player who plays best when I am focused on reading my opponents. The later it gets, the more likely I'd be to make a deal.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Sure Nijle, I can tell you about how the cashouts work on the big sites from prior dealings. In this case, I was going to withdraw the other day, but then I saw the new reload bonuses on pokerstars so I went ahead and deposited the max $600 to get the max bonus of $120. Then in two days when my bonus is official, I will go ahead and make a withdrawal from pokerstars.

In general, I use Neteller, and I can just cash out from the poker sites directly into my neteller account. In general I find that it takes just minutes for the money to withdraw from the poker sites to Neteller, and just a day or two for the money to show up in my bank acct from Neteller. And if you were wondering there is no charge to withdraw from either the poker sites to my neteller account, or from neteller to my bank.

As far as what I'm going to do with the money, I'm planning on a similar deal as with what I did when I won the party 40k a few months ago. I will withdraw most of the money, but keep a nice healthy bankroll in each of pokerstars, party and ftp which are the three sites where I play regularly. I will leave enough in each to hopefully hold me over until my next big score. The rest of the money I withdraw (more than 75% of what I won this week, I'm sure, though I haven't officially withdrawn it yet as I mentioned above) will be spent almost immediately on the ridiculous prices of everything about raising a family of four in Manhattan.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

OK so is no one out there going to speak up now and tell me how they don't believe deals should be made in poker tournaments in general, or how I should have believed in myself and played for the win and the huge 15k payout for first? I've heard variations of that from multiple sources this week, so don't try to act like you people aren't out there. Let's have it.

10:56 PM  
Blogger The Bracelet said...

I don't take the deal. I also don't ask for the deal. Here's why...

I have solidified at least $4,300 which is a very nice score. I have the chance to win $15,100 as well. Or $8,900. Or $5,800. But if I take a deal I have zero chance of making more than $6,900.

I'm not playing to simply make correct statistical decisions and hope that in the long run that maximizes my chances to win more than I lose. I'm playing to win.

Yes, making smart decisions helps to put you in position to win, but I can't imagine letting myself get in position to win, only to deny myself the chance to win. Even if I'm looking at an uphill battle, you just never know what will happen. I don't give that opportunity away.

Not to say that if I was down to a tiny amount of chips, like if I was down to less than the BB, and someone offered a really stupid deal that paid me more than I was about to get with a bustout, that I wouldn't think about it and possibly do it at that point. But with 1.6mil and the strange way that poker sometimes plays out, I gamble with my chances at the win.

Regardless though, that's me. Everybody's different. Congrats on picking up a nice chunk of change! Too bad we can't find out what would have happened if you all played it out with no deal. That would have been fun.

12:03 AM  
Blogger CC said...

First, I've obviously been in my own world as I totally missed your big night. Brilliant, hoy, just terrific!

I don't take the deal myself for a more pragmatic reason probably: the only reason to play in a tourney is to get to the final table, where the monies go up with every place. How many tourneys have you played in during the last year? And how many times have you cashed? And how many have you been in the top four? I'm not sure if you mentioned where the blinds were at the time, but regardless I'd say make a run at it. More upside than downside for you, I'd say, but one man's opinion.

Here's hoping you continue to get confronted with these sorts of problems...

12:21 AM  
Blogger Matt Silverthorn said...

There's some crucial information missing from your post:

What are the blinds?

If the blinds are some ridiculously high number, and the rest of the tournament is a crapshoot, I most definitely make this deal, regardless of whether I believe I am better than the rest of the table.

If the blinds are small enough to allow some maneuvering room, and you believe you are the best player at the table (which you did), then I think you have to go for it.

12:44 AM  
Blogger Iakaris aka I.A.K. said...

It's funny the idea "I'm there to win" is the heart of the equation. It was the essence of my little dilemna too, in a very different way. I agree in general this is the way to be, but as with concepts, nuances are important.

Once we get to these big payout spots, yes, winning is the goal, but you have to keep it in the context of a realistic assessment of your chances of winning.

Given the huge lead his opposition possessed, and the very favorable cut offered, the smart, ego-checked move at Hoy's spot is to favor discretion.

Were Hoy in first or second and convinced he was the best player left, I doubt he takes this deal, nor would I. Looking up at the mountain is a very different problem though, and the deal is the wise move.

12:53 AM  
Blogger Blinders said...

If the blinds are not too high (not a total crap-shoot) so you have time to play, and you think your the best, you can't take that deal. Here is the logic.

Lets say you take a coinflip with the leader. 50% you lose and cash $4,300. 50% you win and the chips look like this.

Leader 3.5m
You 3.2m

Once your in this position lets say you will get 1/2/3 roughly 33% of the time, and will not get 4th. So you get 1/3 of the top three prizes or about 10k.

So 50% 10k, 50% 4.3k or EV of 7.15k.

Ok, you might get 4th after winning the coin flip (small chance), but we also assumed you were the best left, and this is assuming an equal playing field (understates your expected results).

I think you can justify playing on and look for a better deal 3-way, or just playing it out.

1:12 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

If I were in that situation and was offered a guaranteed $6900 or I could take my chances and could end up with just $4800 (or maybe $15K). Hmm, tough one, but I'd take the guaranteed $6900 anyday, afterall, this too is still a big win no matter how you slice it. If, however, the blinds were low enough, and you felt you had good reads on these guys and your short table game is good, then turn it down and go for it. It's a gut feel decision really, but either way - NICE WIN!

2:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with taking the deal.

When I've final tabled live and its gotten down to four or five players I always initiate the conversation about a deal.

Once it gets to this point its no longer about poker its about coin flips and luck or what I call bingo. How much can you really outplay everyone else?

I try to maximize every dollar I can get by taking the deal.

2:33 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

OK that's what I'm talking about -- the people who just think making this kind of a deal is a bad idea. Thanks to everyone for their comments. This is exactly the perspective that's been voiced to me by several poker people this week.

It's interesting because to me I can't get away from the fact that I am highly likely to finish in 3rd or 4th place, and yet I am being guaranteed a thousand dollars more than third place money. For that reason, this deal seems to guarantee my equity in the prize pool to an extent that is highly likely to be greater than the equity I actually receive if I play the thing out to the end.

Huge Junk points out in his comment that, by taking the deal, I have zero chance of making more than $6900. That is certainly true. But I don't really see why that fact makes this a bad deal. Implicit in the concept of dealing at the final table is that everyone is giving up their chance to make the full first place prize, whatever those chances would be. If the point is that you always have to make the choice that leads you to have some chance of winning the entire $15,000 first prize, then yeah you aren't going to be taking any deals that don't guarantee you first place money. In general, though, I think Mr. Junk and I are actually fairly similar in our views on the deal, because his comment goes on to explain that he, too, would have a line beyond which he would be willing to deal. I guess it is just where our lines in the sand are drawn that is different. I can handle that.

CC mentions the blinds, which most of the commenters after that mention as well. As you can imagine, the blinds at the end of the tournament here were fairly large -- 30k/60k with a 3k ante per hand. So my M at the time of the deal was approximately 14. I don't know if that's enough to be a "total crapshoot" as the commenters asked (I assume it is not), but to me at that level of blinds, I still laid my odds of finishing in 4th or 3rd to be around 75%, with an almost even split between those two positions.

And I also agree with Blinders' point that I could have easily justified waiting for one more player to get knocked out, and then considering a deal at that time. That is perfectly correct. My only issue was that I felt there was some reasonable chance (35% or so) that I would be the one to go out in 4th place, before a deal could be made. Then I am guaranteed to make $4300 instead of the $6900 I ended up negotiating for.

In general, I think Iak makes the right point when he explains that, whlie we're all playing by the "in it to win it" strategy, that strategy does not necessarily mean that you turn down a ridiculously positive EV deal just because you "have" to win the tournament.

Also, don't forget, I did go on to win the tournament. That was very meaningful to me and I played it out hard after we agreed on the deal because we all seemed to care still who won the event. The way I see it, we just took the money part out of the equation.

In any event, thanks to everyone for the comments, keep them coming if anyone else is still reading poker blogs at this hour on a Friday.

3:14 AM  
Blogger smokkee said...


on the first screenshot after the deal wuz made, i saw your chip count at approx 3.3m when you pushed with the sOOOted hammer over the top of the button's preflop raise. so, my first impression wuz you were second in chips when the deal wuz done.

if i were 2nd in chips, i wouldn't have taken that deal. since you were 3rd in chips slightly ahead of the shorty, it's not a bad deal. but, i understand why peepl might second guess your decision since you ended up taking it down.

i recently finished 2nd and 3rd in the 12k and probably could've swung a deal when we got shorthanded to guarantee more $$$. since i felt i had a real shot at first, i didn't bring it up. i wanted to get more final table short handed experience playing for 1st.

some players can call it "bingo" but, there is still some skill involved if you have enuf chips to force players to fold. many times, you'll spot a player who has not made many final tables and will fold easily to aggression trying to move up the payout ladder.

i still made a nice cash each time and don't regret my decision.

after a deal is made, i would expect the play to become a donkfest. much like the end of a token tourney when you've locked up your token.

congratulations on the cash. it's a nice score. i wouldn't second guess the deal that wuz made.

- captain suckout

11:49 PM

3:19 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Yeah Smokkee, that first screenshot after the deal was about 2 or 3 hands into the 4-way play right after we agreed on the payouts, and I had already doubled up bigtime when the one guy donked out just wanting to go to sleep. I was a distant 3rd at the time the deal was made, with 1.6M to 3.5M and 4.5M for the two leaders, and 1.3M for 4th place. And FWIW, I would never take a deal for $6900 either if I was then in second place in chips -- you'd have to offer me at least the 2nd place payout for me to consider that kind of a deal, since I was already in chip position to take 2nd down anyways.

And yeah, the last three players played it out seriously for the rights to say we were the "winner" of the tournament, but there is no doubt that, with the money taken entirely out of the equation, the play was a lot closer to the end of the token sngs than to the way it had been just before the deal was made. Much looser play, much quicker decisions being made than when all the money was still at stake. So it's not like I would have won in the end just because I won the tournament after the deal was made. It was definitely some very different poker being played there than there was when all the money will still on the table.

And lastly, I agree with your feeling that doing a deal is not necessarily right for you if you're looking to gain shorthanded experience in playing for 1st place in a large MTT. Having already been there before I wasn't so concerned with that as I was with just trying to lock in a solid payday instead of taking my chances and possibly facing a donkout in 4th place with its concurrent $4300 payout. Although I will also agree with you, for sure, that it's not all "bingo" as Don put it. Clearly final table experience and solid end game poker play has a lot to do with how you end up at the final table. But the thing is, "bingo" has a whole lot to do with it, too.

4:02 AM  
Blogger Donnie (aka Shadowtwin) said...

I think it is a good idea to make the deal, mostly because you have been playing for so damn long. At this point you all sat down at night and now it is morning. Surely none of you are as sharp as under normal circumstances (though you may think you are), and one mistake could send you home. Hell, doesn't even have to be a mistake. Get in ahead on the flop and take a runner-runner beat to go out in fourth. If you feel you were still in a good frame of mind to be playing, however, I say you should have pressed on. You already turned 11 bucks (was it 32?) into 4 grand, why settle for two grand extra when it could be 11?

If it was me though, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. I know that I would have been mentally MIA that far into a tournament.

5:14 AM  
Blogger slb159 said...

Okay, there are obviously two ways to look at it.
Positive: Yes, you most likely were the best player there and could have won it if the cards came without too much difficulty.

Negative: Say the shortie busts out on the next hand. Your short now and prolly facing pressure at all times. Yes, I know you play the short-stack well, but this is poker, remember.

You made the right decision. You got 1.1K more than if the above negative situation occured and you ended up busting in 3rd. "I agree."

6:14 AM  
Blogger slb159 said...

Plus, on a what-would-be a very short stck if shortie busted, they would have been less inclined to make a deal until you busted out anway, so I think that is m00t. JMHO.

6:20 AM  
Blogger CJ said...

I'm Johnny-Come-Lately to the discussion... but I likely don't take the deal, especially with an M of 14 and especially if I think I'm the best player at the table.

I've only dealt once in my tourney career. It was at a live tourney and the blinds were ridiculously high. Even then, however, I worry I didn't make the right deal (especially after the Poker Pricness questioned it!).

In every other case, I've played it to the end. When I play that long and get that deep, I want the biggest prize I can manage. I just don't think the extra grand is worth giving up the chance at the extra 10 grand.

However, everyone has to make a decision that is best for them. After playing for that long, there are a lot of factors that go into a decision. If you made the decision that's best for you, it's impossible for anyone to say it's wrong.

1:38 PM  
Blogger FishyMcDonk said...

kind of a pompous ass? I think that's understating it.

I would done the deal, but the chances of me ever being in that position are about as small as /fill in joke here/. So I would jump at it. Hell, when we're down to the final table in a 17 person MTT I'd do a deal.

Nice job.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Dnasty13 said...

I think a lot more comes into play than what has been discussed so far. What is the feel of the game? Has the final four been playing for awhile or did you just start? Are you too tired to concentrate? Do you feel any of the bigger stacks have been playing scared or can the short stack be pushed around? I think these questions play a huge role in the decision.

Dnasty13 - BloggerBeta sux, no commenting, lost my header on my blog and my blog doesnt update in bloglines...

8:11 AM  
Blogger Pokerwolf said...

There's one factor that would cause me to take the deal which NOBODY (not even you, Hoy) has mentioned yet.

It was AFTER 5AM IN THE MORNING and you had to get up for work at SIX.

Dude, hook me up with a deal so I can get some sleep!

Otherwise, I think you made the right decision, Hoy. Some people have mentioned, "but you doubled up in the screenshots!" which is a valid argument, but you could have easily lost those races and been out in 4th. Knowing you from what you've written on your blog, I imagine you'd be PISSED about ending up in 4th if you didn't make the deal. Based on all of the factors (it's amazing nobody looks at anything out side of the game itself, isn't it?) I think you made the right decision, hands down.

7:09 PM  
Blogger CC said...

IMO, after the deal was struck, it was a different game altogether. I think all revisionist thinking regarding what could have been should be discounted as no one played the same after the money was already paid out. Sure, they tried and wanted to win, but the world changed after the deal. Heck, with the butterfly effect, you could have prevented a murder in Tunisia or Tunica because of the deal.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

CC you are most definitely right-on with your latest comment. The game was undoubtedly played differently by all four of us once the money was taken completely out of the picture. Believe me, I wanted to win but I'd be the first to proclaim how pissed I am about dealing if I thought I went on to win it fair and square from there. There was much more monkeying going on, by a factor of 10 probably, once the money was removed from the equation entirely.

10:54 PM  
Blogger mookie99 said...

What about a save ? Cut out X amount to play on for and then chop up the rest. This guarantees you a little more than what you would have gotten had you been the first to go, plus you still have alot of cash to play for.

1:35 AM  

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