Saturday, February 23, 2008

More Hellmuth hating? Yep.

This week I've been doing a lot more exploring of poker blogs than I've done in a long time, trying to find some other reliably good ones to add to my regular reading. Along the way, I stumbled across a February 14 post by T. J. Cloutier, at He has a handful of Phil Hellmuth stories to tell.

But here's the bit that caught my attention (emphasis added):

I used to sit down and try to coach Phil about his conduct, suggesting that
he not say some of the things he says to other players. But after talking with
him, I can tell you that he can't help himself.
What bullshit.

I've heard Hellmuth himself make similar claims in interviews: He just can't stop himself.

It's complete bullshit.

What's more, Phil has spent enough time with a therapist (not to mention living with a psychiatrist wife) and in meditation training that he has to know that it's bullshit when he says that he's incapable of suppressing his tantrums. (I'll cut Cloutier a break; he may not have thought it through enough. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he thinks he is telling the truth when he says that Hellmuth "can't help himself." He's not lying; he's just wrong.)

Dogs that are infected with rabies genuinely can't help trying to bite; the virus compels them to it. But human beings--at least those without organic brain damage--choose their behaviors.

There's a simple test one could do in theory that would demonstrate this. Suppose somebody offered Phil Hellmuth $100,000,000 if he could get through a tournament without saying a single negative word about any opponent. You could even stipulate that when he loses a hand, he is allowed to utter no words other than "Nice hand." If he says anything else, even once, he loses the 100 mil.

Could he do it? Of course he could.

It's all a matter of whether he chooses to control his impulses or not. And that, in turn, is largely a matter of how badly he actually wants to do it, and what incentives there are for and against changing.

One way that people help themselves with major lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation or weight loss is to set up tangible rewards and penalties, whether financial or otherwise. Hellmuth could very easily do the same for his own conduct, if he genuinely wanted to change it.

Suppose you were Phil Ivey or Doyle Brunson and had money to burn. Hellmuth comes to you with a variation of the arrangement I suggested above. He wants to set up incentives for himself to help him focus on maintaining good control. He asks you to enter a prop bet with him. If he can make it through the next tournament on 100% good behavior, as outlined previously, you pay him. But if he blows it even once, he has to pay you. You'd have to negotiate the odds, of course; maybe he'd lay $500,000 to your $1 million. You might readily take that, figuring that even with cash on the line, he's more than 2:1 to have at least a minor eruption.

The details and odds don't really matter to my point, though. The point is that Hellmuth has the means to make such an arrangement, and there are undoubtedly lots of players who would rush to get a piece of that action. In fact, they'd line the rails, egging him on, trying to induce a blow-up so that they could get paid off.

So why doesn't Phil set up something like this? That's easy: Because he doesn't really, truly, deeply, sincerely want to change.

You could pretty easily infer this from the fact that he has been behaving the same way for nearly 20 years in the public eye. If he wanted to change, he'd have done it by now.

But for further evidence, just look at the kinds of things he says about his explosions. For example, here's part of his column after he threw a fit at the first taping of "Poker After Dark" (from

Having just watched myself on television (Wednesday, Jan. 3), I'm compelled
to say that I'm embarrassed by my "Poker Brat" conduct. In the first-ever Poker
After Dark television show - aired on NBC six days a week, all year long, at 2
a.m. - they showed an unedited seven-minute "Phil Hellmuth tirade." However,
admittedly, it made for some pretty darn good television!
See? He can't just apologize and leave it at that--he has to give himself an out, saying that it made for good television.

He goes on with more halfway apologies, intermixed with excuses and shifting at least partial blame to the other players:

It seems that I was the one who crossed the line, and I apologize to
everyone involved - including all of the television viewers - for my conduct. I
was right that I wasn't getting the silence that I had requested, but as Duke
later said, "I would call that one of the biggest overreactions I've ever
...Then, Seed innocently joked, "You asked us to be quiet so that you could
talk!" Then, Hansen made an innocent joke, and finally, Sheikhan said something,
as well. Now, as the silence evaporated into constant chatter, I began to lose
my cool (again, I thought proper poker etiquette was not being observed).

He just doesn't get it. If he wanted to admit wrongdoing and accept responsibility, he wouldn't pad the apology with weasel words ("It seems that I was the one who crossed the line," "I was right that I wasn't getting the silence that I had requested" and "I thought proper poker etiquette was not being observed"). He lets himself off the hook, or at least tries to put others on the hook with him. This is not the attitude of somebody who wants to make a clean break with what he has become.

One might also ask why he is apologizing to viewers after saying that it made for "great television." There's a deep contradiction there. It is most logically resolved by the conclusion that he's not actually sorry. How many times can you hear somebody say he is "sorry" for something, while he (1) makes excuses and justifications for it, and (2) continues to do that same thing at every opportunity, before you call "bullshit" on the phony apologies?

Note also the gross irony of Phil Hellmuth complaining that "proper poker etiquette was not being observed." Ha! Yeah, Phil, we all believe that that value is of paramount importance to you. In fact, the poker players of the world have taken a vote and elected you to be the Supreme Sheriff of Poker Etiquette.

Here's another example (from

OK, Phil, no more sour grapes! You're in the penthouse suite at the
Radisson Resort and Casino in beautiful Aruba. Your books, DVDs, and new "365
tips" calendar ( are flying off the shelves. You have a good amount
of fortune and fame - nine World Series of Poker (WSOP) titles. Why, then, do
you have to lose it, and act like a jerk, after taking a bad beat? Why leap out
of your chair, with your arms flailing, and utter, "What the hell is going on
here?" And then, worse yet, say to your opponent, "How could you have played
that hand so poorly?"

Once more, I'm embarrassed by my own conduct, even more so because this is
the Poker Classic in Aruba, and I'm an ambassador for UB. I
should have said, "Nice hand, sir," and calmly walked away from the table. I
should have shown the class that a WSOP champion ought to show. But, I am, after
all, the Poker Brat! (Still, I can't say I'm proud of it.)
Here is the hand that eliminated me, and it set me off a bit.
Again you can see that he just can't manage an undiluted, unadulterated apology--let alone a public commitment to reforming himself. He says that it set him off "a bit" (a phrase he repeats later in the column), minimizing the significance of his conduct.

But most significant, I think, is the self-justification contained here: "But, I am, after all, the Poker Brat!" This is akin to the line in the other column about making great television.

Implicit in both is the fact that Hellmuth makes a ton of money from the notoriety generated from these blow-ups. This is from a dual effect. First is the fame, resulting in book deals and product endorsements. Second is the intimidation of other players at the table, who don't want to be on the receiving end of a Hellmuthian tirade.

He knows deep down that he makes money by being a jerk. He has in place a system of perverse incentives. Ultimately, he chooses to keep doing what has always brought him success. The money means more to him than being a decent human being and a gentleman at the poker table. So be it.

I just wish that both he and his friends would admit the truth about the situation: He chooses to be this way. He chooses it over, and over, and over again. I think that those of us who care about poker conduct have an obligation to call "bullshit" every time we come across an assertion, either from Hellmuth himself or from enablers like Cloutier, that he "can't help himself."

Of course he can. He just chooses not to.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Poker gems, #86

Bob Ciaffone, in Card Player magazine column, January 16, 2008 (vol. 21, #1), p. 71.

To enter a pot in no-limit [hold 'em], you need one of three things: good position, a strong hand, or a large inheritance.

Poker gems, #85

Phil Gordon, as quoted at, when he was having a bad tournament day (photo from the same source):

I forgot my number one rule of poker. Don't bluff if they're gonna call.

Profitability of poker

Interesting stats posted here: This helps explain the cheapskate comps most places give us.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Some of my close, personal friends

OK, OK, so I don't actually know any of them. I just thought I'd finally get around to sharing some of the photos I took at Jennifer Harman's SPCA charity event at Caesars Palace last April. I was incredibly lucky to arrive just in time to nab a spot on the rope next to the red carpet, right by the official videographer, so I was within a few feet of nearly all of the poker stars that made an entrance. Once everything moved inside to the tournament room, I had to stay at the doorway, which is why some of the shots are long ones.

This is sort of a "Where's Waldo" test. If you have a sharp eye and are good at sometimes identifying people from blurry, distant photos, or from just half of a face or the back of a head, then you should be able to spot at least the following celebs in the above photos. (You can click on them to make them larger.) Of course, if you know the poker world well enough to do that, then you're a degenerate like me and really should be looking for better things to spend your time on!
Patrik Antonius
David Apostolico
David Benyamine
Doyle Brunson
Todd Brunson
Carrot Top
T.J. Cloutier
Alan Cunningham
Annie Duke
Shannon Elizabeth
Maureen Feduniak
Chris Ferguson
Ted Forrest
Kristy Gazes
Chau Giang
Jamie Gold
Clonie Gowen
Jennifer Harman
Phil Hellmuth
John Hennigan
Chip Jett
Karina Jett
Kathy Liebert
Liz Liu
Marcel Luske
Mike Matusow
Carlos Mortensen
Daniel Negreanu
Evelyn Ng
Scottie Nguyen
Cecilia Reyes
Erik Seidel
Mike Sexton
Allyn Shulman
Barry Shulman
David Sklansky
Marco Traniello
David Ulliott
Cyndy Violette
David Williams
Steve Zolotow

Did you find them all?

The Grump's ego gets a little stroke

Since I'm still a small fish in the big pond of poker blogging, I'm not at all used to finding references to myself on random reading. I just had one.

Once in a while I just click on poker blogs listed on somebody else's blogroll (and I will add my own blogroll to the margin one of these days...), just to kind of sample what other poker blogs are like that aren't the ones I regularly read. I was just doing that, when I came across this paragraph, completely unexpectedly, at

This is where I made a conscious effort to focus and play my best poker. I
read something in Robert's blog
last week that resonated with me. As a side note, The Vegas Year and The Poker Grump are two of my
favorite new blogs of 2007, right along with BWoP. These three write some hysterical
shit, and everyone should read all of them. But anyway, Robert said something to
the effect of "my job is not to make money playing poker. My job is to get my
money in with the best of it. Over and over again." I quoted that last night
when Dave cracked my aces, and I buckled down with my four big blinds and played
some screwed-down poker.

Wow! I'm so flattered!

I've mentioned before that my main hobby has long been competitive handgun shooting. Several years ago, in my former life, I was on lunch break from work, reading a gun magazine that I had brought with me, when I turned the page and found a picture of--ME! Several months before, when I was at a shooting skills seminar, the instructor had a new handgun model. The manufacturer had sent it to him so that he could write a review of it. He had several of us try it out to give our first impressions. I didn't even know he had taken my picture while I was shooting the thing, let alone that it would show up in a magazine! It was quite a trip. Anyway, reading the paragraph above sort of felt the same way.

Now, though, I have to confess that I have no idea who the writer is (other than that he goes by "Falstaff"). Nor I have explored the other two blogs he says are among his new favorites, though I plan to do so tomorrow.

If any readers happen to stumble upon references, links, etc., pertaining to my stuff, I'll always appreciate being tipped off to them. But it's also quite a delight to chance upon them myself, and still a very new experience. I suppose if this blog ever gets anywhere near as popular as the big boys, things like this will become old hat, but for now it's a rush.

Opus 400

Nostalgia is supposed to be for one's childhood, or maybe a first love, or the high school years. Me? I find at the moment that I'm having nostalgia for the time I was trying to think of something clever to say for my 300th post--which was 42 days ago. (See

I noted then that the time between each hundred posts was growing shorter. I thought that that trend would not continue. Well, it has. The first 100 posts took me 305 days, the second 75, the third 56, and now 42. I'm not trying to make that happen--it just kind of does.

Of course, what matters isn't quantity, but quality. Is my writing getting better because of increased experience? Getting worse because I'm cranking out too many words a day? Staying about the same? I don't know--you can answer that as well as I can. It's hard for me to be objective about my own stuff.

But I can tell you that I enjoy it more and more as time goes by, and spend a greater portion of my idle time (and poker-playing time between hands, if truth be known) thinking about what to write. I have never written so much in my life--not even back in college. (I tended to take the nerdy science classes that didn't require much writing.)

The graph above is the site's basic traffic report, from Google Analytics. It starts on August 22, because that's when I first installed it. The dips to zero in December aren't real. That's when I was playing around with the site's design, and when I started using a new template (twice in one week), each time I forgot that I have to manually add back the special hidden code that Google Analytics uses to collect data.

The peaks come when something I've written gets linked to by another blogger or on one of the poker forums. There's also a weekly cycle, with dips on weekends and small peaks on Mondays, which suggests that a good number of readers are logging on while at work. Hey, all of you slackers, is this what you're getting paid for???? (Just kidding.)

For all of you who read, who take the time and effort to post comments, who share posts with your friends, who post links to stuff I've written on your own blogs or on the forums, and who click on those stupid ads on the left (don't forget, please!), I thank you heartily.

Absolute, conclusive, definitive proof that online poker is rigged

It's time for what has become my nightly single-table sit-'n'-go tournament. I kind of randomly pick a site. I'm not going to name which one, because I don't want them suing me for here proving to the world that their site is TOTALLY rigged. But there is a very subtle visual hint somewhere in this post that will alert the astute reader as to which is the dirty site I'm talking about.

First hand, I'm in first position to act. I have J-J. I put in my standard raise of 3 1/2 times the big blind (in this case, that's 105, because the BB is 30). I get one caller, two seats to my left.

The flop is a gorgeous A-A-J. I have a full house, for the third nuts, and I feel pretty confident I'm not up against A-A, both because it's so statistically unlikely (given that two of the aces in the deck are on the board), and because I didn't get re-raised before the flop. So effectively I have the second nuts. I check, as does my opponent.

The turn is a blank. I bet about 2/3 of the pot and get called.

River is another blank. I make another bet of similar proportion and get raised all-in. I call, naturally.

My opponent had A-J. We had both flopped full houses. But aces full of jacks beats jacks full of aces.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you: what more proof could you possibly ask for in support of what should by now be a self-evident proposition?

It's rigged, I tell you, RIGGED!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock Presents...Poker!

On last night's installment of NBC's "Poker After Dark," Gabe Kaplan outlined the plot of an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," which revolved around a game of five-card stud poker. It sounded like a terrific show, so with a little help from Google, I homed in on it. It's "Crack of Doom," season 2, #48, first aired November 25, 1956 (see

I decided to order the DVD from Netflix. To my great delight, I discovered that the "AHP" series is among the shows one can watch instantly online with Netflix. So I dialed it up, deciding that my real work for the day could wait another half hour. I'm something of a nut for Hitchcock, so this was an easy call.

It's a first-rate story, if you like poker (and I assume you do, or you wouldn't be reading this). I won't ruin the ending--just go watch it. Trust me on this. But to whet your appetite, here's a nice little plot summary, taken from

"I waited there with a dead head sitting on a dead spine waiting for the
crack of doom." This is how young businessman Mason Bridges (Robert Horton)
describes his predicament when he is forced to participate in a high-stakes
poker game with wealthy client Sam Klinker (Robert Middleton). Though Bridges
had intended to play only a few hands, Klinker bullies him into staying in the
game, raising the stakes all along the way. Ultimately, the fate of Bridges'
business -- and indeed, his future career -- rests in a single poker hand.
"Crack of Doom" is based on a story by journalist Don Marquis, best known for
his whimsical "Archy and Mehitabel" pieces. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Addendum, February 20, 2008

Let's just pause a moment (as I should have done when writing the above) to marvel at our current technological state. I heard about a specific television show broadcast 51 years ago, and five minutes later I was watching it on my computer, in higher definition than it was seen by anybody who watched it the first time around.

Ten years ago, I would have probably guessed that such a thing would be possible some day, but I don't think I would have guessed how quickly the capability would arrive.

Another good reason not to cheat at poker

From the Gainesville Sun (, with a hat tip to Wicked Chops Poker (

Article published Feb 19, 2008

Did cheating spark poker killings?

Sun staff writer

The man charged with shooting and killing three men at a private poker game in Palatka over the weekend believed he had been cheated during the contest, deputies reported.

Officers arrested Duane Demaris Crittenden II, 28, of Palatka in Marion County on Sunday morning on three charges of first-degree murder, the Putnam County Sheriff's Office reported.

The owner of a building at 108 Carver St. found the three men dead at the location just outside the Palatka city limits Saturday morning. Jerome Anthony Henry, 48, of Seville, and Richard David Smith and Robert Erwin Ford, both 50 and from Palatka, were killed inside the structure, a former bar that officers said people had been using as the location for a "high-stakes" poker game.

All four men had been involved in the game, which started Friday afternoon and continued through the night, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Major Keith Riddick.

Crittenden had been in the game and lost, officers reported.

"We understand that he felt that they were cheating, and he went back apparently to confront them about that," Riddick said.

The men were last seen alive between 8 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. Saturday, Riddick said. Investigators believe the confrontation occurred between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. All three victims were shot in the head and neck area, Riddick said. Henry and Smith were both shot once. Ford had been shot twice and stabbed.

Investigators are trying to determine what happened in the building among the men. Riddick said the Sheriff's Office plans to try to reconstruct events inside the building.

Crittenden left with money taken from the game, according to deputies. Riddick said investigators don't know how much was taken. Estimates have been between $2,000 and $9,000.

Crittenden was located in Marion County in the area of SW 22nd Place and South Pine Avenue after an all-night manhunt. Riddick said he did not know what ties Crittenden had to the area but he had previously listed Ocala as a home address.

Investigators have recovered some of the money taken from the poker game, Riddick said.

Officers have spoken with Crittenden, and Riddick said he is cooperating with the investigation to a certain degree.

Crittenden has a lengthy criminal history with 18 felony convictions in both Florida and Georgia, Riddick said. None of the charges were violent, however. Most involved "paper crimes" such as fraud and forgery, he said.

The three victims also had prior criminal histories although none had been arrested on significant charges in recent years, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Card caps/protectors

Lee Jones, in his Card Player magazine column (Vol. 21, #1), p. 112:

When did it stop being cool to cap (protect) your cards? I see virtually nobody doing it now, and I just don't get it.... [S]uppose that you're
sitting there with unprotected cards, and somebody's hand headed toward the muck
hits your hand. I mean, such that there's legitimate doubt as to which cards are
yours. I think any floorman would have to rule that your hand is dead.
I don't see a reasonable alternative. But of course there will be massive
consternation, arguments, recriminations, and so on. Not only is somebody going
to lose a monster pot because he didn't protect his cards, but it will put a bad
vibe on what was previously a happy, enjoyable poker game or tournament.

Please, let's make it cool again to cap your cards.
I agree.

There are two main problems with uncapped cards. Lee Jones mentioned one of them. Don't think it happens? It happened to me again just last week. I was at Planet Hollywood, sitting in seat #1, and the guy in seat #2 flicked his cards toward the dealer. But his aim was off a bit, and they crashed right into my card protector, and bounced back a few millimeters.

The dealer reached over, picked them up, and added them to the muck. I said, "And that, boys and girls, is why we use card protectors." The dealer added, "Abso-freakin-lutely." He has obviously seen this happen before. Without it, my hand would have been declared dead.

With a fairly hefty card cap (something more substantial than a poker chip--although a chip will do in a pinch, and is better than nothing), cards headed for the muck that go astray into your hole cards will either bounce off (as was the case here), get lodged slightly under the edge of the thing, or land on top of it. No matter which of those things occurs, they will be easily distinguishable from your cards, and there will be no need to kill your hand.

The other main potential trouble for unprotected cards is the dealer swiping them accidentally, thinking you have folded. This happened to me once. Ironically, it was during a poker tournament in Sacramento, California, while I was attending poker dealer school. Back then, I had a habit of not capping my cards until I had decided to play the hand. That is, if I came in with a call or a raise before the flop, that's when I would put the card cap on. I think I had some rationale for that approach--leaving the cards uncapped until my initial entry into the pot--though I can no longer recall what it was.

The tournament was at a place called the Lucky Derby. Its tables were shallower, front to back, than most. I was seated directly in front of the dealer. I didn't know back then that this, too, is a vulnerable seat. For some reason, the dealer got distracted for a moment, then when he turned his attention back to the game, he tried to catch up to the action, and in the process was scooping up the folded hands. He grabbed mine, too. I had A-K, and was planning to come in for a raise. I was shocked to see my cards get stolen from under my nose! Fortunately, I reacted quickly enough that the hand could be saved before it hit the muck, but that experience was all it took to convince me that the card cap needed to go on as soon as my hand is off of the cards (after peeking to see what I have been given). I have never done otherwise since, and have never had the same problem again, even though when given a choice I preferentially take the two seats next to the dealer, which are the ones most vulnerable to this mistake.

If this happens to you, there won't be much that can be done about it. You'll get an apology (of varying sincerity) from the dealer and the floor person, but that's about the end of what will be done for you. The rules are pretty consistent on this point:

The Professional Poker Dealer's Handbook by Paymar, Harris, and Malmuth, p. 18 (emphasis in original):

1. Players must protect their own hands at all times. This may
be the most important rule in all of poker. A hand may be declared "dead" if
even one card touches the muck or if another player's card touches a hand that
is not protected.... Although the dealer should be aware of only mucking
discarded hands, a player who fails to take reasonable means to protect his or
her hand usually has no recourse if the hand becomes fouled or if the dealer
accidentally collects an unprotected hand.

Poker Tournament Directors' Association rules, #28:

Unprotected hands. If a dealer kills an unprotected hand, the player will have
no redress and will not be entitled to a refund of bets.

Robert's Rules of Poker, Chapter 3, under "Irregularities":

2. You must protect your own hand at all times. Your cards may be protected with
your hands, a chip, or other object placed on top of them. If you fail to
protect your hand, you will have no redress if it becomes fouled or the dealer
accidentally kills it.

(I should add here, though, that using one's hands to protect hole cards is a seriously bad idea, and one that I think should expressly be against the rules. Players with big hands basically hide their cards, and it's one of the most common causes of people acting out of turn. Everybody should be able to look around the table and at a glance know who is still in the pot by who has cards on the table in front of them.)

Krieger and Bykofsky, The Rules of Poker, p. 242 (I don't know why this is only in their "Tournament rules" section; it would seem to apply equally to cash games):
9.35 Killing Unprotected Hands. If a dealer kills an unprotected hand, the
player will have no redress and will not be entitled to his money back.

Recently I've heard two contrary opinions from people who should know better. First, Adam Schoenfeld (about whom see, in a rerun of the WSOP from a couple of years ago, was asked about his poker pet peeves, and he listed card protectors among them. I've never met him, but he's one of my favorite players from television--smart, and maybe the funniest of all the pros. (He seems to have dropped off the face of the poker planet in the last couple of years, though. Anybody know what has become of him?) He didn't explain what it is, exactly, that he has against card caps.

Second, Paul Wasicka (about whom see wrote an otherwise interesting and thoughtful column late last year for Bluff magazine about the structure and rules for an ideal poker tournament (see But sticking out like a sore thumb (to me, anyway) was this stipulation: "No card protectors or other paraphernalia allowed on the table." Huh? I can understand the desire for no "other paraphernalia" (family photo albums lining the rail, etc.), but has this experienced, professional player really never encountered any situations in which a hand had to be killed because of either of the two main problems associated with unprotected cards? I don't understand his gripe with card caps. I'm going to try getting a note to him through his web site,, and see if he'll explain it in more detail.

For now, I hope readers will take my advice and that of Lee Jones--and the various rule books--over these two minority opinions. Sooner or later, you will regret it if you don't.

The photo above, incidentally, is of a comemmorative silver dollar that the U.S. Mint produces every year. You can order them at That's what I use as a card protector. Mine is from 1999; I got it free as a bonus with something that I ordered online. (Now I can't even remember what it was that I had purchased. The coin sat in a drawer until I was sorting through my possessions in preparation for moving to Nevada. When I came across it again, I realized it would serve perfectly as a card cap--especially in the Silver State.) It's an ounce of silver, which has a nice heft to it. It's not going to be pushed off of my cards even if an angry player throws his cards into mine forcefully, deliberately trying to foul my hand. (And yes, I've seen players try to do that to each other.) I've run into a dozen or so other players that use the same item, though everybody else keeps theirs in protective plastic cases. Not me. I like handling it. The silver just has a nice feel to it, and I find it aesthetically pleasing to run my fingers over the varying textures of the designs and edges when I'm bored. Besides, the dings and scratches that it picks up lend it character.

(Note to those who are unclear on the concept: The advice in this post does not apply to you if you play exclusively online. You do not need to tape a silver dollar over the little image of your cards on the computer screen. But if it makes you happy....)

Addendum, March 10, 2008

Paul Wasicka was kind enough to take the time to reply to this post. (The delay was partly my fault, because I accidentally sent him a bad link initially.) Here it is:
Okay, thanks for sending me the link. I read the article, and I agree
with the points that were made, but still maintain that card protectors should
be disallowed. First, I'll tell you why I agree with the things you said
in your article. Yes, I have had my cards mucked by the dealer a couple
times throughout my career because they weren't protected. Furthermore,
though I was very upset at the time, the rules specifically state that you are
responsible for protecting them and that the dealer is not at fault, which I
have come to accept as fair. Where my distaste for card protectors comes
from is when people have either offensive, obtrusive, or otherwise unnecessary
objects on the table that aren't part of the game. I think that a chip on
the cards accomplishes the same thing. Also, what I like to do is just
hold my cards in my hand throughout the hand until the preflop action is over.
I guess the bottom line is that I play many tournaments and never really
have problems with dealer's mucking my cards. I see card protectors and
annoying distractions that supposedly serve a purpose, but when it comes down to
it they accomplish nothing more than a single chip would otherwise do.


I agree that "offensive [or] obtrusive" objects are a potential problem, though in my experience they're pretty rare. Holding the cards is OK with me, as long as they remain easily visible to all players, so as not to trigger inadvertant out-of-turn action. (I should have mentioned in the original post that at least two Vegas casinos--Planet Hollywood and Palms--are better than most at enforcing the rules that cards have to remain easily visible. If a player's cards are, e.g., halfway hiding behind chips, their dealers are better than most at asking the player to move the cards forward so all can see them.)

A chip is OK, though it has two possible problems. First, a chip is light enough that it can easily get bumped off of the cards in the situation when another player forcefully flicks his cards toward the muck and misses. You might end up with the cards intermingled, the chip off, and a dead hand if it isn't entirely clear which ones are yours.

Second, it happens frequently in low-stakes cash games and tournaments that a player wishing to go all-in pushes his chips forward without a prior verbal announcement, and forgets the one that's on his cards. This isn't usually a big problem, because anybody that is going to call that bet will also be willing to call with the last chip added in. But at least conceivably, if a player unwisely uses one of his highest-value chips as a card cap, the difference could be meaningful. At the very least, when this happens it slows things down temporarily while the dealer and players sort out whether it's really an all-in, whether a call includes calling the last chip, etc.

All that said, it sounds as if Paul might be OK with a rule that limited card caps to a single, smallish, nonoffensive, nondistracting object (no Humberto Brenes lighted sharks, e.g.). That would be fine with me, too. (After all, we couldn't deprive Fossilman of his fossil, could we?) If so, I'm glad to have found common ground.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Another online cheating scandal

This time it's one of the most widely known professionals: Mike Matusow. Everything I know about the situation comes from this post from Short-Stacked Shamus, at Hard-Boiled Poker:

I have only one observation to add. I propose a simple test for determining whether Matusow acted unethically and/or in violation of the rules of whatever site this occurred on (he hasn't identified it yet). Whenever and wherever Matusow does his next interview, he should be asked directly to name the site, the date, and the player who he worked with.

If he refuses, then he should be asked why he won't disclose this information. All of the possible reasons he could give--at least all of the ones that I can think of--would be negative. The mildest would be something like "I don't want to embarrass the player I helped." But if there was nothing wrong with what they did, there should be no embarrassment. More likely, he'd have to say that he won't provide the details because he's worried that the site would investigate, determine that its terms of service were violated, and take action, such as reclaiming the prize money and banning both Matusow and his partner. He might also worry about his own sponsoring site, Full Tilt Poker--whether or not that is the site that was involved--deciding to terminate its relationship with him.

But that's the rub, isn't it? No reputable site would take such actions unless its rules were violated. So if Matusow et al didn't violate any rules, they don't have anything to worry about.

In other words, if Matusow admits that he is concerned about adverse fallout (whether just the disapproval of the poker world or the tangible effects of action by the site), then he is admitting that he knows or at least suspects that he acted in violation of the rules. If he is confident that he did nothing wrong, then he should have nothing to hide.

As far as I am concerned, Mike Matusow is and should be branded a poker cheater unless and until he publicly provides the details of the incident, which would presumably result in an investigation by the site. If such investigation finds that he and his co-conspirator did not break any rules, then I'll accept that decision and revise my opinion. But for now, he's a cheat and should earn the derision of other players and banning by every online site and brick-and-mortar casino, for both cash and tournament play. If Matusow were suddenly unable to make his living at poker (except maybe for private games), it would send a powerful message to the scummy players who think there is no downside to their cheating and collusion. Besides, he has a fallback career: He can always go back to selling drugs. (For the best profile and bio of Matusow I've ever seen, check out

So far a Google search of blogs finds only one other posted comment on l'affaire Matusow: I'll check again in a couple of days and see whether this is making any waves.

On a slightly related note, see Daniel Negreanu's comments on the "J J Prodigy" affair, at I appreciate that he not only condemns the culprit, but comes down pretty hard on his friends at Poker Road for a softball interview:

Questions should have been more direct, a la, "What is wrong with you? You
cheat, get caught, give the poker world a lame apology, only to go right back at
it and keep cheating? Why should anyone believe you are suddenly reformed? Why
should live poker events even allow you to play?" Those are tougher questions
posed in such a way that isn't all mushy. The tone from all of the guys was just
way too apologetic to this kid.

Well said, Daniel. I hope you will soon be just as forthright about denouncing your friend Mike Matusow, however difficult and painful that may be.

I hate that I have to have a whole label for posts on the subject of cheating:

Addendum, February 22, 2008

As far as I can tell, there are only three other bloggers who have picked up on this story: