I Don’t Want to Alarm Anybody But I Think PARTY POKER MAY BE RIGGED!!!

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2004, 9:23 am

My funds transfer from Choice Poker came thru in less than a day (a big, BIG improvement over its previous incarnation) and I did the deposit thing into Party and was very happy. Actually, before I did that I blew my leftover $1.25 at Choice when my king-high flush was beaten by the nut flush. That’s when I decided to check Neteller and found, lo and behold, that I was back in business. I nearly hugged myself with delight when I checked my Party account to see that it stood at $50.41. Plus I had a whole TEN BUCKS in my bonus account. Just 70 hands (raked hands, I remembered later) to play and I’d get a little boost. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, from tiny acorns the mightiest oak grows, etc etc. I jumped onto a $.50/$1 table and savored that long-lost adrenaline rush.

About 90 minutes later I experienced another distantly familiar sensation–incredulity. I’d played exactly 50 hands. And won none. Nada. Zip. Zilch. How I’d longed to win a hand, see that big CONGRATULATIONS banner pop up on the screen and thrill to the flash and boom of fireworks. Well, I’m still longing, ’cause it hasn’t happened yet, dammit. And I lost $10, fully 20% of my tiny bankroll. A rough night.

What happened? Have I lost all my skills? Have I sprouted gills, fins, and scales? No no no. What happened is what happens to all poker players at one time or another–I didn’t get a single playable hand. That doesn’t mean I didn’t play a few–I’m not saying I had too many skills to begin with. But someone put the deck in liquid nitrogen before we started playing and there wasn’t much I could do about it.

No bad beat stories here, since I only played one hand past the flop, and that’s when I flopped a straight-flush draw but could not improve it. For me it wasn’t a poker game so much as an origami class–fold, fold, fold. The best hand I was dealt was pocket sixes, and that came when I was in the big blind and had SEVEN callers to deal with. I doubted my raise would thin the field, so I meekly checked and prayed. As always I hope that God has bigger things on His plate than helping me win a poker hand, and indeed that time He did. As He did on every hand last night. Not a once did I hit the flop. I was playing so tight I squeaked, but I still managed to bleed away $10 in blinds and the odd flutter on the flop.

As I saw my buy-in dwindle I kept my keel even, knowing that just one win would set things right. Because, and I don’t know if this old news to everyone out there, the folks at Party seemed such a combination of passivity and loosey-gooseiness that I wondered if the buttons marked RAISE and FOLD weren’t appearing on their screens. Sprained ankles must be epidemic around the world, because everyone was limping, limping, limping.

One big hand would’ve set things right, but I didn’t get that hand and, que sera sera. I did not tilt, I did not steam, I did not lambaste my opponents for their amateurish play. THAT DOESN’T MEAN I DIDN’T GET FRIGGIN’ FRUSTRATED. What it means is that I understood that it was just one of those nights. Of course, if I have four more of these nights I’ll be back to blogging about my cats, but I’m confident that, if the Universe is to continue functioning, my luck will change.

But was it luck? Is it not possible that the reason I lost was that the game was fixed, juiced, or rigged? Might I have been the victim of a con, a set-up, a frame-job? Is someone sitting in a Starbucks right now sucking down a moltoventi cappucino-espresso-latte and cackling to himself, “Why not treat myself, after all, Mean Gene paid for it! BWAHAHAHAHA!”

Concerns about cheating in online poker resurfaced recently thanks to a column written by Jay Lovinger, who’s been writing about his poker playing over at ESPN. He’s also has a deal to write a book about the year he’s spending playing professionally. Lovinger wrote about his frustrations playing online, the bad beats, the riverings, the inexplicable plays that shouldn’t work but do.

Many poker bloggers out there regularly pillory Lovinger and his columns, for a variety of reasons. One, I think quite a few bloggers think they’re better players that Lovinger, yet they don’t get paid by ESPN to write about poker. Two, I think quite a few bloggers think they’re better writers than Lovinger, yet they don’t get paid by ESPN to write about poker. And three, the subjects/insights/experiences Lovinger writes about are often those that have been covered, exhaustively and with more wit and wisdom, by the pokerblogging community. And none of us, not even Otis, get paid by ESPN to write about it.

This online cheating column is a good example. I didn’t read it at first, even after it was pointed out and heaped with scorn over on Sean’s blog. I agreed that his disdain was appropriate for the situation. First of all, bitching about rigged games online is SOOOOO January 2003. Jay’s about a year behind the curve here. How many intelligent, nuanced, and useful blog posts have been written in the past year about online cheating? A thousand? Another example of the blogosphere beating the Mainstream Media to the punch.

But it’s not that cheating isn’t a good topic for discussion. Anyone playing poker online should be an informed consumer and learn about the possible risks. To simply say, “Pish-posh, there’s no cheating, anyone who says that is just a sore loser” is to ignore the very real possibility of fraud, collusion, and other nastiness.

The word here is “possibility”. Not “certainty” or “probablilty”. But with so much money out there it’s certainly possible that nefarious people would want to scam some of it, and you as a player should be aware of that. Just because you got rivered a few times is not reason enough to cry foul. I would recommend anyone playing online to go to Iggy’s blog and type “collusion” or “cheating” in the search bar at the top and dig in.

I don’t worry much about collusion because I play at such low-limits that any colluder worth his salt would find it a waste of time. If you’re gonna cheat, you want some reward for your risk, and why play $.50/$1 when you can play $2/4 and quadruple your return? Or, indeed, why not play $30/60? You don’t see the Secret Service busting many counterfeiters who were cranking out fake nickels for much the same reason.

I have played at tables where I thought there was something going on, but only once was I almost certain there was active collusion going on. I sat down at a full table, and it was like no Party table I’d ever seen before. How many times to you see four-bets preflop at Party’s micro tables? Once a night? And yet it seemed like every hand was raised and re-raised, and nearly always by the same three guys. I happened to be sandwiched between two of them, which fortunately choked off my play and kept me from losing any money.

This was collusion that even Inspector Clouseau could have picked up on. The one guy would bet, the next would raise, the third guy would raise, the original bettor would cap it…it happened over and over again, just these three guys, raising raising raising. If it ended up just the three of them in a hand the betting would switch off, but if they brought someone along the raising would keep on going on each street. What confirmed the obvious is when they had to show their hands down after the river. The winning colluder would have trips, the pigeon something like two pair, and the other two players would have no pair and no draws and nothing to start with in the first place. Its hard to explain away four betting after an A-Q-9 flop when you hold 6-2 in your hand. I played dumb, congratulating one guy on a “nh” and then asking innocently where he was from. They all had fairly anonymous locations listed in their profiles, but they weren’t chatty. I decided these master criminals were just too smart for me and I scooted to another table.

That’s one of the great advantages of playing online–if you don’t like your table, there’s always another to choose from. If you suspect collusion, you can move. But what if the poker site itself is scamming you? Lovinger’s most recent column featured emails from readers, and the nuttiest comments came from people who, with scanty or no evidence, were SURE that online casinos fixed things. A few voices of reason made the reasonable point that online poker rooms have far too much to lose by screwing a few random people out of their money (better to just take it legitimately), but a few loons crawled out from behind the Grassy Knoll to state their cases.

Like this comment from “OnlineNoMo”: “Not too long ago, my roommate didn’t receive the promised bonus for his deposit at a poker site. Upon calling their customer help line, the lady said that for the next hour he would receive some “luck.” She then ended the call with “happy fishing.” Needless to say, we saw a lot of runner-runners and miracle saves and steak dinners. I hope that this answers your curiosity.”

Now, this is a crock. Let’s see, a poker site owes a deposit balance of a few hundred bucks, and rather than pay it out…they’ll risk their entire enterprise by fixing the deck for some random jackass, AND TELL THIS JACKASS WHAT THEY’RE DOING! Does this not strain credulity? Especially the part where he calls customer service and actually GETS someone on the phone. Come now, this is nonsense.

Here’s another one, from a Brady in Indiana:

“I have a buddy list that lets me watch when certain players sign on. I add the players to my list that seem to never lose. There is this one guy who I have never seen take a bad beat. I’ve watched him play hundreds of times (all at $2-4 NL) and he seems to “know” when he will win. It’s not just that he’s a good player; he’s superhuman. He’ll call all-in bets pre-flop with JJ against someone else’s AA and hit his jack … every time. He always brings $400 to the table, but I’ve never seen him leave with less than $1,000. Ever. But yet I still play. What is my problem?”

Well, you’re problem is that you’re an idiot, if you think this guy is either a cheat, psychic, or leprechaun and you still play with him. I’d be much more impressed if this Brady person would’ve given this mystery player’s screen name so that players throughout the blogosphere could dig thru their PokerTracker archives and see what was up. Then we’d have a much more convincing argument, instead of a whiny rant. And if this guy is in cahoots with the site, why is he playing 2-4NL? Why isn’t he octuple-tabling 30-60 or higher?

And then there’s this gent, Paul from Toronto. Wonder if he knows Daniel Negreanu…probably not:

“I’m not going to flame you, Jay. In fact, I think you’re quite correct about online poker. People claim that online sites would be crazy to jeopardize a gold mine, but how are they really going to get caught? So their random number generator isn’t so “random” and it juices the games a bit…who’s going to know? Are some lazy poker players going to go down to Antigua and file suit to inspect their computers? Come on. I am an online pro who has been playing for three years now, and I have a somewhat disturbing tale to tell.

For the first year, I played pretty much by the book. My results were good. Feeling that the game might not be on the level, I decided to try an experiment in my second year. I began to look for spots to play “incorrectly,” but where a flaky draw would certainly beat my opponent. I began to cap with just a flush draw on the flop. I saw a lot of turns on very thin odds. I began, essentially, to play pre-flop like a pro and post-flop like a bit of a fish.

My results…much better than Year 1. And in Year 3, I’ve refined this technique. I can almost smell the “bad” beats I am about to lay on people now, and my results have been stupendous this year. There is absolutely no question in my mind that online poker juices up the games. It really is the only way they could possibly ensure a steady customer base. If the games didn’t cater to the fish, pretty soon the sites would just be oceans of sharks (who don’t generate big rake pots) with all the “donators” scared off by the ruthless efficiency with which their money was taken from them.

When people ask me why an online site would ever “rig” the game, my answer is because it really makes no sense for them not to.”

Sigh. Where to begin? How about we look at this quote: “There is absolutely no question in my mind that online poker juices up the games. It really is the only way they could possibly ensure a steady customer base.” Uh-huh. Hey, Paul, did you ever hear of a place called “Las Vegas”? It’s this big glitzy city in the middle of the goddam desert, and it’s become the entertainment mecca of the world mostly by drawing people who want to take a chance hitting it big and then taking most of their money. These people know that the odds favor the casinos, and they don’t care. They have fun gambling. They thrill to imagining that maybe they’ll beat the odds which, I stress again, THEY KNOW are in the house’s favor. No need to juice up the action because it’s already juiced.

Is Paul arguing that every Vegas casino cheats its customers? That every slot machine, blackjack dealer, poker dealer, croupier…they’re all cheating their customers? That’s must be what he means, because he says it’s the “only way they could possibly ensure a steady customer base”. I don’t think I want Paul running my lemonade stand anytime soon.

Then you have Paul telling us that he started doing better at poker WHEN HE STARTED PLAYING DELIBERATELY WORSE. It’s a rather narcissistic point he makes, that the poker site loves him so much that it throws good cards his way for some unknown reason. Why should the site care whether he does well or not? Or whether he’s playing well or “properly” or not? They just want the rake–who wins the hand is of much less importance.

Paul modestly considers himself a “shark”, and he says this about the poker ecosystem:

“If the games didn’t cater to the fish, pretty soon the sites would just be oceans of sharks (who don’t generate big rake pots) with all the “donators” scared off by the ruthless efficiency with which their money was taken from them.”

There are a number of bloggers out there who are very, very good poker players. I ask them this question: Would you call the transfer of money from bad players to good players “efficient”? Maybe “inevitable”, but I don’t think “efficient”, be the game live or online. And I think there are more species of player out there than just “shark” and “fish”. Phil Ivey is a shark. The guy I played against last night who kept turning over bottom pair and hoping to win the pot was a fish. In between there are all sorts of players, with different skills, motivations, aspirations, and financial resources. How a poker site would figure out who should get screwed and who should be rewarded I know not.

And WHY they would do it is beyond my ken. Paul ends his screed by saying: “When people ask me why an online site would ever “rig” the game, my answer is because it really makes no sense for them not to.” How about we remove the penultimate word “not” and try again: “…it really makes no sense for them to”. What does an online site risk by deliberately cheating its customers? Well, its very existence, and possibly the personal freedom of the ownership. So what if your casino is located offshore, you think people are going to play there knowing you might cheat them? Not when there’s so much competition out there.

What does it stand to gain? More money? How? Goosing the game so there’s more action and more rake? OK…but people are very good at recognizing patterns, and if enough experienced players start noticing that, jeez, there are A LOT of full houses happening at this site when other folks hold flushes, and they start checking thru their PokerTracker stats, and people start talking…and all of a sudden you have a problem. A casino needs to be like Caesar’s wife–it has to be above suspicion. Trying to make a few extra bucks by rigging the game would be insane.

Though that doesn’t mean that there AREN’T insane people out there, or that there could NEVER be a online room that doesn’t resort to dirty tricks. There are crooks in every line of business. But to assume that for ALL poker sites rigging the game is standard practice flies in the face of logic. What I would be more concerned about would be a site opening up, taking deposits, and then suddenly shutting down and the owners running off with the cash. Or some hacker busting in and finding a way to either drain the accounts or steal personal financial information. But I’m not so concerned with the games themselves. I’m wary, I’m alert, but I don’t toss and turn at night worrying whether that hand where I got rivered was because the fix was in. I toss and turn because I’m afraid I lost that hand because God hates me. I keep things in perspective.

Tonight I think I’ll buy the last present on my list, do some cleaning around the house, maybe ride the exercise bike a bit…and try my hand at Party again. My luck will change. The variance will swing my way. Skill and daring will win out over willful ignorance (uh, when I say skill and daring, that’s when I’m talking about myself, not the willful ignorance part). No talk of fixes or cheating tonight. Tonight will be all about…victory.

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6 Responses to “I Don’t Want to Alarm Anybody But I Think PARTY POKER MAY BE RIGGED!!!”

  1. StudioGlyphic Says:

    Great post. Laugh out loud great: “origami class” and “sprained ankle epidemic” are classic.

    Good luck tonight.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    did you play on Tiger $1/2 last month ? i’m pretty sure I’ve seen someone named Meangene there.

  3. Ignatious Says:

    lol, superb post, gene. glad to see you back in poker mode. now you need to join the nightly blogger game. 🙂

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Nice post. You’re right about the Grassy Knoll crowd; nothing could convince them that online poker sites are on the level. All I can say is, if the poker sites are cheating me, they’re doing a damn poor job of it. I really like that post from the supposed “pro” who says he started winning more when he started (gasp) RAISING FLUSH DRAWS ON THE FLOP. Hmm… I wonder if the term “fold equity” means anything to that “pro”. Probably not.


  5. BadBlood Says:

    Super post, really enjoyed it.

  6. SirFWALGMan Says:

    Excellent Post! However you are praying to the wrong guy.. put a pentagram on your head, flash the devil’s horns, and sell your soul for that boat!

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