Should you reject saver/pay the bubble deals?

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Everyone wants you to end the bubble with a deal but you have a big stack, should you do it?

As live poker returns to the US at least I noticed this month a lot of people on Twitter complaining about being pressured into saver or pay the bubble deals. These are deals where the remaining players in a tournament agree to either pay for an extra min cash/buy-in back on the bubble or take that money off the first prize to pay one more place. 

This is really common in live poker especially in local casinos where the regulars tend to gang up on the other players to socially pressure them into doing it. Saver deals tend to keep a game friendly but it can sometimes be anything but if you refuse to do one. 

I’m currently working on a third book with Dara O’Kearney, this one is about ICM and we discuss deal making in detail. We looked at the pros and cons of saver deals to see how good or bad an idea they are. 

So let’s do an example. This is a $200 MTT with 15 players left. This is their chips, their ICM equity and what they would win if they finished in the position they are currently in:

















Player

Potential Payout

Chips

Equity

Player 1

$6,000

100,000

$3,006.47

Player 2

$4,700

90,000

$2,852.84

Player 3

$3,600

80,000

$2,684.81

Player 4

$2,900

70,000

$2,500.14

Player 5

$2,300

60,000

$2,296.13

Player 6

$1,900

50,000

$2,069.40

Player 7

$1,300

50,000

$2,069.40

Player 8

$1,000

40,000

$1,815.55

Player 9

$800

30,000

$1,528.01

Player 10

$500

30,000

$1,528.01

Player 11

$500

20,000

$1,192.91

Player 12

$500

20,000

$1,192.91

Player 13

$500

10,000

$754.47

Player 14

$500

10,000

$754.47

Player 15

10,000

$754.47

And this is what happens if they agree a saver deal where 15th gets a $500 mincash which is removed from the first place prize:

















Player

Potential Payout

Chips

Equity

Player 1

$5,500

100,000

$2,931.99

Player 2

$4,700

90,000

$2,785.92

Player 3

$3,600

80,000

$2,625.52

Player 4

$2,900

70,000

$2,448.65

Player 5

$2,300

60,000

$2,252.72

Player 6

$1,900

50,000

$2,034.85

Player 7

$1,300

50,000

$2,034.85

Player 8

$1,000

40,000

$1,791.55

Player 9

$800

30,000

$1,519.26

Player 10

$500

30,000

$1,519.26

Player 11

$500

20,000

$1,214.67

Player 12

$500

20,000

$1,214.67

Player 13

$500

10,000

$875.36

Player 14

$500

10,000

$875.36

Player 15

$500

10,000

$875.36

As you can see the short stacks benefit the most, most notably Player 15 who gets to realise $500 and their overall equity goes up $120.86. The bottom five players all see an increase in their equity as a result of this deal. 

The top ten players all see a decrease in equity as a result of this. The chip leader takes the biggest hit, especially as the money is removed directly from 1st place prize, but it may surprise some of you to see everyone else suffers as a result of the saver deal. 

Don’t waste the bubble

Don’t bow to social pressure if you have a big stack

Not only do the big stacks lose equity, the good ones should reject saver deals because the bubble is the time when they can accumulate most chips (especially from people desperately trying to organise a saver deal). The bubble is one of the places where a big stack can essentially guarantee a top three finish if they put pressure on their opponents. 

Short stacks, however, should absolutely go for a saver deal and it probably makes sense too for the stacks who sit in the middle, even if they lose a bit of immediate equity. You can’t play as many hands on the bubble and at an aggressive table where they are covered, they could bleed much more equity than they would lose with a deal, because they have to fold so many hands. 

There is an awkward social element to saver deals, especially at local casinos, where a lot of players gang up on a couple of big stacks to pressure them into dealing. Unless you fear for your safety, social pressure should not influence your decision if you reject one. If you want to avoid socially tricky situations, Dara advises you just say you have a backer who won’t let you deal. That makes the fictional backer the villain and not you.

The bubble is the most important part of a poker tournament and the few times you get there with a big stack cannot be wasted. Don’t bow to the pressure. 

Do you reject saver deals? Let us know in the comments: