Stake or Chicken

In the world of poker the second worst thing you can do is go broke and have to ask somebody to stake you. Of course the worst thing you can do in poker is stake somebody that has gone broke. I have been staked before but never because I was broke.

The concept is fairly simple and yet the terms of the deal can vary widely. A large portion of the players we see on television are either staked currently or have been at one time in their lives. The primary reason is because they were broke. Stu Ungar was probably the best no limit hold’em tournament player that ever lived and he won the main event of the World Series of Poker three separate times. Every single time Stu played the main event of the World Series of Poker he was staked by somebody because he was broke.

The reason people are willing to stake other players is because they know the player and they either believe he is good enough to win consistently or they are taking pity on the player and giving them a chance with no real hope of a return. If the player is really good enough to beat the game consistently why would they need to play with your money and give you half of everything they win? The people that are worth staking have generally fallen on hard times through poor lifestyle choices and gone broke. Once they have sobered up and are ready to start their life over they can be a worthwhile investment.

After I was married I had stopped playing poker for about a year and I really did not feel like I could take family and go play poker. A friend from work, Manny, asked if I would play his chips for him one night while he played a tournament. I cleared it with my wife and went to the card room to play some poker for somebody else. I managed to pick up a couple racks of chips and show a $400 profit in just a few hours. My co-worker had never seen me play poker other than a couple nights at home games with quarter chips. Just from talking he believed I could play the game and put his faith in me.

Manny and I made an arrangement where I could go to the card room and play for him. I took a small piece of the action and we settled up every session. I did not have to play unless I wanted to play and I was playing with no risk. Manny put a great deal of trust in me and accepted a risk based on his perception of my ability. Once I had won a few times it became easier for him to turn over $600 to me for the night. After a month or two other players began to notice my play and they reassured Manny that I was good enough to play for them too.

I took a risk in this arrangement but my risk was not cash but rather my reputation. I had talked my way into the deal and I needed to back up that talk with some solid poker. I took the arrangement very seriously and played better than I would play with my own money. My reputation means more to me than the money and I wanted to make sure we both were making money.

Anybody that is considering getting involved in a staking arrangement really needs to completely believe in one another both parties have to treat the relationship like a business. If you have any doubts at all do not do it. Be clear about what is expected from both sides and discuss up front how the relationship will end.

A typical small limit arrangement like $1-2 no limit hold’em would involve a stake of $2000 where the player would be given $2000 to use in the form of ten $200 buy-ins. The player would keep track of the balance and report to the sponsor every day. The sponsor would dictate that the player is to play between 40 and 60 hours per week. If the player lost money and his balance went down to $1000 the sponsor would give the player an additional $1000. If the player won and the balance was up to $3000 then the player would deliver a $1000 to the sponsor. This arrangement would be in writing and would be binding for six months. The sponsor would typically set a limit of $5000 total investment and at the point the player had lost $4000 of that money the contract would be terminated. The player would specify a cap on the winnings at which point the contract would be terminated. The upper end of the contract would be $20,000 to $30,000. The larger the investment by the sponsor the larger the percentage he will require. A great player playing against weak opponents would struggle to make as much as $20,000 in a six month period playing $1-2 blind no limit.

I would be afraid to stake anyone into a poker game without a serious belief in that person and their abilities. I might put up $2000 with the deal being off once we are down $1000. I would end the deal once we are up $3000 and I would take a large chunk of the profit. Keep the deal as short as possible so that the player can keep his focus on winning poker and he feels like he will soon be back on his feet.

The question of stake or chicken probably is answered by me opting for the chicken.

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