Thursday, November 20, 2008

Was 2008 WSOP Final Table Cheat-Free?

The 2008 WSOP Main Event Final Table…completely legit? Or was there a little hanky-panky going on? Well, I’ll let you be the judge, but after reading this article you might have a rather strong opinion in one direction.

Let’s look at the most important element in creating not only a WSOP Final Table cheating scam, but any scam, that is “time.” The greater the period of time, the more time there is not only to plan scams but to practice them, improve them and perfect them. So how does this relate to the final table of the 2008 WSOP that played out last month on ESPN and other cable networks across the world? Well, there were exactly 114 days separating the last day of play that determined the final table and the start of play at that final table itself. That, my poker reading friends, is lots of time.

Before I get into possible and probable cheating scenarios at the WSOP, let me get one thing straight: all those pre-final table statements made by Harrah’s officials that they would watchdog every integral element of the WSOP to ensure the integrity of the tournament and that no cheating would be tolerated as long as their gaming empire hosted the WSOP are worth about as much as the CD I wrote this article on…unless, of course, Harrah’s employed the FBI and Scotland Yard to conduct 24 hour surveillance not only on the nine participants at the final table but all their friends and families as well, not to mention anyone else who might be connected to the players or the tournament, and this for a duration of 114 days.

What I am saying is that there is no way Harrah’s or WSOP officials would ever be able to ensure a cheat-free final table, and I will also say that they really don’t care. Why? Well, if they cared, they never would have permitted a 114-day break between the last day of play and the next day of play. It is clearly obvious that the reason Harrah’s and the WSOP organisers changed the main event format was to milk out as much publicity and exposure as they could, which results in more money for sponsors, TV and cable networks, and, of course, Harrah’s and the WSOP itself. The entire scenario is reminiscent of another one that never took place. If you remember, back in 2006, the American Cable Network Fox Sports Net attempted to run with the giant ball that was supposed to be a series of six-player winner-take-all freeze-out tournaments for $60 million in 2006, then for $75 million in 2007 and $100 million in 2008. At the time, this was the greatest poker hype ever attempted, but finally Fox Sports Net realised that it couldn’t convince the public that six players were each going to put up $10 million of their own money to play against players of equal calibre to themselves. I had even predicted in my book “Dirty Poker” that the giant freeze-out would never take place because it was basically a fraud, and sure enough it was cancelled.

So, what possibly and probably happened at the 2008 WSOP Main Event Final Table? Well, I am going to combine the two: what possibly and very probably happened was massive collusion and deal-making. There was simply too much money, and more important, too much time for it not to happen. What makes this scenario so glaringly probable is that there was no dominant chip-leader going into the final table the way there was back in 2006 when Jamie Gold, the eventual winner and accused “deal renegger,” had a commanding chip lead that he turned into a championship and $12 million in his pocket (minus whatever amount he finally gave his backer that he tried to stiff). With nearly all the nine players very much in the hunt at the start of play, and only one short stack, the collusion cheating opportunities were endless. In fact, if you take all the possibilities and combinations of any or all of the nine players entering into prearranged prize-money-sharing, there are more than a million different ways to cut up the giant cake! In other words, there could have been cheating twosomes, threesomes, foursomes, fivesomes, sixsomes, sevensomes, eightsomes…and even ninesomes, although maybe the first eight players might choose not to involve the ninth in any deals given his short stack, but who knows?

Is there a possibility that none of the above scenarios happened and there were no prearranged deals or anything else resembling collusion play? Sure there is, but it’s about as slim as the possibility that we will never again see an online poker cheat scam. If anyone could relate to this theory and back it up, it might be ex-WSOP Main Event Champ and accused mastermind of the $60 million UltimateBet online poker scam Russ Hamilton. He was the main-event winner in 1994, and he probably could wipe out that “slim” with testimony to his own experiences at the WSOP final table. In any event, I could hardly imagine, and I doubt you could too, that 114 days are going to pass without conspiring, scheming, planning and everything else that leads to cheating. Just think of all that time these nine players—okay, let’s even include the poor guy in ninth place with the tiny stack—had to communicate.

Are you wondering how they might have communicated? Well, try this on for scenarios: it starts with simple e-mails, then steps up to instant messaging, then phone calls and then…well, why not a pre-final table final table? No, it’s not a typo! What I’m talking about is a meeting of all nine players around an oval table in a cozy restaurant or lounge, maybe like the Peppermill on the Las Vegas Strip, the same cozy lounge that I often used with my cheating buddies to map out strategies for hitting the casinos on the Strip. There, the “lucky nine” could sip champagne while relishing in thoughts of the money they KNEW they would be receiving on that glorious November day to come…Okay, well…maybe the lucky nine wouldn’t be brazen enough to meet in a public place like that but they could have rented a suite at the Bellagio and snuck up to it unnoticed and had the champagne sent up by room service. However they chose to do so, 114 days is lots and lots of time to plan and scheme.

And if you think for one minute that this could not happen, then you probably spend half your life watching ESPN and other cable network poker broadcasts!