Thursday, March 3, 2016

All's Fair in Love & War—and Poker, Right?

I’ve been sitting on this story for a few months.  Actually, I was never sure I was going to tell this story until….well, until I actually hit the “publish” button on my blogger software.

You see I have to admit to doing something that might be a little bit….well….I dunno what the word is.  I think “unethical” is too strong a word.  Slightly less than above board?  Not really sure.  If I was sure what I did was really totally unethical, I wouldn’t tell the story at all.  I’d also like to think if what I did was unequivocally unethical, I wouldn’t have done it in the first place.

But I guess if I do go ahead and hit the publish button, I’ll be looking forward to reaction from my dear readers to see if you think what I did was wrong or not.

Another reason for my hesitancy is that this is kind of a hard story to figure out how to tell.  So you’ll have to bear with me.

This happened during my October trip from last year.  That was the really bad trip, poker wise.  The Venetian was just beginning their Deepstacks and I decided to play in one of the events.  It was a $250 event that had three starting flights.  I played in the first of the Day 1’s on a Monday.  Had I survived to day two, I would have had to return to the V on that Thursday for the second and final day. Spoiler warning:  I didn’t come close to making it to Day 2.  In fact, my evening cash session was the one that took place in the post here, so you know this really was a terrible day for me at the tables. The $250 buy-in was in my price range, and the prize pool would be pretty big. The guarantee was $150K.

So I bought in to the tournament and took my seat.  While waiting for the event to get started I checked my Twitter feed.  At this point, I’m looking to see if anyone I know is also playing.
Or should I say, I’m looking to see if anyone I “know” is also playing.

I put the “know” in quotes because knowing someone can mean something different nowadays than it used to. In the old days, to know someone meant you had most likely met them face-to-face.  You had had a real conversation with them at some point, at a minimum.

But in this time of social media, there are you people you know who you don’t really “know,” right?  I mean I follow a lot of people on Twitter that I’ve never met.  And a lot of people on Twitter follow me who have never actually met me.  But I feel like I know them.  We’ve exchanged tweets, maybe just one or two, maybe a lot.  Since my Twitter account is tied in with this blog, no doubt a lot of people who follow me on Twitter read my blog, or at least have read it. For that matter, there are a lot of people out there who read my blog that I’ve never met, and in fact, I may not even know they exist.  But I’m sure they feel like they know me….and in some sense, they do. 

So maybe there was somebody I knew who was in the tournament.  It might be someone I’ve met before in person, or maybe a blog reader I knew about, or maybe a total stranger that I follow on Twitter.

So, reading over my Twitter feed, I found one person I followed tweeting about playing in this tournament.  It was Ryan, someone I’d been following on Twitter for some time. As far as I knew, we’d never met in person. Although I think he used to be active on the AVP forums years ago, so it’s very possible we’d been communicating that way before Twitter came along.  And he follows me as well, so he at least knows of me.  No idea whether or not he’s ever checked out the blog. Ryan is a Vegas grinder, mostly tournaments.  He seems to play all the series when they are running. 

I seem to have recalled that one time he actually posted a pic on Twitter of his entry slip for a tournament.  So I wondered if he would do that again, so I could see his seat assignment and thus it would be easy to find him. There were well over 100 entrants already when the tournament started, and I had no idea what he looked like, so he wouldn’t be easy to find.  But I checked his Twitter feed and he didn’t post a pic of his entry slip. 

But in the meantime the tournament had started and I had to pay attention.  I was in seat 1 I think (might have been 2).  The guy in seat 5 looked like your rather typical Vegas grinder, baseball cap (worn backwards, alas), big headphones.  Red Bull in front of him, and in addition to his cell phone, he had an iPad.  
I checked the Twitter feed quickly whenever I had a second.  And Ryan tweeted out that he was having a problem tweeting from his phone and that he would be tweeting from his iPad instead.
And so when I noticed the grinder in seat 5 typing into his iPad and then later saw a tweet from Ryan, it started dawning on me that it was Ryan right at the same table with me.  He posted some shots of his stack, and yeah, it sure did look like it was the stack across from me.  Though between the very different angle and the time lag (creating differing sized chip stacks), I couldn’t quite be sure.

My first thought was that I could tweet to him, “Hey, is that you at Table X, Seat 5?  I’m the guy in Seat 1.”  In fact, I think that’s pretty much the way I met my pal Jeannie (see here).  But I was too involved in the tournament to do anything other than read the occasional tweet from Ryan and with each one, I became more and more sure that he was the fellow in seat 5.

His tweets were very general.  He’d mention how many chips he had, and whether he had just chipped up or had lost some.  Nothing very specific.  And with each tweet, I became more and more convinced Ryan was in seat 5 at my table.  Finally we went on break.  I believe I had to make a hurried trip to the Men’s room, and when I returned, he was still on break.  I checked twitter and saw a pic of his stack, with the Red Bull can in the pic. And since Ryan wasn’t there, I was able to view his stack from the exact view that he the picture would have been taken from. I can’t recall if I had seen him take the pic or it happened after I left, but there was no doubt that the pic on Twitter completely matched the live view I was seeing from behind the chair for Seat 5.  It was definitely Ryan at my table.

I figured I’d introduce myself to him when he returned before the cards were in the air.  But I believe he got back from the break late, and play had resumed, so there went that idea.  As I was debating whether to tweet to him hello, or just wait for the next break (and hope we’d both be alive by then), another idea came to me.  And here’s where it gets murky.

It occurred to me that I seemed to recall that Ryan’s in-tournament tweets were sometimes informational about the big hands he was involved.  Not necessarily full hand histories, but he might mention what he had and what the other player had when he won or lost a big hand.  And also might mention if his read was right or wrong. 

Hmm…suppose I just kept it to myself that I was reading his tweets, that I knew who he was?  He might tweet out some information that would prove, well, useful to me, shall we say?  Now, I did a quick “ethical check” in my mind.  This wouldn’t be like seeing his cards while the hand was live, right?  I mean, if the player next to you is flashing his hole cards to you, you should tell him to be more careful.  You should definitely not take advantage of the situation by continuing to look at his cards.

But this wouldn’t be like that.  By the time I saw any of his post-hand tweets, the hand would be over. So I didn’t think it was cheating and I decided to play it that way without a lot of thought.  But I have to admit, after the tournament, I did spend more time thinking about how Kosher what I did was, and really couldn’t convince myself either way.

At the time, I figured if I could find out what he had in a hand where he didn’t have to show, I could maybe use that info down the road.  Or get some insight as to what he was thinking on a  hand—especially if it was against me.  And even if I didn’t learn anything from his posting about hands (and most of his tweets were just chip updates and very general info), perhaps I could get his insight on some of the other players.  Since he does this for a living, his reads on the other players would likely be better than mine, and something I could use against those other players down the road. Of course, I ran the risk of reading something I wouldn’t like, right?  Like, “Man, I can’t believe how badly that old fart in Seat 1 played his pocket Kings!”  But it was a risk I was willing to take. It might be like he was coaching me, in fact.

So for better or worse, I didn’t identify myself to him, and made sure to check my Twitter feed every time after I saw him tapping into his iPad.  But the truth is, he didn’t tweet all that much.  And the bottom line: During the time we played together, he never tweeted out any useful information at all.  So ethical or not, I gained nothing for my little scheme.

The other thing was, much to my surprise, Ryan would occasionally show his cards when he didn’t have to—so I got some of the information I was looking for anyway. For example, there was one hand where, by the river, there were four spades on board.  I had been betting with top pair but I checked the river and he bet out.  I had to fold, and he showed me one card—a spade. 

Aside from that hand, we were only in one or two hands together.  Near the end for both of us, I raised with Jack-10 off, and he shoved his short stack.  I wasn’t yet ready to play for everything with that hand and I folded.  He expressed surprise, said something about guessing I didn’t have a pair, and showed Ace-Queen (all the cards I mentioned were diamonds, so between the two of us, we had a draw to the Royal).

And he actually busted out before me.  Not much before me.  He took off, so I never got a chance to introduce myself. Until this blog post appears, that is. Not long after Ryan was gone, I had to open-shove my short stack with Ace-10 and was called by Ace-Queen.  There was both a Queen and a 10 on the flop, and I was done.

So what do you think?  Was I a cheater?  Was I unethical?  Was I angle shooting?  Am I a bad person?  Would you have never done the same thing?  Or, is all fair in poker?  Let me know.


  1. Of course you did fine. If he chooses to share important information with the public, it's a-ok to use it.

    I did that once in a WSOP $1K event. I made it to day two so naturally that night I checked the table assignments for the next day to see who I'd be playing with. One of the guy's was a young not-well-known pro, but I found his Twitter. As he's running over our table I'm thinking "he can't have good cards EVERY hand". As I am seriously considering pushing on him next time I have much of anything, I read a tweet from him saying "deck is hitting me in the face every hand--incredible cards". AbortAbortAbort

  2. I think you were not cheating and did nothing unethical. Furthermore you were not angle shooting nor are you a bad person. I would have done the same thing in your place. It *might* have been unfair but *not* your fault the other guy was tweeting during the tournament.

  3. He was following your twitter feed so he probably recognized you at the table. That may be why he showed you some cards when he didn't have too. It also may be why he didn't tweet out any useful information. Always assume the grinder is one level ahead of you because they do it for a living and you don't. If someone is volunteering free information by flashing cards at the table I'm going to take it. If the dealer is accidentally flashing cards then I'll say something.

    1. Thanks Steven....I don't think he recognized me. I actually heard from Ryan via Twitter and based on that, he didn't. I will probably reprint his tweets back to me when I get a chance.

      Short version: He was totally fina with what I did, and knows that when he tweets he's putting that info out there where anyone can see it.

  4. As other commenters have said, there is nothing to think about re: your course of action. When a player shares information, you accept it and glean from it what you can. Too bad you didn't get any useful nuggets.

    John O in MD

  5. Yes to all questions; poker players are of a naturally devious sort. lol.

    Big L

  6. U SIR R A CHEATING CHEATER!!!!!!!!!!!!!! jk i must b a slow poker blog day if this is the best story u got C--------. WHAT A TEASE!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. As I mentioned, just a few hours after posting this (and notifying Ryan of the post via Twitter), I received four tweets from him responding. Here's what he had to say:

    "lol I don't find it the least bit reprehensible, when I put info out I do so w/the knowledge it could be seen, actually I had a person at a Wynn main table who has someone else following me and several others for info for them which was a bit of a stretch. But introduce urself next time even if it's after I busto I'm usually pretty good mood :)o and I show cards bc I'm a fish. :)"

    Thanks Ryan for being a good sport, I will definitely introduce myself next time.

  8. I agree with most of the comments. If he's putting information out there, you're not obligated to let him know. Just the same, I wouldn't expect anyone who reads my blog to let me know that they have a semblance of understanding of my particular approach to the game... Metagame information is similar to in-game information -- whether a blog or twitter, it's all legal and acceptable.

    1. Thanks, PM. I guess all that is true. I did think about guys playing against me who figured out who I was and didn't introduce myself and used info they had from reading my blog. Maybe that's already happened and I just don't know it!

      Of course there was the story of how Poker Grump used my fear of Pocket Kings against me that one time, but of course, I knew who he was and that he was familiar with my blog, so not really the same thing.