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Irrefutable Southern Logic - Trust Your Neighbor, But Brand Your Cattle

by Bryan Devonshire |  Published: Mar 05, 2014


Bryan DevonshireRecently at the Borgata, an incident occurred in a tournament with more than 4,000 runners and a prize pool of more than $2 million when more than one million in extra tournament chips showed up at the end of day 2. Twenty-seven players remained. The tournament was suspended indefinitely and an investigation was launched. It seems that the chips were counterfeit and worth 5,000 each, meaning that the cheater introduced over two hundred fake chips into the game before being discovered. In this column I will discuss cheating in modern poker, how to spot it, and what we can do to prevent it.

As long as there have been games there have been cheaters. The biggest reason that people continue to cheat is because cheaters believe their reward for cheating is greater than their risk of getting caught. Casinos have always fought cheaters and have gotten very good at it these days. It’s difficult enough to pull off advantage gambling against the house, but it’s nearly impossible to cheat the house now. Technology, diligence, and strict laws against cheaters have won the battle for casinos in Vegas. Unfortunately for us though, casinos don’t care as much about poker players cheating each other because it doesn’t affect their bottom line.

Most tournament poker chips are extremely cheap and simple, easily counterfeitable. It was just a matter of time for something like this to happen. Unfortunately, in this case as it is with most cases of cheating, the responsibility lies with the casino.Tournament chips should be as distinct as cash chips, making them difficult to counterfeit. In houses with a broad range of tournament buy-ins, two sets of chips should be used. The cheap ones can use mostly cheap chips until the chip starts to have real dollar value. If big chips end up missing from a set, then they should immediately be retired.

The WSOP does it perfectly. Every dollar you spend in buy-ins gets you three tournament chips. Structures are adjusted to stacks. For the $200 deep stacks events, they use an older set of tournament chips. I regularly play in a room where $230 will get you a 30,000 starting stack, and then the following weekend $1,650 will get you the exact same starting chips. Extremely exploitable, but there isn’t much I can do about it, except be aware.

If I ever see anything suspicious, I report it to a floorman immediately. I tell him what I saw, keep my poker face, and continue observing. With cameras focused on an individual, evidence can be gathered to catch the cheater. In home games, you are your only security, and sometimes the house is in on the cheat.

In 2010, Ali Tekintamgac was disqualified from the final table of a Partouche Poker Tour event. It was determined that he was using fake reporters to look at opponents’ hole cards and feed him information. Good work by the Palm Casino in Cannes and the PPT to catch and disqualify the man, but why was he allowed to enter the event in the first place? Earlier the same year he was caught doing the same thing but not publicly disqualified. I bet if he was caught doing something like that in blackjack then he would never have been allowed to set foot into the Palm Casino, but since the evidence is inconclusive and it’s just poker, they let him play.

Six months later Tekintamgac flew across the pond to Las Vegas for the WPT Championship at the Bellagio. Not only did they allow him to enter the event, they allowed him to physically threaten Scott Seiver (who was probably riding him beautifully). This is a shame on the Bellagio for letting him play. Cheaters should be banished from the community.

Collusion is another common form of cheating prevalent today. Most forms of collusion are non-malicious in intent and generally harmless, like two players checking it down against each other. Knowing who’s in cahoots together is important to be aware of and special scrutiny should be paid toward the culprits. Signalling and other collusion is usually not happening from the people agreeing to check it down. That draws attention, and the last thing a cheater wants is attention. There are many ways to collude, just be aware, involve supervisors, and if things feel strange then simply quit.

Tournaments are pretty well squared away with their rules to deal with collusion with the exception of the WSOP’s winner must show rule. Player A bets river, player B calls. Player A mucks, WSOP forces player B to show the hand “to prevent collusion.” All this rule does is allow Player A to deviate from the order of operations and deliberately conceal information about his hand while being rewarded by getting to see the winning hand. The Tournament Director’s Association (TDA) does it right now, just like cash games. Player B doesn’t have to show to win the pot.

If players wanted to collude, then player B would simply raise and A would fold. Since chips lost in a tournament are worth more than chips won, this isn’t that big of a deal, except for cases where a huge stack is refilling a short stack. If that movement of chips happened in suspicious fashion, then collusion may be occurring. Quietly tell the supervisor what you saw and continue to gather information.

Above all be aware and protect yourself. If things feel weird, then quit and talk to people. If you see something, tell the camera aimers so the bastard can be caught. If you have conclusive evidence, then nail the guy, but you have to be able to prove your case. Casinos should be more diligent with tournaments chips and security, and known offenders should be blacklisted just like other known casino cheats. Cheating is not common, and I seldom see something suspicious, but cheating happens every day. For a detailed discussion of cheating techniques, consult the Internet, as there is a ton of information out there. Protect yourself. ♠

Bryan Devonshire has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade and has more than $2 million in tournament earnings. Follow him on Twitter @devopoker.