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Getting the Perfect Deal in Poker

Making a final table in any live or online tournament is always a great feeling but it can suddenly become confusing and frustrating if somebody suggests a deal when you don't have much experience in this field. Missing out on the best deal for you can cost you a lot of money and, in many cases, it would have made more sense just to play on in instead.

To make sure you don't make these errors in the future, PokerSchoolOnline has employed the services of Lex Veldhuis, Mickey Petersen, Randy Lew and Jaime Staples from Team PokerStars Online. All four are hugely experienced in winning poker tournaments – and making important deals along the way. Read on for advice on whether you should make a deal, and how to secure the best outcome for you.

What do you think of the option of having deals? Do you think it adds something to the game or the opposite?

Mickey Petersen (MP): I think it's great. In my opinion it actually adds to the game as being a good deal maker is a completely separate skill set, and if you are good at it you will sometimes be able to negotiate for even more money than what you could expect to get from your poker skills.

Jaime Staples (JS): I think deals are a very interesting aspect of tournament poker! Just like in life, there can be an outcome that is not all or nothing, and it is our job to make sure that we get our fair share (or maybe more!). I like the ability to do that.

Randy Lew (RL): If I had to choose whether to have deals or not to have deals, I would prefer not having deals available. I think that a lot of times we play very hard to get to the end of the tournament, and a deal often times takes away from the excitement of the big pay jumps and when the pressure should be at its highest.

What are your thoughts on poker rooms and casinos not accepting deals because it ruins the spectacle of the tournament?

Lex Veldhuis (LV): It's pretty ridiculous because they [the casinos] usually inflate their first place prize money, and it's just bad for the economy. It's also not bad for the public to see deals. It doesn't take anything away from the prestige. It shows people care and that it means a lot to them financially.

MP: I hate it when venues don't allow deal making. First of all I don't even agree that it's more entertaining to watch poker playing than deal making. Sometimes the deal negotiation can be more interesting! More importantly though it's the players who put up the money and 100% of the rake for the event - they should be allowed to split the money as they see fit even if it might be slightly less interesting for spectators.

What are your personal preferences when being presented with an opportunity to make a deal? Do you prefer to play or to secure the money?

JS: If it's a tournament I am broadcasting live on my Twitch stream, I like to say 'no deal' and play it out. It adds a lot of excitement to the situation. If the money was my only consideration though, I would certainly be taking a lot of deals. It can reduce some of the crazy money swings in poker.

RL: I usually prefer to keep playing rather than to secure the money with a deal because I find that I do better than my opponents under pressure. There are a lot of opponents out there that when the pay jumps are massive, they freeze up and become much easier to play against.

When did you make an important deal? How did you approach it? What did you do and why?

RL:  The biggest and pretty much the only deal I can recall making is in the 2013 $1,050 SCOOP Main Event. The prizes were insanely large at the final table and the players wanted to make a deal when six players were remaining. The deal was offering around $230k but I actually ended up declining despite being the short stack because I felt that all of my opponents really wanted to make a deal and were playing a bit more straightforward. I thought to myself that if I get one solid double up, I can put myself in a position to get one of the top spots and win even more. Eventually, we got down to four-handed and we paused for a deal again. And this time I took a deal for $368k because I felt that was a very big amount I was happy to lock up as well as the stack sizes getting even shorter with the increasing blinds. There comes a point where I don't want to leave too much money up to variance.

Have you ever negotiated a better deal than what it was proposed? How?

LV: I simply told the table I didn't care and I would win anyway. That I was the most experienced player there and they would not be able to overcome experience in both the game and playing for big stakes.

JS: Every time I try and make a deal, this is my objective. I think there is this perception by some that deal making is intended to be 'fair.' The way I have always approached it is that it is another part of the poker tournament. It is the same as raising a nice strong hand in late position like J-T suited. Maybe the K-4 in the small blind technically has a better hand, but if we aren't trying to win and just playing our hand strength, then what's the point?! I always try and bargain for more.

What would you recommend when negotiating a deal?

LV: Don't sound too desperate. You have to be willing to play most of the time. If someone is asking for $10k more than what ICM says, and you still really want the deal, never offer to pay it out of your own pocket but pay a part of it. So say, 'I'll cover$ 3k of that but no more'. Don't leave room in the way you talk for discussion. People need to know you can't be pushed around.

JS: Information is key, but setting the first negotiating point is also valuable. So there are two ways to go about it depending on your opponents. One is to set your expectations right out of the gate. This is creating the threshold for which you will negotiate. If you say, 'I want $200k more than the numbers' it is unlikely they will try and strong arm you into getting less than the numbers. It sets the precedent that you expect a good deal.
 
The second is allowing the other players to do all the talking before you jump in. This will allow you to have the most information before forming a position in your head. Maybe you can get some reads on how your opponents feel in the situation. Are they afraid, or wanting to gamble, or impatient?

What should you avoid when attempting to make a deal?

RL:  I would avoid giving up a huge amount of money from the proposed original deal because there comes a point when you're giving up too much to justify a higher guaranteed payout. You have to have some risk if you want to play poker at all.

JS: Keep it all business! It's not a personal attack, it's all just a negotiation. The person that can keep a cool head will be able to make the most rational decisions.

When should you get a deal and when should you just look to continue playing?

LV: If the difference between places is so huge that you are playing for life changing money, try to go for the security of a deal. You probably won't be in this situation again. It will give you some peace of mind.

RL: Think about how your opponents are feeling during deal making. Think about their play leading up to deal making which can easily show whether they are looking to move up the ladder payjumps or not.

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