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Final Table Deals

by Bryan Devonshire |  Published: Jun 11, 2014


Bryan DevonshireMost final table appearances come with talk of a deal. I’ve been involved in many deals and have always been happy with my end of the bargain. Don’t ever make a deal that you are not happy with, it’s always better to play it out in circumstances like that. When chopping based on chip counts, the Independent Chip Model (ICM) is always the fair version, chip counts are always unfair unless it is a winner-take-all prize pool. Here’s the various dealmaking spots you should find yourself in:
The There Shall Be No Deal Deal

This one is rarer and rarer as poker progresses, but sometimes the matchup with your opponent(s) is so ideal that you should not make a deal unless it is so much in your favor that you’re insulting people by suggesting it. The last time this happened to me was in January 2012. I found myself heads-up in a $1,000 WSOPC event against Paul “Eskimo” Clark. Eskimo is a sad story of a fallen legend in our community. He was a monster in the 90s, finishing in the top ten on the money list nine of the ten years that decade. Absolutely amazing. This millenium has been way less kind to him though, as the game and his health have passed him by. His strategy against me involved a lot button limping, blind defending, and flop over-shoves. Consequently I loved my spot and flat out rejected his attempts at opening negotiations three times. In these cases, when you know you want to play, it is best to simply avoid the talk. A clear “I don’t want to make a deal” is all you need to do. Don’t be rude, don’t say anything like “I’m better and you have no chance,” just simply avoid the topic and when it is brought up quickly shoot it down.

The Offer I Can’t Refuse Deal

Most deals fall under this umbrella. We are favorites but not by a landslide. We’re losing equity by making a fair deal because it negates our skill edge. If you’re good at poker and especially if you’re a known pro, these spots are easy to manage. Opponents likely know that you’re better than them and are likely willing to give up some because of this. There is extreme art in this deal making process, just like a hand of poker.
Knowing where your opponents are at and where they think you’re at is crucial. You should know the career earnings of each opponent. You should know what their biggest cash is. You should have a sense of how much they need the money. With this information you can leverage your position with ease.

My horse texted me once, “I win. They chopped.” It was an Orleans Open event before the WSOP one year, and turns out when they got three-handed, talk of a deal came up. Ryan had all the chips, they had few, so he said, “Give me first place money and I don’t care what y’all do with the rest.” They said deal and chopped up second and third. Amazing. Matt Brady told me a story about initially getting $40,000 three-handed when first was $43,000. They all agreed to play for the trophy, and when they got heads up, Brady’s opponent offered him $5,000 cash to surrender because the guy had never won a tournament and really wanted to. OK dude, you win. More amazing than Brady collecting $2,000 more than first place is the guy at the Commerce Casino who took first place and $0.00. Four-handed a deal is talked about, one guy says, “I don’t care about the money, I just want to win.” Frankie O’Dell responds with a grin, alright buddy, have we got a deal for you. We’ll give you the win, the watch, the Remington, your picture on the wall, and zero dollars. The guy snap accepts, Frankie and company take home all the money. Brilliant.

Most recently for me, I found myself four-handed at the Colorado Poker Championship main event. My right-hand opponent had 9 milly of 14 in play. I had about 3.5 million, the other two guys on my left had less than a million each. In the background was the best all-around points title and the $5,500 package that came along with it. If Dan with less than a milly wins then he wins. If I win then I win. If anybody else wins and I take second then I win. If Dan finishes second and I finish worse he wins it. If Dan and I finish third and fourth then whoever wins the event also wins best all-around. It was dinnertime on December 23rd. Talk of a deal came up, and I proposed an ICM chop, the absolute fairest way to do it. Everybody agreed, math was done, and I take second place, winning best all around. Boom.

The Fairest Deal

Sometimes you know everybody and they’re all good at poker. In this case, chop it up fairly and quickly. Go do something else. My favorite of these deals came at the 2012 LAPC $2,000 eight-game mixed event. It was after the main event, everybody was a bit burnt out, and the structure was one of Matt Savage’s best. When we hit five-handed the lineup was Phil Hellmuth, Brian Tate, Tyson Marks, Owais Ahmed, and myself. We had just busted that fish Mike Gorodinsky who didn’t want to chop. All five of us were also in a $1,000 last longer that got a bunch of people. It was midnight. We made a deal, the fairest and most fun one I have ever made:

The prize pool would be chopped by ICM. The last longer prize pool is chopped by chip count. We must play for the trophy. We must all start drinking, and stay and drink until the trophy is awarded. Levels will be cut from 60 minutes to 15 minutes. Go! We all had a blast, Phil still got upset about bad beats even with no money on the line because the guy is that competitive, and after an impressive call down in stud against Tate heads-up, Phil won the trophy fair and square.

Remember, the goal is to win the most money. Sometimes in poker that happens in deals. Don’t give up equity to be nice, but don’t be a jerk about your skill edge either. Understand your opponents and you will be able to negotiate shrewdly. ♠

Bryan Devonshire has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade and has more than $2 million in tournament earnings. Follow him on Twitter @devopoker.