Friday, March 07, 2008

Poker Cheating: Men "The Master" Nguyen Accused Again!

I have heard poker cheating accusations leveled against Men "The Master" Nguyen before, mostly emanating from the Commerce Club and other poker clubs in the Los Angeles area. Most of these cheating accusations have focused on Nguyen running Vietnamese poker cheating syndicates in California's big cash games and mid-level tournaments. Men himself has openly expressed his desire and interest to help fellow Vietnamese players, but many believe that Men Nguyen's wishes have gone way beyond "help" and all the way to "recruitment." What do I think about this? Well, although I have no evidence of Men Nguyen's direct involvement in poker cheating, I tend to agree with the charges, the latest of which is a serious indictment of Nguyen and his play in professional poker player Justin Bonomo's blog. The post citing Bonomo's feelings is below. Before you read it, however, I will give you my reasoning for believing that the various negative rumors surrounding Men Nguyen are credible.

The first thing to take into account is that many of today's organized poker cheating syndicates are made up of members of the same nationality. First and foremost, there are the Russian cheating teams who've been making news both in brick and mortar and online poker rooms. I have even heard the term "Little Russian Poker Mafia" coined lately, though I can't be sure if it's referring to poker or tennis! As Men "The Master" is well-connected to Vietnamese players and often playing at the same tables as them, it is certainly just as reasonable to believe that something in the collusion category is going on with them as it is to believe it is with the Russians. There are other ethnic poker cliques playing together that may fit into the collusion-play category as well. As far as Nguyen's Vietnamese group being involved in anything more serious than collusion play and chip dumping, I've heard stories about his alleged involvement in a Foxwoods Casino tournament chip scam that is detailed in Bonomo's blog post below. Nguyen was supposedly banned in some capacity from that Connecticut casino in the scam's aftermath, but I am not sure that is true.

What I am sure of, however, and about which I wrote in great detail in my book "Dirty Poker," is that major big-money tournament cheating syndicates are not only prevalent on today's professional circuits, but their numbers are growing!

Here is Justin Bonomo's blog post:

I’ve publicly said in the past that I never outed other multi-accounters (of 2+ years ago) because they were good people, and that I have no reason to believe they’d ever cheat again.

I’ve been criticized a bit for this, so I guess I’ll give people what they want. Normally, I hate talking trash about people, but sometimes, it’s deserved.

For those of you that don’t know the story, a few years ago, Men “The Master” Nguyen and a bunch of the players he staked were in a hotel room together when the fire alarm went off. They were asked to leave the room while the fire was dealt with, and a suitcase full of tournament chips was discovered. This is a big no-no in tournament poker, so Men was asked to leave.

The theory goes (and I’m honestly not sure what proof there is for this, but the consensus seems to be that it’s true) that the players that Men staked were scooping off chips from the table in smaller buyin events, and giving them to Men (and possibly other winning players on the team) to add to their stack in the high stakes events. As far as cheating goes, it doesn’t get much worse than this.

The main reason I’m writing this, is because on a radio show with Gary Wise, I said something to the effect of, “I don’t really know the details of Men, so I’m not going to speak out on the issue. I know he was punished for cheating, and I don’t know if there have been any incidents of him cheating since. I’m under the impression that he’s not allowed to play at Foxwoods ever again.”

Well since then I’ve researched the issue, and even seen some of it first hand.

Daniel Negreanu has a famous (infamous?) post on NVG where he outs Men’s antics. Daniel went into detail, describing the rules the players Men backed were forced to follow. One of the rules Daniel listed was that if Men ever raises one of his players, that player MUST fold, regardless of the situation or what his hand is.

So I was playing at the Commerce the day before the main event started, and lo’ and behold, Men was at my table.

I’ve never really liked Men. He’s EXTREMELY abusive to dealers, and that kind of behavior is just absurd for a professional poker player to display.

I had played with him in tournaments before, where the players at the table didn’t really know him, but at this cash game table ($200/$400 mixed game), it became very apparent to me that the players at the table were all familiar with how big of a scumbag he is.

Within minutes, the whole table was making fun of Men for squeezing his cards. In triple draw games, if you draw one card on the end, and need a specific card (or type of card like in Badougi), squeezing is a fairly common method of slowly looking at your card, first the number of pips (i.e seeing that it’s 4 across and might be the 9 you are looking for), before fully revealing the card to yourself. It’s done for fun to add suspense. Personally I don’t like it because it slows the game down, but if it only comes up in big pots on the river, that’s not a big deal.

Men, however, squeezed his cards on every street. Even when the first 4 cards in Badougi are dealt, he would take an average of 10 seconds to look at them by squeezing them one by one. He did this in every game, on every single street where cards were dealt, and it was just absurd.

Another bad practice Men had was also folding his cards one by one. No big deal, right? Well it is a big deal when you fold every single one of your cards by throwing them directly into the dealers’ knuckles. After three to four hands of this, the dealer told Men to stop, and Men just glared at him silently. FWIW, it was actually a really good, really nice older dealer.

Men likes to make his actions and verbal declarations very ambiguous. This is often the sign of someone that likes to take advantage of things. There was a collection pot that was split between two players, and the players didn’t want to make change, so they made an equivalent bet based on the low card in the next seven card stud eight or better hand. Men made a side bet on one player’s card to be the lower one.

One player was dealt a 7, and Men’s player was dealt an ace. Men refused to pay, stating that ace was low. The whole table (except the one Men bet on) agreed that ace was high. In Stud 8, the low card brings it in, and the ace will never bring it in, because it is high. More plainly, if you are cutting decks for a high card, you want to get an ace, because it is obviously high. Despite the 6-2 vote at the table, Men and his Vietnamese friend refused to pay.

In this same session, I saw a form of VERY blatant cheating. It was in badougi (if you don’t know how to play badougi, pretend this hand is 2-7 triple draw, and the same concept applies).

There was an older Vietnamese player at the table (one from low card story above), that Men was talking to in Vietnamese. Men was taking chips out of his rack as if they were his own. I later asked if Men was staking this player, and someone at the table confirmed that he was.

The player in question is a tight player. He might limp an occasional bad hand in Badougi, but if he is raising and betting, he has a hand. Also note that bluffing is generally a bad strategy in Badougi, and if you want to bluff, it’s generally done by drawing 0 cards on the last draw.

VP (Vietnamese Player) Raises, Men calls, and 2 white guys call. Everyone draws 1 card except one of the white guys who draws two. VP bets, everyone calls. Everyone draws 1.

The bet doubles after the second draw. VP still fires out. By now it is clear to the whole table that he had a strong draw. Men raises. The two white guys begrudgingly fold, and VP has a very pained and angered look on his face as he is looking at Men. Men starts blabbering saying, “You know I got the goods!” VP then does something that is extremely bad in his spot… he folds. The odds that he doesn’t have a one card draw to a better hand are extremely low in that spot. Basically, the line he took is never correct, and would be absurdly uncharacteristic for this player to take in this spot… except for the fact that he is backed by Men, and his deal forces him to fold in this spot.

So I saw this and it looked really fishy to me. The player to my left (who I won’t name) was a very honest guy. He played these games regularly and new all the players in them. I thought I was clever when I told him my theory about that hand being fishy. His response to me was a slightly nicer version of the expression, “no shit Sherlock”. A couple of other guys that overheard me gave me a silent head nod.

To me, this is just disgusting. These guys know that there is blatant cheating going on, but since there is no proof, there’s nothing they can do about it.

I’m probably being na├»ve in hoping that sharing this story will somehow help solve the problem, but I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t say something.

Interpret the facts however you want. This is just one person’s observation and impression of everything. I just thought this was something too disgusting to keep to myself.