Last weekend, we got a good look at why making the front page on ESPN.com is such a big deal. Usually, when one of my articles gets posted, it will receive a few mundane comments (or a few very angry ones) and it was looking like Friday's "Calling for action" posting was going to do more of the same. On Saturday though, the front-page-only denizens of ESPN.com got a look at the twin visages of Justin Bonomo and Greg Raymer. Suddenly, the comments flowed.
Speaking from the columnist's point of view, the best thing about those comments is it gives me an opportunity to gauge what the readers know, what they don't, and which gaps in comprehension need filling. More than a few of the comments on "Calling for action" caught my eye and motivated me to fill those gaps.
Here is a look at the comments that caught my eye and some answers that should prove educational. Thanks to all of the participants for the reading, the writing and the inspiration.
joshD313: Gary -- Very informative story, I was not aware of who Field was. Now I play on Poker Stars and was wondering. What would be the safest tables to sit at to avoid cheating? Would it be low limit cash games, tournaments or should I just cash in my bankroll and go to a brick & mortar? I enjoy playing cash games online in the morning with my coffee and cigarette before work and would like to continue my morning ritual.
Wise: Do not take the Field story to mean you should be getting out of online poker if you enjoy it. Fact is, people have been cheating at poker for 150 years. I'd actually guess, with no statistical data to back the claim, that cheating now is at an all-time low, thanks to the game's newfound popularization and its effect on the morality of the average player.
Generally speaking, the higher the stakes, the bigger the potential gains of cheating. As a result, the higher you play, the more likely someone's going to try to pull something off. The casual hobbyist is likely playing low enough stakes to not have to worry much, because the money isn't big enough to get clandestine about, and the complexity of scams designed to gain an edge in a $1/$2 game aren't likely to pay major dividends, you know?
deeznutz2785: What does having multiple accounts do to the outcome of a game, and, part two, how much real money is at stake during these online games?
Wise: This may seem like a lazy answer, but I thought another post, by KermitDfrog, did a great job answering the first part of the question with his explanation:
"You're sitting at a table with nine other players.
"1. Position is important in hold 'em, so you will fold certain hands in early position that you play in late. This means you get a better shot to see flops and hit something at cheap prices (no fear of a preflop raise, etc).
"2. You have Qc-Jc. Your other seat has 9d-9h. The flop comes 10c-9s-3c. There's one other person who's still at the table. Let's say for the sake of argument he has J-Js. He's got an overpair but you've got one hand that already has him dominated and another than can outdraw both. You're almost certainly not going to lose the hand with the cards you have on one of those accounts, regardless of what your opponent has (the only hand that has you currently beat is 10-10, and there are only two better flush draws). By whipsaw'ing back and forth, you can milk probably extra dollars from the other player.
"3. You're in a tournament with no rebuys. You lose. But you have a second seat in. If you're a decent player, you double your chances to cash in.
There are other reasons, but those are the most glaring ones."
The answer to Part 2 is "as little or as much as you want." In Field's case, he was playing big-money poker, buying into tournaments for as little as $100 or as much as $600. The tournaments that resulted in his cheating being exposed had over a quarter of a million dollars in prizes.
Oh and Kermit, I haven't had the "#wisedraft" password in about half a decade.
UTKevin66: I have questions. 1. Why is this article on ESPN? 2. Why is Poker shown on sports TV?
Wise: One spicy little bonus of getting poker articles on the main page is that the comments section inevitably gets littered with various renditions of this inquiry. While there are volumes that could be written on the subject, I'm going to make this brief.
Doesn't the "E" in ESPN stand for entertainment? Televised poker doesn't qualify under every definition of "sport," but it's definitely born in part of sport and offers competition the way sports do. Actually, I'd go so far as to say that poker is more democratic than sports, since more people can play. I mean, a blind man cashed in this year's WSOP main event. To suggest that aspect of the game is a bad thing is elitist and seems to me to be pretty closed-minded. Call it the game of the people.
Being a business, I'm guessing that ESPN would have no qualms with discontinuing poker programming if not for one little thing: people like watching poker on TV. Since they do, ESPN started producing the World Series of Poker (actually, this might be a chicken-egg development, since the poker boom only occurred once Chris Moneymaker's face got plastered all over the World Wide Leader). A big part of this Web site's function is to support ESPN programming, and that's why we produce poker content. I for one am glad we do, but I'll grant that's probably a little selfish.
kuraegomon: Umm, the "powers" have one compelling, overriding, reason to band together to police cheaters: the very same bottom line. All you -- and other voices in the community who have access to a large audience -- have to do is keep on this story (and others like it). Once enough people hear about it, online participation will drop. At that point, I suspect the stakeholders will actively (and very publicly) take steps. If you want to jump-start the process, just get the like-minded people you describe in this article together, and draft a letter to the major sites:
We (Insert list of well-known names here) are prepared to continually, and publicly, discuss online cheaters, and the lack of punishment they receive. If this story continues to gain attention, your profits will suffer. It's in the best interests of said profits to proactively deal with this problem.
Doesn't take a lot of money to do this. Just resolve. How much resolve do you and the others you quote have, Gary? Show us.
Wise: OK, before I get too carried away with yelling "Challenge???" at the top of my lungs, this brings us to a major debate that's raged and will rage within the online community. The question is whether articles like "Calling for action" are actually good for online poker.
On the one hand, I have to think calling for change for the better is a good thing. Educating the people makes the game safer to play, which in turn cleanses its reputation, which in turn increases mainstream acceptance, which in turn helps the professional game grow. More TV (sorry UTkevin66), more endorsements, more money, more parties, more work for me.
On the other hand, every time an article like this appears here, threads in forums across the Web call for scalps because of the fear of perception. The belief is that the uneducated player hears about cheating, assumes they're a victim and pulls their money out. They don't get to play anymore, the sharks don't get to feed on them any more, the action dries up, the sharks are forced to feed on one another and suddenly, Phil Ivey is the only guy left making a living playing poker. Or so the theory goes.
This is another chicken-egg deal. The articles designed to educate long-term inspire fear short-term and the folks in fear are the least likely to benefit from that education. The real answer in my eyes is this: If every article I wrote was about the bad stuff, those folks wouldn't get many chances to see the good. I'll keep writing articles like "Calling for action," but I'm not going to do it at the cost of stripping the fun out of the game.
koothy: In the old days the place he cheated would take their money back and would mail his fingers to his mother.
Wise: You're absolutely right, and that's why if I were advising Josh, I might tell him he should stay away from the live game. As long as the Greg Raymer's of the world are pointing him out for what he's done, there will be people possessed of the old-school mind-set.
This isn't to say Raymer is wrong to do so. If you're not going to fight cheating with violence, you need to protect yourself in some other way, and imposing a pariah status in a vigilant fashion will at least keep cheaters thinking about the moral ramifications of what they've done. Is that enough of a punishment? I'd say no, but the players are limited in the punishment they can dole out. That brings us back to why the larger bodies in the game need to get more involved with seeing justice in these cases.
Maxima231: If he cheated with multi accounts or used a virus to infect an online site, then he must not really be a very good player, so when he plays live, I expect he will do something dumb to get eliminated quickly.
Wise: There was some debate about my choice to not get into the details of Josh's cheating. Here's why I didn't:
1. I wanted the article to ultimately be about the greater problem of cheating than Josh's specific case, since the point I was making was, "Why use the energy on one guy when you can use it on cheating as a whole?"
2. The details of Josh's cheating reach back over two years and a portion of our audience had heard them a dozen times or more.
3. You guys aren't new to the Internet. If you really wanted to know what the man did, Google is right there.
4. Cheating is cheating. Period. There was a conscious decision to break the rules in place, and the details don't change the fact Field made that decision.
I ultimately made the choice to sacrifice those details for the message. As a result, some readers like Maxima231 were left in the dark about those specifics leading to erroneous assumptions and misinformation. Let me say here that Josh was banned for playing multiple accounts in a single tournament. It is an action that could result in his playing two accounts at one table, which tips the competitive balance in a way that's unfair to those players who aren't at the top of the field but are looking for a fair gamble.
allente1: I was at the gym yesterday. I had to keep waiting for poker players to get done with the free weights. They train so hard for their "sport." Such great athletes
Wise: You'd be surprised. No, poker doesn't take remarkable strength or speed. Actually, it's the exact opposite. One danger of playing 12 hours of poker a day is that it's easy to not get any exercise. That's why so many pros are so diligent about their workouts, and yes, they are diligent about their workouts.
Anti-pokerites are quick to dismiss the physical rigors of the game, but the truth is that in major tournaments, one has to sit without mental fidgeting for days, and that's a lot harder than it's often given credit for. Allente1, I laughed at your comment, but I'd challenge you to sit still for 12 hours a day and maintain the mental stamina to not get impatient during a bad run of cards. It's a lot tougher than you think. I speak from experience. I stick to cash games because -- come hour six or seven -- I don't have the patience or the discipline to keep myself in check. In tournament play, it's more than a little difficult to walk away from the table unless you don't have chips.
jmaa21: I can't wait until this poker craze goes by the TV wayside like disco, Milli Vanilli, & Michael Jackson. Hee-Hee!!
Wise: One hundred fifty years and counting. Might as well wait for pet rocks to erode.
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, Bluff magazine, worldseriesofpoker.com and other publications. His podcast, Wise Hand Poker Radio, can be heard at roundersradio.com and airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays.