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Making The Best Deal

by Greg Raymer |  Published: Jul 15, 2020


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Greg Raymer Please let me encourage you to reach out to me with article ideas and questions for future columns. You can tweet to me at @FossilMan, or send me a message at

In my first book FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, I dedicated an entire chapter to the issue of making the best deal possible when negotiating a modified payout near the end of a tournament. I want to hit a couple of the most important points for you, the readers of Card Player.

Probably the most important point is you, and everybody else, is completely valid in their opinion on making a deal. Please note I said valid, not reasonable.

If we are down to four players and I have 10 percent of the chips, and insist on getting first place money or no deal, my position is valid. It is my right to take that position, and you can accept my deal, or not. Just like I can accept your deal, or not, as I choose. From a math perspective, my offer is ridiculous, and my three opponents would almost certainly never accept it. That is, my offer is not reasonable, but it is still valid.

From this first point, it should be a clear conclusion that nobody deserves any grief for proposing any deal they want, or rejecting any deal they don’t want. Even if their position makes no sense to you, and does not come close at all to the math of the situation, it’s still valid. And yes, there is a mathematical answer when it comes to deal-making. But like poker strategy decisions themselves, just because there is a purely math-based answer does not mean there isn’t more than math involved.

At any point in time, you can calculate the value of each stack in a tournament. Independent Chip Model (ICM) is a mathematical model that provides the pure math value of each stack. This model uses the stack sizes of each remaining player, and the prizes remaining to be won, and calculates the value of each player’s stack. It does not account for skill differences, or any other factors, but it is still the best starting point when you are deciding to accept a deal, or what deal to propose.

Most players today know about ICM, and there is often a proposal to do an “ICM chop.” This offer means somebody will use an ICM calculator app on their phone, input the stacks sizes and prizes, and the app will provide this mathematical answer of how much each player receives.

If you like this proposal, you accept. However, feel free to try for more. I like to input the prizes into the app on my phone in advance, and occasionally input rough estimates of each player’s chip counts. I can then have those number handy. If somebody starts to discuss making a deal, I will know my approximate ICM value. I can then decide what amount I will take, and try to get that higher number instead.

Also, make sure deals are allowed. One of my claims to fame is being no. 1 on the all-time Heartland Poker Tour champions list, with five main event victories on that tour. None of those wins involved a deal, and that is not because I rejected any offers. The HPT does not allow deals in their main events. You could try to make a secret deal, and settle up in private. But if you get caught, you could be disqualified for violating the terms and conditions, and forfeit any prize. That is too much risk, especially if you are doing it to reduce variance in the first place.

And speaking of risk, make sure you know how deals are handled by the venue. The World Series of Poker, for example, does not prohibit deals, but they also take no part in them. This means somebody still must be declared the winner, and they will be paid posted first prize. It is up to the winner to give money to the other players according to the terms of any deal. If they decide to not pay up, you have little recourse. This means I’m unlikely to make a deal, as I don’t want to depend upon somebody else living up to their end of the bargain.

I greatly prefer the way some other venues handle deals. They make sure the numbers are understood, and adjust the payouts to go along with the terms of the deal, and pay each player the agreed upon amount. And most of these venues also adjust the tax paperwork, to reflect the amount actually received by each player, and report the more accurate numbers to the various poker media companies. This is how all venues should handle things, in my opinion.

Remember, you want to get the best deal you can. But any deal you are happy with is fine. Just make sure you know how much you deserve by the math (ICM), and if you are willing to take less to ensure that a deal happens, that is your choice. If you don’t want to make a deal, even if the terms are generous to you, that is also your choice. Finally, make sure you and the others understand the terms clearly, so there is no confusion or animosity afterwards. May the deals always work out in your favor! ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He recently authored FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.