Thursday, May 24, 2007

Learn, Cheat, and Play Poker with the Pros

Why did Clonie Gowen admit to cheating?Been thinking about that odd, awkward moment from last week’s Poker After Dark when Clonie Gowen openly admitted to having once dragged a pot even though she knew the deck had been fouled. I’m not going to go into the ethical question here. A lot of us could never imagine cheating in the way Gowen gleefully described herself doing. Others among us wouldn’t have a problem with it, and, in fact, might consider such behavior entirely warranted. The more curious question -- to me, anyway -- is why would a pro openly admit to something so underhanded? What could Gowen possibly think might be gained by such a confession?

It was “Ladies’ Week” on Poker After Dark, so there were five other women present at the table to hear Gowen’s anecdote: Jennifer Harman, Dee Luong, Evelyn Ng, Vanessa Rousso, and Cyndy Violette. It was near the beginning of Tuesday’s show when Gowen related how she had once been involved in a hand where she had been dealt As, then saw another As on board. Having managed to win the pot without a showdown, Gowen dragged the chips without informing the table the deck had been fouled. It was suggested to Gowen that she should have pointed out the problem as soon as she noticed it. Rousso then asked what the ruling would be in such a case, to which Harman quickly responded “it’s split -- everyone gets their money back.” Gowen concluded the story by suggesting such a rule means one should therefore drag the pot before pointing out any discrepancy.

Brian Mulholland wrote an interesting CardPlayer article some time ago in which he described facing a similar situation. There he tells about playing a game of Omaha high-low in which he was dealt AK99, double-suited, all red cards. By the turn there were two diamonds and two hearts on board, at which point Mulholland rechecked his hand to remind himself the suit of his ace. When he looked again, Mulholland discovered that in fact both of the nines he’d been dealt were the 9d. He immediately asked the dealer to call the floor manager, then turned his cards over to show everyone his corrupt hand.

As it happens, the ruling that Harman described -- that everyone gets his or her chips back as if the hand had never taken place -- only applies if the player with the fouled hand does not actually place a bet. Unfortunately for him, Mulholland had unwittingly bet his fouled hand, and thus his cards were declared dead (with the others continuing as before). In other words, he was the only one at the table to be penalized by his own honesty. In the article, Mulholland takes issue with that particular rule, and while he makes a good argument for why it might not be fair, I can understand the need for it. One cannot be allowed to bet a fouled hand, then get one’s chips back if the hand doesn’t go as desired.

In the hand Gowen was describing, I’m not certain when exactly she discovered the deck was fouled, but I assume she had already placed at least one bet on her hand when that second As turned up as one of the community cards. If that were the case, then it is true the only way she could avoid losing chips on the hand would be to keep her knowledge to herself.

Gowen’s story provoked a decent debate over on 2+2. The discussion isn’t half-bad, actually. The majority of the more serious-minded posts are critical of Gowen, with some suggesting her attitude to be emblematic of a “general breakdown in etiquette” currently taking place in poker. Others defend her. Says one poster, “lol she is a hustler like everyone else[;] at least she has the honesty to admit it.”

Not surprisingly, among the more salient comments are mixed the usual catalogue of slanders one comes to expect whenever female poker players are discussed. I’m certain that here -- as we’ve seen elsewhere -- the level of criticism is somewhat increased due to the fact that the player in question is a woman. Such prejudices exist in the world at large, to be sure, but are almost always magnified in the still male-dominated world of poker.

Of course, it may also be the case that Gowen is a somewhat more vulnerable target thanks to that April 2006 incident when one of her Full Tilt Poker “Tips from the Pros” contained material plagiarized from a Pocket Fives post. In her tip about playing rebuy tourneys, Gowen’s article contained an entire paragraph taken almost verbatim from a post by jsup over on P5s. Gowen subsequently penned an “Open Letter to the Pocket Fives Community” in which she apologized about the plagiarism, characterizing it as “the most foolish thing I have ever done” and “the type of action that you might expect from a teenager, but certainly not from a Full Tilt Poker Pro.” The letter goes on to explain how her “editor/collaborator” introduced the plagiarized material into her article -- raising yet another ethical question, by the way -- although she ultimately takes full responsibility for the mistake. (If you’re curious, here’s a full rundown of that incident over on O-Poker.)

Not sure if we’ll see a similar apology (or even acknowledgement of the controversy) from Gowen this time around. Something tells me we won’t. Still, the question remains: Why would a professional -- a “Full Tilt Poker Pro” -- boast so openly about having cheated her way to winning a hand?

I can’t help but wonder if it might be relevant here to consider the particular challenges and pressures faced by women players to which I just alluded. In my view, there appears to have been an explicit, deliberately-evoked subtext to Gowen’s boastful story of cheating and getting away with it, something along the lines of this: “It doesn’t matter that I am a woman -- I am as ruthless and cutthroat as anyone else at the poker table.”

Let me try to explain.

That the story came up during “Ladies’ Week” -- and not, say, during Gowen’s earlier PAD appearance when she competed against five men -- is not without significance here, I’d say. All week viewers were constantly being reminded that we were watching something different. Amid all the table talk, Shana Hiatt’s interviews with the players, Phil Hellmuth’s gauche drop-in visit, some of the commentary, and the prerecorded segments, viewers were consistently being invited to draw comparisons between male poker players and female poker players.

Such an emphasis continued right up to Hiatt’s postgame interview with Gowen (who won the tournament) about what it was like to play an all-female table. Referring to Dee Luong, Gowen said “after about three hands I was like [censored] this girl can play poker!” Gowen also claimed (sincerely or otherwise) it had been the “toughest” table she had ever faced. Gowen’s comments seem to play up the “tough,” uncompromising persona she demonstrated during the game itself -- she was the most aggressive player during the week, by far -- deliberately positioning herself against stereotypes associated with femininity.

And so does the “I cheated and got away with it” story, I’m suggesting. That is to say, one way to answer the question “Why did she admit it?” would be to say she was interested in communicating her “toughness” to the rest of the table and/or the television audience. I’m reminded of Annie Duke’s response to James McManus’s question in Positively Fifth Street about why she wasn’t interested in playing the women’s event in the 2000 WSOP. “When I asked her why she skipped the women’s event,” writes McManus, “I’m treated to a wince of disdain . . . . ‘Not very interesting money,’ she says. ‘And I can’t stand the smell of perfume,’ she adds, pregnantly macho.” Later she tells him there’s “Nothing worse than a table full of women.”

Duke is obviously having fun here with McManus, delighting in the irony of “slamming” women while being one the most conspicuously-successful women playing at the 2000 WSOP Main Event. I think perhaps there’s something similar going on with Gowen, a kind of deliberate attempt at being “macho” that appears to have misfired. More than a little.

That’s the only conclusion I can draw. Otherwise, it just comes off as just another ill-conceived goof “you might expect from a teenager,” not a professional poker player.



Blogger Karridy said...

I would like to think that I would stop the game immediately and call the floor if I saw two ace of spades working for me. But I guess it all depends... I mean, if I'm up against Tony G., well,... That might just be the last big pot I drag before finding another table.

5/28/2007 10:53 AM  
Blogger KajaPoker said...

I think what she said was that when the other player folded he flashed her the Ace of spades. After she dragged the pot she told the dealer to check the deck. This is a tough spot because you can't say who's Ace is the foul one.

In any case I think Gowen is a total loser for the gloating way she told the story on national TV in front of some of her (much better) peers.

5/28/2007 5:09 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thx, Kaja -- I was working from memory (& others' accounts) & so couldn't rewatch the clip.

Yr right -- still doesn't absolve Gowen for not coming clean (not to mention the gloating).

5/28/2007 5:57 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer Posts
Older Posts

Copyright © 2006-2017 Hard-Boiled Poker.
All Rights Reserved.