negotiating poker final table deals

How to Negotiate Final Table Deals Like a Pro

Tournament poker deals aren’t something that come up often, but when they do their effect on your bottom line is massive. The high variance of poker tournaments understandably causes some players to seek insurance once it’s down to about four players.

Nowadays, with the proliferation of events like the MicroMillions, inexperienced tournament players find themselves making poker deals more than ever.

If the insane chip chopped first prizes we sometimes see in this tournaments are any indication, they are getting screwed.

The first time you make a tournament poker deal, even if it’s for a few hundred dollars, can be very intimidating. Some are tempted to just say yes to whatever random deal they are offered in an attempt to lock up more money, sacrificing EV in the process. 

There are two commonly used poker deal making methods: 

  • Chip Chops
  • ICM Chops

Knowledge of them can help you get your fair share (and maybe more) of the prize poolThese two methods are like night and day, but understanding the strengths and weakness of both can be the difference between getting what’s yours and giving it away.

Though this article will teach how to calculate deals in an efficient manner, a lot of poker rooms will do this for you. PokerStars sponsored tournaments usually allow for deals to be made and will provide a moderator. Other tournament organizers, such as the World Series of Poker, don’t allow for official deals to be made. In these cases you must evaluate if you are comfortable trusting that the other player(s) will hold their end as agreed (not recommended).

Here is Upswing coach Doug Polk, in a recent example of a poker deal done on PokerStars in the WCOOP $10k High Roller.

Chip Chop Deals

Chip chops divide the prize pool by the remaining chip stacks, giving each chip the exact same monetary value. A simple arithmetic solution that a grade schooler could solve.

Example: Stacks are close to even in a PLO Tournament, with 10k total chips in play and $25k remaining in the prize pool. First place pays $8000, second pays $7000, third pays $600 and fourth place pays $4000. The leaderboard looks like this:

Player 1

3K in chips

Player 2

2.8K in chips

Player 3

2.5K in chips

Player 4

1.7k in chips

To chip chop a deal we would have to:

  1. Divide 25000(Prize Pool)/10000(Chips in Play) = 2.5, or $2.50 per chip.
  2. Multiply each stack by 2.5.

Which would result in the following payout structure:

Player 1

3K in chips

$7,500

Player 2

2.8K in chips

$7,000

Player 3

2.5K in chips

$6,250

Player 4

1.7k in chips

$4,250

Not a bad payday.

Player 1 goes home with just $500 under first place money without even having to play for it. Player four, meanwhile, loses the chance to improve to third place or better and receives a measly $250 tip for his troubles. 

Now let’s look at what happens when the stacks aren’t as close.

Player 1

6K in chips

$15,000

Player 2

1.8K in chips

$4,500

Player 3

1.5K in chips

$3,750

Player 4

700 in chips

$1,750

‘‘Oh, the Humanity!’’

As you can clearly see, in this scenario, Player 1 got way more than his fair share, almost double first prize, and everybody else got way less. They could have been blinded out and still win way more than what they earned on this deal.

This helps illustrate the fundamental problem: Chip chops don’t account for the payout structure and the money each player has already won.

These 4 players have all already won $4000 by reaching the top 4. That money belongs to them and they shouldn’t be willing to give it up, just like they shouldn’t be willing to give up the EV of their remaining stack.

By agreeing to a chip chop, each player is agreeing to donate their $4000 back to the prize pool in favor of a split by chip count. This makes sense for the chip leader or if the stacks are very close, but not otherwise.

upswing poker lab

This is what gets a lot of inexperienced tournament players in trouble. On paper, chip chopping sounds easy and fair enough, but in practice it’s deeply flawed and unfair. Luckily we have the Independent Chip Model to help us out.

ICM Chop Deals

Unlike chip chopping, this method uses the Independent Chip Model, or ICM, to assign a real monetary value to each stack. ICM takes into account the prize pool and payout structure.

The Independent Chip Model calculates each player’s chance of finishing in the remaining positions, then multiplies and adds it to generate a theoretical cash value of each stack. Not a basic arithmetic solution, but a more accurate one.

Example: Back to the tournament with a big chip leader. The stacks are:

Player 1

6K in chips

Player 2

1.8K in chips

Player 3

1.5K in chips

Player 4

700 in chips

A fair poker deal can’t be reached using the old chip chop method. Unfortunately simple 3rd grade math is just not enough for this.

An ICM chop will take into account more variables than a chip chop. Let’s get all the necessary data together before we begin with all that math:

  • $25,000 player prize pool
  • 10,000 chips remain.
  • First place gets: $8000
  • Second place gets: $7000
  • Third Place gets: $6000
  • Fourth place gets: $4000

Alright, so here’s a step by step guide to what we will need to do before we even begin to solve this poker chop problem. Remember to be patient with yourself, complicated math like this doesn’t come easy to everyone:

  1. Get a No 2 pencil, an eraser and as much paper as you think you might need.
  2. Get a calculator.
  3. Throw it back under the bed because we live in the 21st century.
  4. Open your browser and use it go to ICMpoker.com.
  5. Use their free ICM Calculator.
  6. Get results, maybe use that pencil and paper to write down the results.

So, after running the chip counts and payouts through the ICM calculator we get this ICM Chop.

Now our leaderboard looks like this:

Player 1

6K in chips

$7,446.76

Player 2

1.8K in chips

$6,317.13

Player 3

1.5K in chips

$6,103.51

Player 4

700 in chips

$5,132.60

As you can see, ICM chops favor the short stack way more than chip chops ever could by generating a more evenly distributed structure. The chip leader will receive a little under 1st place, which seems fair given their massive stack. 

Meanwhile the short stack got a reward that was almost $1000 more than what he would get in a chip chop deal with 1000 chips more.

That was using our second scenario. What happens when we try it on our first, more evenly distributed scenario?

Player 1

3K in chips

$6,523.88

Player 2

2.8K in chips

$6,435.88

Player 3

2.5K in chips

$6,287.39

Player 4

1.7k in chips

$5,752.85

The results are considerably more evenly distributed than the chip chop example. Once again, giving the shorter stacks a much better deal.

Chip Chop Vs ICM Chop Comparison

To assess which one is better for your situation, we’ll need to see both methods in different scenarios side by side:

If all stacks are about even:

Player

Chip Stack

Payout

Chip Chop

ICM Chop

Player 1

3K in chips

$8,000

$7,500

$6,523.88

Player 2

2.8K in chips

$7,000

$7,000

$6,435.88

Player 3

2.5K in chips

$6,000

$6,250

$6,287.39

Player 4

1.7k in chips

$4,000

$4,250

$5,752.85

If the chip lead is massive:

Player

Chip Stack

Payout

Chip Chop

ICM Chop

Player 1

6K in chips

$8,000

$15,000

$7,446.76

Player 2

1.8K in chips

$7,000

$4,500

$6,317.13

Player 3

1.5K in chips

$6,000

$3,750

$6,103.51

Player 4

700 in chips

$4,000

$1,750

$5,132.60

While chip chopping may seem like the most simple solution, it’s actually a trap that will likely favor one player over the rest. In a chip chop, more times than not, the short stacks would be giving value away.

upswing poker lab

So now we’ve established three things:

  1. Chip chops help the larger stacks on the table while potentially costing the lower stacks severely.
  2. ICM Chops favor the shorter stacks and factors in more variables.
  3. Despites its perceived flaws, ICM is a more accurate method to figure out the theoretical cash value of chip stacks.

Note: The distinction between chip chopping and ICM chopping disappears if the deal is done in a heads up match. Trying an ICM calculation with just two players will give the exact same results as Chip chopping.

Negotiation Techniques at the Poker Table

negotiating poker final table deals

(Photo by konstantynov, altered from original)

All this math may give you the wrong impression that there is no wiggle room in poker deals. No, you don’t just pick a measuring method and are bound to it.

ICM doesn’t account for personal edge or lack thereof. Some might not be satisfied with the amount it gives them and may want to negotiate for more.

So, whether you want a bigger piece or you want to stop greed from ruining the deal, you will have to be ready to negotiate. Here are a few research based tips to help you navigate a negotiation and come up on top.

What to Say at Final Table

  1. Mention your best alternatives to negotiated agreement (BATNAs). Before presenting them your solution, explain to them why the agreement doesn’t work for you. How is the alternative better? If it’s someone else reneging on the deal, ask them about their BATNAs. This information will ease out the following negotiation, and it can potentially get you a better deal (DeRue et al., 2009).
  1. Avoid the ‘‘Fixed Pie Mentality’’. While poker is a zero sum game, poker deals don’t have to be. Explain why if this deal goes through, not only do you lose value, but it’s also against everybody’s best interest. Explain why you believe your proposition is not only fair for you, but also fair to them.
  1. Anchor your offer. Start with an offer higher than you expect to get. This will give your opponents a bias that ends up with higher numbers next to your name. (Strack & Mussweiler, 1997).

This bias is usually referred to as ‘‘Anchoring’’ and it influences our judgement, even if we know it’s happening (Wilson et al., 1996). Most would recognize it as negotiating down to what you actually want, and even though it’s cliché, it works. You just have to do it right.

First, it’s better to present your proposition in ranges. Don’t present it as ‘‘I want X but I’m willing to negotiate’’. The most effective way to do it, is using a bolstering range, with your target on the bottom (Ames & Mason, 2015)

Say you want $6,700. Then your bolstering range would look something like this: ‘’I’m willing to accept a deal that gives me somewhere in the range of $6700 and $8000.’’  

What Language to Use at Final Table Negotiations

  1. Use cooperative language: First person plural pronouns give the the feeling that you are all in this together. This in turn, generally leads to a more favorable poker deal (Perdue et al., 1990).

 Phrases like ‘‘We can figure something out, let’s do this’’ are preferable than ‘‘I want this’’ or ‘‘Your idea doesn’t work’’.

  1. Avoid weak language: Leverage can be easily lost by prefacing your proposal with ‘‘I know it sounds like a lot, but…’’ This makes it seem as if you’re somehow embarrassed by what you’re proposing.

Believe it not, this doesn’t come off as humility, but rather as having ulterior motives. After all, why would you feel guilty for  getting your fair share? Other players will react negatively to this language and it will ruin the poker deal down (Van Kleef, De Dreu, & Manstead, 2006).

Instead, just be confident on your requests. Again, it’s cliché, people say it all the time when they don’t know how to help, but it actually works.  Just use firm and dominant language without being a jerk (Tiedens & Fragale 2003).

(Note: Serious about improving your tournament skills? Check out the Lab, a poker training course developed by Doug Polk & Ryan Fee! Our subscribers keep crushing tournaments and you can too!)

Latin American Poker and Film blogger. When I’m not playing Stud 8, I’m complaining that not many people play Stud 8.

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