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Travels with the Camel

by Keith Hawkins |  Published: Nov 01, 2005


Zero Tolerance

The hot topic on Internet poker forums at the moment is cheating. Two interesting cases have come to prominence of late. In one, a player at a private card club was spotted by CCTV cameras stealing chips during a break in a tournament and adding them to his stack. In the other case, a player in a casino in the south of England was caught palming a £100 chip in a self-dealt cash game.

Now, Card Player Europe has an understandable policy of refusing to name and shame wrongdoers. I guess it doesn't want lawyers hot on its trail. Names, however, are irrelevant here. It is the principle that is important.

So, what was the punishment for the two miscreants in these two cases? The former was banned from the cardroom for six months. The latter got a paltry one-month suspension.

These penalties do not fit the crimes. Whether it is dealing seconds, stealing chips, ratholing, colluding, or a multitude of other crimes, the poker community should have zero tolerance of cheats. Once caught cheating, a player should be ostracised completely, and denied the opportunity to sit down at the green baize.

You can't cheat by accident. A cheat sets out to defraud his opponents and steal their money. If you have no knowledge that the guy sitting opposite you has a track record of cheating, you will not be watching his every move, while each cut, shuffle, and bet should be scrutinised like a hawk.

If, in the second case, the player had stolen a £100 chip from the casino, rather than from a poker game, do you think his actions would have led to a one-month ban? Of course not. He would have been banned for life and the details would have been circulated to all other British casinos so that they could ban him, too. A casino's customers should be protected with the same rigorous standards. The guy who stole a £100 chip should never be allowed the chance to steal another one from a player.

Five years ago, there was a high-profile case in Vegas of a similar nature. A very famous player was caught on camera taking a tournament chip from a low buy-in tournament with the intention of reintroducing the chip into a high buy-in event, where its value was far greater. The player in question was banned from every casino in Nevada.

That is exactly how it should be. Cheats and thieves at the poker table should not be given a second chance. Once it's been proven that they have the propensity to cheat, they must be banished forever. Honest players should be able to play in peace, without worrying that they could be cheated out of their money.

The Worst Rule in British Poker?

There is a lot of competition for this dubious accolade. Some might argue that it's the automatic turning over of all cards at a showdown. Others would lobby for the rule that stipulates that if you aren't in your seat for the first hand of a tournament, you are disqualified. Others would nominate the rule that in sold-out events, alternates aren't allowed to compete when players drop out.

For me, however, there is one clear winner. In every casino in the UK, if you are absent from your seat for a certain number of hands, you begin to post a big blind – not just when it's your turn, but every hand!

In most places, you have a complete round until the dealer starts blinding you off. However, in some regional casinos, they start when you've been away for as few as three coups; that's not enough time to wash your hands if you get caught short and need the loo urgently!

No one has been able to explain the logic of this rule to me. The spurious excuse is that it stops people from amassing huge stacks and then refusing to play a hand. This defies all logic; what is the difference between a big stack just throwing his cards away without looking at them and physically being away from his seat? None.

Recently, I made the last two tables of a two-day tournament at Luton. Eighteen players came back on day two. Jen Mason had quite a healthy stack, but she got caught in traffic on the M1 from London, and missed the first hour of the second day. Her stack was blinded away at a rate of one big blind per hand for 40 minutes. When she arrived, breathless, she was the shortest stack. It is a testament to her coolness and great skill that she recovered from this huge disadvantage to end up splitting the tournament. However, in my opinion, it never should have been thus. Mason should have been forced to put her blinds in when it was her turn, and nothing more. Not playing was penalty enough.

Many foreign players are astonished when they come to England and find this rule in place. We should consign it to the dustbin and fall in line with the rest of the poker-playing world.

Keith "The Camel" Hawkins is a well-known presence on the European poker scene, as he travels to most of the major tournaments from his home in Darlington. Poker is his work, but Keith's passion is Queens Park Rangers. Keith's regular poker blog can be found at