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Deal or No Deal?

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: May 01, 2007

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In the UK, when someone tells you he's just won a festival event, a reasonable question to follow congratulations might be, "Outright?" Additional congratulations, presumably, would come if he landed the top prize with no "business" being done. The difference between the top three spots on a payout ladder can be pretty vast, with the top prize being usually 35 percent or more of the total pool, and a near doubling of prize amounts occurring from fourth place up. We're still without standardisation of anything, really, so some places still employ quirky prize-allocation systems (like fixing the number of prizes at three, or nine, regardless of number of entrants). Quick structures and time constraints at the end of tournaments (even local festival events with buy-ins of around £200-£300) mean that deals, from the player-orchestrated chop to the dreaded chip count, have been, and continue to be, part of tournament players' regular experience.

There are several successful players who outright refuse, regardless of the situation, to make final-table deals, and the tournament continues (at least in the faster-structured events) only until these players have reached the felt, at which point I have regularly seen play stop the next hand and a chop decided by the rest of them. This no-deal attitude, while correct in many (even most) cases, seems to me to be dogmatic, and therefore a strange standpoint for people whose major skill set is that of adaptation to new circumstances as and when they arise.

Why sometimes refuse to deal? Well, your expected value might be such that you would be foolish to compromise what is effectively your top payout. As the monster chip leader, you wouldn't concede anything, and allow only the little stacks to chop the rest of the prize pool, effectively ending the tournament. In a contrasting situation, a lot of play might remain at the final table, and, with even stacks, you fancy your chances. It seems a shame there to give up a genuine opportunity to outplay your opponents at a stage of the game that's very different from the rest of the tournament. Dave "El Blondie" Colclough said that he advocated playing out even the smaller, faster tournaments, as there was no substitute for this shorthanded and heads-up practice, and one might as well get some of that before playing for big money.

Why sometimes deal, then? The blinds might, at the final table, be so high in comparison to all of the stacks that who wins and who loses has fallen pretty much in the hands of the god of coin flips. Surely, it limits the horrific variance of the no-limit hold'em tournament player to chop the money there and then. Obviously, if playing for fun or sheer experience, every hand counts, and this is a killjoy way to look at it. Or, if professional with a huge bankroll, it's equally irrelevant, but there are a decent number of players who do benefit from this variance limitation (the same sorts of players who play many smaller tables simultaneously online rather than one higher-limit one).

The Grosvenor UK Poker Tour (GUKPT) tries to satisfy all of the requirements for deal-less finals. Taking advice from experienced advisers like Neil "Bad Beat" Channing, who hear whinging from players on both sides of the structure debate, and take, in my view, a good middle path, they've come up with a simple final-table formula. Inasmuch as changing a tournament's advertised structure mid-play is simply wrong (negatively affecting those whose decisions were made earlier based on it), they put back the final table's blinds only if M<7 as they prepare to start the final nine. In effect, if it looks like the finalists can survive only a few rounds without having to move in (which makes for repetitive TV and grumpy players), the blinds are rolled back. It's been working so far.

The second GUKPT event held in Walsall in February ended in another straight-played final, with winner Jerome Bradpiece scooping the whole top spot, which, added extras included, topped £121,000. That's two for two for £1,000 events that have seen the winner do so outright, just what I am sure the organisers BlueSquare had in mind when they set aside their added £10,000 for first place alone. It's "bad for the game" and definitely for TV when after a quick break, threehanded play resumes as a tension-drained all-in fest.

When the final-table players at Walsall took their seats, we thought a deal for the top spots would be unlikely anyway. This was partly due to the presence (and healthy stack) of old-school Peter "The Bandit" Evans, whose no-deals policy is well-known, and it looked like while he was still fighting for first, at least, there would not be any of those suspicious "toilet breaks." Mohammed "Shaf" Shafiq was another unlikely candidate for prize-chopping, and when it got three-way, the first signs of potential dealing fizzled out as Shaf recommended splitting 60 percent of the pool and playing for the rest, which, quite sensibly, Jerome Bradpiece declined to accept, being comfortably in the lead, as he had been since day two.

Heads up and the chip leader, Jerome had twice the stack of eventual runner-up Billy "The Kid" Ngo. He had his own extra reason to turn down a deal (even one that left plenty to play for): He'd had a bet on himself at 250-to-1, and if he didn't actually win, as in outright, he was worried that might void his extra five-figure windfall. The savvy Jerome - who last year finished in ninth place in the Amsterdam Master Classics main event, displaying the same phlegmatic approach to the game - probably won't get such long odds at the next one. spade

Jen Mason is part of www.blondepoker.com. She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.