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If poker is ever going to be promoted as a sport, we need to do something about our end game.

I understand the player’s point of view. They stump up 100% of the prize money and have every right to determine the direction of those funds. But handing this power to players doesn’t help those who are trying to promote poker as a sport.

At the recent A$2,200 Australia & New Zealand Poker Tour (ANZPT) Main Event in Melbourne, Edison Nguyen and Corey Kempson had battled through a field of 516-players to reach the heads-up phase of the competition.

It was during this time that the pair decided to discuss a deal. The ANZPT is a PokerStars-sponsored event and therefore transparency is encouraged during deal making. It’s exposed and written about in the blog, and the revised numbers are sent to the Hendon Mob to ensure accuracy of data.

In this instance there was $386,245 to play for, and despite Kempson holding the chip lead, Nguyen emerged from negotiations with the larger pay out ($203,410 vs. $192,835).

Reading through the PokerStars blog it seems that Nguyen got the better end of the deal because he was more reluctant to enter into negotiations in the first place, instead preferring to rely on his skill edge to see how the cards fell. However, the deal did go ahead, and after the pay outs were revised, there was just $7,500 to play for during heads-up.

Then, in the first hand, Nguyen limped the button, Kempson raised to 4m (leaving just 400,000 behind), Nguyen moved all-in and Kempson folded. The clock was then paused as the ANZPT Commissioner, Danny McDonagh, and Crown Poker Tournament Director, Joel Williams, entered into a confab, because it seemed pretty obvious that another part of the deal was to allow Nguyen to win the trophy and title.

Integrity compromised

The two head honchos finished their discussion and asked the pair to take back their chips and have more respect for the competition.

The PokerStars blog stated: “McDonagh implored both players to play it out with integrity.”

So what did the pair do in order to maintain the integrity of the game?

They decided to move all-in blind.

Nguyen’s junk beat Kempson’s junk and the integrity of the game had been burned to a crisp.

Whilst it’s clear that Kempson had no inclination to headline poker articles – and was only interested in the money – this sort of behavior is very worrying if we are to be promoted as a sport and eventually attract non-gambling related organizations as sponsors.

Winner has the title or more cash?

Here is another example.

After Andrea Dato was eliminated in fourth place at the recent European Poker Tour (EPT) Main Event in Barcelona, the remaining three players decided to negotiate a deal.

Once again, the event in question was sponsored by PokerStars where transparency of deal making is encouraged. At this time, Samuel Phillips held a huge chip lead over the remaining two players, Andre Lettau and Hossein Ensan, and he quite rightly came out of those negotiations with the largest prize.

Phillips picked up €1,021,275, Lettau €794,058, and Ensan €652,667. This time though, the players were facing off for an additional €90,000, and the title of EPT Champion.

Lettau went on to beat Phillips in heads-up action, and whilst the €90k and title would have been serious enough for the trio to avoid a Nguyen/Kempson moment of madness, it’s still a little confusing to declare Andre Lettau as the winner when you know he took home over €200,000 less than Phillips.

Ask anyone who won EPT Barcelona and they will say Samuel Phillips.

We cannot be promoted as a sport if this is the way that we do business at the champagne end of our tournaments.

Final table deals remove magic of event

The World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker are often criticized for not allowing deals to be struck at their final tables. This doesn’t mean that deals are not made, but they do not form part of the final cut that the viewers at home get to see.

This is exceptionally important because the success of the WPT and WSOP TV shows is one of the major reasons our sport is so popular today. They realized, very early on, that to allow the viewer to know that a deal had been struck removes the magic of the event.

What’s the point watching if there is no magic?

It would be the equivalent of the FIFA World Cup final ending in a draw and the two captains flipping a coin to determine the winner (yes they used to do this but evolved as we must now follow suit).

The viewer watching the WPT show will have no idea that a deal has been struck because nobody will mention it. They won’t find anything in writing either because the modus operandi will be for the player to keep those details to themselves.

It’s a form of control that appeases everyone, and after flip-flopping on this subject for many years, I am now comfortable in my backing of ‘no deal making’ at final tables.

Allow deals but remove transparency

The way the WSOP and WPT do business means the players get to make their deal, their final numbers are not made public, the general public aren’t even aware it’s happened, and the magic of the contest still exists.

I’m not asking the players to stop making deals. It’s your money to do with how you please. But I am urging the organizers of live tournaments to once again question their decision to make deal making ‘transparent.’

We are evolving.

Promoting poker as a sport is the best way to gain maximum exposure for the game we love.

Take a fresh look.

Be bold.




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Lee Davy

Life can be viewed as the sum of the parts or the parts themselves. I believe in the holistic view of life, or the sum. When dealing with individual parts you develop whack-a-mole syndrome; each time you clobber one problem with your hammer another one just pops up.