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When Shouldn’t You Make Tournament Deals?

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Nov 03, 2021


My previous column explained why timing is so important when you’re making final table deals. Your EV and power can change very quickly, so it’s important to strike when the time is right.

This column will address the opposite, and help you identify the times when it is NOT ideal to make a deal.

Some reasons for why you should refuse a deal include…

• Your Expected Value is higher than the proposed deal.
• Your Expected Value will probably go up soon.

“Keep playing” doesn’t mean you will play until there is only one winner. The delay can be much shorter, perhaps just one more hand.

The specific recommendations you’ll read here are not absolute. If someone makes a great offer, grab it (or try for more). But don’t act too quickly. Take a few minutes and ask yourself a few questions.

• Why are they offering this deal?
• How much do they want it? If they are hungry for a deal, you can probably get more.
• Is the deal as good as it looks?
• Should you try for a better deal?
• Should you keep playing?

Sometimes, you will learn that it’s not as good a deal as you first thought. Or you’ll see that you can probably get a better one. Or you will realize that you should just keep playing. Several factors should make you less willing to make a deal.

You’re A Better Player

The bigger your edge, the more you are likely to gain by playing. But never forget that you probably overestimate yourself and underestimate them.

Even if you’re usually better, you may not have an edge now. If you’re sleepy, have a headache, or want to quit for any reason, your playing EV is smaller than usual.

You’re The Chip Leader

There are at least three reasons to keep playing.

1. You have a good chance to take first place, and it pays much more than second.
2. You make deals to end the risk of busting out. As the chip leader, it’s unlikely to happen soon.
3. Some opponents may be so afraid of busting out that they play too cautiously. You can run over them and build your stack, EV, and chances to win it all.

The Blinds Aren’t Too Big

The more big blinds everyone has, the more important your skill edge becomes. If you have a significant playing edge and enough time to exploit it, keep playing.

Opponent(s) Are Very Short-Stacked

Short-stacked players naturally want a deal, but you shouldn’t necessarily give them one. Don’t be rude. Just say something like, “Not now,” or, “Maybe later.”

These columns about deals are taken from a book I’m writing with “Miami” John Cernuto and Jan Siroky. Jan is a highly respected tournament coach, and John has cashed in more tournaments than any player in history.

I asked John why he doesn’t negotiate when one or more opponents are short-stacked?

“Let’s say there are five players left, and you have 20 big blinds,” said John. “You’re comfortable. One player has six BB, and another has three.Wait for them to go bust. If you do a deal here, a lot of the money that you could get will go to the shorter stacks.”

John also admitted that he and others sometimes made a careless mistake.

“Another mistake I made, but it wasn’t just me… it was everybody at the table. We decided to do some sort of chip chop. I don’t remember the exact details. But one guy only had two bigs left, and his big blind was next. Nobody caught it, and he went along with the deal, of course, because he would probably go bust. It was a small tournament, a daily. Because we were unobservant, myself included, he got away with one. All we had to do was wait, and we could have chopped up a few extra bucks.”

There are two lessons for you:

1. Never stop studying your opponents and their stacks. If John could make that mistake, so can you.
2. Admit and learn from your mistakes. It’s one of our book’s main lessons and a foundation of John’s success. Far too many players ignore or hide their mistakes, so they keep repeating them.

You’re The Button

This point is most important when most players are short-stacked. Unless you can get a very good deal, keep playing because you’ve got two edges:

• You have position while playing.
• Everybody has to post the blinds before you do.

You’re In Better Condition Than They Are

Stamina will give you an edge when you’ve been playing for many hours.

Let’s say it’s 3 AM, and you’re young and healthy, while your opponents are much older. You may be tired and want a deal, but they are probably more tired and more eager for one. Keep playing.

The same principle applies much more forcefully if some opponents show signs of fatigue or tilt. If you wait, you will probably increase your stack, or they may give you a better deal.

How Should You Start The Negotiations?

There is often a conflict between timing and the fact that you making the first offer can weaken your position:

• If you offer to accept a specific amount, it becomes the ceiling: You will generally negotiate downward. You won’t get more, and you will often get less.
• If someone offers you a specific amount, it becomes the floor: You will generally negotiate upward. You won’t get less, and you will often get more.

Although you wish they’d make the first offer, they often won’t do it at the best time for you. When you’re ready to deal, try to start negotiating without weakening your position.

Choose your words very carefully. Suggest that you may be willing to talk, but don’t mention a number. Say something like, “Should we pause the clock?” Those words say that you will consider a deal, but they don’t commit you to anything.

Summary Of Both Timing Columns

Timing is extremely important because the situation can change so quickly. The general principles are quite simple.

Negotiate when:

• You can probably get a better deal than your playing EV.
• Your EV will probably go down soon.

Keep playing when:

• Your EV is higher than the proposed deal.
• Your EV will probably go up soon.

“Keep playing” doesn’t mean you will play until there is only one winner. Sometimes a good deal could pop up on the next hand.

The more you seem to want a deal, the less you will get. “Miami” John said it best. “Never let them see you sweat.” ♠

Alan SchoonmakerAfter publishing five expensive poker books, Dr. Al,, now writes inexpensive eBooks. How to Beat Small Poker Games, Stay Young; Play Poker, How to Beat Killed Hold’em Games, and Business is a Poker Game cost only $2.99 at Please comment on his new website,