Friday, November 12, 2010

No Cannes Do: On the Disqualification at Partouche (2 of 2)

Partouche Poker TourPicking up again today on the topic of the cheating that occurred during the Grand Final of the Partouche Poker Tour.

Yesterday I shared details of the story, primarily provided by Benjo (in his article for Winamax), of how a player had committed “fraudulent actions” in order to gain an advantage in that tournament. Those actions involved having a couple of accomplices who posed as tournament reporters. These individuals stole glances at the player’s opponents’ hole cards as they stood near the tables, then somehow conveyed information to the player about the hands (by way of signals, I imagine). A review of video recordings confirmed for officials that cheating had occurred, and thus the decision was made to disqualify the player just prior to the start of the tournament’s final table.

While any form of cheating or attempted cheating in a poker tournament certainly would be of interest to media covering the event, this particular story and variety of cheating especially grabs the attention of those of us who report on live events, given the way it employed a couple of “faux” bloggers/reporters in the execution of the scheme. It didn’t work here, but many suspect the player had successfully used the method to cheat in previous tournaments. And since the method depended in part on both the way media credentials are conferred as well as the access reporters are given when covering tournaments, some tourney reporters wonder if perhaps there will be repercussions going forward affecting how they currently do their jobs.

Today I wanted to address the way credentials are handed out as well as the amount of access reporters generally are given when reporting on events. I also wanted to add a word or two about the “ethics” of tournament reporting as I understand them and as I think most conscientious reporters do, too.

Most of my live tournament reporting has been at the World Series of Poker, although I have had the chance to report from EPT and NAPT events as well. In each case, I had to apply for and receive a credential in order to report on the event. Being identified with a particular publication or site is generally mandatory for one to receive a credential. I believe the WSOP will sometimes grant freelancers a one-day pass or provide other, special accommodations, but I’m not sure of the details there.

While working alongside colleagues representing other sites, I haven’t personally experienced much that would suggest to me that the vetting process for handing out credentials is not adequate. That is to say, it has seemed to me that those running these events have practiced due diligence for the most part when it comes to giving out credentials. However, this story did make me recall one incident from a couple of years ago in which I was covering an event at the WSOP and noticed a couple of reporters representing a site I’d never heard of before.

Crowded at the WSOPThe tournament had gotten down to the final three tables, and as I recall it was just myself and a colleague from PokerNews, a few folks from other known sites like CardPlayer, PokerListings, and others, then these two fellows.

Eventually we figured out they were there covering just one player -- in fact, if I’m not mistaken, the website they represented was named after the player. They didn’t seem to be taking many notes or leaving to write on laptops, though, and so it mostly appeared they were just there to support their friend. It seemed awkward to me, though I had no reason to suspect these two were helping the player in any fashion whatsoever beyond simply being there to cheer him on.

Of course, that in and of itself is inappropriate -- that is, for a player to have a couple of “fans” (essentially) right at the table with him while he played -- and I think the WSOP eventually took note. I recall this year hearing frequent announcements to media that they were not permitted to “sweat” players during events. The fact is, there are many, many examples of folks in the poker media who are friends with players. Realizing that it could very well make some players uncomfortable to have reporters in close proximity to the tables who were outwardly supporting one of their opponents, the WSOP took steps to prevent such from happening.

As I say, I think the vetting process is generally fine at the WSOP (where I’ve had the most experience), and while I know this is handled differently from tour to tour, tournament directors obviously need to remain wary of whom they allow access to their events. One imagines the disqualification at Partouche will highlight that necessity going forward.

Speaking of access, it has been my experience that up until the final table -- which is often either removed to a special stage or set aside in some fashion so as to create different conditions for reporters -- those of us charged with writing about events are generally allowed to walk freely between tables and stand wherever we wish nearby so as to record the action.

That said, there are a number of “unwritten” rules most conscientious reporters follow when reporting. Things we can and can’t do, you might say.

We maintain a reasonable distance from the table when watching, remaining as inconspicuous as possible. We move around a lot, not standing behind a single player or at a particular table for too long. We generally do not speak to players, dealers, or anyone else out on the floor, other than perhaps to ask about a previous hand (during a break in the action). We don’t “root” for players, even if we have friends or favorites among them. And we never get involved when a dispute occurs, even if we might know the answer to a question that has arisen.

It’s crucially important, really, for reporters to do everything possible to avoid having any influence whatsoever on the action. I remember once during a WSOP Main Event noticing (along with a couple of other reporters) that at one particular table they were playing with incorrect blinds. If I recall, they had accidentally moved up a level at the one-hour mark rather than playing the level for two hours as scheduled. But we kept it to ourselves; it was an error those running and participating in the event had to figure out, and those of us reporting could not help them do so.

There’s one other “unwritten” rule that I follow, and I think most other reporters do as well. Don’t look at a player’s hole cards. Just don’t.

Paul Newman checks his cards in 'The Sting' (1973)Most players are good at protecting their cards, but there are some -- a lot, in fact -- who are not. If you’ve ever played live poker, you’ve probably sat next to someone who can’t seem to keep his or her cards hidden properly. Inexperienced players in particular (whom one encounters quite often at the WSOP) will tend to have trouble keeping their cards covered.

Even so, as a reporter following the action, it is usually a relatively simple matter not to look. Like everything involved with tourney reporting, it takes a bit of training. But after a while it becomes instinctive, and you just don’t look.

Think about it. You see someone’s holding. Then comes the action, and when the player whose cards you’ve seen check-raises big, you know he’s bluffing. Now you, too, better put on your best poker face, not allowing anyone to see by the look in your eyes that someone is trying to pull something here.

As another of my reporter-colleagues noted on Twitter last week, he does “everything humanly possible to avoid” looking at anybody’s cards, because “nothing good comes out of it.” He speaks for me there, and probably for just about every other tourney reporter who has had even a little bit of experience on the floor.

I’m hopeful that since it is presently the case that the great majority of tourney reporters do have ethical standards which include being very careful to avoid influencing action, the cheating that occurred at Partouche does not inspire TDs to reduce reporters’ access going forward. And if the incident perhaps causes those managing events to become more careful about giving out credentials in the future, well, I think that would be a positive development that would in fact decrease any need at present to restrict reporters’ access.

Have to add, though, as intriguing as this PPT story is, I hate that it happened.

Maybe it is because of my experience as a reporter and familiarity with the scene, but when I watched that video of the earlier event -- the one in which it appears cheating is taking place -- I felt a little sick inside. Was like watching some sort of accident caught on tape or something, the kind of thing that fills the viewer with dread. (I can’t even bring myself to show a still or embed it here.)

As Benjo noted, the video doesn’t necessarily prove anything, but knowing what we know about the player and what was judged to have happened in Cannes, it indeed looks “un peu étrange.” More than un peu, actually.

I hate the fact that this incident could cause players to become suspicious of reporters, though would completely understand if it did. But I do believe good will come from it, primarily in the form of greater diligence by all to help ensure the integrity of these events we love to play, cover, and follow.

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Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

It certainly looks like the guy is looking directly at the hole cards and then signalling across the table to the player with the big stack, who wears dark shades so as not to show his eyes drifting up to his friend to receive the signals. The calling an allin with Q5 and actually being ahead also doesn't help his case there, in a very UB scandal-esque kind of way.

I basically never let anyone stand behind me for any sustained period of time in any live poker event, period. I have even asked a person or two to move away from being directly behind me in my day. You just can't be too careful when real money in on the line. People are selfish and greedy.

11/12/2010 11:25 AM  
Blogger BJ Nemeth said...

I have a lot to say about the issue at hand (using fake tournament reporters to cheat), but I promised Shamus on Twitter that I'd comment on his pun-based titles.

In instances where there is a single title and nothing else (like most tournament hand updates), it's the responsibility of the title to tell me what happened. It has to be scannable. If I'm looking for updates on Daniel Negreanu, a hand he's involved in needs to include "Negreanu" in the title. If there's a pun based on "Kid Poker," I might miss it.

Most puns used in tournament reporting are vague at best, and too clever for their own good. If the pun were at the end of the update, I think it would be fine. But it's my introduction to the hand, and my first priority as a reader is simply to find out what happened. I don't read every single update, and the titles let me know which updates are likely to interest me.

However, any time you have both a title and a subtitle, I think it's great if one of them focuses on interesting word play. (Yes, even puns.) The title can be word play, while the subtitle explains the subject, or vice versa.

For example, these posts are titled "No Cannes Do," with the subtitle "On the Disqualification at Partouche." That tells me everything I need to know. The pun by itself requires you to know that something major happened at Cannes recently as it relates to poker. With the subtitle added, and the key word "Disqualification," I know that this post is important and requires my attention.

So as long as there is a title-subtitle combination, I think puns and other word play are fine. But as a reader, I want to know what I'm reading before I read it. (This is also why I hate twitter and forum links that are nothing more than "You have to see this!" More often than not, I didn't.)

If you write an article, a blog post, or a hand update, give me a title that lets me know what it's about. If you post a link on Twitter, give me some idea of where it leads and what I'll find there.

For the record, I only hold non-fiction to these standards. If you are writing fiction, feel free to title it as obscurely as you'd like.

11/12/2010 12:25 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

For more on the disqualification at Partouche, including some further, insightful commentary, see this YouTube clip (about 10 minutes) which features an audio interview -- in English -- with Benjo:

Also, the incident at Partouche was discussed at length during the last part of this week's Two Plus Two Pokercast (episode 147, 11/8/10).

11/13/2010 12:18 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Good posts. Does anyone know anything about these "reporters" and what is being done to them? They are accomplices here and it would help if they were identified so other tournaments can be on the lookout. This incident is disturbing, not an isolated incident and will have an effect on media access in the future.

11/15/2010 2:14 PM  

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