Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Canadian Poker Players Canadian Poker Cheaters

I recently wrote an article for Canadian Poker Player Magazine in which I contrasted poker cheating between Canadian cheaters and cheating in Canada and American cheaters and cheating in America. Here's the article:


When I was a kid I was a diehard hockey fan. My favorite team was the New York Rangers and I followed them devoutly. But as a teenager my interest in the NHL began to wane. For a funny reason. Not that my fascination for the game had diminished but rather I learned that none of the players on my beloved New York hockey team were American. For that matter, neither were the vast majority of the remaining players in the league. I learned that they were mostly Canadians with a speckling of Europeans. Not that I was jingoistic about anything American, but I just thought it strange that a professional sport with most of its franchises in America was peopled by ninety-nine percent foreigners. Somehow that bothered me.

Why am I talking about hockey and how does it relate to poker cheating? Well, obviously it doesn’t but it does recall an e-mail I received from a young Canadian poker player last month. He explained that he was contemplating quitting his day job in Toronto and packing his bags to hit the poker circuit south of the border, mainly in Las Vegas and California. His specialty was high-limit cash games and he’d been playing successfully at the poker tables at Rama, Windsor and Niagara. He said he’d read about me in the Toronto Star in which I’d commented about the huge baccarat scam that had hit Canadian casinos and was busted last May, and he’d figured I’d be the right person to ask his questions.

Getting ready to embark on a career as well as a location change, the young Canadian wanted to know two things: if there was more cheating in American brick and mortar poker rooms than those in Canada and whether Canadian players represented poker’s cheating ranks in numbers proportional to their population. He specified that his second question was posed merely out of his curiosity while the first was of sheer importance. Obviously the cheating factor weighed on his decision whether to emigrate to the US in search of a better poker future.

Reading his e-mail, my childhood hockey-rooting days came to mind, which then accelerated to the present-day NHL. There are now many Americans playing in the NHL. But can we say that there is a parallel in the poker cheating ranks, that Canadians are now abundant in this dirty world? There is no question that thirty years ago, when American-born NHL hockey players were at an extreme premium, cheating at poker was as dominated by American poker players as hockey was by Canadian players. This was not surprising as poker itself in Canada was much less prevalent than in the US, albeit not quite as rare as the sport of curling was in the Fifty States. There were few Canadian professional poker players among the likes of American legends such as Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim. Chances of a Canadian cardsharp in the mix of some of Vegas’s most notorious poker games were just that—slim. But as the game has tremendously grown in popularity, even more so in Canada than the US if one looks at demographics, Canadian poker players have appeared on the pro circuits just as stunningly as American hockey players did in the NHL.

But what about Canadian cheaters? Have they as well kept pace? Well, this is a question that is not as readily answered as the obvious expansion of poker in Canada and Canadian players. But I do have a way of measuring it. Many people who read the blog on my website richardmarcusbooks.com report both confirmed and suspected cheating incidents in brick and mortar poker rooms. As my book “Dirty Poker” has been just as available in Canadian bookstores and Amazon Canada as it has been in American bookstores and Amazon US, and as I write for both Canadian Poker Player and American poker magazines, I get equal exposure proportionate to the populations of both countries, therefore, I can derive a pretty fair opinion based on the e-mails I get from players on either side of the border. Based on reports and suspicions of collusion play, card-switching, card-marking and tournament cheating that includes chip-dumping and softplay, there is no question that—and for you Canadians this is good news—cheating incidents in direct proportion to US cardrooms are happening less in Canadian cardrooms. By following mathematical formulas based on the number of rooms, tables and players in each country and dividing them by the number of estimated Americans and Canadians who play live poker, and then inserting the cheating complaints into the equation, I feel quite confident with my statement. My overall conclusion is that you are less likely to be cheated at any given time at a Canadian poker table than a US one, including in tournament play.

Why? Does it have something to do with the fact that in general US cash games and tournaments have higher limits and prize money? Most definitely yes. And I would say that those Canadian cheaters who do cheat on a professional level have basically done the same thing my young Canadian e-mailer is planning to do—emigrate to the United States. Which brings us back to his second question asking whether Canadian players make up a percentage of professional cheaters equivalent to their population. Well, on this front the answer is not as benevolent to the Canadian people. Although they do not yet quite match up to their demographic numbers, Canadian cheaters are growing in population and will probably catch up to their American counterparts. Although I cannot mention names, there have been several incidents coming to me where the suspected cheaters were Canadians, even a woman or two. I can say this, however: in nearly all of these incidents the poker room where this questionable activity occurred was in the United States. So for all you honest players in Canada, rest assured that the vast majority of your not so honest compatriots have gone south.

What about online poker? Well that’s another story. You see, the histories of our two countries in that regard started at about the same time.