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Payout Mix-up Controversy at Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open

The 2014 Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open (SHRPO), better known for being sponsored by PokerStars and having a $2.5 million overlay in its Championship Event than it is for actually being a major poker festival, hit the trifecta this week when a controversy made the poker community question the competency of those running the SHRPO.

The problems occurred during the $100,000 Super High Roller Event, which turned out to be rather pathetic, as just nine players entered the tournament. Piecing together versions of the story from participants Scott Seiver and Jason Mo as posted on Two Plus Two (the stories were very similar, with differences mainly resulting from how each person’s point of view colored their opinion of what was going on), it appears that during the first level of play, while late registration was still open, a floor person said that the tournament would pay to just two places if there were fewer than eleven players and to three players if more than that entered (of course, payouts wouldn’t stop at three if the field got big enough, but that obviously was not going to happen at that point).

According to Seiver, who was in the chip lead, the floor person said the money split would be 65 percent for first place and 35 percent for second. Seiver argued that it should be 70/30 because then there would be a larger money jump from second to first than there would be from the bubble to second, but the floor said that since the money split was already announced, they wouldn’t change it, even if Seiver’s reasoning did make sense (from Jason Mo’s perspective, Seiver seemed to be arguing for a more top-heavy payout because he had a huge lead, though this is really neither here nor there).

Scott Seiver Image courtesy @scott_seiver
Scott Seiver
Image courtesy @scott_seiver

The nine players ended up playing down to five before bagging and tagging their chips for the night. That in itself was strange, as it would have been very easy to just play all the way to the end in one day, but the tournament organizers wanted to make sure PokerStars.tv had something to film for a live stream, so the five remaining players had to return for a second day.

Aside from the annoyance of having to play a Sit-and-Go for two days and the disappointment of a lack of entries, the tournament had gone fairly smoothly to this point. While there was some confusion over the payout schedule, it seemed to be resolved. But nah.

While the players were bagging their chips, a tournament official let them know that the previous announcement of two prize winners was incorrect and that the tournament would be paying to three places. Apparently, a payout schedule that was printed out somewhere said this, though that piece of paper was never produced. Seiver, in particular, was livid. After arguing with tournament officials for the better part of an hour, he was able to convince them to stick with the originally announced two payout spots.

Jason Mo saw the situation as Seiver bullying the tournament officials, writing on Two Plus Two:

An hour later after Scott was left alone with the floor, they change their decision and pay 2. I ask them about this later, they said they didn’t change based on Scott’s complaining, which I believe to be a complete lie. Scott basically got the tournament floor to change the payouts mid tournament to make them more top heavy, adding about $70k in ICM value to his stack. It is a bit scary how easy it was, when we left Scott was literally yelling and threatening the floor (i have a video of this), and an hour later the floor changes pay stricture [sic].

While Mo seemed to feel that Seiver wanted the payouts set at two because he (Seiver) was in the chip lead, Seiver explained that it had to do with fairness to all the players:

Everyone has played every hand of poker in the tournament up to this point on the assumption that 2 spots would be paid. By allowing that to change halfway through the tournament creates a system where you can’t trust the word of the employee that is running the gambling venture. The only information available to the players was this verbal decision by the TD, there was no payouts on a clock or listed anywhere else at any time. The deeper into a tournament, the more clear who benefits from decisions like this, which is why in small field tournaments it is imperative to know right away what the various payouts are based on number of entrants. Not that I think there is any foul play, but the opportunity is opened up if > halfway through the tournament a staff employee can come in and decide that the payouts need to change. While in this case he was only trying to correct a perceived wrong, everyone in the tournament has played the tournament with the information given to them. While it might not seem like it, changing from paying 2 to 3 is a drastic change to the tournament, especially with only 5 left.

In a nutshell, the competitors would approach their play differently if the tournament was paying to three places and not two. Since two was what was announced and they played the first day under that assumption, it is unfair to change it to three.

The five players ended up coming back to finish the tournament the next day, reportedly at least a bit disgruntled. As an apology of sorts, one of the tournament officials (Director of Poker Operations William Mason was on vacation, which didn’t help matters) decided to add $50,000 to the prize pool, to be awarded to the third place finisher. As it turned out, Seiver ended up placing third, which would have put him out of the money, but he ended up being able to get half his buy-in back because of the added funds provided by the casino.

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