Hierarchy of Cheating in Poker

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Buying an account that is deep in a tournament when you did play in the tournament.  An example is JJProdigy.
  6. Intentionally entering multiple accounts in a large-field tournament such as the Sunday Million or WCOOP main event.  Examples include JJProdigy or ZeeJustin.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

6 thoughts on “Hierarchy of Cheating in Poker

  1. Nole91

    Nat- totally agree with this post. I would also flip flop 1 and 2- playing at low/micro stakes makes the transgression even less. Despite Seal’s delusions of grandeur, I promise you that not 1 person would have adjusted for his play and anyone else’s for that matter. Bottom line is that Seal should have known better. But many of the posters on the forums lack the perspective of what online poker was just a couple of years ago. I remember countless instances of people typing into chat at all levels “yo Player 1- it’s Poker Champ, I’m playing under my other account”. Seal just hasn’t kept up with the times and is still doing what used to be commonly accepted.

    Also, let me give you a real life example of an issue that came up recently (I declined to take over because I wasn’t sure whether it was allowed). My good friend is a CFO of a publicly traded company and very rarely gets to play- to put it nicely he’s dead money. He entered the nightly $150k on Stars because he was taking off from work the next day. At 10pm (1 hr after the start), he found out that he had to fly to San Franscisco first thing in the morning for an emergency meeting. He had already doubled, but was obviously stuck. He needed to get sleep ASAP. What should he do? Sit out and give up? The reality of online poker is that the circumstances are different than live poker. Players need to accept that.

    Great blog BTW- good stuff.

  2. TacoTuesday

    The whole thing has just gone completely retardo. It’s like people have just run out of interesting things to care about, and now we have a 100+ page thread on P5s about a guy playing his wife’s account in a $5 tournament. His Stars account is “Sealed Deck” and his wife’s account is “Soiled Deck.” I’m sure $5 players on Stars are at his table thinking, “Man, if I were up against ‘Sealed Deck’ I’d play this one way, but against ‘Soiled Deck’ I really have to change my strategy.” It’s just completely irrational thought that leads people to believe that this particular case is worthy of this much attention.

    Progression of thought is just astounding on this issue, and a number of forum posters have demonstrated a complete lack of ability to evaluate things on a case-by-case basis. As stated in this blog entry, not everything that happens is the same. Not everyone who violates the rules of an online poker site has the same intention, and not every offense has the same potential consequences.

    What are the potential consequences of the actions of JJProdigy or other chronic cheaters? They’re huge for online poker, especially when all added together. These people routinely trick people out of huge amounts of money by swapping accounts late in tournaments, “ghosting” players to get them to play differently than they would on their own, playing several accounts in the same tournament, etc. These guys narrow the opportunity for other people to win tournaments, thereby hurting everyone who has any interest in online poker. Moreover, they have freaked out the poker community so much that now everytime some unknown wins big, a few dozen people come out accusing them of being a multi-accounter. This environment is completely unacceptable, and it’s been caused by people like JJProdigy, Imper1um, redsoxsox, and others who are so self-interested and so lacking in long term vision and maturity that they don’t even try to help preserve the industry that’s feeding money into their bank accounts.

    This same environment is what causes the vilification of Seal, who seems to me like the type of guy who wouldn’t steal a stick of gum. Seal is a distraction; he’s not the problem. The real cheaters are loving the current environment. Everyone is so distracted and so anxious to hop on the next witch hunt that they aren’t paying attention to what’s actually going on. The real cheaters are calculating everything, flying under the radar. They aren’t getting caught by the community, because as soon as something obvious that’s a little bit bad gets out there, that little thing becomes everyone’s focus.

    Wake up, everyone.

  3. zimba

    Another area of cheating to consider is multiple players playing one account. I have witnessed many high stakes players in the same room making group decisions based off their collective knowledge of players and situations. Ghosting is a similar situation where a better player is advising by IM or phone how a lesser player should play. Coaching and lessons are another lesser situation that might be questionable. Where do you feel these situations fit in to your hierarchy?

  4. Nat Post author

    Stars’ lack of caring about one player to an account is another area where it’s a very gray line to cross and get into multi-accounting. I mean, what if 10 people in the PCA lobby enter a tournament and by the end all 9 busted people are helping the one guy who made the final table? Is the only difference between than and account buying that the advisers don’t have the final say and they don’t have a financial interest? I don’t see the effective change on gameplay being all that different either way. The player will probably listen to a bunch of really good players saying to make X move.

    So I guess my answer is that, in a cash game at high stakes, people know to expect what you’re describing, so it isn’t really as bad. It’s a whole different world and I think almost everyone knows that there are people ghosting, taking pieces, chopping up action, etc. The information about that is all over the place.

    But I think my answer to what I described in the first paragraph of this comment is probably around #4. It isn’t as bad as something with the potential for collusion, but I definitely think that 10 (or more in some cases) good tournament players closing out a Sunday Million win at the PCA is an unfair advantage in a number of ways.

  5. marsdeals

    Nice thoughts on the whole cheating topic. Where would you place pokerbots in this arguement?

    I submitted your story at RoundersBuzz.com. You can vote it up under upcoming stories.

  6. Mitchell

    Nice article.

    Of course there is also collusion between players to worry about–especially in cash games.

    And, who knows, it’s also possible–dare I mention this-that one or more of the poker sites are not running an honest game. It is software and it can be adjusted. For example, making sure that more big hands are dealt so players get more involved in pots and their rake is bigger.

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