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Views: 1470
Date Posted: Feb. 25, 8:01pm, 2 Comments

This week in the poker world, we were rocked once again with several new subjects suspected of cheating; Sorel Mizzi, Mer 'peachymer' Brit, and UB. Actually, two of the three aren't really new, as Mizzi and UB have a history of multiple incidents of cheating. Instead of addressing their specific situations, as I'm not privy to any unique information that you can't find on your own, I thought I would relate a personal experience I had years ago and share my thoughts on cheating in general.

In early 2006, I befriended a young CardRunners member from England. He was a youthful and likable 18 year old boy who seemed passionate about poker and improving his game. We both played low limits on UB at the time. Through networking on CardRunners, we occasionally used a Ventrilo chat server to chat with other CardRunners members to BS and talk poker. A few months after befriending him, he came to me and quietly told me he had discovered, by accident, a glitch on UB. It occurred only on heads-up SNG tables. If you went all in with the other player and both pressed rebuy/reload before you lost the hand, your stack was replenished but the money wasn't deducted from your account. It just magically appeared out of nowhere.

Imagine that? Instant free money. How tempting would that be? He trusted me, asked my advice, and asked if I wanted to be his partner in taking advantage of this glitch. I politely said "No" and told him why.

1) It's cheating, even if it's their own mistake/glitch.

2) The reward isn't worth the potential risk and consequences.
3) I want to earn my bankroll and develop my pride as a player using the established rules.
4) Cheating always hurts both parties. You take money that doesn't belong to you and you undermine your own integrity.

I advised him not to carry out the scheme, but he pleaded that I not tell anyone and that he would consider my thoughts. I honored his request but later learned that he found another partner. They would make the money, then transfer some to a girlfriend who would then withdraw it. They got greedy, started moving up quickly from the lower limits up to the highest possible SNG limits so as to make money that much faster. Their greed also led them to increase their frequency, making thousands a day, and eventually drawing attention to themselves. In the end, they made over $100,000 in illicit gains, but it was all confiscated except for the first couple of withdrawals which I believe amounted to around $5k. I heard whispers of others that had also detected this glitch, but no firm details on results before UB discovered and closed the glitch.

In the end, the temptation was too great for him and the select few others. Their motivations for why they chose to cheat vary, I'm sure.

Typically, when we open up the topic of cheating in a public forum, it quickly becomes heated and contentious. Incredible moral outrage is heaped on those suspected. The sides are drawn quickly. A few sympathizers will defend the subject, attempting to explain away or rationalize the situation while the majority hurls endless scorn. There is rarely any substantive discussion of the causes or solutions of the problem.

From the exterior, we envision a cozy relationship between poker and cheating. Think back as far as you can go. Who doesn't have an image of a riverboat gambler confrontation or a western shootout over a card up the sleeve. In a competitive card game played for money, it is not much of a surprise that any edge, legal or not, is sought.

When you look closer at the cheating issue, it's really not any more tied to poker than any other activity. Cheating is something we all do every day of our lives.

Driving: We cheat when we drive over the speed limit or drive when we've had too many drinks.
We cheat on our tests, copy and paste our papers from the internet, or even teachers giving answers to their students to fare better on standardized test so they or the school qualify for bonuses.
Taxes: Who doesn't work the system at tax time, fudging here and there to improve your tax situation.
Don't most of us embellish our past?
Work: Don't most of us enhance expense reports, time sheets or call in sick when we aren't?
Sports: A multitude of ways to cheat here involving performance enhancing drugs, doctoring up bats, balls, or even faking fouls and injuries.
Purchases: We'll lie about our age to save money on a movie ticket or airline ticket, or when we want to return something we broke.
: We cheat on our partner because we feel they aren't meeting our needs.

The interesting aspect is that most of the time we don't see our cheating as cheating. We rationalize our cheating in many ways.

1) Everyone else is doing it, so I'll fall behind if I don't.

2) I've been wronged, so I'm owed
3) The rules are unfair to begin with, so I don't have to follow them
4) If there is a gray area, it leaves me room to define it however I want.

In the busy hyper competitive worlds we live in, we justify that if you aren't cheating, you aren't trying. Tack onto that notion that many people don't consider it cheating unless you are caught and you are left with no little or no moral compass.

Cheating isn't specific to poker. We cheat out of laziness and greed. We cheat out of selfishness and insecurity. As much harm as we do in cheating others, in the end, we mainly cheat ourselves. We rob ourselves of the pride that can be derived from doing something the way we know it should be done.

Although I consider myself a moral man, I've been guilty of some version of many of the different life cheats listed above. I've dealt with the consequences on a few of them that quickly taught me not to repeat them. Some consequences I have yet to face. Some I've rationalized away. Some are probably not least as I see it. And isn't that part of the problem?

Regardless, understanding the modalities and motivations of cheating can better position us to advance the communal moral code. Clear communications of reasonable boundaries with appropriate consequences will always be the best way to manage cheating, but society is often hazy about those boundaries and consequences. Hypocritical action, inconsistent enforcement, overly harsh or lax consequences lead us to question their original intent.

Personally, I don't think you fix cheating simply by some having some extreme punishment (e.g. banning someone for life or imprisoning them). Education, communication, compromise and concrete rehabilitation need to play some role too. Cheating will only decrease when we internalize a fair sense of what is right and wrong in our world, and in the poker world. Transparency is the first step to achieving it, but ultimately we need to respect and have faith in our higher authorities that give rewards and punishments for appropriate behavior.

Views: 1435
Date Posted: Feb. 16, 5:50pm, 1 Comment

I didn't see it coming. It was a Sunday multi-family gathering to celebrate Chinese New Years. Four other families with kids were there. The host family cooked up an Asian storm of food with rare delicacies from China and Malaysia. The dozen or so children tore through the large house testing the limits of both the Wii and the physical framework of the house. The adult audience was made up of four physicians, one engineer, one lobbyist, and a couple PTA-minded super moms. Amidst the din of the kids, and in the kitchen-family room, the parents huddled around a couple tables. It was hardly the type of audience that I would expect to show much appreciation for the world I inhabit, and yet there I was holding half of them in rapt attention as I detailed the world of poker after they inadvertently asked what I do.


I thought it might be interesting to share most of the major points I touched apon last Sunday in my effort to educate and inform the somewhat skeptical audience.


1. There are huge parallels between poker and options/commodities/futures trading, day trading, hedge fund, and financial markets in general. If those are well established and respected careers, why not poker?


2. While gambling is a big social taboo, there is no avoiding risk or evaluating your options everywhere you turn in life. Experience with poker contributes good skills to evaluate your various life risks.


3. There is a financial pyramid in poker where masses of casual players fund the profits of the more experienced or talented players through reasonable deposits of disposable entertainment funds.


4. While youth and aggression often prevail in online play, it is the hard work and determination of bright individuals that usually prospers, regardless of age, race, creed or physical ability. Poker is an egalitarian game that on any given day, anyone can win, but over the long term skill will prevail and show itself dominant.


5. Being able to disassociate from the value of the chips you play with is a necessary skill to acquire if you aspire to play significant stakes.


6. While much is made of the vulnerable part of the population that can't gamble responsibly, the actual numbers of out of control players is in the 2-5% realm and shouldn't prohibit the vast majority of adults who can play responsibly. Certainly stronger identification and support for the vulnerable population should be instituted.


7. Many of the uber-successful young poker players are still life-inexperienced and are often unprepared to make optimal life choices, much as young athletes, musicians or actors who similarly experience sudden and extreme success.


8. Despite the U.S. being behind the curve on licensing, regulating, taxing and fully facilitating online poker, many other countries are doing it successfully and safely. The time is coming that it will be licensed and regulated in the U.S. with few of the obstacles and negative associations of the past.


9. In spite of the image of a selfish, money hungry zero-sum-game people who contribute little to society, poker players are often quite generous to friends, family and charities. They are more apt to spend their "earnings," thus stimulating the economy, especially in the luxury end of the buying spectrum.


10. The core of the game is one of redistributing wealth based on skill, hard work and luck. Value is created through its entertainment to the public and poker fans across the world who appreciate and marvel at those who excel at the game.


11. The math and strategy skills necessary to excel in poker transfer well to both practical and psychological approaches to your every day world (e.g. making the right decision despite the outcome, probabilities and percentages, bankroll management, and stop loss).


Clearly, there is still a massive social stigma attached to poker. The dynamics of the poker world are hard to relate to for much of the general public. It is only through thousands of these casual gatherings that the barriers to understanding can be broken and reformed. A society can't subsist from poker, but that is not to say that poker can't be a healthy part of society, much as tv/movie entertainment and sports entertainment also play a central role in our lives despite not really contributing something necessary to our existence.


I didn't plan this Sunday diatrbe, nor do I typically share much about the poker world with others, but when you find a willing audience that despite their skepticism is willing to listen, it is worthwhile to express the positive qualities that drew us all to the game and poker community of which we are a part.


Lastly, I'll share what I considered the biggest compliment of the afternoon, by one of the physicians who expressed her respect for the passion and common sense I brought to the subject, something she often lacks in her own career.

Views: 1469
Date Posted: Feb. 14, 3:06pm, 0 Comments

I've become a big fan of Twitter over the last few months. I check it multiple times a day and if I have time scroll through hundreds of tweets. It is very helpful to me in trying to find regular poker news, views and gossip. It is a faster form of information delivery than any other mass Internet-based method.

One thing Twitter is not good at is providing context. A statement made without history or context can be easily misinterpreted or misunderstood. With only 180 characters to express yourself, it is impossible to provide any real context. Add in all the @pokercurious addresses of the people you are trying to direct your comments to and it really restricts you from saying much at all. Thankfully you can include links to more expansive material for people to consider.

One area that Twitter has yet to optimize is how to present a running dialogue amongst people. You can click on the @pokercurious person's name to see that person's latest tweets, or the right arrow to see recent related comments, but either one is not optimal. If you aren't a part of the original exchange you can be easily lost or sidetracked.

While on the one hand I'm constantly impressed with new innovations, I also find it amazing that after all these years there hasn't been something like a Internet-wide sarcasm font or intended humor font that would help tremendously in conveying that type of communication. I would like to once and for all retire my use of LOL, LMAO, and ROFLMAO

As for Twitter, I think it is ideal for quick mass delivery of specific information or links, while significantly less effective in relaying subtlety, depth or context.

As poker players, we are accustomed to working with limited information. One never has complete information when evaluating the optimal decisions to make in a poker hand. We piece it together the best we can. After the fact, when we ask for advice on our play, we may receive a wide variety of opinions, but with a large percentage of "it depends" on additional information, yes - context.

I find the same dynamic of people making reads with incomplete information exists when we evaluate the results of other poker people's lives and actions. Let's take two recent high profile examples:

1) Gus Hansen - He generally gets blasted online for having lost millions playing high stakes online over the last few years. And yet, he has won millions playing live and from endorsements. In a recent Poker Player interview he was very candid about accepting his swings and results online, but he bristled at any questions from his personal life. The fact is one does affect the other and provides context to his situation. Hansen was only able to admit that personal things were an influence.

He won over $2.2 million early in 2009 before losing nearly $8 million from March to December. In 2010, Gus won $1.8 million last February before losing millions in the following months. Hansen was able to right the ship and since the beginning of October Hansen has won over $5 million over roughly 100,00 hands. We can't know all the information unless he shares it, but we have some pertinent information that helps form a better picture. His mother was sick and passed away in mid-2010. That would way heavy on your mind and possible results. In September, he won his first WSOPE bracelet in the heads up event, giving him a boost financially and mentally. He is also rumored to have started dating world number one tennis player Caroline Wozniaki in the later months of 2010 spending his holidays with her in Hong Kong and elsewhere before supporting her at the Australian Open. Hansen also won a million dollar payday in December at the PartyPoker Million event which was bound to give his game a boost. Only Gus knows the full extent of how his personal life has affected his playing results, but understanding his life better helps the casual fan to appreciate how a long term successful player could experience wide swings in his online play.

2) Ashton Griffin and Haseeb Qureshi - The story of their extreme running prop bet captured the poker world this past week. Due to Qureshi's detailed retelling of his perspective, the poker audience formed their opinions with great intensity. But how much did anyone really know about either of these two players before that point? What context could be given to the events?

We knew that Griffin had participated in many a prop bet before and had won and lost large sums at high stakes. Qureshi was a more enigmatic character in that he has a lower profile but has had intense and detailed blogs before that expressed his intelligence and search for meaning in the poker world. While both men have experienced tremendous highs and lows in poker, I would venture a guess that their backgrounds and the context for this prop bet differed greatly.

In Qureshi's blog account, there was tremendous detail, dramatics, and rationalization. In Griffin's PokerNews podcast and CardPlayer articles, he was much more matter of fact. He was very confident of himself (98% sure of his successful completion) and there was none of the dramatization and rationalization. He saw a challenge where he had an edge to make significant money, despite laying 3:1 odds.

I recall interviewing Ashton Griffin by phone last year. The last question I asked was when your poker career is over, what would you most like to be remembered for? He said "I'll probably be remembered for having a complete disregard for money, but I would like to be remembered for being completely fearless and willing to play anyone and coming out on top."


Full interview -

Much like Twitter, poker and evaluating other people's decisions and actions, context it key. The drive to gather as much information is essential to make a fair evaluation or judgment of their situation. I think the old saying applies that you should never judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes.

Views: 750
Date Posted: Feb. 9, 3:44pm, 0 Comments

Prop bets are stupid!


There, I said it. I’m sure this will be a very unpopular sentiment. Most of you will disagree, possibly vehemently. I understand that prop bets are ingrained in poker culture. They seem to go hand in hand with the gambling aspect of poker. The best prop bets are the stuff of legend and even lesser prob bets can bring a snicker or whiff of amusement from even the casual fan. How could they? He did that? I wouldn’t, it wasn’t enough money? I understand the dynamic and I’m still not a fan of prop bets.


The reason I think prop bets are stupid are illustrated in the recent prop bet between Ashton “theASHMAN103″ Griffin and Haseeb “INTERNETPOKERS” Quereshi. The prop bet involved a hastily devised challenge to see if Ashton could run 70 miles on a treadmill within 24 hours, no walking counted and he could rest as needed. The original sums wagered were $70k vs $210k if Ashton lost.


Part of the way through the challenge, Ashton wanted more action on two conditions, that they remain friends regardless and that they felt 100% secure that there could be no cheating involved. The action grew for Ashton to $300k if he won and to pay out $900k if he lost.

Using this extreme running prop bet as an example, we see the main elements to which I object.


1. Prop bets are fueled by greed. One party is looking to gain from the transaction at the expense of the other, which motivates all kinds of angle shooting. Everyone is looking for an edge, using negotiation and often deception as part of the process. Haseeb was his friend, but feared someone else taking the action if Ashton was determined to go through with it regardless. Ashton has had a history of being taken advantage of in prior prop bets, losing large sums that he had won playing poker. 


2. Prop bets affect relationships. While many poker players are pretty good at disassociating from the value of money, money always affects our relationships. We resent those who have more or take money from us in one way or another. If the prop bet involves some form of embarrassment or physical harm (e.g. jumping in a shark tank, extreme weight loss, or eating some huge pile of wasabi/hot peppers) there can be long standing residual affects. The bet was hastily conceived with Ashton having not had much sleep and drinking considerably the prior night.


If the thought of winning money is your soul motivation for conceiving some strange prop bet, reconsider. Why does the money suddenly make you want to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily. We aren’t talking about people needing money to pay bills, these are established poker players who aren’t poverty level. They do it because they want the sweat. They want the thrill. They want the challenge. They make the prop bet because they can’t feel alive if there’s not some intense pain or pleasure for their activity.


The fact that Ashton won his prop bet and $300k with 45 minutes remaining doesn’t lesson my concerns. I think all parties will be affected moving forward.


Call me stupid if you want, but I would rather have a good “gentleman’s bet” than one that might be fueled by greed, angle shooting, or affect any friendship I have.

Views: 742
Date Posted: Feb. 3, 6:13pm, 0 Comments

I'll admit it. I want that feeling once in my life. I want to know what it feels like to be on an incredible rush. I've played low stakes poker for five years now and I've never felt it. My biggest losing sessions and days have always been worse in numbers than my best days.  My best days could hardly be called a massive rush either.  I've never won 15 or 30 or 50 or imagine over 130 buy-ins in a short period of time.

What does it feel like? Do you feel invincible? Do you feel clairvoyant? Do you feel like king of the world as your opponents seemingly hand you money hands over fist? Does time speed up or slow down? Do all your life's struggles seem worth all the trouble in those moments? Do you feel a validation like never before?

When I read about Viktor "Isildur1" Blom's incredible run on PokerStars this week, I couldn't really imagine what it might feel like to win over 130 buy-ins in three days. The fact that he did it at $25-$50 against some of the top cash game players in the world is even more impressive.

Here's the list of his opponents, his winnings, and numbers of hands played:

  • Dan "w00ki3z" Cates - $52k in 2,500 hands
  • Mike "gordo16" Gorodinsky - $159k in 2,134 hands
  • Sphinx87 - $44k in 4,286 hands
  • Kanu7 - $164k in 2,313 hands
  • Mitch "LooneyGerbil" Carle $35k in 289 hands
  • Phil "MrSweets28" Galfond - $147k in 2,716 hands
  • Ashton "theASHMAN103" Griffin - $56k in 1,430 hands

I did a news piece yesterday, when he was over $500k up (100 Buy-ins Up) in his rush where I calculated that he was winning at an incredible 77.7 bb/100 or 38.8 BB/100.

The fact that he's not playing at the highest limits doesn't diminish the rush for me.  I don't want to be Viktor Blom. I don't want his life. Knowing him, he could lose it all back again tomorrow. The fact that top pros are willing to drop up to 30 buy-ins in a heads-up session is fascinating to me.  It certainly goes against the bankroll management/stop loss controls that I've been taught and to which I adhere.

People often wonder why he has such a following. As one forum poster put it "Isildur1 doesn't take money as money, but like score in a game."  He has panache and guts and verve that players around the world appreciate. I'm sure his next Superstar Showdown match scheduled for February 13th will be followed closely, whoever his opponent is.

Blom's rush reminded me of a poker player profile I did recently on J.C. Tran. During his incredible run several years ago. He had made three WPT final tables in a row, winning one, and he was feeling super confident. He said "I play differently now." I'm not afraid to put my money in with a draw knowing I will get there. I play looser and mix it up more. He was certainly describing the confidence of someone on an extended rush.

I wonder if that's how the Bellagio Bandit felt as he boldly walked out of the Bellagio on the morning of December 14th. He had walked in with his motorcycle helmet and gun and robbed the Bellagio of $1.5 million in casino chips, many of them $25k chips.  The casino security feared confronting him for concern of having patrons put at risk and he disappeared into the early morning night. Six weeks later, the Bellagio bandit has been caught.  His rush has ended.  Amazingly, he was staying at the Bellagio when he was apprehended.  Shrewd Bellagio management had announced the discontinuing of their $25k chips and 29 -year-old Anthony Michael Carleo was caught trying to sell his stolen casino chips to under cover agents. Interestingly enough, he is the son of a Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge. He now makes his home in Clark County Jail awaiting a court date.

Last night, as I played a Rush PLO session that went wrong very quickly, I dreamed of what it must feel like to go on that ever elusive rush. Instead of dropping buy-ins, they would flow my direction in an endless stream. No opponent would befuddle me. No strategy could defeat me. No suckout would bother me. No internal cry of "why me again" would enter my mind. I would be master of the universe. Vindication. One Time!

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