Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Post of The Year? 

It gets more difficult to find sane voices in the poker wilderness as the level of discourse and intelligence has dropped over the years.

But this gets my early vote as Post of the Year. Cheaters are cheaters and crooks are crooks. You can't have it both ways.


Open letter to the poker community on integrity, and our responsibility as gamblers.

I recently listened to the PokerRoad webcast with JJProdigy, and within minutes felt sick to my stomach. I was genuinely ashamed as a professional poker player that these were my peers. Gavin Smith and Joe Sebok showed a genuine apathy toward JJ’s malicious pattern of cheating at online poker, even sympathy for his situation. Late in the show, Gavin mentioned that he knew of players who stole tournament chips from prelims at the WSOP to save for the ME, and stakers who would confiscate their horses chips for their own tournament, and yet they are still accepted members of the poker community. This is a travesty, and just because there is nothing the tournament directors and casinos are doing about it, does not mean that you Gavin can do nothing. You are a voice for the poker community. OK, you are not exactly the Jay Leno of poker radio, but at least do your part, NAME NAMES.

This is an incredibly fragile time for poker in America, and one thing that is sure to help us, is maintaining a reputation as people with integrity. The old image of card sharks as cheats and liars has been really cleaned up, especially with Travel Channel, ESPN, and every other mainstream and clean representation of poker. People like JJ, who Joe referred to as a “stand up guy for coming on the show,” are the rotten apples that spoil the bunch. Thirty years ago, who would have thought that the stereotypical image of a poker player in 2008 would be 21 year old college kids with silly hoodies and sunglasses, who play most of their poker on the computer? We are no longer the seedy backroom hustlers, we are out in the open, honest, and fair—most of us.

When I play live poker, I often talk to live players and ask them if they play online. Frequently their response is “nah, I don’t trust online poker, I think its rigged.” I used to always assure them that online sites are as safe as Visa or Mastercard, and they have nothing to gain from cheating. Can I really tell them this honestly though? I used to always tell them the mere possibility of being caught is way too much of a risk for the sites, especially when they can earn easy money being legitimate. But is the risk truly too great?

I was at a sports bar the other day, and I have gotten used to the site of poker on the TVs at bars at this point. Something that has not yet been conditioned in my brain though, was the site of AbsolutePoker ads during the commercial. Did ESPN really sign a contract, to show advertisements with a site that was unequivocally caught to have a major cheating flaw in its system? A site which scrambled to cover up the evidence, a site where the major cheaters in question were executives from the company itself? If that contract was signed before the scandal, then so be it, let it run its course. I truly hope though that there is at least one advertising executive at ESPN who remembers his business school course on business ethics. Just like it would be frowned upon to give press to a company known to be corrupt and illegitimate in another field, so too it should be frowned upon for a massive network like ESPN to turn their cheek to any ethical standards. If they were contractually bound before the scandal, then I truly hope that someone at ESPN will end their relationship with Absolute.

Card counters in blackjack, are not cheaters. They are simply people smart enough to discover a flaw in the system. Multiaccounters, colluders, chip dumpers in tournaments, are all cheaters. Yet all these people can roam free in any casino, any tournament area, and feel free from any scrutiny by any tournament or casino bosses. The casinos are brutally efficient in weeding out the card counters, they even keep records with rival casinos about the card counters because it suits both their interests to do so. If someone is caught counting cards at the Bellagio on Monday, do you think he will be able to walk into the Venetian the next week? Fat chance.

Card counters are not cheaters, and yet they are so vigilantly and unequivocally barred from casinos. Yet known cheaters are banned from one site and not the next, or are banned from one tournament and not the next. Why is there no unity amongst the casinos or the sites in this case, but such fervor for unity in the case of card counters? Oh right, money, it’s always about money, and never integrity. Card counters win money from the casinos, multi accounters and cheaters pay rake just like everyone else, they are only stealing from us. This is why the burden is on the PLAYERS to pressure the casinos, the sites, and even TV networks to be harsher about this, and why people like JJProdigy should not feel comfortable enough to sit down face to face with two important figures in the poker community.

I realize I am being optimistic, and perhaps naïve, but what do we have to lose? When users on PokerStars demanded that JJ not be allowed to play at PCA, he was banned. This is a perfect example of what we are capable of if unified in our belief in integrity and honesty. And I call on PokerStars and FullTilt to show the same enthusiasm and dedication to a preservation of integrity that I hope all poker players believe in.

Every day we are getting closer and closer to the possibility of an improvement with regard to UIGEA, and yet far too many of us are sitting here and watching the rotten apples fall right into the basket with the ripe apples. In all my time in poker (a mere four or so years), I have always been told that a gamblers word is everything. Integrity, honesty, ethics, were all virtues in poker that anyone in the community had to have, as it was an integral part of the oil that keeps the poker machine running. I can’t even count the number of times I have made financial deals with trusted poker friends who could easily have run off with five, and even six figure sums of my money or equity, and I would have no way of doing anything about it. Why do I put myself in such situations? Because I know there are certain people in this world that I could hand my whole roll to and say, “hold this for a second,” and in no dimension or situation, would the thought of stealing from me ever occur to them. These are the people that gamblers are supposed to be. That is how our world should work, and how it works when it is at its best.

Make no mistake, multi accounting is not light cheating. It is as heavy a form of cheating as you can have in tournaments. On the radio show JJ said that he rarely, but occasionally did play with one of his own accounts in a tournament. We all probably remember ZeeJustins infamous “open more sit and gos to negate the ethical advantage” line. The fact of the matter, is that it doesn’t matter how many tables there are in the tournament, you will eventually wind up at the same table as yourself. Even if you aren’t, the mere presence of two accounts in the same tournament is a travesty.

Perhaps one of the only moments where there was a hard question, was when Joe (or possibly Gavin) asked JJ why he wouldn’t give the money he won cheating to charity, and JJ had no answer. Why not Josh? Why is it so difficult to come to terms with the fact that you are in possession of illegitimate funds? The money is yours in name, but we both know most of it does not belong to you. And how dare you have the audacity not to think it a responsibility as a demonstration of repentance and of reform, that you must give up your illicit funds. What kind of apology of “I am sorry, I stole your money,” ends in “but I am going to keep it, sorry.” As long as you keep your million dollar savings account, or whatever it is, you are still no better than bank robber to me.

Shame on both Gavin and Joe for saying that Greg Raymer was out of line for the following quote: “It is obvious to me that he has no real remorse. If he's at my table in a live event, I'll gladly out him to the table, and point out that we all need to be alert because this guy is willing to cheat anytime he thinks he won't be caught.”

Out of line? I only hope that every WSOP winner, as an ambassador for poker is so morally and ethically conscious as Greg. I applaud you Greg, as being a person who can shape and alter this little world of ours, showing integrity and class first, and greed and ignorance last. JJ responded by saying that Greg doesn’t know him, and thus should not pass judgment. You are in no place to say who is right and who is wrong to pass judgment in this community. Once you have shown such a clear breach of ethics and integrity in this business, the worst should be assumed. I am friends with several people who know JJ well and they all say he is a good kid who is trustworthy (aside from cheating). I have no doubt this is true, but to expect that you won’t be bashed and labeled as a cheater, after being basically the biggest cheater at online tournaments, in the history of the game, are you serious?

Amanda Leatherman almost always does a good job as a representative for poker in her interviews. She isn’t the most knowledgeable about the game, but she gets the job done and is generally on point. But take a step back for a moment please, the next time you are about to interview the Jesse James of online poker, do not sugar coat the questions and smile at him like you smile at Daniel Negreanu. He does not deserve those smiles, he does not deserve the “how are you” introduction. By breaking that code that we as gamblers almost… ALMOST unanimously follow of morals and ethics, he loses the right to get treated like everyone else. People should not ask him, how are you, they should ask him, why the **** are you in this room, why are you flying to poker tournaments, crawl back under the hole you crawled out of, and stay there because you are not one of us.

Gavin, do not let JJ of the hook either, by telling us how much other people have done it. Mob mentality exists because people feel that when in the presence of their peers, their responsibility is deflected from them to the rest of the group. Do not let JJ become one of the group, because no, not everyone did or does it. I have never multiaccounted. Not when I was 16, 18, or now that I am 21.

JJ, you said you have changed your beliefs because you realize you are no longer a child, and you are becoming an adult. If you want to be a man, then act like one. Criminals who confess and agree to give information for a free pass do just that, they give information. Saying “I am sorry” is meaningless without action. Give the money to charity, name names of other cheaters, tell us exactly how to catch people like you, and show a general commitment to ethics and moral values which are expected of you, and you will be forgiven with time.

The only chance we have as poker players of keeping our game clean, is a complete and utter revulsion and rejection of cheaters. Casinos and poker sites need to start working together to develop black lists and suspected cheaters. Sites say they do everything they can, but they do not. If someone is banned from one site for cheating, they should then be banned from every card room in the world, and every other site. This is possible, entirely possible, and it would put a MAJOR damper on the willingness of cheaters to cheat. Let’s face it, JJ cheated because he was “underground” anyway, and there would be no repercussions in the long run. If cheaters know the punishment will fit the crime, they won’t cheat anymore.

I do not know what I can expect to accomplish with this, but at least I will go to bed knowing I did my best. I plan to play this game for a little while longer, and I am concerned for its legitimacy knowing that cheaters can sit with the peers they cheated money from, and smile and joke about someone calling them out for their actions.

I am well known/connected in the online poker community, but I have no real connection to the bigger names in the live game, I only hope that this gets read by some of the role models and important figures in the live community, because they are the ones who are mainstream and well regarded by the public. Please do not let JJ be an example of what you can do in this world, cheat for 3 years, decide to stop, and carry on normally. Please let his kind know that they are not acceptable.

-Dani Stern

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