If you don’t chop, you might be a poker star

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It was just my luck.

I had signed up for a sit-and-go and found myself surrounded by five of the sharpest players in the room. But one by one I sent them to the rail until we were heads-up and in the money.

“Chop?” my remaining opponent asked, though it was more of a declaration than a question.

Now, normally I’d shoot back a quick “yes,” collect my winnings, tip the dealer and go on my merry way. But on this day, I was feeling something. I had a little bit of a high from beating the best of the best and, well, I just wanted to see whether I could finish it off.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Let’s play it out.”

And we did. And I won.

No doubt, there are reasons for chopping tournaments. But on this day, I began to wonder: Has the nearly automatic chopping in tournaments robbed many of us of the thrill of winning outright and, perhaps more important, the experience and skill of playing heads-up poker?

Hang on to that thought for a bit. Because even if it is valid, we can’t escape the realities of poker.

We chop to keep life moving

Time is money. And those 20-minute heads-up matches in SNGs add up. Play three or four of them out in a day, and that’s one less SNG you can play in, and cash in. You don’t want to cost yourself dollars playing for nickels. And sometimes you can’t put a price on time. As Father Paul Kammen says on Pages 46-47 of this issue, you must not let poker keep you from life’s greater responsibilities. So if chopping a multitable lets you get home to tuck your kids into bed, or lets you catch a late-night movie with your spouse, what price can you put on that?

We chop to cut down on variance

Poker is a game for those who can look long-term. But it’s also a game for those who can comprehend the correct decisions in the short-term.
“I’m the type of guy who doesn’t walk past $1,000 on the street thinking that I’ll find $2,000 on the next street,” Joe Conti, tournament director at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, said when I asked him about it on Antonio Pinzari’s Poker Wars Live radio show. “But when it gets to the point where you have to gamble, and you’re really not playing poker, in that situation I really don’t have a problem with it.”

In other words, when the blinds get ridiculously high, you’re playing bingo, not poker. And your skill as a poker player should tell you the best decision is to chop and take what you’ve earned.

Now, obviously, we’d prefer no tournament ever gets to the point that it becomes a game of a chance. But again, reality dictates practicality. Many players (sadly) just don’t have the stomach for a tournament that takes more than four hours. In other cases, tournament directors just don’t have a choice because of operating hours, etc.
But if that’s not the case, be wary of what you’re giving up if you chop … or make a deal where everyone gets a little bit and plays it out for the rest.
“When you play in a smaller tournament, (chopping) gives everyone a certain comfort level.” Pinzari said. “And if I’m the best player at the table, I don’t want to give anyone a comfort level.”

We chop to avoid intimidation

We’ve all seen the strong-armed tactics habitual choppers use to get their way. Constant verbal abuse and belittling, designed solely to shame people into giving up a chance at more riches. Sometimes it’s a practical request, but more times than not it’s just bullying, plain and simple.

It’s hard to blame someone for giving in to such abuse. We play poker to have fun, right? But we also play poker for another very important reason.

“I came to win the tournament,” Pinzari said. “That’s what makes you a better player.”
And that’s what brings me back to the impetus for this column.

I want to win.

Call me greedy. Call me arrogant. Call me whatever you want, but why play poker if you don’t play to win?

As Pinzari points out, it’s not just about winning on that one particular day. Consistently chopping robs you of the practice and experience necessary to be a winner every day, namely, heads-up play.

No matter the size of the field, only two players get a chance to play heads-up in any tournament. Heads-up play has a very specific skill set. And because few players ever get to play heads-up, those who have played heads-up have a decisive advantage over those who haven’t. Why would you want to squander the rare opportunities you get to hone the skills required to earn the really big pay days?

Still not convinced? Here’s a take on this that I’m sure you haven’t thought about.
“From a marketing standpoint, you lose the excitement and opportunity of showcasing a true winner, who may have eliminated several hundred players in skillful competition,” said Jim Jenkins, marketing director for Daytona Beach Kennel Club and Poker Room, which recently held a week-long tournament series that saw a chop in its main event.

“Historically, any tournament competition is based on yielding a single champion.”

That’s right. When you’re sitting at the table debating your cut of a chop, there just might be a marketing professional sitting in an office in that same casino ready to make you a star if you don’t chop.

Chop or don’t chop? It’s up to you. It really is.

But if it’s all the same to you, I want to be a star. And I think you should want to be one, too.

— Email Scott Long at scott@anteupmagazine.com.