I Made a Mistake

I feel terrible. I feel dirty. I felt like I was being cheated in a four handed game and couldn’t quit or couldn’t do anything about it. When I was a teenager I used to play in a game with some shady people in a private club. Two of the guys used to signal each other when they were in hands, but frankly, I didn’t really care that they were cheating since they were such awful players. Besides, I picked up on what they were doing pretty quickly. If one player bet the turn and the other raised, the first player always had a marginal hand and was trying to force the other players off the hand. If the first player bet and his partner just called, then the second player always had the nuts and was looking to suck in more callers. I had a defense for their tactic since I knew what they were up to. I’d make it three bets when player #2 raised and fold if player #2 just called. Still, though, the whole ordeal was ugly and I was happy when I knew that I wouldn’t have to face that anymore once I made it as a pro in Vegas. I can honestly say that since I became a professional poker player in Las Vegas that I don’t think I’ve been cheated even one time. Not once. I could be wrong, obviously, but I don’t think I’ve ever been cheated. Fast forward to last night. I was honored to represent my country in a event that would pair two pros with a soccer player. Our first match was against team captain Tony G. and Australia. Just days before I arrived in London I was informed that the format would have all six of us playing at the same table and who ever won the table would earn the victory for their country. There was little to no incentive to play the game straight up, yet there was tons of incentive to ensure that you kept your teammates alive. How they planned on avoiding collusion was a mystery to me. Then I was told the following, “The only thing that would be considered a penalty would be if a player folded with the nuts.” Wow, how comforting. There was little to no rule in place, though, to deter us from informing the soccer player to dump off his chips to me in a hand. There was no rule in place that would deter countrymen from middling an opponent from the other side. Further, there was NO RULE to deter players from using signals! There was no rule forcing a player to bet his opponent, even when he had the nuts! It was the most poorly designed concept I’d ever seen for a poker tournament. They took such a potentially beautiful idea of pitting country against country in an Olympic style event, and tarnished it by turning it into a cheating expose, or a “how to” on playing partners in a poker game. How did this happen? I asked them if they’d spoken to some poker players about the format prior to the event and they assured me that they did. Who did they speak to? I asked Mike Sexton, who invited me to the event, and he was made aware of the structure when I was. I then asked Padraig Parkinson if he had something to do with it. He told me no. I was already in London and changing the structure at this point wasn’t an option. The dilemma I now faced as team captain was whether or not to devise a “legal cheating” strategy for our team. One in which we would either LEGALLY soft play each other, or worse, dump chips to one another. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be a part of that even though I knew that our decision to play the game straight up would put us at a big disadvantage. Tony G. was very open with us about the fact that they were going to play a team game. I respect him for that, and I genuinely have no ill words for him and his team. It wasn’t their fault that the best way to play this thing was to use team play. Tony had his team trained very well and they used some excellent team play to win the event. They didn’t play hard against each other. Tony G. had free reign to do what he pleased when they were in a pot. They put me in the middle beautifully. Tony developed an excellent team strategy that put us in a hurt locker. It’s a crying shame that the most crucial skill set to succeed in this event was one that would get you barred from any poker room in the world. I want to make this clear, the Australians didn’t cheat at all. In fact, they exploited the rules in such a way that simply enhanced their chances of moving on to the next round. Early on our soccer player, Jason de Vos went broke with 10-10 versus KK. Then later, Evelyn went broke on a Q-7-4 flop with A-Q against QQ. That left me as the meat in the Australian sandwich. I was totally handcuffed. I couldn’t get to a flop because Tony did a fantastic job of teaching his teammates to not let me see flops. If I called a raise pre-flop, the player to my left would re-raise to shut me out of the pot. It’s an excellent ploy and the only defense for it was to set a trap for them. Unfortunately, for that to work I’d have to get a strong hand. I didn’t. The best hand I got the entire time was 7-7 followed by A-J. No AK, no AQ, no KQ, no other pocket pairs. Normally there might be a way for me to hang in there by chopping away with trash, but playing against a team made that feat difficult. I finally was all in with the best hand on the flop, calling with A-6 on a flop of A-8-8 with two spades. Tony moved all in, I looked at him and said, “Tony, you have the K-9 of spades. I’m sure of it.” I was wrong, he had the K-3 of spades and made his flush on the turn. I was almost glad to be gone. I felt a little bit like the players on Survivor who know that they are up against a strong alliance and there is nothing they can do to stay on the Island other than win every immunity challenge. I knew that the ONLY way I could win that thing was to knock each and every one of them out all by myself. They were NEVER going to knock each other out as that would be foolish. Can you even believe I’m writing this? I’m still in shock and it’s the next morning. I’m talking about a tournament in which collusion is king as though it’s a ho-hum occurrence? How can this have happened? There were so many options for a team concept that would be totally void of any collusion. With 16 teams, you could have three heats where one member of the team plays in an event and is allotted points for their finish. You tally up the team’s points and maybe the top 8 teams qualify for the finals. Then you could do a best 2 out of three heads up match. That’s just one of thousands of clean ways to run an event like this. You simply CANNOT hold a team style tournament where two members of the same team are at the same table. It can’t work, it won’t work. In closing, I left totally embarrassed about being a part of an event that will undo a lot of the work that’s been done in the past 20 years to clean up the image of poker. An event like this one, simply cannot happen again. I love poker so much, you have no idea how much it hurts me to write this blog. I totally understand that the organizers had good intentions and didn’t mean to promote collusion in any way. I just wish that they would have really consulted with someone like a Mike Sextion, for example, so that he could have rectified the situation before it was too late. *************************************************************** In a few hours I’m getting on a plane back to the U.S. on my way to Foxwoods. Hopefully I’ll get enough rest to put in a good effort there. Frankly, right now my head is still spinning about what happened in London. I’m very disappointed in myself for not walking out. On the other hand, I’m also proud of the fact that the Canadian team chose to play the game straight up, despite the fact that it might have cost us a chance to win the event. In hindsight, it