I keep seeing scandal after scandal on poker forums. And I’m not talking about Absolute Poker or UltimateBet. I’m talking about all of the varying versions of cheating that are going on. It bothers me on a few levels. First, it bothers me that smart and professional online poker players are capable of such enormous lapses in judgment. I know that everyone makes mistakes and that things happen, but some of the things that have happened lately are simply ridiculous. Second, it bothers me that some people in the poker community treat all of the possible online poker transgressions as one broad category of “cheating” without any differentiation in terms of severity, punishment or effective harm. In the same way that I believe a murderer should get a great punishment than someone who takes a t-shirt from Target, I feel that I should present my personal “Hierarchy of Cheating in Poker”. This refers to online poker and it goes from least serious to most serious. I am only including things that I can remember actually happening.
- Playing on more than one account at the high stakes where it’s widely known who is playing on the account. Examples include David Benyamine and Guy Laliberte.
- Playing on a second account when people don’t know it’s you playing on the account and the opponents would probably not adjust for your play if they did know it was you. Examples include the recent incident of Seal playing on “Soiled Deck” and winning a $5 donkament.
- Playing on a second account when people don’t know it’s you playing on the account and the opponents would adjust for your play if they did know it was you. An example is what atimos did when he switched accounts.
- Buying an account that is deep in a tournament when you didn’t play in the tournament. Examples include the ActionJeff Sunday Million win on Dec 31st, 2006-Jan 1st, 2007. Note that, at the time, PokerStars did not have a rule against such actions.
- Buying an account that is deep in a tournament when you did play in the tournament. An example is JJProdigy.
- Intentionally entering multiple accounts in a large-field tournament such as the Sunday Million or WCOOP main event. Examples include JJProdigy or ZeeJustin.
- Intentionally entering multiple accounts in a small-field tournament such as the $100 rebuy. I’m not sure of any examples of this, although I know that people suspected redsoxsox of doing this with his account and Opobi43. I don’t know for sure that it happened.
- Intentionally sitting multiple accounts at the same cash game table or SNG in order to collude. I don’t know of people who’ve done this, but obviously it has happened.
Why do I always consider entering multiple accounts to be worse than buying accounts? Well, I guess because I feel like the worst part of the whole multi-accounting thing is the potential that two of your accounts will end up at the same table. And obviously the worst case scenario is two or more accounts being at the final table, which completely compromises the most important part of the tournament. At the very least, with bought accounts, the accounts are simply stealing and deceiving (which albeit is very bad), but there is zero potential for collusion absent other circumstances. At the end of the day, a non-colluding account buyer still has to play and win.
Anyway, I’m sure I’ve missed some things. I also know I’m leaving off people who sell accounts or people who help banned players (ie, regarding what happened with JJProdigy’s associates on PokerStars). But the whole point of this is that I’m really sick of seeing people who fall into #1 being lumped in with people in #5! It’s absurd to say that Guy Laliberte is as deserving of being banned from online poker as someone like JJProdigy. It just isn’t on the same level. Similarly, what Seal did on Soiled Deck is not the same as someone sitting three accounts at a PLO cash table and taking everyone else’s money with zero effort. It just is NOT the same and I can’t believe how irrational some people on forums are. Is it cheating? Sure it is, it’s against the rules. Therefore it’s cheating. But stealing a toothpick from your local CVS is a crime. Rape and murder are also crimes. Are those crimes equivalent? Nope. And the punishments for each crime reflect the seriousness of the offense.
In poker, just because someone pokes their toe over the line of cheating does not mean they should be banned for life from everything related to poker. Let’s say you’re in a hotel room with your friend and he’s in a tournament and he runs into the bathroom because you guys just got Taco Bell. Are you allowed to take over for a minute (or 20)? What if you’re the best tournament player in the world and your friend is a n00b donk? Does it matter if you play 1 hand or the next 100 and win the tournament? Where is the line drawn? These questions are very hard to answer and it’s even harder to deal with the actual situation in real life. I’m a firm believer that there’s a long continuum of various levels of cheating in poker. Some I don’t care about (if Guy Laliberte switches accounts every few months). Some I do care about (people sitting multiple accounts at cash game tables). So, please, I hope for everyone’s sake that this post can help some people to realize that all cheaters are not equal in the same way that all criminals are not equal. Let’s treat them as such.