Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bonomo Ban No Mo’

Justin BonomoLast summer I had the chance to help cover the World Series of Poker for PokerNews, and the first final table I live blogged was a good one -- Event No. 4, the $5,000 Mixed No-Limit/Limit Hold’em event won by Erick Lindgren. The table went nearly 200 hands, the last 40 or so were heads up between Lindgren and Justin “ZeeJustin” Bonomo.

Was looking back at the blog, where Tropical Steve and I alternated reporting hands. Bonomo had the chip lead once it got to heads up (about 3-to-2), and at the time it looked a lot like he would probably take it down. Really, for most of the night it seemed as though Bonomo was the one in charge. Which was saying something, given who else was at that final table: David Williams, Howard Lederer, Isaac Haxton, Roland de Wolfe, David Rheem, Andrew Robl, and Pat Pezzin.

This was a televised FT, and when it was all over Lindgren was interviewed by Norman Chad. Those interviews generally end up going on for six or eight questions or so, from which ESPN chops out the little ten-second clip that gets tacked on to the end of the broadcast. In the blog I reported some from that interview, including relating how Lindgren noted that once he’d gotten the lead on Bonomo he remained worried his opponent might still come back on him, right up until the last river card was dealt.

I remember Lindgren also in there somewhere saying some nice things about his opponent, and stating very confidently that Bonomo was going to be winning multiple bracelets himself in the future. I think everyone there watching that final table was thoroughly convinced -- if they weren’t already -- that Bonomo was indeed a hell of a player.

Amid the buzz this week is the fact that Bonomo has been allowed back on PokerStars after being banned from the site for over three years (since February 2006) for having been caught entering tournaments multiple times with different accounts. This was shortly after Bonomo had been caught doing something similar over on PartyPoker, from which site he was banned as well.

Justin Bonomo at the 2008 WSOP Event No. 4 final tableBonomo turned 21 later that year, and soon began tearing up the live tourney poker scene. He barely missed a WPT final table that December, finishing seventh at the Five Diamond World Poker Classic (the one Joe Hachem won). He made a final table at the 2007 WSOP in a NLHE event, where he also made a deep run in the $50K H.O.R.S.E. event, finishing 18th, just a couple of spots away from the money. He has already tripped up to over $1.5 million in tourney winnings. All of which further establishes Bonomo’s poker prowess.

If you’ve heard Bonomo interviewed on any of the podcasts or on his own show, All Strategy (which now may well be on a permanent hiatus), you know he’s articulate, too, and has a gift (I think) for communicating poker-related concepts. And he’s also obviously remorseful for what he did, never shying from questions about the cheating and accepting full responsibility (unlike some others have done). At least that has been the case every time I’ve heard him talk about the issue.

That being said, I guess I’m still scratching my head as to why PokerStars would make this decision to allow “ZeeJustin” back on the site. I’m not saying I don’t think Bonomo understands the gravity of his transgressions, and in fact I do believe that besides being a great player, he has a lot to contribute to the poker community as well. In fact, my wondering has nothing much to do with Bonomo at all -- I agree with the notion that his is something of a special case and therefore probably deserves to be considered differently than others.

I guess I just don’t quite see what exactly PokerStars has to gain here.

One PokerStars customer wrote the site to complain about the unbanning of Bonomo, and received a reply that pointed out how Bonomo had “accepted the consequences of his actions” and as far as PokerStars knew never “tried to circumvent his suspension.” The support person additionally notes how Bonomo has not only “expressed regret for his actions” but “has even become a crusader for fair play” since his banning.

A poll over on PocketFives currently has about 64% of respondents saying they agree with the decision to let Bonomo back on the site, with 36% saying it was not a “good move” by Stars to do so. On the TwoPlusTwo PokerCast this week, the hosts mentioned the thread on that forum discussing the matter, and estimated there, too, the split was about 60-40 in favor of the decision.

I suppose my instinctive response is negative, as I don’t like the idea of letting others believe there exists a (legit) avenue back onto an online site after one has been caught cheating in such a flagrant manner. (That’s ignoring the particulars of Bonomo’s case, I know.) I suppose it would be helpful if somehow Stars additionally provided a way for Bonomo to continue being “a crusader for fair play,” although I’m not sure exactly how that sort of “community service” could be done.

Thinking back to the respect Lindgren expressed for Bonomo after that WSOP final table, I think it’s pretty clear E-dog wouldn’t have been so generous about his opponent if Bonomo had been previously caught cheating in a live setting.

But he wasn’t. More evidence in support of the thesis that everything is different online.

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Blogger Unknown said...

Right now, the 2+2 poll is 56/44. Also, All Strategy is scheduled to return on PokerRoad in May.

4/09/2009 8:33 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wrong message. I spend a great deal of my time on the Double or Nothing sit and goes. I have received several refunds from Pokerstars weeks after the fact with an explanation of a player was caught breaking the rules. DoN's seem to be a place where rule breakers go (or at least get caught) Allowing a high profile rule breaker (even a high profile remorseful rule breaker) sends the wrong message to those considering breaking rules and it DEFINITELY sends the wrong message to those of us that have been victimized by rule breakers. I applaud Pokerstars after the fact refund policy for those that were wronged, but whenever I receive a refund, I always wonder how many times they did not catch the bad guys.

Pokerstars gains nothing by lifting the ban.

4/09/2009 10:36 AM  
Blogger Greylocks said...

There's also the matter that when Party caught JB, they confiscated his entire account. PokerStars, who did not catch JB and only found out he was cheating after Party reported it, inexplicably confiscated only what they could attribute to wins from tournaments he cheated in. As many observers pointed out at the time, this policy gives multiaccounters a freeroll.

It's almost as if PokerStars never really wanted to punish him in the first place.

As for what PokerStars has to gain...certainly a big fat zero from a PR standpoint, but from the standpoint of keeping an eye on him and making sure he doesn't do it again, they'd probably prefer him to have an active account in his own name, rather than continue a situation that gives him an incentive to conceal his identity. Whether that's their actual thinking, I have no way to know.

4/09/2009 1:31 PM  

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