I was the chip leader by a small margin when we eliminated a player in 7th place in a 45-player tournament. I then made a critical mistake that cost me from making any real money in the tournament. The blinds had just increased to a sizeable amount. The top four positions paid, so everyone at the table agreed to a deal giving 5th and 6th place their money back out of 1st and 2nd. The table was playing very, very tight as no one wanted to be the first person out of the money. I had taken advantage of this to build my stack from below average to take the chip lead.
However, as soon as we made the agreement, the madness started. It was almost like someone flipped a switch from "tight" to "maniac" for the entire table. I open-raised on the next hand with A-Q and had two players push all-in behind me! They were both shortstacks, and the pot was laying me the right odds to call.
Surprisingly enough, I had both players dominated with A-4 and Q-8 (sooooted, of course). But the turn brought an 8 and I was now an average stack. I ended up going out in 5th place a few hands later when I pushed with 6-6 and lost to Q-J.
I had no idea that such a simple deal could alter play at the table so dramatically. Because of the structure of most small-stakes tournaments, it is almost always in your benefit to make some form of deal. But I am often surprised at the deals I see people make. I saw a threeway chop between a player who had 75% of the chips in play and two short stacks, just because he was thrilled at the prospect of making money.
Since making the mistake I described above, I will almost never expand the bubble if I have a fair amount of chips left. However, I will be the first person suggesting a deal if I am the shortstack. If this seems a bit selfish, well, that's because it is. The key concept is to know when to make the best deal. The crucial point in making a good deal is making it in your best interest.
I am offering some very simply options that can be calculated quickly at the table. This way you can always be aware of what your best option is. If you want to take this idea further, the only book that I have found that covers deal-making is Sklansky's Tournament Poker for Advanced Players (and even then it is for heads-up deals). You can find a few discussions online that cover deal-making with very indepth calculations.
As a general rule, I usually don't make a deal until we are down to three players because that's where 50% or more of the prize pool is concentrated. Keep in mind that we are discussing smallstakes live tournaments, as online play flows differently. There will always be one player at the table asking for a "chop," (an even distribution of the remaining prize pool among the remaining players) no matter what the size of the stacks at the table. Sometimes this can be in your best interest. Sometimes it's better to divide up the prize pool according to the percentage of chips in play each person currently has.
This is especially helpful if the blinds have negated any play other than an all-in fest. How do you know what's the right thing to do? There are several factors that go into making the proper deal at the end of a tournament:
Some sample deals:
$100 buy-in, $7500 prize pool
75 players, 1500 starting chips
1st: $2500 2nd: $1500 3rd: $750
Player A: 26,500
Player B: 46,000
You only have 10x the big blind, and it's costing you 6,000 to play every 3 hands. Even though you and Player B have a slight lead over Player A, this is not a bad place to chop 3 ways because the blinds are so large ($1500 each). He is one hand from being even. If possible, try to take a little off the top for 3rd place, then chop 1st and 2nd with the other chip leader (for example: $1625, $1625, $1000). If Player A only had 8,000 chips, offer him an extra $100 then chop the remainder (again, the size of the blinds means the cards dictate the play not the players).
Blinds 3000/6000, 500 ante $50 buy-in, $4900 prize pool 98 Players, 2000 starting chips
Player A: 40,200
Player B: 15,300
Player C: 8,400
Player B & Player C only have one hand left each, so making a deal at this point would not be in your best interest. Once they are eliminated, you may need to reassess the situation. Generally it is in your best interest to play it out, unless you feel that Player A is a significantly better player than you are. If you do not want to play heads-up versus them, try offering $100 or $200 off of the top as opposed to an even chop.
You can write to author Jeremiah Smith at:
8811 Rio Grande Falls Ave., Las Vegas, NV 89118