Flattening the Hierarchy of Cheating in Poker

While I usually agree with Nat Arem on a lot of topics I’m not sure I can go along with him on his Hierarchy of Cheating in Poker.

In case you are too lazy to go read his post allow me to boil his argument down to a few points (Nat, correct me if you think I’m oversimplifying).

* Different types of cheating have different levels of severity

* Treating all types of cheating as equal is unfair

Now, I agree with Nat that not all cheating is equal but where I think his argument gets thin is in how he makes certain types of comparisons. For instance, I believe there is a difference in taking over someone’s account in mid-tournament and entering yourself multiple times in a tournament. The former I can see being done either out of perceived necessity (didn’t think you would make it that deep and you have another pressing matter to attend to) or plain ignorance. On the other hand, common sense would tell you that entering a tournament under several different accounts is a big no-no. The mere fact that you have to work around safeguards employed by the poker room should be your first clue.

But where I disagree with Nat is when he blurs the line between high stakes and low stakes. In his hierarchy it seems as if Phil Ivey taking over your account has different levels of severity based on whether the buy-in was $5 or $5000.

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.

While I’ll agree that overall the level of play in a $5 is likely different than in a higher buy-in tournament that does not mean that the opponent you face off against couldn’t have adjusted. Maybe you’re playing against a very good tournament player who is working his bankroll back up after going busto. Maybe the opponent is better than his bankroll allows because he lives in some third-world backwater. To simply assume that because it’s only a $5 tournament that the cheating is different than playing at higher stakes where you expect the competition to be more perceptive is where I think Nat and I have a disagreement.

Nat has several different analogies so allow me to throw in one of my own. While stealing toothpicks is a different crime than rape or murder it shouldn’t matter who you steal the toothpicks from. If I decide to mug people should my crime be treated differently based on whether I mug them in Beverly Hills or South Central? Wouldn’t one assume that someone in South Central would be better prepared to ward off my mugging and/or be carrying a weapon themselves?

Another area where I think Nat and I would disagree is in the area of intent. I agree with several of his points in creating his hierarchy simply because I can see where a less experienced player might not completely understand the ramifications of his actions. Some n00bie asking his roommate to take over his game while he runs down to Taco Bell could be written off as simple ignorance of the rules. Meanwhile if I were that friend he asked to play one would expect that I know better. A professional or semi-professional player knows he’s violating the rules and he knows what the possible consequences are. If he then violates the rules then I don’t feel any leniency should be afforded.

All in all, I don’t disagree with Nat’s overall premise that not all cheating is created equal. But I also think that Nat’s sample includes a lot of high-profile names or incidents and does not reflect how the rules and penalties are applied on a day to day basis. There are different levels of severity however I think intent is a bigger determining factor than stakes when it comes to applying penalties.

Bill Rini
Bill Rini is currently the Head of Online Poker for WSOP. He has been working in the online poker industry since 2004 and has held management roles at Full Tilt Poker and PartyPoker.

One thought on “Flattening the Hierarchy of Cheating in Poker”

  1. I have a feeling that the 60 Minutes story which is about to air is going to have some impact. But even after this, I suspect that there will be all types of cheating going on. I was just listening to some old podcasts with well known players talking about the different accounts they use online…this is before it became a big issue.

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