Sunday, October 19, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Day 3 -- Muy Rápido

An unexpectedly fast one yesterday at the Latin American Poker Tour Peru Grand Final. Not sure why I always come to these events anticipating days to last longer than they ultimately do, but one of these times I’ll remember that on the LAPT the pace is pretty much always muy rápido.

We had 45 players to start the day and had to play down to eight. Settled in thinking it would take us deep into the night to get there, but they managed to work all of the way down to that goal in just under six one-hour levels.

Was a wacky day, really, with the player who started it in 41st place out of 45 -- Jerson Backmann of Mexico -- ending the day with a big chip lead. Another one, Argentina's Jose Torre, was in 44th position, and he made the final table, too, with a middle-of-the-pack stack. Meanwhile Nacho Barbero's quest for a third LAPT title came up short as he busted in 17th.

The early finish allowed us finally to break free from the casino and head a few blocks away to enjoy a nice meal at a restaurant called Punto Azul where I enjoyed a delicious dish of fettuccine full of seafood with the black squid ink adding some extra flavor and character.

Having to be muy rápido with posting today as the final table is drawing near. Check the PokerStars blog today for updates, and while you’re watching the NFL perhaps look in on the LAPT Live stream as well.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Day 2 -- Nacho with Chips

It was a long one yesterday -- another noon-until-after-midnight shift -- and it’ll be another long one today, as well. The field of 692 entries in the LAPT Peru Grand Final has now played down to 45 players, which leaves a lot left to take care of before the final table can be determined for Sunday.

Kind of incredibly, Nacho Barbero is leading heading into play today. Barbero has won two previous LAPT Main Event titles, one of only two players to achieve the feat along with Fabian Ortiz. He won them both during Season 3 -- back-to-back in fact -- and as it happens his second victory came here in Peru in 2010, my first trip to help cover an LAPT.

Nacho ended the night with a ton of chips, but came perilously close to busting in 104th on the stone cold bubble when he was all in with A-K versus an opponent who’d five-bet shoved on him with 10-8-suited. The flop brought a flush draw to his opponent, and after the turn both the ten and eight were still live, too. But Barbero faded the river, and after the bubble burst picked up some big pots to cruise out in front of the pack.

Nacho recently ended his tenure as a Team PokerStars Pro -- a mutual decision between Stars and the Argentinian -- which perhaps might add a little extra intrigue to his doing well in this first tournament after that event. He’s got a lot of other interests, I know, including running what I’ve heard is an excellent restaurant in Argentina, but poker is likely going to remain a central focus for him for now.

Besides reporting on Nacho at night’s end (evidence of which can be found in the picture above), I had fun writing up a post about Leandro Csome, a.k.a., “Peluca,” after he happened to be the one knocking out the 104th-place finisher and thus bursting the money bubble. That event reminded me also of the LAPT event here in Lima from back in Season 3, and a funny story involving Csome that happened as the bubble neared in that event.

The dealers are here and the bags full of chips are starting to be distributed to the six tables. Soon the players will come and cards will be in the air again. As always, head over to the PokerStars blog to follow the action, and when you’re done with the EPT Live show from London perhaps dial up LAPT Live -- it’s only in Spanish or Portuguese, but as everyone knows poker has its own language anyone acquainted with the game can follow.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, October 17, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Day 1b -- Sweet October Miracle

All goes well in Lima. The turnout turned out better than anticipated, with 692 total entries -- way over the 557 from a year ago. The prize pool is also up over $1 million, a first for the LAPT here in Peru.

I continue to eat very well, even if I’ve been confined to the Atlantic City Casino each day thus far. Such will likely remain the case at least until Saturday when we’re hoping possibly to have a shorter day and thus a chance to enjoy a nice dinner elsewhere.

Still, I can’t complain. I can also confidently state I’ve eaten more octopus this week than I have all year. I also ordered a dessert the name of which provided the title above, discussed further here.

Had a chance yesterday to chat with Thomas Lamatsch who is serving as the Tournament Director here this week. Thomas is usually to be found on the EPT, but is filling in for LAPT TD Mike Ward who had to miss this one. It’s a first trip to Peru for Thomas, and we had a fun conversation comparing the tours and talking about the future of poker.

Another highlight yesterday was talking to the newest Team PokerStars Pro Online member, Celeste “LadyMace86” Orona of Argentina. The announcement of her joining the team was made during the day yesterday, and she took some time during the dinner break to chat about her background.

Her story kind of reminded me a little of my own, at least with regard to her leaving a comfortable, “normal” career path (in her case working in the corporate world) and trying something new with poker. Come to think of it, so did Thomas’s tale, particularly when he speaking of how friendly and supportive everyone is here on the tour.

Going to run again, but check in over at the PokerStars blog for more poker talk from Peru.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Day 1a -- Mata Aces, BodogAri, and More

We were nearing the end of the night yesterday when I told Sergio, my blogging colleague here on the LAPT, how it always seems to happen that Day 1a takes the most out of me. I think it has to be mostly related to the travel which usually immediately proceeds those first Day 1s, with the fact that those days are almost always noon-to-midnight (at least) and thus usually the longest ones to cover.

The field of 274 entries was decent-sized, and with a bigger Day 1b (as anticipated) the overall turnout will exceed that of last year’s LAPT Peru.

Had some fun during the day playing a poker variant called “Mata Aces” with Christian de Leon, a wacky game that sorta kinda combines elements of hold’em, stud, and even draw. It’s getting big in Mexico, and perhaps might begin to spread elsewhere as it provides a lot of action -- read about it here.

Also enjoyed chatting with Ari “BodogAri” Engel near the end of the night, a very friendly guy who’s played (and won) on just about every tour there is in addition to his considerable online success. Here’s a post sharing what we discussed.

If you’re looking for something else interesting to read today, check out Jonathan Grotenstein’s recent article for All In about Daniel Colman, titled “Silent Assassin.” Grotenstein speculates in interesting ways about the wunderkind’s motives, giving a shoutout to Hard-Boiled Poker along the way by referencing a post of mine where I was attempting something similar with Colman.

Gonna cut it short as Day 1b is drawing close. Check the PokerStars blog for reports throughout the day.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Travel Report: LAPT7 Peru, Arrival -- Holding It Together

Have made it safely to Lima, Peru, the 3,200-mile trip (or whatever it is) going about as smoothly as I could have hoped. All flights were on time, my shuttle to the hotel was waiting for me, and the accommodations very comfortable for my six-night stay here in Miraflores.

Reading material for the long flight from Miami to Lima mostly consisted of my working through a four-decade old paperback of David Halberstam’s excellent The Best and the Brightest, a book written during the early 1970s that attempts to explain how the U.S. found itself gradually getting involved in the Vietnam morass despite myriad indicators that such a course was not recommended.

The 800-plus page book is so old the binding is completely shot, forcing me to hold the sucker with both hands when reading and to use a rubberband to hold it together when I’m not. An emblem for Vietnam, that.

Besides being well written and researched, Halberstam is unafraid as well to include his own sharply-drawn judgments along the way, which both helps clarify the mistakes he’s describing while adding an extra layer of intrigue to the narrative. Despite writing so soon after (and during) the events he’s describing, he lends the story useful perspective, allowing those of us reading much later to appreciate the novel-like twists and turns that inexorably led to successive administrations’ poor decisions regarding southeast Asia.

Most of my casual reading of late has been about political history, with Nixon and Kennedy having become touchstones for me. I suppose all presidents’ stories provide seemingly endless threads of interest thanks to their connectedness with practically all aspects of American culture, but there’s something about these two in particular -- perhaps the most fascinating heads-up political opponents of the century -- that intrigues me to no end.

Will be especially busy this week and so anticipate only firing off short bursts here to share brief anecdotes, likely pointing you to the PokerStars blog as I do where I’ll be filing my LAPT Peru Grand Final reports. There won’t be any politics over there, I can assure, but a lot of interesting conflicts, negotiations, and resolutions over the cards and chips. More to come.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Perusing Peru Posts

A quick one this morning to report I’m back in an airport again, about to make another trip down to Lima for the LAPT Peru Main Event that gets underway tomorrow.

This makes my fourth time going down to Lima, I believe, where I’ve seen and reported on some interesting tournaments over the last few years. Always a fun place to go, with the cuisine a great highlight.

Yesterday I was looking back through some of my Peru posts here and found myself dwelling in particular on one particular visit, the one in April 2011 when Dr. Pauly and I were there during Black Friday. Crazy time, that. Seemed like everything was suddenly coming to an end then, poker-wise, in so many ways.

About a week after getting back I wrote one of my favorite Hard-Boiled Poker posts here about a game of Big Deuce involving myself, the good doctor, F-Train, and Reinaldo -- “2011 LAPT Lima Postscript: Plotting in Peru.”

Probably wouldn’t have predicted then that three-and-a-half years later I’d be going back to Peru yet again. I’m glad I am, though, and expect to see a decent-sized field there along with my many LAPT buds. More to come.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, October 13, 2014

Picked Apart

After six weeks of the NFL football season, I’m feeling as though I’ve been thoroughly picked apart as far as trying to pick winners in the Pigskin Pick’em contest goes.

A month ago I was cheerily writing here about getting an average of two out of three games correct and how that wasn’t too bad, but by now I’ve fallen off that pace considerably and am already in a desperate spot in the pool near the bottom and a dozen games out of the lead just over a third of the way into the campaign.

While yesterday didn’t go well at all for me, last week was even more difficult to get through after losing three early games in which the teams I’d picked all blew big leads. Even worse, all three were meaningful games as far as the pool was concerned, for which the picks were evenly divided and thus getting them right or wrong affected one’s standing more significantly.

Below are the win probability graphs for those three games as calculated by Advanced Football Analytics where I’ll sometimes find myself much as when playing online poker I would end up over at Two Dimes after suffering an improbably bad beat -- kind of a masochistic seeking out of an answer to the question “How bad was that, really?”

That’s right -- I had Chicago, Tennessee, and Detroit, all of whom had a WP of 80% or better in the fourth quarter of their games only to lose. The Titans were up 28-3 at home versus Cleveland before blowing their game 29-28. I also had Houston beating Dallas in the early game a week ago, and the Cowboys won in overtime, completing a four-game sweep of close ones going the wrong way.

This week’s games featured fewer heartbreaks but a lot of surprises (at least for me), thus hurtling me even further down the leaderboard in the pool. Like can happen in poker after enduring a long stretch of losing, I’ve now entered a zone in which I’m doubting my ability to play this game at all. Sure, I might have won at it in the past, but was it all just dumb luck?

I take a little bit of comfort knowing that I’m not gambling serious cabbage on NFL football -- indeed, I don’t bet on games at all. For those who are, I have great sympathy, especially after yesterday saw not one but two games end with “pick-6” interception returns for TDs that helped teams (Denver and Arizona) cover spreads during the final seconds.

Speaking of, check out Nolan Dalla’s post today titled “Anatomy of an NFL Apocalypse” in which he spells out in profanity-laced detail the “impalement of the heart, mind, and wallet” that was NFL football yesterday.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ivey Loses, Spin & Go Spins, and Johnny Carson’s Poker Game

Hello, weekend (almost). Looking back on the week in poker, there were three items I wish I’d had more time to explore with blog posts, but did not. Gonna just catalogue them here to invite comment, and perhaps next week if inspired I’ll get back into issues raised by one or two of them.

One was Phil Ivey losing his case against Crockfords Casino in Britain’s High Court. The case started on Monday, then two days later Judge John Mitting decided Ivey was not entitled to the £7.7 million he’d won playing Punto Banco and that Crockfords had withheld from paying out.

In Mitting’s view, the “edge sorting” technique Ivey employed “gave himself an advantage which the game precludes.” “This is in my view cheating,” he concluded, ruling in favor of Crockfords.

Last week I was mentioning Ivey’s appearance on the 60 Minutes Sports program (which was on Showtime this week, which I don’t get) where he defended himself against accusations of being a cheater. I also mentioned there how out in the non-poker world the stories of Ivey’s suit against Crockfords and more particularly the Borgata’s still-pending one against Ivey have suggested that “cheater” label for him in the minds of some.

The Two Plus Two thread about the case indicates most in the poker world were surprised by the ruling and disagreed with it, and that’s the general tenor of response over Twitter, too. Jeff Ma, a member of the MIT blackjack team back in the mid-1990s, has written an op-ed for ESPN’s poker page defending Ivey’s play as not unethical (while expressly forgoing talking about its legality as interpreted by the High Court).

A second item popping up here at week’s end concerns those new Spin & Go games on PokerStars which I was trying out over on the play money side when they were first introduced. The new format has proven especially popular, so much so that some sit-n-go regs are not happy about the way they have affected traffic in other games. In fact, a petition “to demand a removal of these games” has been started by one disgruntled grinder -- an extreme-seeming response, to be sure.

The petition isn’t really that interesting to me, but some of the discussion that it has provoked both about the Spin & Go format and online poker in general has provided some worthwhile observations. One of the most thought-provoking came from Daniel Negreanu in a contribution to a 2+2 thread about the petition in which he points out that the full-timers (including the Supernovas and Supernova Elites) who are complaining about the way the format attracts recreational players and thus draws the “fish” away from their games are in fact themselves the greatest danger to the online poker’s survival.

“Do you know what kills games and destroys the poker ecosystem above and beyond all the things mentioned? Winning players,” explains Negreanu, who goes on to say how if the Spin & Go format does in fact deter pros from playing, that would be a positive as far as the survival of the “ecosystem” is concerned. Negreanu also says that if he were in charge of VIP systems he’d reward the losing players, not the winning ones. It’s an interesting read -- check it out.

Incidentally, with regard to “ecosystems” Darrel Plant authored an interesting article this week for PokerNews called “Circle of Life, Circle of Death: Depletion and Replenishment in Multi-Table Tournaments” that provides a nifty, math-based explanation of why poker needs new players (or at least new money). There’s also a very cool simulator embedded in the article which allows readers to input their own numbers to crunch to see how depletion and replenishment works in MTTs.

Finally, Martin Short was on Conan O’Brien’s late night talk show this week talking about a poker game he once played with Johnny Carson. Also part of the game were Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Chevy Chase, and Steve Martin, along with some big-time agents and others. Short had actually never met Carson beforehand, and so was understandably intimidated when participating in the game.

As it turns out, there isn’t too much poker talk in the story, but it’s still contains a couple of grins -- you can watch the clip here. It does make me curious, though, to dig a little deeper into Carson’s poker-playing. Indeed, his having had Amarillo Slim Preston as a guest a dozen times in the early 1970s suggests Carson had more than just a passing interest in poker.

Like I say, I might get back one or two of these items next week, and if you have thoughts to share about any of them, fire away. Meanwhile, enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Taking Your Breath Away: Operation Choke Point

I wanted to follow-up on yesterday’s post about my bank of nearly 11 years -- Fifth Third Bank -- without warning and with no explanation deciding to close my account. I don’t anticipate writing again about this topic, but after writing yesterday I was able to learn something useful regarding what happened and thought I’d share it.

With some difficulty I was today able to speak once more with my (former) local branch of Fifth Third. As I expected, they had no further information for me, and were surprised Customer Service (to whom they had directed me) had sent me back to them. I’d been sent around in a circle, no more informed at the end than when I’d begun.

Meanwhile, I very much appreciated the comments to yesterday’s post as well as those I received via Twitter. Among those responding to the post was Grange95, a lawyer, who very helpfully pointed me to a document describing a recently begun initiative by the U.S. Department of Justice called “Operation Choke Point” that appears a very likely explanation for why my account was closed.

The report comes from Darrell Issa, a Republican from California who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It’s dated May 29, 2014 and is titled “The Department of Justice’s ‘Operation Choke Point’: Illegally Choking Off Legitimate Businesses?

The report begins by explaining how the initiative was created by the DOJ late last year to “choke out” businesses considered by the Administration to be “‘high risk’ or otherwise objectionable,” with the nominal purpose being “to combat mass-market consumer fraud.” Following the initiative, bank regulators have identified a number of different businesses, industries, merchant types, and activities as “high risk,” strongly suggesting to them that if they continue to serve those involved in the activities on the list they could be subject to federal investigation.

In other words, you might say there are two varieties of “pressure” (or “choking”) happening here. One is the Administration pressuring banks to review customers’ account activity, to track and flag those involved with anything having to do with activities on the “high-risk” list, and to close those accounts or be subject to federal investigation. The other is the “choking out” of the businesses by removing their means to conduct financial transactions.

The report (compiling the Committee’s findings) goes on to explain how “Operation Choke Point has forced banks to terminate relationships with a wide variety of entirely lawful and legitimate merchants,” how the DOJ “is aware of these impacts, and has dismissed them,” and how the DOJ “lacks adequate legal authority for the initiative.” For these reasons and others, Issa -- speaking for the Committee -- is calling for the dismantling of Operation Choke Point, flatly calling it “illegal.”

The report includes quotes from letters sent by banks to customers informing them that their accounts were being closed. The quotes resemble language appearing in the letter I received (discussed yesterday), and in fact there is one from Fifth Third Bank which specifically tells the customer -- someone whose business is making payday loans -- that their business is the cause of the account’s closure.

“During recent reviews of the payday lending industry, we have determined that the services provided by clients in this industry are outside of our risk tolerance,” says the letter. “As such, we will no longer be able to provide financial services to businesses that operate in that industry.”

By comparison, my letter lacked such specificity, only referring vaguely to “federally mandated requirements” as guiding Fifth Third Bank in its reviews of account activity. But from reading the quotes I do think it is probably safe to assume my bank was similarly encouraged simply to close my account rather than have to deal with the threat (real or imagined) of any type of federal investigation as suggested by my apparent connection with one of the “high-risk” activities.

Speaking of, also included in the report is a list of 30 different examples of such “high-risk activity.” For a time the list was posted on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s website as a warning, although I see from a Wall Street Journal article dated July 28th that the list was removed.

Among the items included is “On-line gambling” (sic), which appears the only one with any possible relevance to my situation. I’ll mention again that the only account activity I might have had that could be construed as meaningful here would be to have received payments via wire transfer from businesses located outside the U.S. whose interests include poker (live and online) and gambling. In other words, my “business” is not even “online gambling,” but rather writing, editing, and reporting as a freelancer.

The list is interesting, and even though it has been removed from the FDIC site the WSJ article points out how the FDIC continues to tell banks they “should still take caution in handling transactions for payment firms, due to the potential risk of illegal activity.” Here’s that list:

  • Ammunition Sales
  • Cable Box De-scramblers
  • Coin Dealers
  • Credit Card Schemes
  • Credit Repair Services
  • Dating Services
  • Debt Consolidation Scams
  • Drug Paraphernalia
  • Escort Services
  • Firearms Sales
  • Fireworks Sales
  • Get Rich Products
  • Government Grants
  • Home-Based Charities
  • Life-Time Guarantees
  • Life-Time Memberships
  • Lottery Sales
  • Mailing Lists/Personal Info
  • Money Transfer Networks
  • On-line Gambling
  • Payday Loans
  • Pharmaceutical Sales
  • Ponzi Schemes
  • Pornography
  • Pyramid-Type Sales
  • Racist Materials
  • Surveillance Equipment
  • Telemarketing
  • Tobacco Sales
  • Travel Clubs
  • Some company to be in, eh? However you feel about some of the “activities” on this list -- and some are most certainly objectionable -- it’s easy to see how for nearly all of them merely having such a business or being involved in some fashion doesn’t automatically make one guilty of mass-market fraud, money laundering, or any other unlawful behavior.

    Issa’s report notes how despite the DOJ’s public statements, Operation Choke Point “was primarily focused on the payday lending industry” before being expanded to include these other activities. “Internal memoranda and communications demonstrate that Operation Choke Point was focused on short-term lending, and online lending in particular,” explains Issa. However, the DOJ seized an opportunity with the initiative to curtail many other types of activities without having even to identify or prove any type of unlawful behavior beforehand.

    Having no answers from Fifth Third, I still cannot be sure my account was closed because of Operation Choke Point, although it seems highly probable. The initiative reminds me a little of how the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 similarly targeted the means of making financial transactions to play poker and/or gamble online and not the actual playing -- another kind of indirect “choking.”

    It also makes me think about the many examples of corruption in government I’ve been reading about constantly over the last many months as part of my “Nixon studies.” I was telling Vera how when I read about Watergate and all of the illegal machinations and maneuvers conducted by the Nixon Administration to continue the cover-up, part of me always regards it all as somehow entirely separate from my own experience -- as though it were fiction, almost, thanks to the seeming distance between past and present.

    But the fact is, there are obviously many contemporary (and similarly astonishing) examples of our government acting in ways we should question and about which we should be concerned, with Operation Choke Point -- as grievous as it appears to be -- hardly the most troubling.

    Labels: , , , , , ,

    Wednesday, October 08, 2014

    With No Warning, Fifth Third Bank Closed My Account After Nearly 11 Years (And They Won’t Tell Me Why)

    A few weeks ago a note appeared in my mailbox saying someone was sending me a certified letter. I could either sign the note and have it delivered or just carry it in to the local P.O. and pick up the letter myself. I decided just to go pick it up, only noticing when I did that the letter had been sent by my bank, Fifth Third.

    I first opened an account at Fifth Third Bank a little under 11 years ago, I believe, using my checking account there for any transactions related to my career as a freelance writer. (Vera and I have our primary accounts at a different institution.) I had payments sent there and also would use the account for all business expenses (including when traveling). Over the years I have also made various regular payments from the account, including for estimated tax payments, life insurance, and retirement.

    Fifth Third charges a $15 fee for international wire transfers -- and I often am paid that way -- but most banks do. Once or twice I’ve had a debit card blocked when traveling abroad after not having informed the bank ahead of time I’d be out of the country. I remember once way back at the beginning the bank having to hold payment on a deposited check for a week or so just to make sure it cleared. But otherwise I can’t really think of anything too out of the ordinary.

    Eventually Fifth Third encouraged me to open both a savings account (which unlike the checking account would draw a little interest) as well as to get a credit card with them. I didn’t really need the credit card, but it was nice to have it as a backup when traveling, and I did use it a couple of times on trips abroad.

    Anyhow, I share all of this as preamble to my letter. “Fifth Third Bank appreciates the utilization of our services to meet your banking needs,” it began. Innocuously. Then came a statement about how they periodically review accounts “to better understand our customers and their account activity,” followed by this stunner:

    “After much consideration, Fifth Third has determined that the account activity in your above account does not fall within our underlying acceptance of risk.... For this reason, Fifth Third Bank hereby gives notice of intent to close the above account.”

    The letter was dated September 12 and was saying my account would be closed by September 26 -- in two weeks. Not once had I been given any indication anything like this was even a possibility, let alone that my account activity could in any way be considered risky.

    I called my branch to learn more about why my account was being closed. I’ll admit with the first phone call I hadn’t yet accepted the possibility that Fifth Third was actually closing my account. But after talking to a few people there it was clear that indeed, that was the case. Even more distressing, they said they weren’t able to tell me what exactly the account activity was that had caused my account to be deemed outside of Fifth Third’s “underlying acceptance of risk.”

    I went in to talk to them in person. I learned that the person who had signed the letter, the Lead Customer Service Representative at the branch, hadn’t actually written it -- it was a form letter from Fifth Third (from “Compliance,” I think). Also, the Financial Center Manager at the branch was on vacation, with everyone there suggesting I needed to talk to her.

    So I took out some funds to go open a new account at another bank. Then I returned a week later, a couple of days before the date my account would be closed, to withdraw the rest and hopefully speak with the Financial Center Manager.

    Again, the conversation was unfruitful. My questions elicited a number of ambiguous responses that vaguely hinted at possibilities though offered nothing definite. They either didn’t have any information regarding why my account was being closed, or if they did they weren’t able to share such information with me.

    Earlier questions of others in the branch suggested that perhaps my international wire transfers were what had made me risky to them. If so, that was a new development, as I had been receiving the same transfers from the same employers for 6-7 years. One person said something about not being able to see where the transfers were coming from as perhaps being problematic. I pointed out the irony of their not being able to tell me where they were coming from by closing my account, but only earned a grim nod for that effort.

    I’d also asked about my travel to other countries where I’d use my Fifth Third debit card and credit card -- was that somehow the problem? No one knew for sure. I didn’t ask about every single transaction I’d ever made, although my mind raced back to question all of them, including receiving my refund from the U.S. Department of Justice back in June. Ultimately the official line from my local branch was they were all sorry but they simply had no information for me. I could, however, call the Fifth Third Bank Customer Service line and they might be able to tell me more.

    Though dubious, I did as instructed and called Customer Service. After all, I needed to know what exactly I had done that could have been construed as risky account activity. My job requires me to travel abroad, as well as to receive payments from various entities. If I could be told why my account was closed, I wouldn’t necessarily be happy -- especially after the sudden kiss-off following more than a decade as a customer -- but at least I’d be saved from the paranoia of questioning every single debit or credit I’d ever made.

    Not to mention perhaps shake this irrational feeling of being somehow considered by someone, somewhere to be a criminal.

    What did I learn from Customer Service? You might have already guessed. I needed to talk to my local branch.

    They knew nothing, and had no means of finding out anything regarding why my account was being closed. The woman I spoke with suggested the local branch should have something to tell me, or at least had the means to find out something for me.

    I’ll be going back to the local branch.

    Life goes on. I’ve opened up a new account at a new bank, telling them the entire story beforehand of why I’d been forced to leave Fifth Third and sharing with them more information than I needed to regarding the nature of my work as a freelancer, the fact that I travel somewhat frequently, the fact that I write about poker and thus am employed by businesses located abroad involved with online poker and gambling, among other information. They seem very happy to have me, and assure me there will be no problems receiving my wire transfers, making my payments, and using my debit card while in another country.

    I had actually hesitated even to share this story, feeling a kind of weird embarrassment about it all. That feeling keeps getting reinforced with every interaction I continue to have with Fifth Third, as though I have somehow done something terribly, terribly wrong -- so wrong they can’t even bring themselves to say out loud what it could be. It’s absurd, I know, but that’s how I’m feeling.

    But I thought I’d share all this both for my freelancing colleagues and I suppose for anyone else who might have “account activity” at their bank that is at all similar to mine. I know banks have to follow federally mandated requirements, and I also completely understand and accept how they reserve the right to accept whomever they wish as customers. Some banks are more conservative than others in how they estimate “acceptance of risk.” And some are more accommodating than others, too, when it comes to their treatment of long-standing customers. Check into it all as much as you can, I suppose, and hopefully your communications will be more successful than mine have been lately.

    Obviously much worse things can happen to a person than to have his bank suddenly reject him this way. It’s damn unsettling, though, and like I say it’s hard not to feel a little like Joseph K in The Trial getting sent back and forth without any answers to my questions about what exactly my “crime” was. Getting the account closed was bad, but not getting any explanations for it is much, much worse.

    Up until a few weeks ago, I’d have unhesitatingly recommended Fifth Third Bank to anyone who’d asked, but now I have to take a different view and strongly dissuade anyone from ever opening an account at the so-called “curious bank.” (They have me feeling curious about now, let me tell you.)

    It’s your decision, though. I guess it depends on your “underlying acceptance of risk.”

    Labels: , , ,


    Older Posts

    Copyright © 2006-2014 Hard-Boiled Poker.
    All Rights Reserved.