The payouts listed in the lobbies may be far from what the players actually receive.
Organizations such as the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker have tried to outlaw deal-making, either to make their TV shows more exciting or to preserve the integrity of the game, or both. The reality of the situation is that deal-making is prevalent in nearly all forms of poker tournaments, both live and online.
Some online poker sites such as PokerStars and Party Poker support deal-making. The former requires you to contact support and they will send a representative to help players formulate a fair arrangement.
Party Poker actually came up with the novel idea of creating a deal-making lobby. Once all the remaining players have clicked a checkbox saying they are willing to discuss a deal, they are taken to a separate lobby and the chip leader at the time calculates a set of numbers that everyone has to agree on. If one party dissents, then it's back to the tournament!
The truth is, successful deal-making can be a very profitable skill. There is also the possibility that you could be the victim of unfavorable negotiations.
Deal-making is much like playing poker: keep your cards close to your chest and don't let your opposition know how desperate you may or may not be.
A good modus operandi when trying to decide if a deal will benefit you more than continuing to play is to assess the payout structure, skill level of the players remaining, your chip stack, the blinds and what kind of payout you're shooting for.
First off, chip stack is the most important factor when evaluating a deal. The other factors mentioned are also important considerations but the standard way to formulate a deal is based on a "chip chop."
Say there are three players left; payouts are $100,000, $60,000 and $40,000. If player A had $1m in chips and players B and C had $500k in chips, a chip chop would see each player get the minimum $40,000 each (third-place money), and the remaining $80k in prize money would be split based on chips.
Player A would get $40,000 + $40,000 = $80k and players B and C would get $60k ($40k+$20k) each.
This might sound pretty good to all three parties concerned. Player A is the chip leader and would get in between first- and second-place prize money, and players B and C would get second-place prize money.
So how would you apply the above factors into working out whether this deal is for you? First, if the numbers you are being offered vary significantly from a chip chop and you are on the lower side of the numbers, you should be careful you are not giving up too much equity.
If you are lucky enough to be on the high side of the numbers, then you are probably onto a good thing.
Let's say the numbers on the table are close to the "chip chop" numbers. If you consider yourself the best player in the tournament but you are the low stack, then taking a deal is probably not the best idea.
This is especially true if the structure of the tournament is good, which should help minimize the luck element. If you think you might be the weakest player, then taking a deal, especially in a short-handed situation, is a good idea, as the more experienced players are more adept at exploiting advantages short-handed.
A player who is happy to settle for $60k in this example and is not that interested in shooting for the $100k first prize should also consider taking the deal now. If you are fortunate enough to be the weakest player and have the chip lead, then there is no better time to take a deal! In most tournaments it only takes one hand to go from top to bottom, so why not negotiate when you have the most power?
At the end of the day, don't forget the game of poker continues into the world of deal-making, and don't let your guard down!