Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

Don’t Turn Your Back on Backers

Be thankful for them

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: May 28, 2010


Backers, stakedI guess I’m becoming a grumpy old man or something, because I’m finding more and more pet peeves in the poker world. My latest one concerns people who get staked (or partially staked) in a tournament, win one of the top prizes (or win outright), and then gripe that they should have paid the entire buy-in themselves. Then, they begrudgingly hand the proper share of the prize money to their backer, with a look that suggests that he should be eternally grateful for getting his cut. (In case you are wondering, I have not been involved in this scenario. I just get very annoyed when I see it take place.)

Hey, Mr. Tournament Player, if you knew that you were going to do so well, you obviously should have manned up and paid the entire buy-in. But, you didn’t. You knew that there was significant risk involved. You didn’t want to shoulder it entirely by yourself, so you found someone willing to share the risk with you. That was smart thinking. But now when it’s time to share the reward, you somehow feel cheated? Instead, how about being thankful?

You should be thankful for the opportunity that he gave you. Without his help, you probably wouldn’t have entered the tournament in the first place. Most people take on backers because they couldn’t or wouldn’t play otherwise. So, if you claim that you were considering paying the entire buy-in yourself, I’d say that’s probably not true. You have to be in it before you can win it, and he helped make that possible.

You should be thankful that he was willing to take a chance on you, and to gamble his own money on your abilities. That in turn inspired some of the confidence that helped you do well. Don’t kid yourself that all of your confidence came from within. He had faith in you, and that gave you faith in yourself. He reinforced your belief that you are a winner, and in turn, you didn’t want to let him down. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. So, don’t forget that when it’s his turn to benefit.

You should be thankful that your backer enabled you to play within your comfort zone. Let’s say that it was a $1,000 tournament, and in a hypothetical scenario, you paid for it yourself even though it represented a large percentage of your bankroll. You did well in the tournament’s early stages, and now you’re close to reaching the money. Deep down, you know that tournament success is not about squeaking into the money, but about going for the top spots, where all of the real money is.

But then you see that the bottom rung of money is $2,000, and you suddenly realize how important $2,000 would be to you. Now, your mentality shifts, and you want to make sure that you lock that up rather than lose your $1,000. You start to play cautiously and defensively, because the amount of money involved is outside of your comfort zone. In short, you stop playing in the aggressive manner that got you where you are. You make it into the money, but your stack got drained in the process, and you bust out soon after making the money. You collect the $2,000 prize that you wanted to lock up so badly. There’s nothing wrong with doubling your money, but if you wanted to do that, you probably would have had a better chance of success in a cash game.

Getting staked enabled you to play the tournament the way that you know it’s supposed to be played from start to finish. When you got close to the money, you didn’t have to think about locking up a modest win, or how much you stood to lose, or anything like that. It’s easy to overlook how you might have played if the buy-in had been entirely yours. Clearly, you were more at ease with a smaller amount of your own money invested, or you never would have asked for backing. Again, your partner’s help went further than just the money he contributed. It enhanced your mental state, which in turn bettered your results.

If you never would have put up $1,000 of your own money, you should be thankful that his help enabled you to play in a high buy-in tournament. Even if your personal prize money was the same as if you had played in a $300 tournament with your own money, it’s really not the same. You got the opportunity to win a bigger event. You got to test yourself against tougher competition. In short, you opened the door to more opportunities that might not have come from a $300 tournament. As a result, maybe next time you’ll be getting staked in a $3,000 event. And if you get that offer, you’d be a fool to turn it down just because you did well one time at the $1,000 level.

I’ve been at least partially staked in every major tournament I’ve played. I don’t have a million-dollar bankroll, and just can’t see putting up thousands of dollars of my own money on a regular basis. Even if you are one of the best players in the world, you will lose your buy-in the vast majority of the time. And when you do manage to go deep in a big event, one wrong turn or one bad beat can cost you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I’m proud to be among the small percentage of players who have shown a long-term profit in their tournament careers, and I pay my backers with a smile every time. I’ve had Monday-morning quarterbacks tell me that I would have been better off playing entirely with my own money. They don’t understand that many of my wins came in tournaments that I wouldn’t have played without financial support. Their 20/20 hindsight is extremely shortsighted. I benefited greatly from my backers’ support, not just financially, but also in terms of comfort and confidence.

If you’re able to get staked by people you trust, I think you’d be foolish to turn them away. Consider yourself lucky to know people who have that kind of faith in you. And if you are able to reward that faith, don’t ever begrudge it. They earned their money, just like you did. Spade Suit

Matt Lessinger is the author of The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, available everywhere. You can find other articles of his at