Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"I'm not a cheater"

A few weeks ago there was another online poker cheating scandal. Chris Vaughn, who writes for Bluff magazine, got down to the final 20 or so players in one of the big Sunday tournaments. At that point, he sold his position to a well-known online tournament player, Sorel Mizzi ("Imper1um"), who logged on as if he were Vaughn and finished first in the tournament. But an investigation by the site, Full Tilt Poker, uncovered the irregularity. The win was voided, the prize money reclaimed, and everybody else retroactively moved up a spot in the final standings.

OK, nothing too surprising there. It's no secret that this stuff goes on. There have been at least four or five so far this year that I recall reading about, and it's anybody's guess how many go undetected.

What's surprising about this one is that the culprits have gone public with what happened, in an interview with Poker News: [Note added December 6: The second half of the interview has now been posted at] To their credit, they both admit it was wrong and say that they regret it. Vaughn also says that he regrets frankly lying about what happened when confronted about it on this online poker radio show: (I'm listening to the interview even as I type this. He says the accusation is "ridiculous.")

The eye-popping bit of the interview, for me, is this:

PN [Poker News]: Right, so you logged off the account, and Sorel logged in. Sorel, is this something you do a lot and is it part of the gameplan? Is this the first time you've done this?

Sorel Mizzi: No, I'm not a – I'm not a cheater; I'm not a multi-accounter. I acted fast without malice and didn't intend to hurt Chris and myself, opponents, or the entire poker community. This is something that was a one-time – it was a one-time thing and I clearly didn't give it much thought, which is exactly why I got caught, because… because of actually logging into his account which would be traced. But, I want to make it clear that this is something that was an isolated incident and it's, it's not something that I've done in the past.

JC [John Caldwell, interviewer for Poker News]: So this is the first time you've ever done this – you've never bought an account before online, late in a tournament?

SM: Never.

That's what got me: "I'm not a cheater."

Uh, yes, you are.

You can't admit to cheating, then claim not to be a cheater.

I understand, I think, what he means. He means that he's not a regular cheater, a habitual cheater. But that's not the question.

Mr. Mizzi, since you are apparently unclear on this, allow me to address you directly:

The line between cheaters and non-cheaters does not fall between those who cheat whenever they can and those who cheat just once in a while. It falls between those who have cheated and those who have not cheated.

You cheated, by your own admission. Therefore, you are a cheater. You may not like that conclusion, but those are the simple facts. You, Sorel Mizzi, are a cheater, and that is so no matter how many times you repeat the words "I am not a cheater."

But the analysis should go deeper than mere semantics. You got a phone call from Vaughn, and you offered to buy his place in the tournament. Now, surely you knew that others have engaged in this practice. It's not like the idea of buying an account sudden leaped unbidden into the mind of a person who had never heard of it before.

Those who have read of this practice can really have only one of two reactions: There's,"Ugh. That's despicable. I would never do such a thing." And then there's, "Hey, that's not a bad idea--if you get bumped out of a tournament before making the money, you buy the right to finish using the account of somebody else who has made it deep. I hope I get the chance to do that some day."

Your claim that this was a spur-of-the-moment decision is completely implausible. Somewhere inside of you, you must have already decided to take the opportunity if it ever presented itself. Your action that day was simply the fulfilment of what you had decided long ago, when you first learned that others were doing this. When the call came, you were already prepared to figure out how much you could earn by winning, what your chances of winning would be, and, therefore, what would be a fair price to offer Vaughn for his account password and the right to take over his seat. You could not possibly have worked that out in the very short time available without having decided in advance that you would do it when you got the chance, and what the general parameters of such a deal would be.

That, too, makes you a cheater, because before the opportunity arose concretely, you had decided that you would do it. A less demonstrable, but still valid, way of separating cheaters from non-cheaters is to draw the line between those who would cheat, given the opportunity, and those who would not cheat, given the opportunity. By that line of demarcation, you were already a cheater before you logged onto Full Tilt using Vaughn's account. Your action that Sunday merely moved you from the "would cheat if able" category to "does cheat" category. Ethically, that's not much of a shift.

And one more thought: As far as I can tell from the chronology that has been made public, you took no steps to right the wrong yourself. Nothing happened until Full Tilt took its action. If you actually regretted what you did (as one might if it had genuinely been a spur-of-the-moment impulse decision), you presumably would have quickly admitted your transgression and turned yourself in to Full Tilt. It looks, instead, like you didn't regret anything about it until the controversy became public and you lost the money. In short, you acted like a cheater would, holding onto the money and hoping you wouldn't get caught--so that you could do it again later.

Mr. Mizzi, I encourage you to contact Poker News and request that they let you publish a correction to what you said in the interview. Try something along these lines: "I am, in fact, a cheater. I regret having been caught, because of what it has done to my reputation. I wish now that I had decided, long in advance of the situation arising, that I would never cheat under any circumstances. I am resolved to never cheat again, no matter how juicy the opportunity."

There--now doesn't that feel better than the ongoing denial?

(My thanks to an anonymous reader who sent the above doctored photo of Mr.Mizzi. It's a much better rendition than my poor digital manipulation skills could pull off with my own original version.)


Anonymous said...

Mizzi is nothing but a cheating punk. These kids have no class. I wish I could have 5 minutes alone with that little punk.

Anonymous said...

I like the fact that he "felt bad for himself", along with the other players. Very refreshing. I'm sure he would have felt just as bad had he been allowed to cash out..

This is yet another reason why I won't put another nickle in to on-line gaming. As Al Pacino said in "Dog Day Afternoon", I like to be kissed when I'm being F*&^ed.

Rakewell said...

Yeah, it's noteworthy that in part 2 of the interview he twice mentions how it hurts that the money got taken away, and mentions *four times* how he's hurt by not being able to play on Full Tilt anymore. He also says that it has been blown out of proportion.

In my opinion, if he were truly remorseful, he wouldn't feel the prize money being taken back was something bad that happened to him, but rather simply justice and fairness, since he didn't earn it in the first place, and he would accept FT's banning him as an absolutely reasonable and necessary step for the site to take in order to maintain its integrity and discourage others from trying the same thing.

It really sounds like he sees himself as the victim here rather than the perpetrator.