The world of poker sometimes presents mind-boggling conundrums that even the most brilliant astrophysicist would have trouble wrapping his or her big brain around. The World Series of Poker is one of the arenas where that can come into play and, in particular, the biggest ever buy in poker tournament, the “Big One For One Drop.” That tournament presented some of the myriad of complexities that would have every poker player wondering what they would do in that position.
One of those situations appeared before the first cards were in the air for the “Big One.” Prior to the start of the million dollar buy in tournament, a mega-satellite was held on the floor of the Rio that offered a prize that anyone could get behind. For the princely sum of $25,000, players had the opportunity to get into one of the biggest poker tournament of all time on the cheap or, if for some reason not enough players showed up, to grab a huge payday. Only one seat would be given out but, if there was a sizeable turnout, then the runner-up and potentially third place would receive a cash payout.
With a chance at turning a “measly” $25K into what would become an $18 million payday, there wasn’t much doubt that there would be a line of players taking their shot. At the end of it all, 96 players turned out, setting up one seat to the “Big One” and a million dollar payday to the second place player. With only that one seat available, one of the more interesting occurrences in recent memory reared its head.
Getting down to the final two players, professional poker players Gus Hansen and Shaun Deeb were sitting with virtually the same stack. According to many reports, the twosome discussed the situation between each other, then came back to the table to settle the score. What happened after that became the subject of discussion around the poker world.
On the first hand of heads up play, Deeb would put his entire stack in the center, save for one 5000 tournament chip. Hansen, with the slightly larger stack, made the call and the duo saw the flop. After Hansen put out a small bet, Deeb folded his hand even though he had every pot-odds reason in the world to make the call. As expected, on the next hand Hansen won, taking the seat to the “Big One” while Deeb walked away $1 million richer.
It is here that the conundrum appears…what would YOU do in the same situation?
The mathematics are pretty easy to figure out: do you take the guaranteed million dollars or take a chance at winning your way to the final nine of the 48 combatants in the “Big One,” where the payouts would graduate from slightly more than a million to what became the biggest prize in tournament poker history, $18,346,673. If you look at it strictly from that standpoint, then Deeb making the deal with Hansen for a million dollar payout is a no-brainer. (Further note: there hasn’t been anything stated about whether Deeb got a piece for letting Hansen have the seat or if there were any other discussions at the final table over the prize money to be paid out.)
Where the discussion gets murky is in what people consider the game of poker to be. Is it a competition, where the best man (or woman) defeats all comers to garner all the glory – and the cash – that comes along with the victory? Is it business, where money talks and goes farther than picking up a “chance” at a bigger payday? Or is it a gray area that, depending on your point in the space/time continuum, suggests different outcomes on different days.
Deeb, for his part, made the decision based more than likely on that “gray area” question. A million dollars will buy you into many other tournaments where you could potentially multiply your earnings over a wider spectrum of events than a single shot. Some posters on various message boards have castigated him for not battling it out legitimately. For him to be vilified for his deal with Hansen is ridiculous in that he wants to maximize his chances; while being in the “Big One” might be nice, the $1 million would be better for Deeb to put to the remainder of the 2012 tournament poker year or other cash games.
Hansen has had the experience of playing with many of the combatants in the “Big One,” so he may have felt that he had the better chance of turning that seat into a payout (eventually Hansen would fall short of the final table, not earning any money). For both sides, the end justified the means.
But that still doesn’t answer the question of whether poker is a competition or a business. While those of us outside the high stakes poker world probably would say “take the seat!” the reality of the world of poker is that it IS a business and, to operate a business, you need capital. Thus, taking the money rather than the seat makes a great deal of sense.
In my opinion, Deeb and Hansen made the correct decisions based on their own points in the business world of poker as well as the “sporting” nature of the game. If faced with the same decision, I would have probably done what Deeb did as well, using that bankroll boost to be able to play for the rest of the year (and more than likely beyond).
But it does point out the interesting dichotomy of the world of poker, something that we all need to consider before stepping to the felt: why do you play the game and, more importantly, what would YOU do in a particular situation?