The world’s biggest and most prestigious poker tournaments attract players by offering mammoth guarantees which generally come with huge buy-in fees. This has led to the prevalence of staking agreements, where players seek for bankroll help for a shot at the big money which could potentially pay out millions of dollars in winnings.
YouStake and Stake Kings are just two of a number of crowd-funding platforms operating today, helping players with their bankroll so they can join tournaments, in exchange for a share in the players’ profits, with some pros also opting to enter into privately negotiated backing deals.
The Benefits of Staking
Staking works in the same way as when entrepreneurs venture into a new business. They look for ways to raise money, such as borrowing money from family and friends, approaching lending institutions and banks, or even selling shares of stock. Poker players imitate this tactic by seeking the help of financial backers for tournament entry fees, with the backers in return getting a percentage of the players’ profits if any.
Staking deals have many forms. Backers can shoulder all of the funding for a long period of time in exchange for a share of the player’s total profits, or they can just provide a part of the buy-in for a single tournament. With no ongoing funding obligations, the backers would then get a share of the tournament’s winnings.
A player can also raise a collective amount of money from more than one backer for a series of tournaments. He or she can choose where to use that money, with accounting and settlement of course. Multiple players end up creating a team approach by swapping action with each other, with a payout-sharing agreement in play.
High stake backers can earn more than the amount they’ve invested in the agreement, depending upon the player’s results; while players are receive some sort of working capital and risk mitigation as they enter a tournament. These poker staking deals are getting more common with every passing month and this has raised questions about players cheating during poker tournaments to satisfy their own financial interests.
Poker tournament organizers will soon have to address these concerns as they cannot afford to ignore it any longer. We take a look at what poker tournament organizers can do to prevent potential cheating.
Concerns That Must Be Looked Into
When players have a shared financial interest with each other, there is a high potential for collusion. If these players are seated together at one table, they can adopt a few cheating strategies to their advantage.
For example, they can opt not to raise a strong hand so the other player’s stack wouldn’t be affected. This cheating tactic is called “soft play”. Or, they can practice what is called “chip dumping”, where a player transfers chips to an accomplice’s stack through folding a possible winner in a hand during heads-up. Many players go for this practice as it is the least detectable and the simplest to carry out.
Some players also resort to what is called “signaling”, where they flash hole cards or utilize a signal to make their hand strength or betting intentions known. Partners may also consistently raise and reraise each other to trap other players, maximizing their chances of winning.
With huge values and massive money on the line, the game of poker has always been prone to cheating, including angle shooting and information irregularities.
Ensuring Transparency
One way to ensure fairness and integrity in poker amidst the growing prevalence of staking arrangements is to prioritize transparency at the very start of a tournament, something that lies in the hands of the tournament organizers. As they register into a tournament, players could be required to divulge their swapping and backing arrangements. This could be a difficult task but it is worth-considering in the name of transparency.
Organizers could also implement table and seat assignment algorithms that would prevent players with shared financial interests from being seat at the same table. Players can also do a background check on their opponents’ relationships to be warned of potential collusion at the poker table.
In other sports, the contract incentives of athletes and coaches are often discussed by the announcers. This strategy can also be applied in poker. Analysts and commentators could share the staking info with viewers for livestreamed tournaments, providing an explanation on aspects that affect the players’ key decisions. Those who refuse to disclose their backing deals should be slapped with penalties.
Tournament organizers have a responsibility to combat cheating which puts unsuspecting players at a disadvantage. One area that they need to start addressing quickly is potential collusion involving staking agreements.

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