Monday, August 15, 2011

Words With Friends

Words With FriendsFollowed with interest the conclusion of the first Epic Poker League Main Event that ended early Saturday morning with David “Chino” Rheem the winner. Also noted, of course, the 2+2 thread and all of the hullaballoo on Twitter and elsewhere regarding Rheem’s many outstanding debts, the obvious joke being his $1 million score had many lining up to meet him at the cashier’s cage.

Rheem’s victory came amid further revelations having to do with that other big story in poker from last week, one that also involved the issue of players trusting one another and getting burned. I’m talking of course about the “Girah” scandal involving Jose Macedo, Haseeb Qureshi, Dan Cates, and others. More has come out regarding that one, particularly with regard to Cates’ involvement and culpability, enough to warrant a revised and expanded “Cliffs notes” post over on 2+2.

At some point last week -- after I’d posted my bit about the “Girah” scandal on Thursday -- I was talking with a friend about it who commented on how incredibly naïve and/or gullible Macedo’s “friends” had to be to get hoodwinked into that whole Skype scam.

I’m talking about the part of the scandal where Macedo persuaded others in his “strategy group” to play a couple of unknowns whom he characterized as fish. Somehow Macedo additionally convinced these others to allow him to view their sessions as they played, using TeamViewer, a desktop sharing tool. His “friends” ended up losing to the fish, and later it was revealed Macedo was either relaying information about his strategy group’s buddies’ hole cards to the “fish” -- or perhaps was even playing those two accounts himself.

My friend and I were chatting about this -- over Skype, in fact -- when he joked that he knew some “aggro fish” who were looking for heads-up action, facetiously asking me to play while he watched. “It boggles the mind,” he said, to think how these guys would allow Macedo -- a person they’d never even met face-to-face -- talk them into playing the unknowns while he watched.

“I don't let anyone look over my shoulder when I play Words With Friends,” was my response.

More naïvety, gullibility, and other ethically-dubious behavior is on display in Cates’ lengthy interview on Subject:Poker that appeared on Friday. There Cates reveals himself to have made numerous bad decisions over recent months, another one seeming to have been his agreeing to give the interview in the first place. Cates -- whom it should be noted is still only 21 years old -- can’t seem to give a straight answer to any question put to him, contradicting himself and even calling back to admit to lying (repeatedly) about having multi-accounted.

All of this drama over “Girah” and Rheem got me thinking further about the value of a person’s word and how such is often said to be of special importance in the poker world. Many poker players -- especially those who’ve been part of the scene for a long time -- speak of the value of a person’s word as in fact being higher in the poker world than outside of it, the frequency of verbal agreements involving money (such as the many Rheem has been accused of failing to honor) a testament to that difference.

There’s something almost counterintuitive about it, really. That poker -- a game based on lying, or at least misrepresenting oneself in ways that serve one’s self-interest -- would be a realm in which people could trust one another more readily than elsewhere. But many insist that is the case, citing the “gambler’s code” and pointing out how stories such as the ones surrounding Rheem and the “Girah” group are noteworthy because of their uniqueness.

Speaking of, Noah Stephens-Davidowitz (who along with Vanessa Selbst conducted the Cates interview for S:P) wrote an interesting post on his personal blog last week titled “The Vouching System Sucks” in which he decries the way many in the poker community overvalue each other’s “word,” particularly when given as a recommendation to trust a third party. And Zimba over on CardRunners added some thoughtful advice last week as well regarding “Protecting Yourself From Cheating.”

“Poker is no different from any sport, business or life situation,” writes Zimba in his post, explaining how one will certainly encounter others failing to honor their word in poker just as one will elsewhere. I tend to agree. While recognizing the uniqueness of the culture of poker -- where the collective pressure to honor one’s word perhaps operates differently than it does outside of poker -- it’s obvious that when it comes to taking a person’s word, you still gotta know with whom you’re dealing.

That is to say, in poker or elsewhere, know who your friends are. And value their words accordingly.

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