Over the years of developing this game, the number one recurrent issue that I’ve seen among players is confusion with regard to how winnings are doled out. Players will typically go all-in at some point during a hand, then during Showdown they’ll come in second place, yet the winnings get divided among the players with the first and the third-best hands while they receive nothing.
Believing themselves cheated, they then will fire off an angry email to me with a screenshot, and then I’ll need to delve into their specific case and walk them through how the picture came to be. This happens all the time, and occasionally the explanation I provide isn’t even fully understood as sometimes a year down the road I’ll get another email from the same user describing the exact same issue.
Confusion over winnings isn’t restricted simply to this game either, if you look at any poker game on the Android market you’ll see this same issue surfacing quite frequently, expressed in the comments section. Moreover in designing the game’s UI there doesn’t seem to be a catch-all solution, as I see other developers continually experimenting with different designs that try to elucidate what is actually happening, but none of them seems to ever fully stem the tide of confusion. To make matters worse what is actually occurring in this situation is a bit nebulous to explain, and every website I’ve seen manages to define it only by walking through examples. Anyway, here’s my best attempt to convey what’s going on.
SO WHAT’S GOING ON
You may only win an amount proportional to what you throw into the pot, from each player’s bet that they threw into the pot. In other words, if during a match I throw $5 into a pot and I win, I can only win at most $5 from every player, and only if they threw atleast $5 into the pot as well.
For example, suppose I am playing with Ernie and Bert. I have $1, Ernie has $2 and Bert has $3. Ernie starts the betting with $2 and Bert folds, so the pot is $2. Since I’ve got a Royal Flush, I go all-in with $1. The pot is now $3, that is $2 from Ernie and $1 from me.
Now we show our cards, I with my Royal Flush and Ernie with his pair of aces. How much do I win? Well I bet $1, so I get my $1 back and I also get $1 from Ernie’s $2 bet. That leaves $1 left in the pot – this is the portion of Ernie’s bet that I didn’t match, nobody matched it, so Ernie gets it back.
Simple right? Now let’s extrapolate this principle to a slightly more complicated scenario.
Once again I’m playing with Ernie and Bert, and the numbers are exactly the same as last time: I have $1, Ernie has $2, and Bert has $3.
This time Bert starts the betting, and he goes all-in. Why go all-in with $3 when neither Ernie nor I can match that bet? Good question, perhaps he has poor cards and is trying to bluff his way into making us think he has great cards. Hypothetically there could also be a fourth player as well with $4, only he folds after Bert throws down his $3 bet. For whatever reason, this situation has come up.
Ernie and I both go all in. So the pot is now $6, that’s $3 from Bert, $2 from Ernie and $1 from me.
Now it’s time to show our hands. This time Ernie has a Royal Flush, I’ve got a Flush, and Bert has a pair of aces.
Since Ernie is the winner he gets first dibs on the pot. But how much does Ernie win? Well, he threw in $2, so he gets that $2 back. Since Bert threw $3 into the pot, Ernie gets $2 from Bert’s bet as well. Normally Ernie would get $2 from my bet as well, but since I could only afford to bet $1, Ernie gets that $1 and eats the loss.
So Ernie has just won $5. But there’s still $1 left in the pot, and I have the second-best hand. That means I win it, right?
Wrong. But why? Because the $1 that I bet is already tied up in the pot that Ernie won. The $1 that remains in the pot is actually from Bert’s initial $3 bet. It’s the portion of his bet that nobody matched, and so he gets that back. Keep in mind that I’m keeping this example simple – in reality the situation is seldom so clean, and oftentimes the remaining money will belong to multiple other players who raised further bets after I’d gone all-in, and it will need to be divvied out accordingly. But the main issue here is always the same, I am no longer eligible for any further awards from the pot, because my bet in its entirety was already won by another player.
In the picture above I’ve recreated a similar situation. You’ll notice that I’m all-in and the other players have matched and are continuing to raise subsequent bets after me. You’ll also notice the black box on the left-side of the screen that says “You can only win from the first $2,750,000 awarded”. This is because after that amount is awarded, the pot no longer holds any of the money I placed into it.
If I ultimately have the best hand, then I will win $2,750,000. If I have the second-best hand, and the player with the best hand had only thrown $1 into the pot, then he would win $6, I would win $2,749,994, and the rest of the pot would be divided among the remaining players as appropriate. However if I have the second-best hand and the first-best hand is also entitled to $2,750,000 or more, then I win nothing although I may see additional players winning something even though they have worse hands than me. It’s because they bet more than me.
If you have any ideas on how to explain this in an easier, more universal fashion, or even better, if you have clever ideas for how to visually show exactly what is happening in-game without creating more confusion, please email me as I’m very open to new ideas.