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Choppers in Flight

I wrote a long post about a week ago regarding working out chops in live tournaments (I don't believe in online chops), but I referred to a Mookie post which is now old, so I'd rather start fresh and see if I can come up with a more rounded piece. Such is the life of Jordan, lately. I'm up to my ears in work, stressed out to the max, on poker withdrawal, and yet, I insist on writing posts that ulitmately never see the light of day. Man, I need a vacation.

But before I get any vacation, let's talk about the wonderful world of chops. In fact, let's do a list, since its as easy a way to explain my random thoughts as any. So here are

Jordan's Do's and Don'ts of Chopping

Some people never chop. Good for them. But realistically, there are many reasons why chopping makes sense, so knowing how to get the most out of a chop is a good skill to have. With this in mind, consider the following tips:

DO speak your mind. If you don't like a deal, it doesn't matter what anyone else at the table or the room thinks. If you are getting pressure to make a deal, just remember that you entered the game with YOUR money, and the object of the game is to win the money of other people. That's it, plain and simple. The guy pressuring you didn't pay your buy-in, and the object of the game is not to make friends or be a good sport. Stand by your ground and reject any bad offers without fear of consequence. In fact, feel free to remind these jags that you are playing for money, your money, and you'll do whatever you damn well please.

DO know the reason for chopping. In live tournament situations, there are generally a very few number of reasons why people want to chop. You need to identify your reason, but more importantly, you need to identify your opponents' reason(s). Generally, the reasons are either (i) uncertainty about the results of poker, (ii) time constraints, (iii) outside pressures to end the game early, and (iv) boredom. The only reason why YOU should be chopping is (i) the uncertainty of poker. Hopefully, you've planned to win the entire time, so you don't have any time constraints. Sometimes in homegames, other players are waiting for the next tourney or cash game, OR in other venues, your partners in crime want to leave and have to wait for you. In either instance, you've got to be willing to tell those people to fuck off. A nicer way is to say, "I'll bust this guy in a minute and we can get out of here." But whatever you do, don't let outside pressure overinfluence your decision-making skills. If your problem is boredom, then just you shouldn't have played in the first place.

As you can see, I'm pretty hard on reasons (ii) through (iv), mostly because I think you have to always play to win. Some people never chop. For those people, (i) is not a bother. That may be you, in which case, you are wasting your time reading this. But for the rest of us, the promise of definite money can be a strong temptation, and as long as you are able to make a smart deal, I think it is perfectly acceptable.

So, once you've identified your reason, you need to know their reason. Why? Because like anything in poker, that information gives your more power. Fortunately, unlike most aspects of poker, your opponents are probably not hiding their reasons. You know that there are other people waiting for your opponent, or your opponent says, "Let's just chop. I need to get home." Good. Now you know you have an edge. It might not get the chipleader to give you more money, but you could use it to gain a few more bucks.

You can exploit your opponent by working out various angles based on their reason for wanting the chop. If its uncertainty, reinforce their thoughts and fears by sounding confident: "We don't have to chop. I'll gladly play it out."

If its time constraints or pressure placed on your opponent by other people, try to sound like you are being helpful by working out a deal: "Look, I know its getting late, so let's just work it out." By sounding reasonable, your opponent will likely let down his guard and will think that you are compromising more than you actually are. If you need ato add a bit more pressure, you can always fall back to, "I guess we can't work this out. Okay, I'm ready to play. Let's get back to this."

If your opponent is bored, then just make the deal quick. He'll be so anxious to enter the juicy cash game or do whatever the hell he wants to do that he'll generally just agree to anything that sounds near reasonable.

DO know the stack sizes and total amount of chips in play. Generally, in a tournament you know how many players entered or how many buy-ins there were by the end table. So, if there are 40 players with 2500 starting stacks, you should be able to figure out that there is 100,000 chips in play. Once you know that, check your stack. This way, when you get HU, you know that you have 43k and he has 57k.

Why do you need that info ready to go? So you can say, "Look, we are about even. There is 100k in play and I have just short of 50," after the other guy suggests a chop. By knowing this info, you can frame the situation as an almost-even affair, instead of a 2:3 situation. Here's another reason from experience: At the recent IHO tournament, when we got to HU, I thought CK had me outchipped. After a count, it was discovered that I had the lead. Suddenly the situation changed a whole lot. Before counting, I was trying to figure out how to get an even chop with my shorter stack. Afterwards, I was looking for a more equitable chop. And you'll be amazed at how many people neglect to count their stack and simply go by eyeballing the stack once talks of chopping start.

If you can, discretely work out this math or bust out the ole calculator (you probably have one on your phone) to figure out what an equitable chop would be. Now, round that number up for you, and make that your proposal or your bottom-line (depending on how bloodthirsty you are).

DO know the prize pool and the prizes for all spots still in play. Once you have that information, you can come up with a sliding scale of solutions.

This is really the core of my chopping technique. If first place gets $400 and 2nd gets $200, I like to look at the range of convenient possibilities. The range always goes from even chop ($300/$300) to no deal ($400/200). As you can see, $600 looks like there is a lot of wiggle room, but the reality is that there is very little room for improvisation at all. I'll often voice these ideas aloud once I've done the math internally: "I have you outchipped, so I'm not giving you even money. How about $360/$240? You get an extra $40 easily." If he argues, I'll explain, "I can't go any higher. I mean, the next step is $340/$260, and that isn't fair. Hell, let's just play it out." Sometimes, you can follow this up with a trick I learned from mediation. "Okay, let's just split the baby. After all, we are only arguing over $20 now. $350/$250." Splitting the baby always seems good, especially when YOU made the baby into a $20 range, instead of discussing the broad $200-400 range.

In smaller games, (single table tournaments), the range can be tiny. In some $20 tournaments I've played, 1st gets $120 and 2nd gets $80. The only reasonable chops, therefore, are $100/100 and $90/$110. If that's the case, then at least you know what you are working with and you can get right down to business.

DO have a justification for your proposals. "How about I get $280 and you get $320," sounds like a crappy proposal to a guy with a 2:1 advantage. "Let's chop $280/320. There isn't much leeway in the prize pool. Anyway, we both have less than 20x the BB, so we are both really short and if I double up, suddenly I'm the huge chipleader. It's a freaking crapshoot," is a lot more convincing. Even simple things like, "I bought in for X and I want to make X for this to be worthwhile" will get your opponent to consider your viewpoint.

DON'T take too much time working out a chop. If its taken longer than 5 minutes, just tell the other player that you'd rather just play it out if its going to be a big thing. If he/she really wants to chop, this is when they'll break and begin offering a better deal for you that a moment ago was not on the table. Or, its when they'll suddenly consider the offer you made 4 minutes ago that they insisted was unfair. After a couple of hands, if you have an edge, feel free to say that the "offer is still on the table for now" (as long as the deal is still acceptable and good to you). If you've taken a bigger lead since the last offer, you can even add a, "Now I can't make that deal with my chip stack." Whatever you do, though, don't stop the action until he agrees to a chop.

The key here is to show that you aren't desperate to chop. If you can't settle in 5 minutes, it isn't going to happen without you making a big concession. Some opponents are stubborn and others don't like chopping. In either event, you don't want to show too much of a desire to chop, so returning to the action while dropping hints that a chop is still possible (while action commences) will allow you to keep your position of strength AND leave the door open to a chop.

DON'T ask for a chop, unless you are heads up. I'm not a fan of asking for the chop. As soon as you do, the other players have the power to say no, and an astute player will use your desire to chop as leverage. They may even see it as an opportunity to run over you, once they reject the chop and get back to the action. Instead, let them come to you. At that point, you can tell them that you are open to the idea if it is a good deal. Then, ask them to give you an offer. At least you'll have an idea of what they are thinking.

I added one exception. As soon as you are heads up, you may want to bring up a chop. This is my one exception because it does not look desperate. By the time most players are heads up, they have already entertained the idea of a chop, so, if you are HU and have near even chips (2:1 at most), you can go ahead and bring up the subject of chopping before HU play begins. Once HU play begins, though, I would advise not to bring it up again unless you are even in chips and want to chop even.

The emphasis on HU chops is due in large part to the tediousness of live HU poker. With the shuffling and the constant preflop folds, it can be a slow game. Online is MUCH quicker, which is why I do not like online chops. You may as well play it out. But live, if the stack sizes are near equal and the prize pool is sufficient, a chop is much easier to work out when facing the prospect of a long HU match after a long tournament.

DON'T make any "save deals" unless you are in last place. This one drives me nuts. I'll be sitting on a big stack and some guy will say, "Let's work out a save for 4th place." Great, numb nuts, but why the hell would I make a deal to save someone else? When you are making a deal, you are making a deal for one person and one person only: YOU. If you are not going to go out on the bubble, then don't make this deal. I would think that this is common sense, but at almost every game I've play at Salami, someone suggests a save at the end. Usually, I'm in a good chip position and I'll tell the guys straight out, "Why would I give someone else a save out of my prize money." Not only does this lay out my position, but it shows that I expect to cash high. Exuding confidence is always a nice touch.

So, do you have any tips you'd like to add?

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 2:05 PM,


At 4:01 PM, Blogger madbrooklyn said...

Here's how I figure out chops - both players start with 2nd place cash and then use the chip percentages to divide up the remainder cash.

For example: payout of $400 1st & $200 2nd, one player with 2/3 of the chips, other player 1/3 - both players would start with $200 and the leftover $200 would be divided by .66 and .33.

I've always thought this to be a fair and equitable method.


At 4:13 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

I like that a lot, Mary. I'll have to run those numbers in future decisions to see how it would work compared to other systems.

I should also note to the general audience that I am not as cutthroat when playing in homegames or with friends. I'm not a sucked either, but I save the real psychological games for casino or underground poker rooms.

At 4:33 PM, Blogger TripJax said...

Great post J...well thought out.

I wonder though, why no online chops. Not sure about that. I've never done an online chop, but I don't see why I wouldn't...

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

In my limited experience with online chops, its just too complicated and not worth it. To me, the greatest reason to chop is uncertainty mixed with the tediousness of live HU play. In live HU play you are constantly folding preflop, shuffling for 2 minutes, just to fold again. Its terribly slow. Online, you don't have to worry about shuffling, so its much faster. Then, its a matter of chatting and making it clear what the chop is. Live, we can all talk in real time, but in the chat box, it can be confusing. Finally, unless you work out something with the site, you have to trust the other guy to send you your cut. I don't like that either.

At 5:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

DON'T worry abut time issues??? Get real dude, if poker is your only priority, you need some new priorities. If your friends are waiting for you, that is a legitimate factor. If your impatient friends are going to cost you $100, well, they can wait; if they're going to cost you $20, don't sweat it.

Hell, I'm more likely to make a generous chop with someone I like than someone I don't. Winning or losing is important, but it's never my only priority.

At 7:41 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Read my last comment, Anonymous. I'm talking about playing at a club or casino. With friends, its less cutthroat.

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

I think in the reasons you consider a chop there should be a subset of number 1 that is "your HU opponent has outplayed you the entire tournament, you aren't confident you can beat him."

I think you overlooked this factor because you've never been in that position :P

At 5:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think you overlooked this factor because you've never been in that position :P"

I highly doubt that.

Regarding one term you used, more accurate would be "to reduce variance" (or however you phrase that) and/or increase your equity, rather than "the uncertainty of poker."

At 8:23 PM, Blogger surflexus said...

I've been very happy with online chops several times. Party Poker has a pretty good system where when you reach a final table everyone has an option to click an "I'm interested in talking about a deal" button. It shows you how many people at the table have pushed it. Typically, it doesn't get to a discussion until it's down to 2 or 3 players. Several times in the 40k guarantee I agreed to chop 12,000 bucks 3 ways with 2 other players with similar stacks rather than risk only winning 2k.
You get 3 options; even chop, chop by chip count (with amounts displayed), or custom. You get to discuss it then the chip leader enters the deal and everyone has to click to agree. If one person doesn't agree play continues.
With this kind of system in place, I wouldn't be opposed to online chopping.
Whenever a save is mentioned, I always ask that everyone agree that the save be payed by the 1st place winner. If I win 1st, I don't mind paying the save. When your casino options are limited, you are bound to be on the other end of the offer at some point. Also, most of the time the 7 or 8 of you talking have all made it past a hundred players or more. I wouldn't do it in a smaller tourney than 100 entries.

At 11:57 PM, Blogger Alceste said...

When I chop (I very rarely do), I do it the same way Mary does -- it makes explaining the chop when the stack sizes are vastly different much easier to do (it's effectively an EV calculation which assumes that skill levels are even and the chances of winning are dependent solely on stack size).

And I completely agree about knowing your and your opponent's stacks - it pains me to see people slowly counting out all their chips as heads' up play begins to determine whether or not they want to chop. (This can actually have the opposite effect on me -- as I get so fruustrated I am more likely to agree to a chop...)

At 12:02 PM, Blogger BWoP said...

DON'T forget about possible tax implications. I've heard that some casinos make you sign for the exact amounts in the payout sheet regardless of what the chop deal is. If you are in a situation where you have to sign one of those tax sheets, think about what you are gaining / losing on an after-tax basis.

At 9:55 AM, Blogger KajaPoker said...

CK - spoken like a true lawyer...

My first ever casino tournament after I busted near the bubble the poker room manager told me I should have asked for a chop. I never even thought about it.

I don't really like chops. The only times I would discuss them are homegames when the blinds are insane and other people want to get a second game going.

Unfortunately we US Americans can't play on PartyPoker anymore surf. FTP doesn't offer chops and I don't recall ever reading about a support person to help facilitate one like they do on PokerStars.

One other thing - If you decline a good chop, get ready for some bad cardma. I played a guy who had me outchipped 10-1 HU and I offered a chop three different times before I took it down.


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