Should poker tours be allowed to prevent deals?

Is it ever OK for a poker tour to force heads-up opponents to play on when they want to chop the money or even decide who wins the trophy?

Mike Leah WPT
Mike Leah

This week Mike Leah won the WPT Fallsview Classic and it was revealed that he made a deal privately with heads-up opponent Ryan Yu to make sure Yu purposely lost, so that Mike could take the title and Tournament of Champions seat, and Yu would get better than second place money.

The vast majority of poker tournaments end in a deal at the final table and sometimes that deal involves deciding who the official champion was (more often it involves a more relaxed play out of the heads-up stage for a much smaller prize). In this instance the World Poker Tour do not allow deals so the controversy was about the fact that the match was purposely thrown. Leah spoke of this later saying it was done in such a performative way to ensure everybody knew what was happening and it was as clear as possible.

This doesn’t sit right with a lot of people, especially operators like the WPT, because there is a feeling that events should be won legitimately. In particular in a prestigious event like the WPT which are usually televised (though not in this case) there is a sense that it might discredit the legacy of the event not to play it out to an honest conclusion. While I think most people would say let the players do what they want in these cases, I couldn’t see many people reacting favourably if this happened in the WSOP Main Event with the whole world watching.

Customers first, players second

William Kassouf High Roller
William Kassouf made a deal for the title and took less money for his High Roller win

However, it is important to remember that unlike any other ‘sport’ the participants in poker have put up their own money to play. They are customers as much as they are competitors. As much as we want it to be another way, the reality is that few poker players have ‘fans’, most of the time nobody pays to watch and with the exception of the few who are sponsored, no players are beholden to a third party like a team or a manager or a franchise when they play.

While I think every poker player has a responsibility to behave honorably at the table, they certainly do not have any duty where it comes to protecting the legacy of an event like the WPT or WSOP.

So even though it doesn’t quite sit right, I think if two consenting players want to decide who gets the title that they have earned between them, that is their choice. The only ethical issue in my mind is how this impacts things that effect players not at the table, like the Player of the Year race. In this instance I think the solution is simple, just award the points for 2nd place to both players if there was a deal.

Transparency is always the best way

wsop scott blumstein
Should the Main Event allow deals?

The more important issue I think this highlights is how important it is for operators to allow deals, to assist with deals and how futile it is to try and prevent them. The WPT are trying to protect their legacy by prohibiting deals but something like this is inevitable when they do. You can’t expect the players to prioritise the operator’s branding over their livelihood.

Operators assisting with deals protects the players, especially because there is the potential for tax issues or one player reneging on the deal when they do it in private. I really have to tip my hat to PokerStars for televising the deal negotiations in their tournaments. Transparency is always the best antidote to problems like this.

Maybe even more importantly, in terms of the legacy aspect, this part of the live streams has actually been fascinating and entertaining, I actually root for a player a bit more if how they deal shows how much the money means to them. Much better than having to watch a phony heads-up where the players are pretending there is still everything on the line.

Do you think poker tours should be allow to prevent heads-up deals on or off the table? Let us know in the comments:

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Comments (4)

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  • evilroy


    I agree with the point that deals should be allowed and open at least for the money (and other prizes) and I don't doubt the integrity of those involved. However, I think by allowing slow play or essentially collusion to arrive at the winner you are likely creating a television product (if any) that is unlike any other televised competitive event and one unlikely to sit well with the majority of casual viewers.

    A possible result would be a drop in viewers, cancellation of show, cancellation of event.

    My take is that the title should be played for even if for zero dollars and all rules and etiquette followed including no chip dumping (I'm not sure but maybe a flip would be ok). This is intended as a comment for consideration for future rules. Sorry if the words sound harsh regarding the actual situation I'm not really intending them to but I fear they might.

    Of course I could be wrong and the title may be just another part of the pool of prizes to be included in any deal but still seems like any televised product would find more difficult acceptance with the title included in a deal. I have no idea if Pokerstars shows have shown the title as part of any deal.
  • rompas


    Yes its ok for a organiser to decide what rules that apply for their event....
  • lila28


    Yes, tournament organization can decide "no deal allowed" and every player registering agree to it obv, if you don't want play in tournament with no deal allowed then don't do it. Seem pretty straight forward question.
  • evilroy


    Also, I wonder if I would be less put off if the chip dumping were avoided by Ryan simply taking a long nap or declaring his intention to not continue. While not a solution to the TV problem (though it would have the benefit of transparency) and more tedious, It would avoid the need for the chip dumping violation.