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Tricky incentives in tournament poker

Big poker tournaments are a zero-sum game. The competitors pay to enter and those entry fees are returned as prize money. It is common practice for a player to be sponsored by someone else, i.e. a third party pays a player’s entry fee in return for a share of the profits earned. This is true in professional golf as well. Indeed, I have a good friend who even sponsored a bowler on the PBA tour, but the guy turned out to be a drunken skirt-chaser and he never cashed a single dollar the entire season.

The big difference in poker vs golf is that it is often the other poker players who pay the entry fees. As a consequence, I might be playing at a table with some people who make me money if they win. If I’m running low on chips, maybe I want to make sure I lose my last hands to the guy I own a piece of. Or maybe he and I can gang up on another player at the table or collude in other ways.

Steve Rosenbloom at has written a really interesting article about the current debate going on in the poker world over this issue:

(Thanks to John List for pointing this article out to me.)