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.
School: 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.
Resume: 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.
Relationships : 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 cheating...at 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.