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Basic Guide to Deal Making


Professional Bettor
Feb 12, 2022
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Let's start out with a few words on the philosophy of deal making. In my opinion deal making is an important part of tournament poker, and your skill in making deals is no less important than any other skill you use in the game. If your opponent has a tell you wouldn't let him know about it so that you wouldn't have an unfair advantage would you? The same goes for making deals. Your goal is to get the best deal you can get, and if that means someone else gets the short end of the deal then that is their own fault for not understanding the mechanics of the deal. Get the best deal you can, and if it's not good enough feel free to say no and play awhile longer.

Some tips -

The person who makes the first offer is almost always the one who loses. This is true in any business negotiation, and particularly true in deal making. If you make the first offer you have to make it a very favorable one for you to set the tone and let everyone know you are expecting a lot out of this deal. If possible make your opponents offer up a deal, and unless it's favorable for you, tell them they are crazy.

Do the math and take the time to do so. It's better to take a little extra time than to give away money.

Be the most reluctant player in the deal. The other players may be eager to make a deal and may give you a great deal if they want to get the deal done and are worried you will balk. This doesn't mean you should be a jerk, but don't be overly eager or you will be throwing money away.

Consider the skill level of your opponents. Against opponents who are very skilled a deal is a much better idea than it is against chumps who stumbled their way to the final table. If your opponents are weak, and they want a fair deal feel, free to tell them you aren't interested in their deal and try to win the thing.

Remember that you don't need to make a deal. Tell yourself now that if you never make deals at all in your poker career the money will even out just fine over the long haul. After making that decision it will be easy to only make a deal if it is profitable for you. Then you can treat deal making as a tool to make more money and cut down on your variance.

The Math -

Because this is only the basic guide I'll give you a quick set of calculations to do that are simple and easy, and will get you very close to understanding what a fair deal should be without being too complex. It's not perfect, but it's close.

First take the lowest prize left to be paid (If there are 3 players left that would be third place). That is what everyone is guaranteed, and you must get significantly more than that number to make a deal worthwhile even if you are very short stacked.

Next multiply the lowest prize by the number of players left. That is the money that is locked up.

Now subtract that number (the locked up money) from the total prize money left and you will have the money that is “up for grabs”. The “up for grabs” money is what you are all bargaining for.

If you divide that “up for grabs” money according to chip stack you get a semi-accurate number for deal making, but that's not close enough for us because it gives the short end of the stick to the short stacks and the more skilled players.

Take the up for grabs money that is divided by chip stack and move a little from the big stacks to the short stacks, as well as moving some into the stacks of the more skilled players. Now take just a little from everyone's stack and put it into yours. Now you have a reasonable deal.

An Example -

Let's look at the final three in a tournament that pays $90,000 for first, $50,000 for second, and $30,000 for third. The players chip stacks are arranged like this -

Player A - 290,000

Player B - 210,000

Player C - 100,000

Everyone is guaranteed to make $30,000, for a total of $90,000 in money that is locked up. This leaves $80,000 to be chopped up amongst them in a deal. Player A does a quick estimate, dividing things up by chip stack, and comes up with this -

Player A - $39,000

Player B - $28,000

Player C - $13,000

We can see why this sort of deal has to be adjusted because Player A is making almost first place money without having to play for it, while Player C is only getting $13,000 when he still has enough chips to win or move up a spot and make much more than that a good percentage of the time. For Player B this deal is reasonable, and for Player A it's fantastic, but Player C realizes he isn't getting enough and comes back with this -

“Are you crazy? I only get 13k when I could still win this thing? No thanks.”

A more reasonable deal might look like this -

Player A - $34,000

Player B - $26,000

Player C - $20,000

Player A is guaranteed a payout that is better than second place, Player B is slightly better than second place as well, and Player C is getting a good price for giving up his shot at the big money. If any of the players here were shrewd negotiators they could probably get another thousand or two out of the others if they simply express reluctance and say something like “Give me another two thousand and we have a deal”. Hopefully that player will be you.

If your opponents seem to want a deal that is truly ridiculous deal then just explain a bit of the math to them and make sure that they understand that their numbers aren't even close. If they persist then just decline the deal and play for first. Now get out there and play well and put yourself in a position to use this article!