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What Is Poker Staking: Everything You Need To Know

Dominic Field

Jul 17, 2023

A Roll of Cash

Staking arrangements are fairly common in poker, especially in high-stakes games. There are many benefits to poker staking deals, both for the player and the backer. 

We’ll take a look at these advantages in this article, as well as flagging up some potential risks. What’s more, we’ll break down the different types of agreement, discuss some of the best poker staking sites and explain how to get started. 

What Exactly Is Poker Staking?

In short, staking a poker player involves one or more people putting up cash to help someone buy into a game. Whoever supplies the cash is known as the “backer”, while the player being staked is sometimes referred to as the “horse”.

There are different ways to approach staking, which we’ll look into shortly. But if anyone other than the individual poker player has skin in the game, then we’re talking about a poker staking arrangement.

Why Does Staking Happen?

Like any business transaction, poker staking agreements bring benefits to all parties. Such arrangements allow low-stakes players to enter a poker tournament or cash game that would normally be above their current bankroll. But you’ll also find seasoned pros selling action. After all, playing poker is a volatile and stressful way to make money. 

For the backer, the benefits are straightforward. Since there will be some kind of profit split, investing in a winning player is no different from buying stocks and shares. It is simply a way to make money from poker, without having to do the hard work yourself. 

Types of Poker Staking Arrangement

There are lots of different ways a poker player can be staked. Let’s take a look at some of the most common situations. 

Selling One-Off Action

Many poker staking arrangements are simple one-time deals. For instance, if a player wants to enter a specific tournament, they may sell a percentage of their action in order to raise funds.

Imagine the buy-in is $5,000 and the player can only afford $2,500. They need to gather the remaining 50% of the entry fee in order to play, so they agree to sell 50% of any profits. When the player wins, the backer putting up the entire $2,500 would be entitled to half of the returns. But it’s more likely that several individuals would each buy a piece until the total funds are raised.

This type of arrangement isn’t unique to tournaments though, and it could easily apply to an individual cash game buy-in.

Series Packages

Some poker staking deals work just like the above but over the course of a series rather than a specific tournament. During the World Series of Poker, for instance, a player might enter multiple high-stakes events. With such a deal, the backer puts up a percentage of all buy-ins throughout the series, in return for a proportional cut of the profits.

It’s quite common even for top pros to be backed in these tournaments. Whenever you see high-profile players representing poker companies in big events, you can be sure that the sponsors are at least partially staking them.

Long-Term Deals

All forms of poker, whether they are SNGs, MTTs, or cash games, are high-variance affairs. If you don't have a big enough bankroll to handle the swings, even a talented player can easily end up broke. A long-term staking deal can address this problem.

An online poker grinder who’s just starting out is the prime candidate for such an arrangement. For instance, with a cash game player, the backer may agree to cover the cost of a fixed number of hours per week. Or it might be a certain number of SNG buy-ins per month.

Markup and Makeup

There are two extremely important terms to understand when discussing poker staking arrangements.

Markup

If we’re referring to short-term deals, such as a one-off tournament entry, you’ll often hear the term “markup” or “mark-up” used. This is when the player is looking to sell action at a premium.

For example, think about a very strong player with a high MTT ROI, such as Phil Hellmuth. Let's say he’s looking for backers in a $100,000 high roller event and wishes to sell 50% of his action. He won’t do so for the true value of $50,000 because he’s a long-term winning player and lots of people will want a piece. So, he could easily sell his action with a percentage markup. 

The player themselves gets to decide what the price is. If they know that their ROI is around 20%, they might try to sell at a 25% markup to lock in some profit. So if you bought 1% of Hellmuth’s action, you wouldn’t pay $1,000 as expected. It would cost you $1,250 instead, for 1% of his profits.

Makeup

On the other hand, we have “makeup”, or “make-up”. This concerns the amount of money a backed player would need to cover before they can make a profit themselves. 

In any longer-term poker staking arrangement, the player is in some form of debt. For example, let’s say a backer gives $500 to a cash game player on the understanding that they’ll share future profits 50-50. This $500 has to be “made up” to the backer before subsequent profits are split equally.

In other words, if you are “in makeup”, you owe the backer money. Any future earnings must first go towards servicing the debt. Occasionally, the arrangement may be that profits are shared immediately and the debt is considered to be “floating”. But the initial loan will still have to be paid in full at some point.

How To Set up a Poker Staking Agreement

If you’re looking for a poker staking agreement, here’s what you need to do.

Gather Your Results

Anyone willing to risk their own cash in a poker staking agreement is going to need to be sure that you’re good. And they’re not just going to take your word for it. So make sure you’ve pulled all of your selling points together to prove that you’re worth staking. Losing players are going to have a hard time finding support.

Know Your Worth

Poker staking deals work in both directions. The person being staked has to be comfortable that they’re getting a fair deal. Consider your projected win rate and ROI based on your past results. Check out staking sites and forums to see what other players are looking for. Once you know what you’ll be happy with, you can put an offer out there.

Look For Backers

Next up, you’ll need to advertise the fact that you’re looking for a backer. You can post on any of the reputable online poker forums, or alternatively, visit dedicated staking sites. We’ll talk a little more about these later.

Agreed-Upon Staking Terms

Once you find an interested party that likes your offer, you’re all set. But it’s important to sign a contract so that both parties are properly protected. After that, all that remains is to wait for your new bankroll to come through and start playing poker!

What Happens if the Staked Player Loses?

What Happens if the Staked Player Loses?]Staking, just like all forms of investment, is not without risks. If the player loses, the backer loses too. It’s important to understand this when putting up money. Just like all forms of gambling, you shouldn’t get involved if you don’t have the cash to lose.

If the losing player decides to quit playing, the debt will be written off. However, when the backed player is active, the terms of the staking agreement remain in place.

Poker Staking Risks

From the player’s perspective, a poker staking agreement is usually a positive one. But not everything is sunshine and rainbows. It’s vital to consider the potential downsides too, as staking is not for everyone.

Disputes

It’s absolutely crucial to set clear rules so as to avoid disputes. Arguments can not only lead to the breakdown of any poker staking agreement but also do damage to your wider reputation. 

A common source of confusion is around rebuy tournaments. Action is often sold on the first bullet only. If the player busts and buys back in, what happens now? If you don’t know, you haven’t thought enough about your agreement! 

Demands

When a backer is invested in a player, there are expectations that must be met. If the arrangement states that you need to play a certain number of hours or events, you have to uphold your end of the bargain.

It doesn’t matter if you’re tired or have other things going on. Your backer doesn’t care. You have an agreement to fulfill. 

Debts

Being in makeup can really affect a player. For many, the main perk of playing poker for a living is the lack of a boss. But when someone else is paying you and you are indebted to them, it can take a mental toll. What’s more, the money you win isn’t even yours, which can be demoralising. 

Not only can this added stress impair your performance at the tables, but it could spill over into life away from the felt too.

Top Tips for Poker Staking

If you’re looking to invest in a player, there are also risks to consider. Follow the tips below to avoid fundamental errors.

Research Their Results

Make sure you check out a player’s numbers for yourself, to avoid getting caught out. Pay for a tool like SharkScope if necessary, to ensure you can see all of their stats at every poker site. 

Don’t just look at their overall ROI; consider their level of experience at the stakes you will be backing them. How consistent are their returns? Speak to other backers to gather advice on the key metrics to consider.

Check Their Reputation

Looking into the numbers is important, but so is checking out the staked player’s personality. Are they troublesome and argumentative? Have they been staked before and gone bust? Have they reneged on any agreements? 

You can look them up on poker forums and dig into the kinds of conversations they’ve had in the past. Ask for references if necessary. Confirming that they are trustworthy is especially important when staking a live player, where it’s harder to verify their results.

Don’t Over-Invest 

First of all, never risk more money than you can actually afford to lose. That’s just sensible investment advice in any sphere, not only poker. In addition, don’t give more money to the player than you have to.

Your aim, just like any other form of investing, is to diversify. If you put your entire pot into a single player who goes broke, that’s a disaster.

Poker Staking Websites

Natural8 - Tournament StakingStaking poker players is easier than ever before thanks to a number of dedicated websites. Increasingly, poker clients have a staking feature built into them too. 

In this section, we’ll list a few of the most popular poker staking sites.

  • StakeKings. Known for its user-friendliness and intuitive interface. Payments can be made via multiple common methods, including bank wires, cryptocurrency and popular e-wallets. Used by several big-name players, including Antonio Esfandiari. 

  • YouStake. Similar look and feel to StakeKings, as it’s operated by the same company. Also features higher-profile players, such as Phil Hellmuth, alongside up-and-coming talents.

  • Natural8. The popular online poker site now permits staking, with no need to use an external client. Check out the profile and results of prospective partners. Sell your own action, as well as backing others, with no hidden charges!

Conclusion

In conclusion, poker staking offers a unique and mutually beneficial arrangement for both players and investors alike. It allows talented players to access the necessary bankrolls and support to compete at higher stakes while providing investors with the opportunity to profit from their knowledge and judgment. 

However, success in poker staking requires careful consideration of various factors such as skill, trust, and communication. By establishing clear expectations, conducting thorough research, and nurturing a healthy partnership, players and investors can forge a path towards shared victories and a thriving poker ecosystem. So whether you're a player seeking backing or an investor seeking potential, poker staking can be a remarkable avenue to explore in the pursuit of poker excellence.