The Earth may be round, but one can still find a poker game around every corner. In this article we will discuss the brick and mortar venues; the virtual world of online poker is discussed separately in the Online Gambling chapter.
It is important to differentiate between various types of venues, where poker is played. Poker may fundamentally be the same game, regardless where it is being played, but this site is not about discussing the rules and strategies that legitimate poker players are interested in. Since we focus primarily on the crooked aspects of the game, it is important to first point out that there are major differences depending where the game is played. Simply put, we could easily say that 90% of the scams that may work quite well in home games are completely inapplicable in licensed poker rooms. Since this site is deals with the broad subject of card cheating I cannot exclude any poker scams, even the unsophisticated ones, simply because they may not apply to casino poker rooms.
Also, feel free to visit our sister site The Mott Street Poker Club, which is the online version of a rare gambling book from the late 19th century.
Home Poker Games
There is no shortage of home poker games, these days. With all the internet interest groups that anyone with an email address and five minutes to spare can join, it is not even a challenge for total strangers to get invited to someone's home, for a friendly game of poker.
Home games are generally loose. Since there are no regulations or procedures to speak of, any kind of scam that one can think of is a possibility. For example, in many home games players do not bother using a cut card, so bottom dealing is still a possibility. Since the deck gets passed around the table, everyone gets to be the dealer, in turn. Due to the fact that there are no strict shuffling procedures, any kind of shuffle work is a possibility. The list goes on, but basically: in home games, anything goes.
It should be noted that certain home game procedures may be common in some geographic areas, while completely unheard of in others. This also means that some scams that work quite well in one city may not work at all in a different geographic region, simply because the specific scams in question requires certain procedures that may not be common in other parts of the world. So, a cardsharp from Montreal may have to make a few adjustments if he is visiting New York City; and some of his favorite strategies may not even work.
Many poker scams happen while the player is handing the deck, i.e. either during a shuffle, or while dealing, or both. The most basic shuffling and dealing procedure involves one deck of cards that is being passed clockwise to each player in turn. The player whose turn it is to deal will shuffle the cards, offer the deck for a cut (usually to his/her right) and deal clockwise. However, although this is the most basic procedure, it is not how things are being done in all localities.
In New York City, for example, it is common practice to leapfrog two decks of opposite colors, to "speed up" the game. There is always an "active deck" and a "passive deck." As a general rule, the player that had been dealing on the previous round will gather the cards and start shuffling the deck (which now becomes the passive deck), while the person at his/her right passes another deck (one that is "already shuffled") to him/her for a cut; that player cuts the pre-shuffled deck and passes it to the person at his/her left for the deal. There are always three people involved: one person shuffles, another cuts and the third person deals. While the new dealer deals from the new active deck (that has been shuffled by one payer and cut by another) the old dealer is shuffling the other deck, which has just become the passive deck. A the conclusion of the round the active deck becomes the new passive deck and that passive deck becomes the active one. The dealer becomes a cutter, and then passes the new active deck one step ahead, while shuffling the new passive deck.
From a purely technical point of view, there is nothing wrong with this procedure, but from a gaming security standpoint, it defies reason why would anyone ever consider adopting this kind of procedure. Due to the fact that players are involved in a game with the active deck many players don't have any interest in the passive deck. Why would anyone care about a deck that is just being shuffled? After all, it will be cut, to enhance security, by a third player. The problems is that there is really no such thing as a passive deck, if a deck is being handled. If one decided to compile a list of scams that can happen to this "passive" deck, the list would be longer than Tolstoy's War and Peace. For every scam that can be done with the standard one-deck procedure, there must be at least ten scams that can be done with the "expedited" two-deck procedure, just described. Yet, this is how they deal poker in most home games, in New York City.
Two-deck procedures are generally less secure and some players prefer to avoid them. One can hardly blame them.
Some players have added extra security procedures to one-deck procedures. For example, in London I have seen that poker players have adopted a shuffling procedure that takes away the shuffle from the dealer, even in a one-deck procedure. Basically, the player seated at the dealer's left shuffles, then hands the deck over to the player seated to the dealer's right, for a cut, and then the dealer picks up the deck and deals.
This procedure is safer than the standard one-deck procedure, but it is still not foolproof. The two players doing the shuffling and cutting could still be working in collusion and the dealer could just as easily be dealing from a stack. Even a single-o worker could force the cut on an unsuspecting player. In fact, this enhanced procedure may end up giving a psychological advantage to any single-o worked that specializes in stacking the deck. The players are so convinced that their procedure is secure that they may never think anyone could miraculously stack the deck against them. The false sense of security may result in people paying less attention to the shuffle.
One may go to a hundred home games and encounter a hundred different procedures. In some home games players take procedures very seriously, even more than in average poker rooms. The point is that home procedures are so diverse that one never knows what one may encounter. And every procedure, or lack of, may lead to possibilities that may be totally inapplicable in another home game. Even professional cheats that are in total control on their own turf may be at a total loss in another home game.
Free Poker Leagues
State-sponsored poker leagues are the most ridiculous events I've ever heard of.
First of all, in those games, players play for a point system. Poker is a game for money, not a game for bragging rights.
Not surprisingly, players that frequent the free poker leagues are usually not the same folks that pull all-nighters in underground poker clubs; there are exceptions, of course. Nevertheless, you should not be surprised if you see two guys starring each other down for several (long and painful) minutes on an all-in bet. When I saw that (the one time someone invited me to one of these events) I almost cracked up laughing.
As one would expect, free poker leagues offer very little for those who wish to get some real experience playing poker. When one plays poker without real money at stake, one can never truly experience the feeling of losing or winning money. Also, players that "gamble" for points will not play in the same way as those that put their own money into a pot. So, those that manage to "sharpen their claws" in these free tournaments will develop a false sense of security; something they are likely to find out very soon, the moment hey are thrown into a real game.
Cheating is a possibility in any card game and free tournaments are no different. I don't really know of any "card sharks" specialize in free tournaments, but anything's possible. Still, there may be at least one reason why someone may decide to cheat in one of those tournaments. Since those tournaments are state-sponsored, some of them (or possibly all of them) act as satellite tournaments for more serious poker events. In other words, the ultimate winner of a free tournaments gets a free entry to a bigger tournament. But it takes weeks and weeks, and months and months, to collect enough points to qualify. Anything is possible, a winner of a free tournament could theoretically win a big event, but let's say it's a long shot.
There used to be a saying amongst poker payers, to have been made in Gardena. I've never heard of anyone bragging about having been made at the New Jersey Free Poker League. There must be a reason for that.
Private Poker Tournaments and Charity Events
At the present time in history, the most popular poker game is Texas Hold'em. The most popular variation of Texas Hold'em is No-Limit Texas Hold'em. And the most popular structure of No-Limit Texas Hold'em is the tournament structure. This is why poker clubs are known to frequently organize tournaments, to attracts players.
There are several reasons why tournaments are so popular. First of all, the recent boom in poker popularity was caused by televised poker tournaments. Second, multi-table tournaments guarantee that at least one player will win a nice chunk of change, by the end of the evening, with a relatively low buy-in.
The flip side is that there is more gambling involved, which means that skill plays a lesser role, so even a total novice can beat any experienced player by going all-in, pre-flop, on any hand. Even some of the most terrible players have been known to occasionally walk away from a tournament with a nice chunk of change, winning it all on pure luck. And finally, gamblers are dreamers, and many dreamers like to give their dreams a chance to win all that money.
The popularity of poker tournaments has therefore lead way to entirely new options when organizing fundraising events. If someone had suggested to a charity organization to raise funds by organizing a poker tournament, only ten years ago, they would be met with blank stares. But nowadays it is common to think of a poker tournament, as the first option, whenever someone thinks of a fundraiser. How else could anyone even hope to get people interested in coming to an event, these days? Even churches have been known to host poker tournaments.
These kinds of tournaments are really not the type of poker venues where one would hope to find serious poker players (although I have been to one such event where Howard Lederer and Annie Duke showed up). First of all, since the tournament is a fundraiser there's really no money to be made. And second, since most of the players are really clueless, experienced poker players are likely to get frustrated and aggravated, especially if one is a stickler for rules.
If these events are not likely to attract serious poker players, they are also not exactly a magnet for professional cardsharps. And the dealers are likely to have a raspy voice, by the end of the evening, from all that yelling, trying to get the attention of players that don't even know they are in the hand.
English pubs have always been social places. Besides drinking (and eating delicious English food) pubs are also places where people come to play various games; some games have even been nicknamed "pub games." Some of the mos popular traditional pub games are darts, pool, snooker, and a variety of drinking games. As card games go, cribbage was always the most popular English pub game. Things have changed, now. You've guessed it, the most popular "pub game" nowadays is pretty much No-Limit Texas Hold'em Poker.
It turns out, Texas Hold'em is not really a traditional English pub game (duh!). It just happens to currently be the most popular card game in the world and although the Brits are known for their strong bonds to old traditional values, they still were unable to resist the appeal of the game that the whole world is going crazy for. The only element of English tradition in "pub poker" is the fact that the Brits like to do that sort of thing in pubs.
Luckily for the Brits, their law enforcement officials seem to have decided they have better things to do to serve society than to "crack down" on a few guys that bring £20 to £60 per night to their local pubs, to play a few rounds of Texas Hold'em. Pubs are really not completely disassociated with gambling. Before the poker craze many pubs had areas with so-called fruit machines, which are really nothing else than slot machines, but to satisfy legal requirements the official name of the game had been changed along with a few other details. It is also quite possible that British laws do not pose any restrictions if people are betting on the outcome of a game of skill, such as poker. In any event, pub poker games are really low stakes events since London (or other English towns) have no shortage of real poker clubs.
London has no shortage of poker leagues, either. Those are organized by the newly born poker enthusiasts and ran through a variety of web sites. Like anywhere else, most pub games start with a tournament and as players get knocked out some may start to play cash games.
Other cities outside of the UK have pubs, too. And due to this fact some of those "off-shore pubs" have also decided to host "traditional" pub poker games. In New York City, for example, there were a couple of Irish Pubs that used to host poker games. Those games were done so openly that one had to wonder how they were even able to survive as long as they did, in post-9/11 New York City. New York has strict local laws and according to those laws it is even illegal to display a deck of playing cards (i.e. gambling equipment) inside of a place that has a New York State Liquor License. Technically speaking, if a customer pulls out a deck of cards and starts playing solitaire, inside of a New York bar, the joint can get shut down and risks to lose its Liquor License. So, not surprisingly, the New York City poker pub games were eventually raided by the cops.
From a gamins security standpoint pub games are no different than home games or private tournaments. The procedures are neither strict nor particularly secure. Londoners do have their own way of rotating the deal, which has some rules about who shuffles, who cuts and who deals, but if someone doesn't pass the deck for a cut in the usual way, no one is likely to throw a fit. Any break of procedure is always potentially a security risk, but their procedures are not particularly secure to begin with.
Underground Poker Clubs
Underground poker clubs have existed for decades, in every major city across the country. While most people are only aware of casinos, underground poker clubs (and other illegitimate gambling joints) have coexisted alongside the licensed casinos, for decades. One is likely to find more of the illegal gambling dens in cities that don't have any licensed casinos, simply because people want to gamble and they have no other place to go to. Although poker clubs are a bit different because they attract a different kind of player.
How do cardrooms make money?
Underground poker clubs typically make their money by charging a time fee. Some joints charge a flat fee for the evening, but in well organized cardrooms, the time fee is usually collected every half hour, as the dealers "push" (i.e. rotate from table to table). So, on the half hour mark a new dealer will come to the table and call, "time," as he/she exchanges the deck for a fresh one. Players will usually pay the time fee by placing the adequate number of chips in front of them and the dealer will collect the chips and place them into the chip tray.
The time fee ranges from club to club. At the time of this writing I am unaware of any clubs that charge less than $2 per half hour. In fact, at this time you may even have a hard time finding a club that charges as little as that. So, for argument sake, let's use this low figure to put some numbers together.
Two bucks may sound like nothing, but let's add up the numbers to see how much money we are talking about.
A typical poker table will seat 9 or 10 players; let's use 10 as a round number. So, at $2 per player, a 10-player table will make $20 every half hour. That's $40 per hour. If a table is open for business 10 hours a day, that adds up to $400 per day. Since these clubs are not closed on weekends and religious holidays we can assume that the table operates 30 days per month. After a few keystrokes on a calculator we will come up with a total of $12,000 per month. That's just from one table. A small poker joint will typically have four table; so we can roughly say that the joint will make $48,000 per month... hm, in cash. And remember, we are talking about a cheap joint that only charges $2 per half hour.
How do the dealers make money?
Most poker clubs do not pay their dealers a penny. In fact, in some clubs the dealers have to pay the club for the privilege of working there. This may sound outrageous, at first, but let's put some numbers together.
The dealers make their money from tips. After every round, someone wins the pot, so it is customary for the winning player to tip the dealer. After all, the dealer was the one that dealt out the winning hand. The tips can be as little as the minimum bet, for insignificant pots, or higher is a player high on adrenaline won a big pot. Obviously, the more rounds a dealer is able to deal every hour, the more pots are awarded to winners and the more winners toss a few bucks to the dealer.
To make things simple I am just going to tell you that a typical poker dealer may expect to generate a minimum of $200 per night, on tips. This is really a bare minimum in a club where people don't play for any significant money (perhaps a club where people play only 1-2 no limit games, with a $600 buy-in, which is considered low stakes). In clubs where there's more money on the table, dealers can make $400 to $600 on good days. That's, of course, all in cash. The clubs want some of that money. That's why in some of the clubs the dealers have to pay the club to work there. It is kind of like a cab driver renting a cab from the cab company.
How do the players make money?
Let's first put some number together. In a low stakes club, where the joint charges $2 per half hour, the dealers make a minimum of $200 in tips and the regular buy-in for a 1-2 no limit game is $600, the average player has to count on tossing 10% of that money out the window, without even taking any elements of gambling into account. For 10 hours of play a player will spend a total of $40, at $2 per half hour; then, if a dealer makes $200, that's another $20 that every player has to spend; the total comes to $60. Of course, the money spent on tips is only affecting the players that win some pots, but the problem is that a pot won is not the same as money in the bank. When a player wins a pot, that money has to stay on the table ("that money plays," as poker players would say) and chip stacks are known to get depleted as the night goes on. If an imaginary chip stack get transferred from player to player, throughout the evening, that same chip stack was used to tip the dealer, every time it got transferred. So, a tip is not a one-time fixed percentage of a given chip stack. The more action there is at a table, the more money gets trimmed from the stacks. Fortunately, the players are known to continually re-buy, throughout the night, so the money that gets soaked up on time fees and dealer tips is not that apparent.
Apparent or not, math doesn't lie. Money is kind of like energy, it cannot be created and it cannot vanish, it can only be transferred. And in the case of poker clubs, that's where some of it goes. So if poker players want to make some money, under those circumstances, they have to come up with ways to reduce the elements of gambling and chance to a minimum. To accomplish that they have two options: option A, they can learn to play better than average players, or option B, they can cheat.
The problem with option A, as most people find it, is that there is really no way to completely eliminate the element of chance from a legitimate poker game. The deck is always shuffled, before every round, and there always seems to be some lucky bastard that hits his gut-shot straight on the river. Of course, good players don't have to worry about those bastards that will win on pure luck, but those frustrations are precisely what leads some poker players to opt for option B.
Who's cheating at the poker clubs?
With a guaranteed minimum of about $12k (in cash) per month, per table, there is really very little incentive for these clubs to cheat their own players. The players will bring the money to the club and every time leave a chunk of it behind. What more could a club hope for? Plus, an illegitimate club really doesn't want to get caught cheating. They already have enough to worry about if the authorities decide to go after them, solely for the violation of anti-gambling laws. Those violations are usually misdemeanors and first time offenders get away with a monetary fine. But running a crooked joint may constitute some other serious charge that an ambitious prosecutor, eager for a promotion, would think to pin on them. The best way to operate an illicit gambling joint under the radars is to run clean games. At least that's what the smart club owners would do.
Of course, it would be naive to think that just because of this common sense, there's no cheating in any of the underground poker clubs. If the owners are not running a crooked joint there are still many other possibilities. One of the dealers could be working with a partner or some of the players may be cheating. Any imaginable scenario is a possibility.
The "semi-legal" joints
There is no such thing as a semi-legal enterprise. A business is either legal or illegal. And there is also no such thing as breaking the law just a little bit. So, all of these so-called "semi-legal" poker rooms are breaking the law to the full extent.
Basically, the folks that have come up with the term semi-legal really have no clue what they are talking about. Many people make the mistake of interpreting the laws based on rumors and common sense, without ever actually looking into the law books. Also, many reputable publications, such as The New York Times, to name one, have published editorials with misinformation about the legal issues of poker, pertaining to events in their own city. But of course, no one is going to believe me over The New York Times. After all, The Times must be right, since they are who they are (which has never been legal council, come to think of it).
When some New York poker clubs got busted, in 2006, most of them were charged with "profiting from gambling." The owner of the club known as All In got the brilliant idea to sell mandatory soft drinks, every hal hour, instead of charging the time fee. His reasoning was that he was not profiting from gambling, if he was not charging a time fee (true) and if he was just selling soft drinks (false). He didn't bother to read the New York State Penal Law, Section 225.05 "A person profits from gambling activity when, other than as a player, he accepts or receives money or other property pursuant to an agreement or understanding with any person whereby he participates or is to participate in the proceeds of gambling activity." In plain English, if you sell food and drinks in a place where people are gambling, you are profiting from a gambling activity, even if you are not directly taking a cut from the game. Also, the owner of All In was still in violation of several other laws, namely, "advancing gambling," "promoting gambling in the second degree" and "possession of a gambling device."
Anyway, if you want to find out what the law really says about gambling in New York, read the New York State Penal Law, the entire Section 225 § Gambling Offenses, straight from the official New York State web site (search for "section 225 gambling offenses"). The law is cumbersome and hard to interpret (no surprise there) but it's all there.
Every illegal poker club has to accept the possibility that they may eventually get pinched by the authorities. Before the poker craze, "regular folks" didn't really know where the poker clubs were, unless they were in the poker circles. But now you can just enter the word "poker" in the search box, on Craig's List, and a whole page of poker games is displayed, before you can even take your hand off the mouse. In a city like New York, at least 5% of the poker listings are illegal clubs.
If ordinary people know how to find poker clubs on the internet, so can the authorities (the reputation that cops are stupid is not really true). But cops are like any other employees, just because they know there is an illegal activity at such and such place it doesn't meant they will just go there and raid the place. That's just work, and then more paperwork, and when they bring the culprits in even more work. But when they get an order from "upstairs" to bust the joint, they do show up.
One reason why cops don't just go and bust a joint, the moment they know about it, is because running a poker joint is not a violent crime. In fact, in most jurisdictions it is just a misdemeanor. It is not unheard of for cops to show up at a poker club, then turn around and leave. This was a common occurrence at the Straddle Club, in New York City. Several times they showed up because someone had called them, for some other problems, then they would ask if everything was OK and leave. But Straddle did eventually get shut down after a couple of busts.
Casinos and Licensed Poker Rooms
In the years before the global spread of the Texas Hold'em pandemic, most casinos weren't even too interested in hosting any kinds of poker games. There are two reasons for this. First reason has to do with money. And the second reason... has to do with money.
Casinos make their profits from the "small" house advantage that's built into every game. So, without getting into too many details, casinos basically have a number to work with. And they like having a number like that, because it makes things simple. That number basically represents how much money a piece or casino real estate generates. The piece of real estate that's used for baccarat generates more than the same amount of real estate that's used for poker. Same goes for blackjack, or any other casino games.
Technically speaking, poker is not a casino game. This is why casinos that offer poker games normally have a separate area where poker is played. Sometimes the cardroom is even operated by a totally separate company. Depending on the layout of the casino the poker tables could either be situated in a totally separate cardroom, or inside of a designated area, such as, behind the velvet ropes. I have seen some casinos in the Caribbean, however, that have poker tables scattered around the main floor, alongside pit games. That's rare, but even then poker is treated as a different kind of game.
Since casinos do not have a stake in these poker games they make their money from the rake, which is a percentage from every pot. The percentage is not the same in every casino and usually there is a cap (i.e. a maximum amount the the casino would take from a pot, even if it lowers the percentage). However, I have seen casinos that don't have the rake capped at any amount; and the rake was 10%. I wasn't exactly itching to play there.
Most casinos will have kidney-shaped poker tables with a house dealer. However, I've seen one casino that also had round tables, in addition to oval ones. Those round tables were only used on busy nights and the games were self dealt. Also, since there was no dealer at those round tables, there was no one to collect the rake, so those tables were being operated on a time charge. Unfortunately, I wasn't there on any busy nights, when the round tables were in use, so I can't tell you how the games went. But my understanding was that the casino wasn't getting too involved; they just let the players figure out by themselves how they wanted to run their own games. That's not entirely a bad approach, but if we are talking about game security, forget about it.
Speaking of game security, poker rooms are at the absolute bottom in terms of priorities. Yes, CCTV surveillance does have coverage of the poker rooms, but you can be sure that the coverage is not as strict as with any other casino game. Casino surveillance departments are sometimes understaffed and sometimes there's simply not enough people there to watch the poker tables. The casino will install cameras over each and every poker table, and they will plug those camera feeds into recorders, but there's very little reason why casinos would put additional staff on the payroll to monitor those games, live. When a casino looks at the bottom line, paying an additional crew to watch over some poker games is just like flushing money down the drain. Unless casinos have reason to suspect anyone, they will most likely never bother watching the live camera feeds from the poker tables.
The other security issue is about procedures. Procedures, in general, offer some protection against some of the common gambling scams. Once again, since casinos don't have a stake in poker games there is less reason for them to be strict with poker procedures. As a result, many poker rooms have dealers that have not been taught proper procedures. I am not talking about procedural flaws that will stand out to the public, as if the dealer is incompetent. I am talking about stuff that most people will never notice. For example, I have seen many dealers that don't release the deck completely, before cutting. This may seem like no big deal, but it is actually one of the biggest potentials for simple shuffle scams. And simple shuffle scams are more likely to occur than elaborate ones. Why so? Because if something is simple, anyone can do it, and if anyone can do it, it is more likely to happen. Some other no-no's I've seen are dealers turning the hand holding the deck (usually while handling chips), not sticking to the same RRSR shuffling cycle on ever round, and so on. I've even seen some dealers occasionally doing shuffles that end with a strip, right before the cut. That's something that should really never be allowed, as a stripping procedure is one of the easiest ways to set up the deck for a controlled cut.
Many casinos have adopted ShuffleMaster automatic shufflers. One may think that casinos may not have an interest into investing that kind of money into their poker rooms, but actually this investment does make sense. The reason is simple. It takes by far less time for the dealer to leapfrog two decks in and out of a shuffling machine, than it takes to do a full RRSR shuffling cycle, on every round. In the long run, the shuffling machine means more rounds per hour. And more rounds per hour means more pots per hour. And more pots per hour means more rakes per hour. So, shuffling machines pay for themselves and make more money for the casino.
Another thing that shuffling machines accomplish is increased security of the games. As we've discussed (if you believe me) most casinos don't bother monitoring the live CCTV feeds from the poker games. So, with this security measure being virtually non-existent, the players do have an added level of security by playing in casinos that use shuffling machines on their poker tables. The machine will count the cards on ever round (something the dealer just does occasionally, normally only when the round goes to the river). The machines will also ensure that the dealers cannot stack the deck. If I had to pick between playing at a poker table with manual shuffles, or a table equipped with a ShuffleMaster, I'd pick the machine any day.
So, shuffles are dead time for any casino. If a casino adds up all the time it takes to shuffle, at the end they may as well close the joint for a couple of weeks per year. Casinos are very well aware of that. So, shuffling machines make sense, even in poker games. But some casinos have come up with a different solution for that problem.
I have seen two casinos (and actually played in one of them) where they had two dealers at the poker tables. There was an actual dealer that deals-out the cards, and then there was an additional dealer that shuffles a second deck, while the live deck is being played. The second dealer was basically doing the job of a shuffling machine. I cannot even begin to say how ludicrous that is.
First of all, in both casinos that I've seen, the second dealer was not following any particular shuffling cycles. The dealers were just shuffling and stripping as many times as they felt like it. To anyone that knows anything about stacking the deck, it should be obvious that any flexibility in the number of riffles makes it easier to do a number of stacking procedures that would be impossible to do with a standard RRSR procedure. With a standard RRSR cycle an expert dealer may be able to run up a pocket pair, and on seldom occasions an additional card (or slug) to hit the board. But with unlimited shuffles, at the discretion of the person doing the shuffling, it takes by far less skill to run up the deck all the way to the river, on each and every round. And since the shuffling is not done by a machine, the second dealer can easily set up the deck for a cut, even if the principal dealer is not in on the scam.
So, casino cardrooms may be generally more regulated than private poker games, but there are some underground poker clubs that have better procedures than what I've seen in some of the casinos. In fact, that makes sense. An underground club is already operating in the shadows. Not a penny of the money that an underground club collects goes to the Internal Revenue Service. That's already enough to worry about, for the folks operating those joints. So, it is in their best interest to keep their games clean. Some of the guys that run the illegal joints know a thing or two about cheating and they will do the best they can to enforce procedures. The old Playstation, in New York City, even had a CCTV surveillance room. And unlike casino surveillance rooms, there were no pit games to watch, so all they could monitor were the poker tables. Of course, it wasn't actually monitored properly, but the point is, casinos are not necessarily better than underground joints. Each joint has to be evaluated on individual basis.
"As Seen on TV"
If I wanted to tell you everything I think is wrong with televised poker tournaments I'd run out of ink. But let me try to summarize a few details as best as I can.
Let's just compare two popular televised events. The Olympics and the World Series of Poker.
First, let's see who is behind the WSOP. It is a well known fact that the whole thing started a Binion's Horseshoe. Who are the Binions? Well, it's no secret that Benny Binion is a convicted felon, with a long wrap for tax evasion, fraud, theft, assault and murder, just to mention a few documented crimes. And that's without counting all the stuff he's gotten away with or the stuff they couldn't pin on him due to lack of evidence. Now that we have a clear understanding about who is behind the WSOP, let's ask the same question about the Olympic Games.
The Olympics were revived in the 19th century, by a young Frenchmen named Pierre de Coubertin. Unlike Benny Binion, Coubertin was not a criminal. He was an honorable man who revived the Olympic Games in the spirit of true sportsmanship.
So, if you were to pick between the two, just based on the reputation of the organizer, which one of the two events would you say stands a better chance of having true integrity? But the organizers are just half of the equation. The other half is the participants. So, who are the participants in both events? Well, in the Olympics the participants are hard working athletes that go through rigorous training, ever single day of their lives, to achieve their goals. And the participants in the WSOP are basically just a bunch of gamblers. And despite the fact that the Olympics appear to have a better chance of having some true integrity, due to the fact the the participants are supposedly honorable people, that event is still plagued by scandals of doping and cheating. And whenever that kind of controversial news hits the media no one questions it. And why not? Because we all know that even the world's best athletes are still just people and we all know that cheating is in our nature. But anyone that even dares to suggests that televised poker tournaments are rigged stands a good chance of being ridiculed and labeled a "conspiracy theorist."
But the Olympics are not the only televised competitive event that we can compare to televised poker tournaments. And we do need to compare all these events simply because they all share one common factor: the fact that they are all televised. And why is that such an important fact? I'm getting to that.
On November 28, 2008, the New Yorker magazine (one of the best magazines in the US) published an article entitled All The Answers (on page 63). The article was a "personal history" (i.e. an autobiography) written by Charles Van Doren. The article was about the infamous quiz-show scandal from the late 1950s.
In a nutshell, in the winter and spring of 1956-57 Charles Van Doren became a household name as millions of Americans watched him on TV as he stood in a supposedly soundproof booth and answered all the difficult questions. He appeared to be a living encyclopedia. In his own words he "was considered well spoken, well educated, handsome..." and most importantly, he appeared to be "...the very image of a young man parents would like their son to be." The emphasis should be on the words "appeared to be." In reality, Charlie Boy was just a cheat. Yes, he was handsome and also educated, so his knowledge was likely to be in the upper average, but he was definitely not the living encyclopedia that he appeared to be, as seen on TV. Common sense would suggest that it should be impossible for anyone to be knowledgeable to the extent of being able to answer all the random questions of a quiz show, ranging from physics, history, chemistry, biology, astronomy and what not. But when people watch TV common sense simply doesn't exist. Whatever people see on TV, they believe. But the only explanation that makes any sense at all, regarding the quiz-show genius, is that the whole thing is a fix. And that's exactly what it was. But subconsciously people really don't want reality when they watch TV. Reality is at home or at work when you have to spend your time doing some shitty job just to be able to make some money. And then what do you do with that money? Pay for groceries. Pay your monthly bills, your credit card debts, your mortgage. That's all reality. For the average person that's already enough reality to deal with. So, when the average person turns on the TV set, he expects to enter a fantasy world and see some entertainment. Does any of this make any sense to you?
Let's fast-forward a bit through TV history and stop the time machine at the televised broadcast of the 2003 World Series Of Poker. A complete amateur poker player that learned to play poker online and entered the WSOP for the first time in his life won first place at the Main Event. To make things even better, his name happened to be Moneymaker. And as it turns out, his historic performance inspired tens of thousands of other amateur poker players from around the world and brought them to the WSOP the following year, and the following year, and the following year... He didn't even know how to play his hands (still doesn't) but he "proved," on TV, to millions of viewers around the world, that anyone with $10,000 in cash (which anyone with a credit card can get through a cash advance) can win millions of dollars by spending a few hours playing poker. I have a word for the Chris Moneymaker miracle: bullshit.
If you take a good look at the coverage of the 2003 WSOP (and forget for one moment anything that you may have believed about it in the past) you will see that Mr. Moneymaker simply doesn't appear believable. His emotions are as fake as a $3 bill. If I've ever seen bad acting in my life it was Moneymaker's flamboyant actions at the final table of the 2003 WSOP. If you compare Chris Moneymaker to Charles Van Doren, you will see that moneymaker is also the kind of guy that most TV viewers inspire to be. TV folks know very well that TV viewers are not poker champions, they are average folks. And average folks are tired of watching some mysterious poker champions come in and take all the money from all these average folks that came to the tournament. But average folks really love it when some average guy (i.e. one of their guys) comes in and rips all the poker champions apart. Yeah! That rocks! And if he can do it, so can I.
But, one may ask, why would a TV show fake an event, such as a quiz show or a poker tournament? Well, the answer is, because it simply wouldn't make any sense not to. Do you have any idea how boring a real poker game can be, if you are just passively watching it (i.e. without betting a single dime of your own money on the turn of a card)? Well, TV folks have sponsors, viewers and ratings to deal with. And they are dealing with a real budget. Do you really think they can afford to risk producing a show where nothing happens?
Let's define what TV shows really are. If I had to pick a single word to describe them, it would be: entertainment. With me so far? But let's expand our definition of TV.
So, what is television and how does it work? Fact: television is a big business that gets money from advertisers. Fact: in order to make us watch their stupid ads, they have to put some programming in between the ads; basically to trick us into watching the damn ads. Fact: these programs have to be interesting enough to dupe the viewers into watching them. Fact: television producers have a long record of manipulating and sensationalizing facts to make their programs more interesting, so they can compete with other programs.
Now, how many entertainment shows are there on TV? Well, many. And all of them are in competition with each other. And behind each TV show there are investors and people that are trying to make names for themselves. Those people have to make sure that their show is the most popular one, so they can make other shows in the future and continue to make more money through advertisers. Yes, it's all about selling the ads. To make you watch the ads they have to put some entertainment between the ads (not the other way around). And advertisers are only interested in buying ads that will be shown during popular shows that millions of people are likely to watch. In the words of Charles Van Doren (page 7): "...when “Twenty-One” [the title of the quiz show] was first on it wasn't rigged, and it was—therefore?—a failure." So, if TV producers that their shows to have good ratings they basically have to make sure their shows turn out to be interesting. And how do you do that when you're filming a poker show whose outcome depends on the turn of a card that is dealt out of a random deck?
The dogma of television
On some levels television can be compared to religion. I'm serious. What television and religion have in common is an ingredient called dogma.
Dogma is simply a set of beliefs that a group of believers holds to be true, without ever questioning these beliefs, without ever asking for any kind of proof or evidence. In fact, the very source of information, whether it be the Bible, the Koran or television, becomes the proof in itself. The proof that what we see on TV is true is because we've seen it on TV. Politicians are well aware of this fact, which is precisely why they always manipulate the masses through TV and other media.
I always liked what Thomas Jefferson (the third President of the United States) had to say about the media: "To be truly informed, one must learn to completely ignore all newspapers." In his time there was no television, but I can't imagine his philosophy would have been any different, if he was talking about television as a source of information.
So, this concludes my "conspiracy theory" that televised poker tournaments are rigged. I offer absolutely no evidence to support my "conspiracy theories;" and in fact, come to think of it, TV folks also don't offer any evidence to support the apparent legitimacy of their events. All I offer is some common sense; which, come to think of it, is what's definitely lacking from all these TV shows. The amazing stories of poker champs rising to the top on all these TV shows are stories for little kids. Tell them to someone else.
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