I can’t remember the last time I felt angry after reading a book but Richard Marcus’ “Dirty Poker” certainly did the trick. I was literally sitting there at time with my mouth open as I read statements that were so patently false that only someone completely unfamiliar with poker or a complete idiot would believe them.
Late last year Marcus went on a mini media blitz telling anybody who would listen about how rampant cheating was online. Of course, he was setting the stage for his soon to be released book so I put it on my Amazon Wish List and just recently got around to reading it. I was, of course, somewhat skeptical of the many claims Marcus was making but I was hoping that it would have some enlightening information.
However, what the book really is is page after page of carefully worded nonsense mixed with a few pieces of helpful information about cheating at poker (which I don’t condone but think is important to recognize). Marcus is careful to change names of events and people in order to make outlandish claims that he can easily sidestep if the people and events being described are actually called into question. For instance, even before the book’s forward Marcus says the following:
A performing artist who has newly taken up tournament poker at about the same time she took up a tournament poker-playing boyfriend has stunned the poker world by winning the Ladies Championship at the recent World Super Bowl of Poker. Sounds like a great movie script, right?
It happened and it’s bullshit.
This win was bought and paid for with a little help from her poker-playing boyfriend and Hollywood contacts.
Now, it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to figure out this is Jennifer Tilly and Phil Laak. Of course, by saying that it was the World Super Bowl of Poker (which doesn’t exist) and staying just vague enough so that he isn’t naming names, he can make any claim he wants to without even the slightest shred of evidence. His proof is speculation on how the win would help revive her career. That’s it. No hard proof. Not even an unnamed source. His entire opinion is based on pure speculation.
Unfortunately, it rarely gets better than that. While I will give Marcus credit for defining the different kinds of scams that can be run at online and offline casinos, there’s not much more that can be said about the book that’s positive. The content of the book is primarily designed to do two things:
a) Wow you with the fact that Marcus is the self-proclaimed greatest casino cheat of all time.
b) Scare the hell out of beginner and novice players.
Now, one could easily write off the above citation as simply something that Marcus might be privy to but unable to get into details because his sources are too close to the people involved. Even if you buy that, what about when Marcus makes outlandish claims like:
It’s no secret that bots are used to fill up play-money tables on sites. They claim that it’s strictly a service for new players who want to practice playing online poker before venturing into the real-money games. And it is. People can play 24 hours a day on the play-money tables. In the long run, this service earns millions for the sites because nearly 100% of the play-money players graduate into real cash games.
First off, most sites don’t need bots to fill up the play money tables. The play money games fill themselves on the vast majority of sites. Go try to get in a SnG on a play money site and unless you have cat like reflexes you’re dead in the water because they fill up so quickly.
But the bigger issue here is the claim that nearly 100% of play-money players turn into real-money players. This is so far off from the mark that anybody who knows anything about online poker conversion rates has to fall out of their chairs reading that statement. This isn’t opinion, it’s a fact! Conversion rates for play-money to real-money play don’t even hit 50%. Hell, the online casinos would be drowning in money if anywhere near that percentage of people who opened real-money accounts actually made a successful deposit let alone converted from play-money to real-money.
On nearly every single page of Dirty Poker I ran across a statement, idea, or claim that I could take issue with. Page after page is filled with serious misrepresentations or bald faced lies like the one above. For instance, when discussing the motives for cheating at the WSOP Marcus says that 5600 people put up $10,000 for the Main Event. Not true. The vast majority won their way into the Main Event in smaller buy-in qualifiers. But once he’s made one misrepresentation he extrapolates on it to make a much grander point that falls apart if you catch on that his original premise is incorrect.
The entire 267 pages of Dirty Poker come down to the following concept:
In poker, online or offline, collusion is probably the only form of cheating you really need to concern yourself with.
Yes there are marked cards, card mechanic shuffles, and several other cheats but there are many factors that make these other forms of cheating relatively inconsequential to your bankroll. For instance, deck changes in brick and mortar casinos happen every thirty minutes to an hour which means just about the time that someone was done putting a nail print on all the key cards a new deck is coming in.
Yes, you’re always going to find the angle shooters out there and the guys who come to your home game as an invited guest of a friend of a friend who short the pot or pull some sort of cheat but for the most part the game is pretty safe. Sure, you might run into an elaborate cheat like pulled off in The Sting but if that’s the kind of stuff you’re worried about, Marcus’ book isn’t likely to help you much anyway.
One “cheat” Marcus describes that I did find amusing was using computers to keep track of cards played. After spending a paragraph or two using Hold â€˜Em as an example of how you could signal your hole cards and the cards on the board to a computer that could signal back your odds, Marcus ends up admitting that this would be of little or no use to most cheats since so few cards are actually seen (and the math is simple to do in your head). He then goes on to say that it would be a fantastic tool in a 7 Card Stud game if everyone stayed in the pot until the final card. Again, he mentions these types of cheats to scare you when in reality the utility to an actual cheater is almost zero unless you play in a lot of 7 Card Stud games that have a family pot to seventh street.
And even if you’re only facing collusion, even Marcus claims that 90% of the games are legit. Given that Marcus’ estimates are usually pie in the sky and designed to promote the idea that cheating is fairly rampant, you have to figure that the number is probably closer to 98%.
Then there’s the part of the book where he drones on and on about how rampant collusion is at the WSOP, WPT, and major tournaments . . . by the top professionals. Of course, as usual, his proof is usually nothing stronger than the fact that the odds must be astronomical for a player to win two bracelets in a single WSOP. Even when he discusses hands that obviously prove that the fix was on, one could just as easily draw the conclusion that the pros in the hand made a completely reasonable play. Since he names no names or gives any details about the events themselves you just have to take it on faith that because he’s the greatest casino cheat in the world, his word should be enough proof.
The one thing that I did find somewhat interesting about the book was that Marcus almost completely discounts the online poker is rigged arguments. He does say that many people have told him that the random number generation (RNG) used by many sites isn’t truly random but anybody who knows anything about random number theory could tell you that there’s no such thing as a truly random number generation method, anywhere. When you see third party auditors like PriceWaterhouseCoopers certify that a game is legit, what they are usually saying is that they’ve audited the RNG and are satisfied that it produces sufficiently random results.
Marcus also claims that a friend of his ran one million hands through some analysis and found that the numbers showed a slight skew towards flush draws and putting pairs on the board. Now even if his friend were correct, and that’s questionable since other people have also run similar analysis and found no such statistical anomalies, Marcus fails to realize that nearly all online poker rooms buy their RNG from supposedly reputable third parties. For instance, many (if not most) poker rooms use hardware based RNG. That’s to say that some third party like Intel or VIA has a little PCI card you slip in your server and you write software that asks it to spit out a random number. These companies don’t just make these products for online gaming companies so any bias in their RNG is not designed to generate more flush draws or paired boards (if that claim is even true). It’s highly improbable that Intel and VIA are rigging their chips when these same chips are also used by the government, hard core mathematicians/researchers, and security related firms. So, if they games are skewed, it’s not by design.
In terms of online collusion while he admits that it’s easier for the online casinos to catch online colluders using IP addresses and such, he then goes on to explain an elaborate operation (he heard about) where people had seven phone lines dialing long-distance into ISP’s all over the world and were using identity theft to continuously create new accounts so they wouldn’t trip any collusion filters at the online casinos. Hey, if I’m being colluded against by guys who are going to that much trouble to win a few extra big bets per 100 hands then so be it.
The last of Marcus’ big accusations is that some guys have cracked the encryption for poker rooms and can see all of their opponent’s down cards. First off, I was a little skeptical of this one since he claimed that it worked on all sites. Since each site has its own SSL encryption values I find it hard to believe any single group of individuals has cracked the encryption for all the major poker rooms unless they’ve discovered a major flaw in the encryption algorithm that has gone unnoticed by the top security researchers in the world. Second, while I can’t attest for how all sites are architected, I do know that at least a few of the bigger ones don’t send all the cards to the client. If I sign in as billrini the game will only give me information about billrini’s hands. Even if the sites didn’t do it for security reasons, most would still do it because it would cut down dramatically on the amount of data that needs to be sent down the pipe.
Of course the program costs $30,000 and is only selectively sold to special people like his buddy who can be trusted not to get the ring busted by overusing it. Sure, sure. And I guess showing a system that’s supposed to be kept a bigger secret than the nuclear missile launch codes to a guy who writes books, makes television appearances, and does countless interviews about cheating counts as being trusted enough not to get the ring busted.
In summary, either Marcus’ paranoia is on par with people who wear tin foil hats to keep the government from stealing their thoughts or so far the greatest cheat he has ever accomplished is to get people to buy his book as non-fiction.