Thursday, August 11, 2011

On the “Girah” Saga; or, Online Poker Tied Up in a Knot

José “Girah” MacedoSpent a little time this morning rooting around over on Two Plus Two and elsewhere, getting somewhat caught up on this “Girah” saga that appears to involve just about every form of cheating one can imagine in online poker, including multi-accounting, collusion, chip-dumping, and hole-card viewing. The story also features a lot of other examples of ethically suspect behavior, most of which appearing to involve the fabrication of identities online (both for playing poker and for other forms of interaction, including forum posting).

For those with an interest in learning more about it all, the “Cliff notes” post over on 2+2 is a good place to start. There you’ll find a readable synopsis that also links out to many other sources for the sordid tale’s various characters and episodes. Might also dial up the most recent episode of the Two Plus Two Pokercast (episode 184), where they talk a lot about the story as well as interview both Ben “sauce123” Sulsky and “King” Dan Smith about it.

I had started to write a post attempting to cover all the various ins and outs, but after fussing with how best to present the tale’s complicated twists and turns I realized I only had a few substantive observations to add. So rather than clutter the air with another (necessarily incomplete) account of what appears to have been going on over the last seven months or so with this José “Girah” Macedo character (pictured above), I’ll just fire off three observations about it before moving along.

The first concerns one of those involved, Haseeb Qureshi (a.k.a., “DogIsHead” or “INTERNETPOKERS”), loser of that crazy running prop bet with Ashton Griffin earlier this year and recently let go by CardRunners as an instructor.

One “WTF” moment among the many that crop up in this story comes amid Haseeb Qureshi’s BLUFF interview, posted late yesterday. In the interview -- after Qureshi has admitted to multi-accounting, chip dumping, posting multiple times under a different name on Two Plus Two, and getting caught in a lie about being Macedo’s “agent” -- Qureshi is asked a question about Macedo’s original story, the one suggesting the 18-year-old had won more than $1.6 million in a remarkably short stretch even though those results were never corroborated anywhere.

Qureshi (and others, among them Dan “jungleman12” Cates) had maintained in the forums that Macedo’s results were legit, though now that seems likely not to have been the case. Qureshi is asked why he insisted Macedo’s results were genuine without there being any evidence to support that claim.

He “believed them,” Qureshi says, “because people faking results is such a ridiculously rare thing in the poker world. I would never suspect that someone would do anything like that unless they were a massive con artist, which I obviously didn’t imagine.”

So-called results posted by the 'so-called Portuguese poker prodigy'Faking results in poker “ridiculously rare”? Probably more accurate to say it’s rare for players not to misrepresent their results. (That graph to the left is one that Macedo -- and/or Qureshi, actually, who says he helped Macedo with the post -- shared early on to show his results, a screenshot that omitted reference to screennames or sites.)

And, it goes without saying, Qureshi himself has many times over shown a readiness to misrepresent, lie, obfuscate, fake, what have you. How does Qureshi himself believe such a statement, let alone expect others to do so?

What is rare, I suppose, is for players to get away with faking results in their online play, particularly in the high-stakes games that are mostly (though not always) tracked by external sites. That leads to my second observation, which is simply to express amazement at how many appear to have been duped by the story of the “Portuguese poker prodigy.”

Lock Poker gave him a sponsorship. Brandon Adams tried to hire him as an instructor at his new Expert Insight website. And numerous other high-profile pros and posters -- not to mention all of the poker media reporting on his dazzling yet undocumented rise to the highest-stakes games -- readily bought in as well.

Sure, in some ways the story resembled that of Isildur1, Cates, and others. And all the various “vouching” going on by others with regard to Macedo played a significant role here as well. But without screen names or any confirmation of accounts played by Macedo, how does it happen that so many accepted his story as legitimate?

Interestingly, it seems as though the great majority of interactions with Macedo took place over Skype or via other online methods of communication -- i.e., there was little face-to-face contact with him by anyone involved, including his most vocal endorsers. Thus does this story demonstrate how the “virtual” world of online communication provides ready opportunities for the creation of personas as well as the potential to build elaborate fictions that are plausible enough to be regarded as fact.

My third observation is simply to reiterate a point already made by others with regard to the “Girah” saga. Without regulation, online poker will certainly continue to attract scammers and others looking to take advantage of a still highly vulnerable environment for financial transactions. Even with regulation, attempts by some to cheat and/or angle-shoot will (unfortunately) remain “part of the game,” although one would hope the chances of their getting away with such would be reduced.

The story made me wonder what exactly “girah” meant, and so I looked it up. Used to refer to a unit of measurement (in India and Pakistan), though with the metric system it is no longer used. Can also refer to a short passage that has been inserted into a song, often an allusion to another song (a kind of “sampling,” one could say).

But apparently the word also literally means “knot,” which I guess would be the most appropriate reference here. A lot of untangling yet to be done with regard to the “Girah” story.

Also a good way to refer to online poker, generally speaking, circa summer 2011. One big messy knot.

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