Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Whoops, I forgot this lil tidbit from last evening. Party Poker closed my account.


Because I was being a goof in chat, typing in players names as bonus codes. For example, I was playing with my friend Fuzz - so I typed in Bonus Code FUZZ after he scooped a nice pot.

Bonus Code Fuzz does NOT exist. I did the same thing last week at a blogger table with new blogger, Ephro, typing in Bonus Code Ephro.

So anyway, I tried to login around 9pm and received an error message stating my account had been closed and to call if I have any questions.

It takes over an hour phone call for them to figure out the Bonus Codes were NOT real. Despite this fact, I am sternly lectured not to ever do it again.

My account was restored, thankfully. Let that be the lesson to you chat scallywags out there.

Soooo, raise your hand if you hit Grubby's site while at work today.

Damn, I wanted to write up an uber-post but the idiocy (see below) has thrown me off.

Instead, I'm taking the cheap way out and offering two new poker articles from Slate. The first is a review of the new ESPN poker show, TILT, which the reviewer doesn't care for. The second is about online poker cheating, entitled Hold 'Em, Fold 'Em, Cheat 'Em.

Reposted here for your enjoyment.

I'll be back soon with a Guinness-fueled rant....


ESPN's new poker series: Too much shouting, not enough dumpy Asians.
By Seth Stevenson

When Rounders came out in 1998, professional poker players loved it. For one thing, it stirred up new interest in the game … which meant a fresh batch of suckers. But even more gratifying for the pros was this: Hollywood had finally done its research.

The poker hands in Rounders are supremely realistic. We never see four aces losing out to a straight flush (I'm looking at you, every other poker movie). And it isn't just the cards that the film gets right—the betting amounts and the table talk are also dead-on. When I covered the World Series of Poker in 1999 (yes, before it was cool, waaaaaay before; James McManus didn't go until 2000!) all the pro players there agreed that Rounders was the first time a movie got poker right.

Tilt—a new dramatic series on ESPN (debuting Thursday, 9 p.m. ET)—gets poker right, too. Tilt was created by the guys who wrote Rounders, and just like Rounders it features lots of realistic poker play. Sadly, it does not feature Matt Damon, Edward Norton, sharp dialogue, or compelling plots.

The poker hands in Tilt are like the songs in a Broadway musical: All else comes to a screeching halt so we can focus on what we've really come here to see. The problem is, these days we're not all that starved for realistic poker action on television. There's World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel; ESPN's own nonstop coverage of the World Series of Poker; and, to a lesser extent, Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown (which attracts much better actors than the ones in Tilt). It's not enough anymore to nail the basic details of poker. By now, anyone who cares is already schooled in the strategy and lingo. Do we congratulate baseball movies for getting the dugout chatter right and showing guys running around the bases counterclockwise?

When the action doesn't pause for a poker hand, Tilt is just an episode of Las Vegas (or maybe Dr. Vegas, rest its soul). It's all cheesy dialogue and lame scenarios. My favorite moment: In a back-room game, one guy says (with a carefully scripted blend of anger and accurate poker terminology), "No string bets here, bitch." When his opponent pulls out a small pistol, the guy draws a much bigger gun and shouts, "This time I raise!" (If only the second guy had then rolled in a massive cannon. "Reraise, bitch!")

But the big disappointment here is the characters. Anyone who's watched professional poker knows it's filled with nothing but fascinating, superintelligent weirdos. These folks are blessed with the sort of mind that could calculate Wall Street futures, but are cursed with the sort of soul that longs for late-night Las Vegas card rooms. None of this contradiction is captured in Tilt.

Granted, I've only seen the first episode—perhaps in time these boring central-casting toughs will show some hidden depth. But they still won't look the part. Poker players come in every age, shape, and nationality. That's part of why I love televised poker: It's the one place on the dial to see dumpy Asians. Yet Tilt centers on a trio of stylish, slim, attractive young Americans. Haven't these writers watched World Poker Tour? Don't they know that real poker players have awkward facial hair? That they wear satin jackets with casino logos and chew on unlit cigarettes for hours at a time? That they are frequently Vietnamese?

The truth is, most poker players are nerds—now more than ever, at a time when many winners build their skills in Internet card rooms. Tilt seems stuck in the past—its heroes are freewheeling cowboys who rely on their instincts and hunches. The new generation of pros tends to bank a bit more on math and game theory. And while cheating (the focus of Tilt's central plot) is certainly still an issue, it feels so divorced from the aura of modern poker. After all, it's tough to cheat in a televised event. And why bother when it might sully your new book deal?

I asked Paul Phillips, a top pro player (and a former computer programmer), what sort of real-life drama goes on in poker now and what might make for a great, true-to-life poker series. He mentioned all the money and drugs that flow around and the sudden influx of fame, but to me the most fascinating notion he raised was this: "In what other line of work do people spend every day trying to take their friends' money? Except for the real lowlifes who have no friends, it's inevitable that you make friends with people you play with a lot. There are so many ways it can impact a relationship."

I'd love to see a subtle, gripping portrayal of the dysfunctional relationships that form within a crew of pro poker players. I bet HBO could have pulled this off (the constant distrust that haunts the crew of The Sopranos might serve as an excellent model). But this is ESPN—the network that brought you Playmakers. Just as it did with that series about a fictionalized NFL, ESPN takes the easy route here by ramping up the external conflicts: arguments, shouting, fistfights. Don't get me started—it's the same subtlety-stomping path ESPN's been on with all its recent programming (PTI, Around the Horn, etc.). What once was the thinking man's outlet for sports is now just the network of screaming matches.

By the way, Michael Madsen—as always—is excellent in Tilt. As poker legend Don "The Matador" Everest, Madsen hauls out his usual shtick: shiny eyes, gravelly voice, sudden and violent eruptions. He points at someone every time he speaks a line, just to kick up the intimidation factor. If only he were pointing at dumpy Asians in satin jackets, we might have a show here.


Hold 'Em, Fold 'Em, Cheat 'Em
Tricks, scams, and crimes for winning at online poker.
By Jonathan M. Katz

If you could fire a six-shooter over the Internet, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer might have been a dead man. Two years ago, the future World Series of Poker champion was playing a Hold 'Em variation called Omaha Hi-Lo online. Facing two players, one with few chips who appeared to be betting too strongly, Raymer sensed weakness. He raised to draw in that dead-money player, hoping to scare off the potential threat from the player in the middle. But the middle player didn't back down. Raymer won a huge pot.

As the middle player saw his virtual chips (and real dollars) slide away, he snapped: Raymer and the weak player, he shouted over the site's instant messenger, were colluding against him. In another era, the middle player might have thrown the table, pulled a gun, and cleared the saloon. Instead he filed a complaint with PokerStars.com.

"I wasn't colluding with [the weak player]. I was taking advantage of his" low chip count, Raymer, 40, said he told the site. "That's not illegal."

It's not, but his accuser's suspicion wasn't unusual either. In an anonymous world where everyone is after your money, and where lying and preying on the weak are encouraged, it's easy to get paranoid that others are cheating. And in fact, others are cheating—or trying to. The same qualities that have made the rest of the Internet a wonderland for deviants, thieves, and nihilists of all stripes—near-perfect anonymity, the ease of taking on multiple personas—encourage behavior most would be too scared to try at a poker game on the Vegas strip. As the Web poker fad has exploded ($178,873,992 was up for grabs in online tournaments on Sunday alone, according to PokerPulse.com) the possibilities for cheating have grown. In 1999, for example, a flawed shuffling algorithm at PlanetPoker.com leaked out, allowing players who'd studied it to win at will. Rumors about players, hackers, and even the sites themselves screwing the system are rampant on discussion boards like rec.gambling.poker.

Here's what they're talking about:

Collusion. This is the most common form of cheating, in which several players at the same table (or one player using multiple computers) share information. Raymer was accused of "foot-sawing," where a weak-handed player helps out a strong-handed co-conspirator by staying in the game and raising to convince others to bet more.

But there's a catch. Good colluders have to be able to play their combined hands well, and they have to win enough for it to be worthwhile after dividing their money throughout the group. Experts say you're more likely to find collusion in lower-money games with empty seats—places where cheaters can make up a larger percentage of the table and are less likely to face experts. As a result, their takes are bound to be smaller. So despite the multiple cases each day on PokerStars, most colluders lose money, said the site's poker room manager, Lee Jones.

Software cheats. The marketers of "Cheat On Poker v.1.2" promised "special tracking software that helps you to track the hand of every opponent at your e-poker table!" In the interest of journalism—and since none of my friends would collude with me—this was the method I chose to test.

Guess who got cheated. For $29.95, I got an unwieldy odds calculator bundled with useless shareware. My attempts to use it in fake-money games got me closer to arthritis than a seat on the World Poker Tour. It took so long to log my hand, community cards, and opponents' possible cards that I nearly missed two betting turns. If tricking your opponents into believing you're fading in and out of a coma constitutes an advantage, it was lost on the half-dozen anonyms siphoning off my fake money.

Some players allege there are software hacks that allow you to see your opponent's cards. But that's almost certainly a myth. "If it were really possible, online poker wouldn't last very much longer," said Matthew Hilger, a poker writer who runs the magazine site InternetTexasHoldEm.com.

Bots. For those too stupid or busy to cheat in person, there are programs that play for you. Sometimes bots win. But today's computers are better at games like chess, where there's perfect information, than at sorting through the lies, feints, and uncertainties of poker. Besides, security monitors often pick up their scent, especially when they spot one player going 36 hours straight without a bathroom break.

Cutting the cord. This is the digital equivalent of pretending to pass out on the table: Some players disconnect their Internet connections upon realizing their cards won't hold up, hoping the house will let them keep their wager. Others make a large raise, wait for a call, and then disconnect, hoping to claim a portion of the pot on protest later on.

The problem with potential scams is that the house is always watching. While there are no video cameras or bouncers standing by, sites have monitoring tactics casinos only dream about. ParadisePoker.com tracks IP addresses, surveys for suspicious betting, and automatically reports questionable moves to its staff, said spokesman Ismail Vali-Tepper. Security can call up histories of every card someone has played to look for behavior patterns or study players who often sit together at the same tables. Offenders' accounts are closed and their addresses banned.

Raymer, who before turning pro in 2004 was a patent attorney, suggested sites anticipate future schemes by monitoring players' variance—a statistical measure of how far a player is from his or her expected win within a given hour. A high variance means taking on a lot of risk in exchange for winning more pots, which is what the pros do. But players who incur little risk while winning lots of hands are probably cheating, he said.

Frustrated by their own losses, some players throw the charge of cheating back at the house, alleging that the sites themselves use bots and rig games to heighten excitement. Some accuse them of hiring ringers who fleece novice players. Poker forums are filled with tales of frequent "bad beats"—hands lost despite holding a full house or better—and dramatic defeats on the last community card.

Site operators are livid at the suggestion. "The security and integrity of the game and the cards we deal is our entire business," says PokerStars' Jones. ParadisePoker advertises that its shuffling mechanism is audited by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Experts point out that the rate of play in online poker allows players to see more combinations of cards than they would in a real game, raising the likelihood of "bad beats." Besides, the sites are printing money these days. Why would they throw away a good thing for a little extra cash?

All Content Copyright Iggy 2003-2007
Information on this site is intended for news and entertainment purposes only.

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