Posts Tagged ‘Editorial’

Editorial: Should Chris Ferguson Be Able to Accept WSOP POY Award?

 Editorial: Should Chris Ferguson Be Able to Accept WSOP POY Award?

With the close of the Las Vegas leg of the World Series of Poker last week, the WSOP Player of the Year race became a flashpoint for the poker community. While it has created a great deal of controversy over its scoring, the person who emerged on top after all the events were finished in Sin City – former World Champion and Full Tilt pariah Chris Ferguson – seemed to incite another round of outrage. That outrage was simple – should Ferguson, for his sins in the poker community, be able to accept the POY award, let alone play in the WSOP?

Let’s start with the second statement in that question first. As far as playing in a publicly available event, series or even simply a cash game, Ferguson has the right to participate.  Short of convictions for offenses such as murder, a person should be allowed to take part in the proceedings in Las Vegas. Hell, even after they might have served their punishment, those who have committed murder might be more accepted than someone who has cheated on the tables, had connections with organized crime or other egregious actions that have landed people in the “Black Book.” Besides, do we really want casinos to oxymoronically be the “morality police?”

Since we’ve established the right to play in the games, then it might be natural to assume that someone should be eligible for the rewards that come with excellent performance. In the case of the WSOP POY, the person leading the standings at the close of the Las Vegas leg would receive a €10,000 buy-in to the WSOP Europe Main Event (roughly a $ 11,500 prize, with current exchange rates). After the points were calculated from the 71 tournaments that comprised this year’s schedule, Ferguson had emerged as the points leader (898.46), eking out the top slot over Ryan Hughes (876.35) and John Monnette (865.21).

With Ferguson set to receive the rewards for his play this summer (and let’s put it this way – any system where a two-time bracelet winner over the span of the WSOP such as David Bach only gets enough points to be in 70th PLACE needs to be revamped), the outrage from the poker community was adamant. Because of Ferguson’s involvement in the Full Tilt Poker scandal – in which the company did not segregate player funds from business funds (causing the eventual collapse of the company) AND the “Black Friday” actions of fraudulently accepting gaming transactions and billing them as other things such as “office supplies” or “golf equipment” – arguably most people believe that Ferguson should not receive the award or the prizes involved with it. Much of that comes from how Ferguson conducted himself following the actions of “Black Friday.”

When the indictments of April 2011 came down, much of the online poker world scurried to figure out what to do (the one exception? PokerStars, but that’s a discussion for another time). Not only was Full Tilt Poker attempting to save its business, the CEREUS Network rooms of and Absolute Poker were under siege, too. When the Department of Justice allowed the rooms to open to remit bankrolls to players, only PokerStars stepped up; the others mentioned could not give the players money back because…they didn’t have it.

Issues would get worse for Full Tilt, with Ferguson in a position of knowledge about the company, as 2011 wore on. September 2011 would bring the revocation of the site’s license by gaming authorities and, as a result, the company went under. But it was Ferguson’s lack of concern regarding the shutdown and eventual closure – he didn’t say a word, he just slinked away with millions in his pockets – that riled the senses of those who had been aggrieved. His return last year to the WSOP (alongside Howard Lederer) only rubbed salt in the wounds.

This is the problem for many – Ferguson (whom I once held in quite high esteem) and all the rest HAD to know what they were doing was wrong. If they weren’t knowledgeable about the workings of their company – the one they all joined in to create – then that is mismanagement of the highest order and that includes fraud. That they got away with paying a bit of money (OK, a LOT of money in some cases) and weren’t adequately punished for their transgressions doesn’t sit well with many.

There are people that literally lost their lives over the decisions of these people in particular and Full Tilt Poker as a whole. Some lost tens of thousands of dollars, even after “everyone” was “made whole.” And even for the people who were paid…we lost our belief in the people that created this company “for the players.” We lost our belief in that they were honorable. And we lost our belief in the honor of the game of poker, that you do what’s right, no matter what. Quick question…where do you think the Full Tilt Poker remittance would be if it hadn’t been for PokerStars?

Why are people like Mike Matusow, recent Poker Hall of Fame inductee Phil Ivey, and others who were an alleged part of “Team Full Tilt” given a pass? That’s an outstanding question. But the ones that we know had knowledge of what occurred – Ray Bitar, Lederer, Ferguson, perhaps some others – still have never adequately explained why they did it nor (and especially in Ferguson’s case) offered their mea culpas to a satisfactory point. And that is why people still have a problem with them at the WSOP or any other tournament location and why people are having issues with Ferguson taking anything regarding the POY.

The poker world may be getting itself in a snit over nothing – it isn’t known whether Ferguson has accepted the seat and will travel to King’s Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic, come October anyway to participate in the WSOP Europe Main Event. He hasn’t participated in a tournament outside of the WSOP since “Black Friday,” meaning that he does see that he is persona non-grata for the most part in the poker world. The very fact that he might not go to the WSOP Europe is enough that, over the span of those 11 events, another person would pass Ferguson for the championship and make all this hand wringing for naught.

Poker News Daily

Editorial: Poker Doesn’t Need More “Characters” Like Salomon Ponte

 Editorial: Poker Doesn’t Need More “Characters” Like Salomon Ponte

If you’ve been away from your television for the past few days, then you’ve missed the latest in uproars in the poker community. On this week’s edition of Poker Night in America from the Choctaw Casino in Durant, OK, the poker world was introduced to arguably the vilest creature that has ever been seated at a poker table. Going by the name Salomon Ponte – but loudly and crassly telling everyone to call him the “Hashtag King“ – this stain on the poker condition hit the felt in the PNIA cash game, a $ 25/$ 50 where the usual minimum buy-in is around $ 5000. Before he left, he had made a dubious impression on the program.

Over the course of an hour of play, Ponte proceeded to insult pretty much every player that was at the table, which included Shaun Deeb and Doug Polk. This wasn’t your garden variety, Mike Matusow “you’ve got little balls, I’ve got big balls” needling, these insults went into areas that no one should enter (hell, even professional basketball players KNOW NOT to do these things). Ponte proceeded to insult Deeb’s WIFE, saying “I’d rather be dead than have your fucking wife,” said that Deeb was a “fucking retard” and said Polk was “one of the biggest bitches in poker.” It was particularly sad to see Ponte, after spewing his vitriol, try to borrow money from the people he had disparaged (like they were going to give him money?).

Congratulations, poker world, we’ve finally found the point – poker doesn’t need more “characters” like Salomon Ponte.

Looking over the history of poker, there have been men – and some women – who have contributed to the game because of their larger than life personalities. You don’t think that the riverboat gamblers who traversed the Mississippi River during the 1830s and 1840s didn’t have a colloquial charm about them? What about such men who conquered the West as “Doc” Holliday, Wyatt Earp, “Wild Bill” Hickok and scores of others? The ladies were well represented by “Poker Alice” Ivers and Lottie “Poker Queen” Deno (born Carlotta Thompkins) in the late 1800s. Even into the 20th century, there were men like “Titanic” Thompson and, yes, even the man considered the “Godfather of Poker” Doyle Brunson. These people were THOSE personalities that made the game better and, as an added benefit, helped their wallet get fatter.

As the latter part of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century began, however, those “characters” became fewer. Potentially because of the effect of online poker, the visage of the soulless hulk of flesh, sitting at a table in a hoodie with headphones clasped around his head, sunglasses removing the last vestiges of humanity, there are few players who capture the attention of those casual poker fans. The aforementioned Matusow attempted to carry the banner (taken out by a bad back that limits his sitting time), as did Antanas “Tony G“ Guoga (taken out by becoming a married man and a politician).

Since there is a dearth of entertaining personalities in the poker community, the poker programs in existence have little but (gasp!) skillful poker play and educational and technical points to be able to talk about during their broadcasts. They really want to talk about the art of poker and the psychological battle that is going on in front of those with a rudimentary knowledge of the game, but they also want to see the blood sport, the sparring, that one gets with mano y mano showdowns for huge piles of money. Thus, these shows try to create a “bad guy” for the fans to hate.

ESPN and the World Series of Poker have been the worst offenders in this field. Going back to Matusow in 2004 against eventual World Champion Greg Raymer, each year there’s been that “player you love to hate.” In 2006, Jamie Gold all but twirled a moustache at the final table as he won the World Championship; 2007 brought the “bulldozer” that was Hevad Khan (and who brought about the “Hevad Khan Rule” against overly exuberant celebrations at the WSOP); just last year, it was William Kassouf and his incessant table talk that drew the ire of the community.

But there was a difference in these famous “bad guys” that separates them from the embarrassment that Ponte was at the table. For the most part, there was no malevolence (Matusow? OK, maybe questionable there) involved in their actions. They were stretching the rules of the game of poker, seeing just how far out on the edge they could go while they garnered attention from either the poker press or (perhaps more importantly) the cameras of ESPN.

In Ponte’s case, there was venom in the words he spoke. This wasn’t an attempt to get into someone’s head while at the table, this was verbal assault that could have gotten out of hand and become physical. There’s no place for that at the tables and the producers of PNIA should have put the kibosh on Ponte’s actions before they got out of hand. The problem is that Ponte wouldn’t have given a damn; he was later ejected from the Choctaw Casino and, over Twitter, proudly stated he had been kicked out of about a dozen casinos, not something to wear as a badge of honor (really, how shitty do you have to be to get tossed out of a casino?).

Maybe it’s time the poker community learned something. You don’t have to be a dick to be a “personality” at the tables. You just have to be able to halfway carry a conversation, maybe be a little self-deprecating, and ensure that the people playing against you – and those watching on whatever outlet – are entertained. THEN you’ll be asked to every event where a telegenic personality is needed.

Sure, poker needs to have some colorful characters in its mix. Sometimes they even need to have the proverbial “bad guy” to get the fans riled up against. What we don’t need in the game are people like Ponte, who is simply a punk off the street who happens to have a bigger mouth than a bank account and no idea how to handle either. To put people on the air like that is a huge mistake and one I am sure that PNIA has learned from. Hopefully the poker community has learned from it also.

Poker News Daily

Boston Globe Editorial Comes Out with Anti-Online Gaming Opinion

 Boston Globe Editorial Comes Out with Anti Online Gaming Opinion

Although there hasn’t been a state pass online gaming regulations since 2013, there have been several that have come up with legislation on the subject (that have failed to garner support) or have created committees to further study the situation. One of those states is Massachusetts, which has been active in building their gaming offerings with three new casinos being built around the state to counteract those in neighboring Connecticut. They have also been studying an expansion into online gaming, but one of the state’s top newspapers has come out with a definitively anti-online gaming stance.

On Sunday, the Boston Globe editorial staff penned an op-ed that looked to persuade state legislators from further pursuit of online gaming. Entitled “Don’t Gamble Massachusetts’ Future Online,” the op-ed starts out by mentioning the legislative study that is considering full online casino regulation – slots, poker, “table” games, the entire operation. They also mention that, in previous op-eds, they have supported the expansion of online lottery sales. When it comes to online gaming and poker, however, the Globe staff believes that goes too far.

One point that the Globe editorial staff brings up is that there isn’t any “ancillary benefits” to online gaming and poker. With the live casinos, the Globe writers point out that there are other areas that money is spent other than gambling – hotel rooms, dining, shopping, concerts, shows, and other non-gaming outlets which garner the state revenue. Another point brought up is that, five years after legalizing casino gaming in the state, there still isn’t a full-fledged casino open and one “slot” outlet in Plainridge hasn’t exactly drawn in the revenues that were predicted. The Globe also states that the live casinos and lottery operations can be controlled by the state, while the online offerings would have private companies in control.

The final point that the Globe makes is that online gaming and poker are “predatory.” The editors quote Les Bernal, the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, as saying, “Young people aren’t going to brick-and-mortar casinos, which should be a good thing. This whole effort is about getting an entire new generation of youngsters hooked on gambling.”

The problem with Bernal and the organization speaking out on the subject is that the Globe fails to offer any counter-argument to the statement. It is an op-ed, granted, but some actual information from a pro-online gaming organization – the Poker Players Alliance is unfortunately the ONLY one that has any prominence in the States of America – could have at least been presented to offer some balance to the piece. It doesn’t appear, however, that the Globe staff was interested in a balanced report.

Opinions from readers are mixed on the subject, with some taking the Globe to task for not presenting a more researched opinion. “There is a good reason this article is in the opinion section,” one reader writes. “Very little evidence is show and the is an amalgam of the authors’ feelings about morality and ethics.” “Why not try a trial, a year?” another writer states. “Then (we can) evaluate…with facts.”

Others, however, applaud the stance taken by the Globe. “Bravo for taking a stand on this, though I expect our legislature will soon cave to the allure of tax revenue,” one writer says. Another takes a rather extreme stance in writing, “Gambling is a tax on stupidity. We shouldn’t be taxing it, we should be trying to mitigate it.”

Massachusetts is examining the potential of online gaming, as are several other states in the Northeast. Pennsylvania has passed the revenues from online gaming into their current budget, but they have been unable to reach an agreement on regulating the industry. New York currently has legislation in its General Assembly, but that has been the case for the last three years. Being first into the action would be of great advantage to the Bay State, but the Globe doesn’t believe that it is worth the risk for the state or its citizens to open online casino gaming and poker.

Poker News Daily

Editorial: With Australia’s Departure, International Online Poker Is Dead

 Editorial: With Australia’s Departure, International Online Poker Is Dead

My fellow online denizens, we are gathered here today for a funeral to celebrate a short but white-hot light that was snuffed out last week. International Online Poker passed away after a long illness otherwise known as “death by 1000 cuts.” While it seems that it was around for much longer than it was, International Online Poker was only 19 years old and had envisioned a much better life for itself.

Coming out of the womb of something called “the internet” and buoyed by the increase of home computers in the late 1990s, International Online Poker came to life in 1998 with its first home, Planet Poker. Soon after that, other homes began to emerge for International Online Poker, with each one improving on the previous domicile. Paradise Poker was next to host International Online Poker, but the true boom wouldn’t come until PartyPoker opened a new palace for International Online Poker to live just before the end of the 20th century.

PartyPoker made it cool to play poker, especially with people from around the world, and it thrived on a solid platform and good customer service. In 2001, however, another new place for International Online Poker to call home was built with even better amenities. Called PokerStars, the new place was unveiled but was quickly overcome by the news of the day, an attack in the United States that brought down the World Trade Center in New York City.

PartyPoker remained the dominant site for the next couple of years as PokerStars fought to get the attention of International Online Poker and draw it over to its new pad, alongside such other upstart homes as Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker. In 2003, PokerStars got its edge in sponsoring a young man with the unlikely moniker of Chris Moneymaker after he won a seat to the World Series of Poker’s Championship Event. After Moneymaker won the tournament, more people began to flock to International Online Poker’s new hangout, especially when more World Champions became tied to PokerStars after their victories.

In 2004, another newcomer came along. The people considered “professionals” in the poker playing community decided it was time they got a piece of what International Online Poker was giving and opened their own home. Called Full Tilt Poker, those “professionals” promoted the factor they lived in the home as well, making for a great place for people to come and learn the game while enjoying the new digs. With outstanding properties popping up seemingly every day, International Online Poker was quite happy and celebrating whichever home it went.

The clouds were growing for International Online Poker, however. In 2006, the first chink in the armor emerged when the United States passed laws making it illegal to finance online gaming transactions. PartyPoker, in a highly difficult decision, pulled out of the country to stay in accordance with the new laws, as did 888Poker. PokerStars, Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker didn’t, however, leading the U. S. contingent – and, thus, International Online Poker – to go to those sites.  The actions in the U. S. were limited to begin with but, as the years went on, other countries began to also knock chunks out of International Online Poker.

Germany, Italy, Spain, France…all introduced legislation over the next few years to ban online gaming save for sites that were expressly established and located in the country of the game. These moves also wore on International Online Poker as it pulled those countries’ players out of the overall pool and forced them into playing against their countrymen and didn’t allow anyone else in. It also didn’t help that those countries where “fenced off” play was located were taxed extremely, driving players from the game who could no longer make a living.

Just as International Online Poker was trying to get used to these changes, the U. S. dropped another atomic bomb of sorts. “Black Friday,” where the U. S. Department of Justice indicted the leaders of the three powers of the online poker industry – PokerStars, Full Tilt and CEREUS (the partnership of Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker) – effectively knocking the U. S. out of circulation. International Online Poker was dealt a severe blow with “Black Friday” and it only got worse until International’s demise this week.

Alas, my friends, International Online Poker will never come back after the Australian decision. The current trend towards “nationalism” in politics has spread into our taxation and revenues systems. If a nation can tax something from its citizens to death and keep those profits for itself, they are going to do that (we’ve seen this with France, Spain, and Italy). If they can enforce laws that make companies come inside their borders to participate, then they’ll make sure they do that, too. What they won’t do is allow the old status quo to return, when someone in California could be playing the game against someone in Lithuania in a world-uniting endeavor.

Several locales will survive International Online Poker’s demise, each struggling to make it on its own. French Online Poker, Spanish Online Poker, and other nationally-restricted siblings of full-fledged International remain, with “International” now limited to the United Kingdom, Canada, South and Central America, Africa, and Asia. That may seem large until it is considered that Asia may be the next to withdraw inside itself rather than see the money go elsewhere.

How strange is it that slightly more than a decade ago we now consider the “Golden Age” of the online game? It was a brief but bright light that burned twice as brilliantly. Now, International Online Poker is dead, never to return as we once knew it. And we can only sit back and wonder what could have been…

Poker News Daily

Editorial: Three Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Be Worried about “Libratus”

 Editorial: Three Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Be Worried about “Libratus”

A couple of weeks ago in the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, a rather stunning occurrence took place. Over the span of 120,000 hands and roughly 20 days of play, a computer artificial intelligence (AI) called “Libratus,” developed by the Carnegie Mellon College of Computer Science, defeated a squad of tough poker professionals – Dong Kim, Jason Les, Jimmy Chou and Daniel McAulay – in heads up No Limit Texas Hold’em. “Defeated” is a bit too mild a word. “Devastated” would be a better one as, once the final numbers were tallied, “Libratus” was able to score a $ 1,766,250 win over the humans, a crushing defeat so thorough there was no room for any discussion.

Fear not, humanity. This isn’t the end of the world as we know it. The truth is that there won’t be a tableful of “Libratus” knockoffs sitting around the online baize at any point soon. Here’s three reasons why the human race is still the “top dog” when it comes to the game of poker…at least for the immediate future.

Did They REALLY Play Texas Hold’em?

As my friend and colleague Dan Katz pointed out in his rundown of the rules for the staged event, there’s some question as to whether what happened at the Rivers Casino could be held as a true facsimile of an actual Texas Hold’em game. With each hand played, the players and “Libratus” started with identical stacks (20,000 chips, with blinds of 50/100). No matter what had occurred on the previous hand, the stacks were reset each and every time. The logic of this is that it didn’t allow for either side to build up a stack to “bully” their opponent.

That in its very nature is a part of the game of Texas Hold’em, however. You use your stack as a weapon just as much as the cards and, as such, can make players with stronger holdings let their cards go to the muck rather than stay around. It would have made more sense to reset the scores if someone busted to allow for that “bully” factor to be involved rather than start each hand equal, which in no way is how poker is played.

Then there was the odd “all in” rule. If either the live player or “Libratus” were to go all in at any time during the dealing of the board, action on the hand was immediately stopped and the winning percentages were determined AT THAT POINT, with the chips in the pot then being divvied up by those percentages. This removed “luck” from the game in the form of “sucking out” on a better hand, but that is a part of the game of Texas Hold’em; sometimes your pocket Aces are going to get run down by that paltry 9-3 (and usually at the worst moment ever).

These rule changes were enough to allow mankind to question the outcome of the “Brains vs. AI” battle in Steel City. If they weren’t playing by the rules that humans normally play by, were they actually playing poker?

So You Think You’d Like to Own “Libratus?”

There is no question that “Libratus” is a feat of engineering and computer programming (done by humans, it must be added). The ability of the AI to not only build its own database (it played, per the Reading Eagle, literally trillions of hands against itself – the human analog of sitting on the bed and turning cards – before even entering the competition to build information) was stupendous, but it also would continue to learn about its opponents as the game was going on. This allowed for “Libratus” to do exactly what humans do on the felt – make gear changes that throw the opposition off their game, so to speak.

It isn’t going to be next week that a card sharp will have “Libratus” in their pockets, however. The AI was run by a supercomputer that, per the Eagle, costs millions of dollars to operate per year. You’re not going to see someone wheel a bank of computers up to the chair behind them to play anytime soon – and you’re not going to run into someone online who has a similar capacity sitting in their home (just as an aside – and one of the reasons the development of “Libratus’” AI is important – it gives artificial intelligence improvements to be able to better make decisions in an “imperfect” situation).

It’s Just Heads Up Texas Hold’em

Let’s not completely disavow the victory by “Libratus.” Over that many hands of play – and even with the weird rules in place – the monumental victory is obvious. But let’s also keep in mind that this is just ONE discipline of the game, ONE part of what makes poker a fascinating game.

First, it was heads up. You’re not going to see special tables set up in a casino for a mano y mano battle. Hell, they barely can keep such tables active in an online setting. It is a special game, heads up No Limit Texas Hold’em, and there are nuances that are utilized that would be devastating in other settings. This was pointed out by Kim, who noted to the Eagle, “Those guys (his fellow human players) don’t play our game type. They might play other kinds of poker, but even small-stakes heads-up players on the Internet would crush them.”

Second, the AI only had to deal with one opponent. The calculations utilized to make the choices numbered in the billions in that singular circumstance. There has never been the attempt to take any poker-playing AI against even a four-player setting, let alone a six-max table or a full nine handed cash game. With that, the number of calculations would be astronomical and could overwhelm the AI.

Finally, did the AI even try to take on the complexities of another game…Omaha Hold’em, for example? With more potential hands, would that hurt the AI’s computational powers? Let’s not even get into the potential of “wild” games or other variations (Hi/Lo?) that could muck up the AI’s strategy.

It isn’t the end of the world that “Libratus” and Carnegie Mellon’s brainiacs could defeat the human race. There’s still a great deal of space between a person having the AI’s power in their pocket to utilize and, furthermore, there’s more to the game of poker – long respected because of its “incomplete information” setup – than just Texas Hold’em. When the AI is ready to take on a full table of nine players – or, better yet, step into a 1000 player tournament – and win, then get back to me. For now, humanity is still the “king” over artificial intelligence when it comes to the game of poker.

Poker News Daily