Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dani Stern Speaks Out Against Online Poker Cheats and Scams! / Baccarat Scam Net Widens!

For those of you who missed this, well known high-stakes poker pro Dani ‘Ansky’ Stern published an open letter on major online poker forums today where he challenged those responsible for the image of the game to take a stand against threats to the public perception of poker’s integrity. The letter, which has generated fairly significant threads on Pocket Fives and 2+2, apparently was sparked largely by an interview Josh ‘JJProdigy’ Field gave to Poker Road. Heck, Iggy even cast an early ‘Post of the Year’ vote for Stern. Field’s live poker debut at the Aussie Millions, along with a string of online tournament scandals this past year, has brought the issue of a level playing field in tournament poker back to the forefront. Obviously, Stern is fed up with all the cheating scandals at online poker sites, and I kind of sympathize with him. Here is what he had to say:

Open letter to the poker community on integrity, and our responsibility as gamblers.

I recently listened to the PokerRoad webcast with JJProdigy, and within minutes felt sick to my stomach. I was genuinely ashamed as a professional poker player that these were my peers. Gavin Smith and Joe Sebok showed a genuine apathy toward JJ’s malicious pattern of cheating at online poker, even sympathy for his situation. Late in the show, Gavin mentioned that he knew of players who stole tournament chips from prelims at the WSOP to save for the ME, and stakers who would confiscate their horses chips for their own tournament, and yet they are still accepted members of the poker community. This is a travesty, and just because there is nothing the tournament directors and casinos are doing about it, does not mean that you Gavin can do nothing. You are a voice for the poker community. OK, you are not exactly the Jay Leno of poker radio, but at least do your part, NAME NAMES.

This is an incredibly fragile time for poker in America, and one thing that is sure to help us, is maintaining a reputation as people with integrity. The old image of card sharks as cheats and liars has been really cleaned up, especially with Travel Channel, ESPN, and every other mainstream and clean representation of poker. People like JJ, who Joe referred to as a “stand up guy for coming on the show,” are the rotten apples that spoil the bunch. Thirty years ago, who would have thought that the stereotypical image of a poker player in 2008 would be 21 year old college kids with silly hoodies and sunglasses, who play most of their poker on the computer? We are no longer the seedy backroom hustlers, we are out in the open, honest, and fair—most of us.

When I play live poker, I often talk to live players and ask them if they play online. Frequently their response is “nah, I don’t trust online poker, I think its rigged.” I used to always assure them that online sites are as safe as Visa or Mastercard, and they have nothing to gain from cheating. Can I really tell them this honestly though? I used to always tell them the mere possibility of being caught is way too much of a risk for the sites, especially when they can earn easy money being legitimate. But is the risk truly too great?

I was at a sports bar the other day, and I have gotten used to the site of poker on the TVs at bars at this point. Something that has not yet been conditioned in my brain though, was the site of AbsolutePoker ads during the commercial. Did ESPN really sign a contract, to show advertisements with a site that was unequivocally caught to have a major cheating flaw in its system? A site which scrambled to cover up the evidence, a site where the major cheaters in question were executives from the company itself? If that contract was signed before the scandal, then so be it, let it run its course. I truly hope though that there is at least one advertising executive at ESPN who remembers his business school course on business ethics. Just like it would be frowned upon to give press to a company known to be corrupt and illegitimate in another field, so too it should be frowned upon for a massive network like ESPN to turn their cheek to any ethical standards. If they were contractually bound before the scandal, then I truly hope that someone at ESPN will end their relationship with Absolute.

Card counters in blackjack, are not cheaters. They are simply people smart enough to discover a flaw in the system. Multiaccounters, colluders, chip dumpers in tournaments, are all cheaters. Yet all these people can roam free in any casino, any tournament area, and feel free from any scrutiny by any tournament or casino bosses. The casinos are brutally efficient in weeding out the card counters, they even keep records with rival casinos about the card counters because it suits both their interests to do so. If someone is caught counting cards at the Bellagio on Monday, do you think he will be able to walk into the Venetian the next week? Fat chance.

Card counters are not cheaters, and yet they are so vigilantly and unequivocally barred from casinos. Yet known cheaters are banned from one site and not the next, or are banned from one tournament and not the next. Why is there no unity amongst the casinos or the sites in this case, but such fervor for unity in the case of card counters? Oh right, money, it’s always about money, and never integrity. Card counters win money from the casinos, multi accounters and cheaters pay rake just like everyone else, they are only stealing from us. This is why the burden is on the PLAYERS to pressure the casinos, the sites, and even TV networks to be harsher about this, and why people like JJProdigy should not feel comfortable enough to sit down face to face with two important figures in the poker community.

I realize I am being optimistic, and perhaps naïve, but what do we have to lose? When users on PokerStars demanded that JJ not be allowed to play at PCA, he was banned. This is a perfect example of what we are capable of if unified in our belief in integrity and honesty. And I call on PokerStars and FullTilt to show the same enthusiasm and dedication to a preservation of integrity that I hope all poker players believe in.

Every day we are getting closer and closer to the possibility of an improvement with regard to UIGEA, and yet far too many of us are sitting here and watching the rotten apples fall right into the basket with the ripe apples. In all my time in poker (a mere four or so years), I have always been told that a gamblers word is everything. Integrity, honesty, ethics, were all virtues in poker that anyone in the community had to have, as it was an integral part of the oil that keeps the poker machine running. I can’t even count the number of times I have made financial deals with trusted poker friends who could easily have run off with five, and even six figure sums of my money or equity, and I would have no way of doing anything about it. Why do I put myself in such situations? Because I know there are certain people in this world that I could hand my whole roll to and say, “hold this for a second,” and in no dimension or situation, would the thought of stealing from me ever occur to them. These are the people that gamblers are supposed to be. That is how our world should work, and how it works when it is at its best.

Make no mistake, multi accounting is not light cheating. It is as heavy a form of cheating as you can have in tournaments. On the radio show JJ said that he rarely, but occasionally did play with one of his own accounts in a tournament. We all probably remember ZeeJustins infamous “open more sit and gos to negate the ethical advantage” line. The fact of the matter, is that it doesn’t matter how many tables there are in the tournament, you will eventually wind up at the same table as yourself. Even if you aren’t, the mere presence of two accounts in the same tournament is a travesty.

Perhaps one of the only moments where there was a hard question, was when Joe (or possibly Gavin) asked JJ why he wouldn’t give the money he won cheating to charity, and JJ had no answer. Why not Josh? Why is it so difficult to come to terms with the fact that you are in possession of illegitimate funds? The money is yours in name, but we both know most of it does not belong to you. And how dare you have the audacity not to think it a responsibility as a demonstration of repentance and of reform, that you must give up your illicit funds. What kind of apology of “I am sorry, I stole your money,” ends in “but I am going to keep it, sorry.” As long as you keep your million dollar savings account, or whatever it is, you are still no better than bank robber to me.

Shame on both Gavin and Joe for saying that Greg Raymer was out of line for the following quote: “It is obvious to me that he has no real remorse. If he’s at my table in a live event, I’ll gladly out him to the table, and point out that we all need to be alert because this guy is willing to cheat anytime he thinks he won’t be caught.”

Out of line? I only hope that every WSOP winner, as an ambassador for poker is so morally and ethically conscious as Greg. I applaud you Greg, as being a person who can shape and alter this little world of ours, showing integrity and class first, and greed and ignorance last. JJ responded by saying that Greg doesn’t know him, and thus should not pass judgment. You are in no place to say who is right and who is wrong to pass judgment in this community. Once you have shown such a clear breach of ethics and integrity in this business, the worst should be assumed. I am friends with several people who know JJ well and they all say he is a good kid who is trustworthy (aside from cheating). I have no doubt this is true, but to expect that you won’t be bashed and labeled as a cheater, after being basically the biggest cheater at online tournaments, in the history of the game, are you serious?

Amanda Leatherman almost always does a good job as a representative for poker in her interviews. She isn’t the most knowledgeable about the game, but she gets the job done and is generally on point. But take a step back for a moment please, the next time you are about to interview the Jesse James of online poker, do not sugar coat the questions and smile at him like you smile at Daniel Negreanu. He does not deserve those smiles, he does not deserve the “how are you” introduction. By breaking that code that we as gamblers almost… ALMOST unanimously follow of morals and ethics, he loses the right to get treated like everyone else. People should not ask him, how are you, they should ask him, why the **** are you in this room, why are you flying to poker tournaments, crawl back under the hole you crawled out of, and stay there because you are not one of us.

Gavin, do not let JJ of the hook either, by telling us how much other people have done it. Mob mentality exists because people feel that when in the presence of their peers, their responsibility is deflected from them to the rest of the group. Do not let JJ become one of the group, because no, not everyone did or does it. I have never multiaccounted. Not when I was 16, 18, or now that I am 21.

JJ, you said you have changed your beliefs because you realize you are no longer a child, and you are becoming an adult. If you want to be a man, then act like one. Criminals who confess and agree to give information for a free pass do just that, they give information. Saying “I am sorry” is meaningless without action. Give the money to charity, name names of other cheaters, tell us exactly how to catch people like you, and show a general commitment to ethics and moral values which are expected of you, and you will be forgiven with time.

The only chance we have as poker players of keeping our game clean, is a complete and utter revulsion and rejection of cheaters. Casinos and poker sites need to start working together to develop black lists and suspected cheaters. Sites say they do everything they can, but they do not. If someone is banned from one site for cheating, they should then be banned from every card room in the world, and every other site. This is possible, entirely possible, and it would put a MAJOR damper on the willingness of cheaters to cheat. Let’s face it, JJ cheated because he was “underground” anyway, and there would be no repercussions in the long run. If cheaters know the punishment will fit the crime, they won’t cheat anymore.

I do not know what I can expect to accomplish with this, but at least I will go to bed knowing I did my best. I plan to play this game for a little while longer, and I am concerned for its legitimacy knowing that cheaters can sit with the peers they cheated money from, and smile and joke about someone calling them out for their actions.

I am well known/connected in the online poker community, but I have no real connection to the bigger names in the live game, I only hope that this gets read by some of the role models and important figures in the live community, because they are the ones who are mainstream and well regarded by the public. Please do not let JJ be an example of what you can do in this world, cheat for 3 years, decide to stop, and carry on normally. Please let his kind know that they are not acceptable.

-Dani Stern


Casinos have to constantly guard themselves against cheating groups that come in and try to scam money, this week three more people were arrested in an investigation that has gone on for over five years. If you don't remember it, a highly corrupt criminal group of Vietnamese known as the "Tran Organization" bribed pit bosses and dealers in casinos across North America to employ false shuffles in baccarat games. The scam went on for years and may have reaped as much as $30 million. The mayor of Seattle's son, who worked as a pit boss in a Washington State casino, was convicted of a crime for accepting a bribe in this scam.

Last May, seventy seven people were arrested and charged in the scheme.

Now, after further investigation, three more people have been charged in the ongoing case. Two of the people were dealers at Casino Rama in Orillia. The other person charged is a resident of Toronto.

The international casino cheat team had been being investigated for over five years. They allegedly had been cheating at various casinos in several different countries.

Ngan Thi Phuong, 27, Tai Van Duong, 47, and Nguyen Chung, 30, have all been charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offense, and fraud over $5,000. They will be in court at their arraignment on February 26th. Although more people have been arrested, the investigation will continue until police feel they have arrested all the people involved.

We will probably see even more arrests and convictions before this is put to bed.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cheating on Electronic Poker Tables? / GSN High Stakes Poker Article posted!

What do you think, is it harder or easier to cheat on electronic poker tables than conventional tables in brick and mortar cardrooms? Is it safer for you as an honest player at an electronic table than it is on a conventional one? And how does electronic poker cheating rate versus online poker cheating?

I bet most of you guessed the correct answers. Conventional table cheating wins hands down, mainly because of collusion; online cheating places second, mainly because of collusion and bots, and electronic table cheating gets "show" cheating money and is the safest poker game anywhere when it comes to avoiding being cheated, unless, of course, the electronics are rigged! But assuming they're not, does any cheating happen on these electronic games?

The answer is yes. The most common type of electronic cheating? Well, it's still collusion, but cheaters peeking at opponents' hole cards is not far behind. Collusion play is more difficult on electronic than conventional tables because cheaters do not have the use of actual cards and chips to do their signalling. They have to rely on their own person, meaning parts of their anatomy, whether it be their hands, head, face or any other body part that moves or gestures (not trying to be funny). And this is not limited to visual signals. Cheaters can use their voice, make throat noises, cough, sniff, but hopefully not fart! You wouldn't want to smella pair of aces! (yes, trying to be funny). The point is that just like on conventional poker tables, professional collusion teams employ undetectable methods for signalling their cards, even if they had to work a bit harder to develop them. So to protect yourselves against them, be on the same guard you would at conventional tables.

Peeking at other players' hole cards? Well, it's easy enough to protect them when cupping the hands on the screen to view them, but more players than you would think are lackadaisical about it, especially when drunk. And professional peeking teams employ "spotters" who position themselves behind a table as if they're just watching the "new and fascinating" game, and catch a peek at careless players' hole cards, which they signal to their cohorts somewhere at the table.

But still, your safest poker game in town is in the casino or cardroom that has these electronic tables. Another advantage you have as an honest player playing electronically is that if you naturally give away tells at the conventional table,
these electronic tables will remove many of them because those that are picked up on when you handle chips and cards will be gone. However, Since you can still be seen by your opponent, you can still give off body language that can be evaluated as a tell, but many of your small mannerisms that are used to verify a physiological tell will be missing, even though you won't notice anything is gone.

MY FLUSH MAGAZINE article on the Game Show Network's High Stakes Poker TV show is now posted on the magazine page.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

World Game Protection Conference

Richard Marcus’s response to Jeff Murphy’s January Catwalk article “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: How to pick a casino consultant.”

I suspect Jeff Murphy wrote this article as a personal attack on me, as I am the ONLY ex-casino cheat now actively consulting to gambling casinos. His animosity towards me first manifested itself in a cruel attack he made on me in a letter to Casino Enterprise Management Magazine, in which I wrote an article about certain existing deficiencies in casino surveillance that he objected to. He has since campaigned to have me removed from CEM’s contributors list and has succeeded, as CEM not only removed me from that list but also from its list of quality consultants on its website.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a former casino cheat turned author and casino game protection consultant. In 2007, I was the keynote speaker at the World Game Protection Conference in Las Vegas and surely met many of you while there. Some of you may have also read some of my books, most notably American Roulette and Dirty Poker, or my game protection articles in Casino Enterprise Management Magazine, or even my casino cheating blog on my website, not to mention the World Game Protection’s own newsletter.

I was extremely offended by the part of Jeff Murphy’s article where he admonished casino executives not to hire ex-casino cheats as consultants. He is surely entitled to his opinion on the subject, but I found his language and statements “of fact” to be both unfounded and unnecessarily offensive. His phrases such as “ex-cheats are like vultures scouring the field to feed off the heightened celebrity of casinos” among others, I found totally uncalled for and injurious.

In writing this letter I want to take this opportunity to say that since the publication of my book in 2003, I have spoken at many game protection conferences and seminars across the world and consulted privately in that field to casinos. I have worked diligently to teach casino staffs how to protect themselves against people who have my skills and can cheat their casinos out of significant sums of money in a very organized way. My motive for doing this is not to set up casinos to rob them as Jeff Murphy’s letter would have you believe but rather to impart my knowledge on the subject to casino staffs willing to learn and benefit from it, just as I have done in my books. I would certainly think my knowledge on casino cheating and game protection, and my ability to transmit that knowledge, is at least as good as anyone else’s in the field. My motive is clearly not “to threaten casinos’ assets, undermine casino activities, or mug casino employees one day and then come back the next to pull at their heartstrings while panhandling for their money” as Murphy’s article claims almost verbatim that ex-cheats are looking to do.

I would gladly supply on anyone’s request references from casino people who I’ve worked for and were quite satisfied with my training seminars.

In summation, no one broadcasting their opinions should do so in a way that conveys them as fact. In speaking of myself, make no mistake about it; I have absolutely no regrets about the two decades I spent cheating the world’s casinos. I was the best ever at it and worked hard to get that way. It is with that same attitude and diligence that I go about what I do now: teaching casinos and their staffs to be better than me.

I sincerely hope that Jeff Murphy’s statements would not prevent anyone from hiring me to train their casino staffs in game protection. Keep an open mind. He has lumped all ex-cheaters into a ball of deceit and distrust. He has neither the right nor the evidence to do so.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Absolute Poker Scandal News

Absolute Poker Scam

$500,000 dent and back to normal.

That's the final wrap-up to the biggest online poker scam in history. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission laid down its law, fined Absolute five hundred grand, and Absolute accepted it quicker than an eager benefactor posting a check to his favorite charity, and now its back to business as usual. This kind of reminds me of the $500,000 fine Bill Belichick and the likely Super Bowl-bound Patriots had to pay for their on-the-sidelines spying episode against the New York Jets. In another words, a mere bag of shells, and we've all pretty much forgotten about it, and we will all pretty much forget about this to, and in the end, I hate to say it, but Absolute Poker will have the last laugh. This whole thing will most definitely end up increasing Absolute's profit.

Here are the related articles:


Absolute Poker has accepted the penalties handed down to them in a statement released to the media which said, "After reviewing the published report, we recognize the completeness and accuracy of the KGC conclusions, and we accept without reservation the KGC’s findings and sanctions. Most importantly, we are pleased, after these many months, that Absolute Poker can finally put behind it a most distressing and regrettable experience for the Company, its employees, and its customers."

This came after the full findings of the investigation carried out by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission into the scandal were released on Friday January 11.

The main penalty imposed was a fine of $500,000 US that Absolute Poker must pay within 60 days. Others are that they must foot the bill for the investigation carried out by Gaming Associates, they are required to place a surety with the KGC for two years against future conduct and they must agree to be randomly audited at their own expense. Precautionary measures that have been requested include permanent exclusion of those responsible for the scam and a program to counteract another occurrence.

Absolute Poker went on to reiterate that it has refunded all players that were affected by the security breach and that they have repaired the weaknesses in their systems that allowed it to happen in the first place. They say they have appointed a team "to improve controls and install safeguards."


Anna Molley, the Absolute vice president for public and consumer relations.

Absolute Poker (AP) issued the following statement today through Anna Molley, the Absolute Poker vice president for public and consumer relations, in response to the Kahnawake Gaming Commission’s (KGC) release of its report "In the Matter of Absolute Poker Investigation Regarding Complaints of Cheating."

"When Absolute Poker notified the KGC of the security breach in our system, we had every expectation that the Commission would undertake a comprehensive and fair investigation. After reviewing the published report, we recognize the completeness and accuracy of the KGC conclusions, and we accept without reservation the KGC’s findings and sanctions. Most importantly, we are pleased, after these many months, that Absolute Poker can finally put behind it a most distressing and regrettable experience for the Company, its employees, and its customers.

“The KGC points out that ‘AP has taken the appropriate actions to address the vulnerability in its systems…and to prevent its systems from being compromised again…’ AP has appointed a team of both internal and external members to improve controls and install safeguards, and accepts the audit findings as an opportunity to improve our internal practices and guarantee the safest playing environment in the industry.

"We are pleased that the KGC’s findings of fact point out that ‘there is no evidence to indicate that the impugned activities were initiated or sanctioned by AP…or were intended to benefit AP, as a corporate entity.’ The report also states that ‘AP made expeditious efforts to appropriately reimburse all players…with interest’ who were affected by the cheating.

"The Company also regrets the inadvertent deletion of certain gaming logs and records during the course of the investigation, although AP is relieved that these deletions did not, according to the KGC, ‘prevent the Commission from obtaining sufficient information…’

"Having experienced first-hand the devastating impact of a security breach, we fully appreciate the importance of trust and security for AP itself and the broader industry. A secure site goes to the heart of player confidence, and we are more committed than ever to ensuring that confidence. To that end, we have taken it upon ourselves to convene on January 18, 2008 the first of a series of ‘poker security summits’. AP will invite respected and independent members of the poker community to focus on innovative and cutting-edge ways to further improve AP’s security and enhance its transparency.

"As AP has repeatedly stated in the past, we regret the damage done to our players and to our own reputation by this incident. We acknowledge that the Company did not act with sufficient speed to uncover the fraud; however, once we were convinced of the veracity of the allegations, we moved quickly to inform the KGC and to reimburse affected players. While AP is paying a severe penalty for the fraud perpetrated upon the Company and its customers, we are gratified that we can now close the book on this sordid affair and return our full focus to providing the safest, most secure, and most eenjoyable poker playing experience in the industry."

Monday, January 14, 2008

GSN's High Stakes Poker TV Show is a bunch of bull! / World Game Protection Conference

Here's an article I wrote on the GSN's High Stakes Poker TV show that has come out today in the UK's Flush Magazine. The PDF spread on it will be posted to my magazine page tomorrow.


I will tell you this much: the show is certainly high stakes but does that high stakes really have anything to do with all those big-denomination chips and bundles of cash we constantly see lumped into huge pots in the middle of the table? Well, that’s a matter of opinion, and my opinion is to say that somebody participating in that TV show is really making us the “boobs” when referring to television as the boob tube. Whether it’s the network, the show’s producers, the players, or some combination thereof, something is going on that does not meet the eye, or I should say the camera. What am I saying—that the show is a fraud? Well, not really. There is some high-stakes stuff going on, but it’s not about the no-limit hold’em games you’re watching. What it is about is ratings-boosting for the network, Web traffic increases for You Tube and exposure for the poker players who get more launching pads for their books, blogs, appearances and endorsement contracts. In short, High Stakes Poker is a myriad of TV and Internet buzz that spreads across the world enriching those directly involved in it.

What prompted me to write this article? Simply an e-mail from a suspicious person in the UK. He asked me if I thought the poker action portrayed on the show was real. “Were Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Sammy Farha and the rest of them really risking all those hundreds of thousands of US dollars against one another?” he wrote. Before I answer that directly, let me go back to the opening page of my controversial book Dirty Poker, which was released in the spring of 2005. On that page I took a sideways look at another huge poker entertainment package. This one was Fox Sports Net’s mega-poker tournament, which that mega-American network hyped as the biggest tournament in the history of the world. For those of you who don’t recall this, it was slated to take place on July 12, 2006, and be hosted by Mansion Poker. It was called the richest poker event ever and was to be broadcast live around the world. It was to feature six famous players, each of whom would put up $10 million of their own money to win the $60 million winner-take-all-jackpot. In other words, a $60 million freezeout! Two big-time players’ names were mentioned as being among the six to put up the ten mil and take part: Phil Ivey and Joseph Hachem, the winner of the main event at the 2005 World Series of Poker. And if all that wasn’t enough, Fox Sports Net promised us a repetition of the mega-event in 2007, with a $75 million jackpot, and then yet another in 2008 with a $100 million jackpot!

When I heard all this, I had lots to say. As Dirty Poker was released three months before the mega-event was to be held, the timing for my critique could not have been better. I basically begged Fox Sports Net to give me a break. Come on, I wrote, if this isn’t a prearranged hype of mega-crap to boost Fox’s ratings while showing off the players, what is? First of all, what poker player in his right mind would legitimately put up $10 million to win $60 million against true odds of five to one? There’s no value in it. Pro players only take the action when they have the best of it, and against players of roughly the same skills, there is no best of it. Secondly, what poker player even has $10 million cash, and if any do, then how many could afford to burn a spare $10 million? No, I reasoned on the page, this was simply a mega-collusion between Hollywood and Las Vegas, where the six famous poker players became bankable movie stars for their “roles.” The network in turn reaps millions in advertising revenues and a huge boost in its ratings. What better way to perpetuate the Hollywood glamour that had already come to the poker world through the ex-movie star Jennifer Tilly’s victory at the 2005 WSOP Ladies’ Championship? And finally, I wrote, “And we will have to suffer this again in 2007 when the jackpot shoots to $75 million...And again in 2008 when it rockets to $100 million...Just a matter of time until they make it a billion!”

When my book hit the stores I immediately received a lot of criticism from the poker world. Those wishing to avoid any tainting of it were quick to dismiss me as a raving poker-conspiracy nut job. But the truth was that I was a threat to the pockets of a lot of people in the industry, people making millions on the proliferation of poker as a mainstream entertainment event. Then a funny thing happened. Out of nowhere, Fox Sports Net and Mansion Poker announced that their mega-poker tournament in conjunction with each other was being cancelled. Suddenly like a sour bomb dropping on a cornfield, this soon to be billion-dollar tournament was not to be at all. Coincidence? Well, I honestly don’t know, but maybe one of the organizers got wind of my book and suggested to another organizer that maybe the public won’t go for this “blockbuster event” after all.

So that blew away only to make way for GSN’s High Stakes Poker. Now we see a dozen of today’s brightest poker stars rushing to ante up a $500,000 buy-in and throw $10,000 packets of cash into huge pots as Gabe Kaplan gets to revive his long moribund career as the poker “color man” describing the intensity and strategic maneuvering that we all just have to know about. “Come on, gimme a break, Gabe!” I said aloud to myself as my eyes took in Daniel Negreanu’s stacks of $100 bills chasing those of Gus Hansen, and then Sammy Farha and Barry Greenstein lancing their monetary bricks like medieval warriors did their swords. And of course everyone at the table is constantly laughing and buddy-buddying up with one another. I wondered in amazement how the public could go for this. How can intelligent people really believe that these guys are really risking hundreds of thousands of dollars without having any significant edge? After all, the difference in skill-level at high-stakes poker between any of these top pros is minimal, and for those who argue that it’s not, it is still not enough to warrant risking that type of money. So why would these players risk such large sums of money against one another when they could simply go play in high-limit games in Vegas and California where there is an ample supply of suckers with the same big money. Aren’t pros like these better off going up against well-heeled amateurs with huge bankrolls who think they’re pros?

Another thing I can tell you is that pros like Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey and Barry Greenstein would not need to play another hand of high-stakes poker in their lives to continue living them in style with all the money they could ever need. So why would they risk it? Are they gamblers at heart? Well, they’re not supposed to be; they’re professional poker players governed only by true odds. So, then, is there a reason to their collective advantage to keep playing for so much money on television? You bet. It’s all about promotion. These top pros can make much more money promoting themselves to the public and the media and attaching their names and images with handsome contracts to online poker sites than they could ever make playing high-stakes poker. And add to that their bestselling books, poker boot camps, appearances and everything else not related to playing that they do to earn large sums of money. Nobody can dispute these facts. But in order to keep their names in the limelight they have to keep playing high-stakes poker—or at least give the image they’re playing high-stakes poker. So, let’s say for a moment that I am not a strung-out poker conspiracy theorist and that maybe I am exposing a realistic scenario. What would that scenario be?

Try this: Within the body of GSN’s high-stakes poker players there is an unspoken law, call it the high-stakes poker players’ “Omerta,” similar to that infamous Italian Mafia code of silence that for centuries prevented the truth from ever getting out. What would high-stakes Omerta be amongst the players? Simply this: Let’s give ’em a good show for their advertising dollars and then we’ll give each of us our money back after the show is over. This way we make the world think we’re playing for cash millions, get all this exposure and reap all the benefits (including whatever deals they have with GSN) without risking the loss of as much as a wooden nickel. See what I mean? Isn’t this more believable than Daniel Negreanu’s losing $300,000 in a single pot against Gus Hansen? Isn’t it more believable than any of these guys (or women like Jennifer Harman) repeatedly risking their bankrolls against players of equal or better caliber? And ultimately, can all these players really afford these kinds of losses? I tend to doubt it.

What about the non-poker pros in these TV lineups, people like Jerry Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers owner, Dr. Amir Nasseri, a Las Vegas physician, and the Chicago restaurant owner, Fred Chamanara? What do they have to gain if they’re not looking to enhance their poker stature and possible endorsement contracts? Maybe nothing, and maybe they are not even involved in whatever is really going on in the show. Perhaps these wealthy gentlemen are in it for other reasons and don’t care what’s going on between the pro players. Maybe it’s their egos on display, who knows? But as they are small in numbers they don’t have much effect on the games and are never a significant threat to the best pro players at these “high-stakes” tables. And even if they have the same suspicions I do, perhaps they don’t care.

So, is the GSN going to discontinue this hugely popular poker show because of my innuendos? No way, Jose! It’s too established and too hugely popular. But getting them to axe the show is hardly my motive. High Stakes Poker is, before anything else, great entertainment, especially if you love watching big-time poker, or the simulation of big-time poker. But remember one thing: just like everything else in this world, don’t believe everything you see and hear.