Friday, June 16, 2006

Confessions of a Rat

That’s when I suddenly didn’t feel like playing anymore.Had an eyebrow-raising session of 6-handed limit ($0.50/$1.00) a few days ago. Wasn’t all that full of fireworks in terms of the actual play. I was, however, witness to what turned out to be a mild form of cheating at the table -- not outright collusion, mind you, but (as I later learned) an example of “unethical” play that violated the rules and regulations of the site (Poker Stars). The guilty were notified and duly warned.

How do I know? Because I’m the bruno who ratted on them.

Eventually I plan to write something about the differences between short-handed (e.g., 6-max) and full-tabled limit. One generalization I’ll offer here is that at the short-handed tables one is usually able more quickly to read other players’ tendencies. Especially at the lower limits -- from which I only occasionally stray -- it usually only takes an orbit or two to divide folks into three categories: those who have a clue, those who don’t, and those who have a clue but act at times (either deliberately or otherwise) as though they don’t.

At this particular table sat one from the latter group, a fellow I’ll refer to as Peacock. When I arrived at the table, Peacock was congratulating another player, GollyGee, for having won a previous hand. The banter continued during the first few hands, with the occasional contribution of a third voice, a rail-sitter observing the action, Snoopy.

I only gunned for a couple of pots during the first dozen hands or so. Then I saw Peacock reraise a preflop raiser and then subsequently win a hand showing down T6-suited. A little loose, I thought. I saw him preraise a few more times, usually when he had position, and take down a few more small pots. I was starting to think I had a read on this bird when the following hand took place.

I was sitting at UTG+1 when I was dealt Qd Qh. I raised and the table folded around to Peacock who called me from the BB. The flop came Js 2c 7h and Peacock bet. I raised, he reraised, and I just called. The turn brought the 8s and the same betting sequence (Peacock bets, I raise, he raises, and I call). Now I’m convinced he’s got T9 and has me beat w/his straight, or perhaps J8 and has paired his kicker. The river brings a blank and I make a crying call to discover he’s taken down a handsome-sized pot ($13.25 after the rake) with good ol’ seven-deuce.

I didn’t begrudge him any. I’ve pulled similar pranks myself (I wrote about a similar one in an earlier post), and so rather than complain I simply typed “the hammer” as an acknowledgement of his triumph. He didn’t respond, but rather continued back-and-forthing it with GollyGee and Snoopy. Needless to say, Peacock now had my undivided attention.

He continued with the wild preflop behavior for awhile. Eventually I recouped most of my loss after being dealt queens again, this time beating Peacock when after a bit of bluster he folded on the river. Was about that time things went a little cuckoo.

After preraising yet again, Peacock was in the midst of duking it out with GollyGee when Snoopy (the rail-sitter) types “J7 clubs.” Come showdown, Peacock indeed has Jc 7c. Then another hand comes, again involving Peacock and GollyGee, during which Snoopy types “pocket sixes.” Once again, the showdown reveals Snoopy has correctly identified Peacock’s cards before they were made known to the rest of the table.

That’s when I suddenly didn’t feel like playing anymore. What would you do here? Look for greener pastures? Call a copper? No one likes a stoolie, but this here’s real dough we're playing with (even if the stacks are short). My dough.

GollyGee seemed unaware that anything untoward was occurring, blithely typing things like “how do u do that?” and “u got 2 computers?” to his new friends. I watched the flimflam a short while longer, then made scarce. I decided I was gonna give ’em up and how.

I fired an email to Stars’ support describing what I’d seen. I then went back to the scene (as an observer) and noticed Peacock had left, but Snoopy had taken his seat and was playing the same erratic style, less successfully, as had Peacock. In less than two hours I received not one but three emails from Stars support (which has always been first-rate in my experience). The first promised to investigate, the second reiterated their concern, and the third conveyed their findings. It was determined (correctly, in my book) that while collusion had not taken place, there was “unethical play,” with both players violating a couple of Stars’ rules for cash games. One rule concerns sharing of information. The other is akin to the “one person per hand” rule that governs most poker games (actually listed among their tourney rules). I was told that the pair would be notified and that some “preventative measures” would be put into place (although I’m not clear what those measures actually were).

I was satisfied Stars’ support took seriously my beef (I had told them I didn’t feel comfortable playing at a table where an observer knew one of my opponents’ hole cards). The likeliest play-by-play pegs Peacock and Snoopy as just a couple of cronies who get their kicks instant-messaging one another while playing. Of course, the pair could’ve easily avoided the chitchat, sat down at the same table, and put their shared dope to use while playing. As it happens, according to Stars’ support, Peacock and Snoopy had never played even a single hand at the same table. Which to me spells out they’re just a couple of juvie-type goons who were having a little small-timer fun with GollyGee the greenhorn. Hardly hardened criminals scoping out a big score.

I’m also mostly convinced that Stars and the other major sites are on the lookout for any similar monkey business. I know at least some of the larger sites track this sort of thing constantly, searching for sketchy-looking patterns (e.g., players who frequently play together). Still, the experience was something new to me. I’m hopeful others who witness such chicanery play good citizen and let the authorities know about it, but I know better. The world doesn’t turn that way. I suppose the lesson here isn’t for most of us, but for the wise guys -- there’s rats all over the place, so watch the cheese.

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