Monday, June 02, 2008

Followup To My Article On Poker And Steroids Cheating

Last month I wrote an article about doping in the online poker world. Today I found this followup article on the PokerVerdict website written by Hugo Martin. As he says about my article, I found his to be pretty interesting as well, and worthy of putting on this blog. So please read it and let me know what you think...and don´t forget that this article was written before UltimateBet admitted to the huge online poker scam on its site.

Pills, Thrills and Bad Beats
Doping and Poker, the Future of Tournaments?
By Hugo Martin 30 May 2008

A recent article in Gambling Online magazine by Richard Marcus focused on using pharmaceutical drugs in order to enhance one’s poker game.

The article was interesting and maybe a touch hysterical, claiming that this was the dawn of “poker steroids” and seemed more concerned about players taking drugs like Modafinil and Adderall when they played online.

Whilst I agree that there is an issue about the use of these drugs in big buy-in live events, getting worked up about some kid taking these pills while they multi-table online seems a bit pointless. As I have written somewhere else, online poker is the Wild Wild West, anything goes baby!

You only have to look at recent online cheating and ghosting scandals to know that there is plenty of monkey business going on. The ZeeJustin multi-accounting and Sorel Mizzi ghosting fiascos were probably just the tip of the iceberg on those fronts, let alone the superuser debacles at UltimateBet and Absolute Poker.

Basically, when you’re playing online you have no clue what your opponents are up to. Who cares if they’re taking recreational or prescription drugs that help their game? You’re playing because you want action, and maybe the only action you can get is online with some nutter who is doped up to the eyeballs who also happens to be asking his roommate, and other various buddies who have dropped round for a couple of beers, how he should play this next hand.

Capiche? When playing internet poker, remember rule number one, Caveat Emptor.

Playing live, though, is a whole ‘nother ball game. I shall specifically address tournaments as these days poker is considered a sport, especially the big buy-in events such as the WSOP, EPT and WPT main events.

Modafinil and Adderall are primarily prescribed for ADHD, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. In other words they help you pay attention, and stay awake. Modafinil has been used by the military to aid the performance of pilots and soldiers in combat situations.

Mike Matusow is on record talking about various medications he has used and how different combinations have helped him maintain focus during long tournaments. Diagnosed with bi-polar disorder (also known as manic depression) Matusow has been frank about how having his prescriptions changed have helped or hindered his game.

From an interview with InsidePoker magazine he gave in 2006 Matusow talks about the reason he went out 64th after having a very healthy chip stack in a big tournament in Atlantic City,

“I was fucked up on the wrong medicine my doctor gave me and it had me suicidal at the table.”

Another player who has benefited from popping pills is retired poker pro Paul Phillips. According to Wikipedia Phillips claimed that Modafinil and other drugs aided his concentration in big tournaments which led to him winning over $2 million, including a WPT title, during his time as a professional poker player. The drugs had been prescribed to him for treatment of ADHD.

Obviously these two players had serious medical issues and therefore legitimate reasons to be taking these drugs. Performance enhancement at the poker table was a happy side-effect. Will loads of poker players decide that they suffer from ADHD or suddenly decide that they have always been bi-polar, but just never realized it before, just so that they can get the “right” prescriptions? Maybe Mike the Mouth will find a new line in selling his meds.

At the moment there are no rules regarding drug use in poker, but if there are going to be rules implemented where do we draw the line? We all know players who suddenly find a bit of confidence after one or two drinks, should that be allowed? Or what about the players who loosen up too much after a couple of drinks? Nobody is complaining about them.

What about illegal drugs? Cocaine, marijuana and so on. I suspect half of the Amazon room at the Rio would have to be ejected if that was the case. How fair or unfair is it? Taking the example of the two players above those are cases where both players were already skillful at a high (no pun intended) level.

Giving an already good player more of edge by being able to perform longer mentally and at a more concentrated level than normal certainly sounds disadvantageous to the rest of us mere mortals. According to Richard Marcus in Gambling Online, Modafinil,

“not only helps in gathering knowledge with a sharp, observational outlook, but also in applying intellect without normal taxation”

I can already hear mass-clicking on Google trying to look up where they can get a hold of some of this Modafinil. “Applying intellect without taxation”, you mean you won’t even have to try? Sounds good doesn’t it?

Marcus goes onto write that it may be possible that the drug can also help wipe out tilt, enabling a player to see beyond the immediate result and instead focus on the big picture. Wow, I know a lot of players who would like that.

Is it possible for tournament poker to become like cycling or athletics? Where if you are not taking anything you are the odd one out and in fact have given yourself almost no shot at winning? Poker players and shrewd gamblers are always looking for an edge so this sort of scenario could well end up being a reality. After all, if you’re as good as Phil Ivey then maybe the only way to beat him is to give yourself that little bit more mental muscle.

But, let’s not forget the luck factor. Fortunately poker, and especially tournaments, as we all know, has a large element of chance built into it so in a way it doesn’t matter if some ice cream opposite you is loaded up on “brain steroids”, he is still not immune to bad beats just like the rest of us.

Also, it has to be said, that pretty much every really good player has actually worked very hard on their game, logging in hours and hours, online or live, of hand after hand. No amount of Adderall or Modafinil can be a substitute for experience.