The Tsunami

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Lessons from Recent Deal-Declining at The Venetian

As indicated in my last blog post, I final-tabled the nightly 7:00PM $100+$20 tournament at The Venetian last Friday. Being that I quickly put the kibosh on a proposed deal, I thought this would be a great opportunity to write about tournament deal-making (live – but also online).

This tournament featured 67 entrants, and the top 9 spots paid. The final table started with 10 players. This was the first live tournament I had played in a long time. But I knew that it was customary for deals to be made in live tournaments where the player who busts on the bubble gets his tournament buy-in back – typically from money taken from first place. I was about 7th in chips when we got to the final table, so there was non-negligible chance of me finishing on the bubble. However:

1.) There were about 2 really short stacks

2.) Even though my stack was below average, I knew that I was the best short-stacker at the table (and at this point, no one had more than 20 big blinds) I estimated my probability of 1st place to be around 1/10.

3.) Even though I was in 7th, my stack was deep enough to pose a threat to most stacks at the table. My opponents were already playing way more tightly than they should. If there was no bubble to worry about, there was a chance that my opponents may have gravitated closer to proper play.

Therefore, when the floorman asked us if we each wanted to give $10 to the bubbleboy, I immediately said “No. Let’s play on.” One of the players at the table thought I was being really cheap – and remarked that he’d be willing to put up the $10. This would be the amount of money that I’d expect to lose based on what I estimated my P(1st) to be. Exceedingly tight play on the bubble would increase my probabilities of other high finishes as well. As a result, I declined his offer, and we quickly moved on to playing.

Had I been the shortest stack at the table, I would have accepted the deal. And while it may seem unfair to take deals only when they’re beneficial, the whole point of playing poker is to leverage poor financial decisions made by others. Yeah, you can (and should) be friendly and have a good time while doing it. But if you’re not going to make any attempts to exploit your opposition, then what’s really the point of playing? Slick deal-making is just another aspect of playing the best tournament poker possible – which is why I dedicated chapter 9 in Tournament Killer Poker by the Numbers to it.

To conclude, here are a few morals from this story and about deal-making in general:

1.) Don’t feel pressured into taking a deal that you don’t like. Be nice to your opponents, but don’t feel compelled to win any popularity contests

2.) Always be open-minded when it comes to deal-making – even when you’re the best player at the table. Estimate your $EV, and do whatever you can to strike a deal where you make more than your $EV. For instance, when I’m at the final table of a tournament at Full Tilt, I always have the “Discuss Deal” box checked. The worst-case scenario is that we can’t make a deal where I get more than my $EV – at which point I simply say something like “It looks like we can’t make a deal. Let’s just play on.”

3.) When you decline a deal, don’t justify it by saying something like “I think I’m better than all of you, and therefore I think I deserve more.” Instead, just tell the table what your terms are. If the table won’t give you the terms you want, just politely say “no.”

May Your EV Always Be Positive!

Tony Guerrera


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Tony Guerrera is an established poker author, an instructor at PocketFives Training, a member of Team Moshman, and host of the popular poker strategy podcast, Killer Poker Analysis. Tony blogs about decision optimization on and off the felt at


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One Response to “Lessons from Recent Deal-Declining at The Venetian”

  1. business daily says:

    A smart player knows how to recognize a good deal so they can get maximum value out of their tournament position. Even if you are more skilled than your opponent and have more chips it may be sensible to make a deal based on the blinds stack sizes and tournament structure. The main reason a player would want to make a deal is because tournaments are so top heavy. Even the most skilled player is not going to win at every final table he she reaches so sometimes it makes sense to take a deal.

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