December 31, 2005

Is backing another player ethical?: "Let's cut to the chase: Poker players financially back other players in World Series of Poker events and other tournaments when they're playing in the same tournament and maybe even at the same table.... Question is, is this OK? Is this legal? Is this ethical? Is this a festering conflict of interest that is the biggest threat to the public embracing poker's new smiley face instead of the game's outlaw image?"

posted by billsaysthis to culture at 02:21 PM - 27 comments

We could get into a sport/not-sport debate on this--though I hope not since poker is all over ESPN, FoxSports and the article itself is on ESPN.com--but the questions raised by Rosenbloom seem pretty interesting to me. I think the answer is that this practice is barely legal/ethical, making the cut because apparently the financial support is public knowledge but if poker is to make a push to NASCAR/NHL level it probably needs to end.

posted by billsaysthis at 02:25 PM on December 31, 2005

It's not okay if they're at the same table. Too many ways to cheat. I've played lots of poker in clubs with tables full of strangers. You always wonder if someone is sending raise signals to a "partner".

posted by STLCardinalfan at 03:11 PM on December 31, 2005

I am starting to think that these guys are more interseted in the "money', than any concepts of fair play or sportsmanship. If I can't trust high stakes poker players who can I trust. I mean; what's next boxing, wrestling, horse racing, no not jai alai too? Where does the corruption end? I had plans to steer my kids toward a professional gambling career, but now I just don't know!

posted by at 03:28 PM on December 31, 2005

SportingRhino, that might be one of the funniest posts I've seen in a long time, but dude -- punctuation!

posted by wfrazerjr at 04:14 PM on December 31, 2005

If I can't trust high stakes poker players who can I trust Hilarious.

posted by dusted at 04:48 PM on December 31, 2005

In a weird way, I think the top players care less about the money than you'd think. They've made many hundreds of thousands or even millions from the WSOP alone. Since they play year around, and the WSOP is only during the summer, they are making even more from various private tournaments and private games (I'm sure guys like Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth can make a tidy sum just playing privately against well-to-do people who won't even mind losing tens of thousands just to brag to their friends that they played at a table with Johnny Chan). The real goal for them is to win those elusive bracelets. Phil Hellmuth would rather finish his career with more bracelets than anyone else than to be known as the top money earner of all time. Indeed, when Johnny Chan won the 2005 Pot Limit Hold 'Em tournament, the man he eliminated- Phil "The Unabomber" Laak- came over to congratulate him, and Chan said to Phil "You can have the money, I just wanted this!" and proudly showed off his record 10th bracelet. He didn't give Laak the money of course, but I do think he was honestly far less interested in the pile of cash than in the little bracelet in his hand. Interestingly, while Phil Laak's second place finish was his best ever at a WSOP event, he's dating Jennifer Tilly, who actually won a bracelet herself in the women's tournament that very same day!!! Tilly I believe then won the World Poker Tour Women's Tournament two months later. What I like about poker tournaments is the hands-off quality to it: there isn't some tight-assed sponsor's money running the show, or silly morality clauses governing the players on and off-field activity. The prizes and the casino incentive comes from the players in it, who are free to engage in all manner of bizarre idiosyncracies, including listening to ipods, wearing masks or other bizarre headgear, strange rituals, shouting, screaming, jumping, doing situps during the turn/river cards of an all-in situation, etc, etc, etc. Backing another player is probably a losing proposition as the article suggests, but since it's their money, why shouldn't they be free to do so? The only reason to be worried is if two players are colluding and cheating, but that can happen now with two players who buy in normally- and since they can't really control what table they're at, it's not much of a worry. By the time a player is in the final few tables, if he is playing against someone he's invested money in and has a chance to bust him and ensure himself even just one spot higher in the final standings... he'd be a fool to do otherwise. The prize difference at that point between finishing Nth and finishing N+1th is likely more than his initial investment- and getting rid of a player at your table moves you considerably closer to jumping further up the ladder to potentially winning it all.

posted by hincandenza at 05:22 PM on December 31, 2005

By the time a player is in the final few tables, if he is playing against someone he's invested money in and has a chance to bust him and ensure himself even just one spot higher in the final standings... he'd be a fool to do otherwise. But what if the player chooses to transfer his chips to his partner (easily done) to enhance their chances at the top prize? If they're down to 3-4 players the math would be on their side considering the spread between 1st and 2nd.

posted by STLCardinalfan at 05:38 PM on December 31, 2005

Transferring the chips is outright against the rules I believe, and would probably be caught by either the cameras or just any number of witnesses/other players/dealer. The concern expressed in the article is of cases where people might play different, such as not being as aggressive against a player who they've put money into- i.e., not busting such a player and instead preferring to keep them around. But since you are going to have to bust them at some point, or they'll bust you, I still don't see a real conflict of interest. If you were fortunate/unfortunate enough to end up at a table with someone you'd backed (and remember, the buy-in for tournaments other than the main one are a lot less than $10,000, so chump change for any winning player), at best you'd not want to knock them out until you two were the only ones left at that table. So again, at best you'd let them get one or two positions higher before you knocked them out, which really isn't much of a concern. I still say any winning player is not going to make bad moves if they have a chance at winning the tournament themselves, and not taking the or as many chips as you can when you have a chance to do so just wouldn't make sense. You could only be affected if you were at the same table as this person you'd backed, and since you'll probably only get 50% of their winnings, versus 100% of your own, anything that weakens your own standing in favor of them is fundamentally stupid. After all, any two players could attempt to cheat or collude even without one having backed the other anyway. Backing players makes little sense in the long run as Greenstein notes, since if they aren't good enough to raise the cash for a buy-in themselves, why on earth would you want to put your own money on them? Any poker player of even moderate competency should be able to raise the buy-in for even the main event at the WSOP, much less the smaller buy-ins, from a satellite tournament or just a few weeks' of private games. If they can't, they aren't going to even break even at the WSOP tournaments.

posted by hincandenza at 06:11 PM on December 31, 2005

Transferring the chips is outright against the rules I believe, and would probably be caught by either the cameras or just any number of witnesses/other players/dealer By transferring I meant waiting for the right opportunity and betting your weak hand against your partner's so he will have more chips against the other players. With 3 players left, in a big money tournament, the math would make sense to do this.

posted by STLCardinalfan at 06:40 PM on December 31, 2005

Of course it is unethical. But until more poker players give a darn, it will continue.

posted by BlueCarp at 10:59 AM on January 01, 2006

Read this: Analysis of KJs A big controversy came up last year when Tuan Lee was backed by Hasan Habib. Hasan was up 12 million to Tuanís 2 million in the WPT Championship when they were down to three. Tuan came back and won it all and Hasan had 50% of Tuan.

posted by jasonspaceman at 11:04 AM on January 01, 2006

AA big controversy came up last year when Tuan Lee was backed by Hasan Habib. Hasan was up 12 million to Tuanís 2 million in the WPT Championship when they were down to three. Tuan came back and won it all and Hasan had 50% of Tuan. Why would Hasan be willing to give up 100% of the winnings to help a guy win so he could have 50% of the winnings. It doesn't make sense. I think backing is kind of a chance that says if I get knocked out, I still have a chance of winning 50%.

posted by skydivemom at 11:18 AM on January 01, 2006

Hey, we're talking about poker here - a game based on deceit anyway.

posted by DvonR at 12:42 PM on January 01, 2006

ok, Dieter vonRabenstein, which I am sure is your real name.

posted by jasonspaceman at 12:58 PM on January 01, 2006

WHATEVER! ALL I KNOW IS I AM SICK AND TIRED OF SEEING THIS CRAP ON ESPN! NEWSFLASH!!!!!!!!!!! THIS IS NOT A SPORT!

posted by CountDracula58 at 01:15 PM on January 01, 2006

If the buy-in is so small, why would any player worth backing need the backing or be willing to give up any meaningful percentage of his or her winnings? There has to be something more to this than just the paying the buy-in. Hal, all I can tell you is that people who win the money have nothing to lose by saying they want the bracelet more than the cash but never seem to back it up by refusing the cash or playing for a charity (except in certain celebrity events). I would point to, say, Shaq's $30+ million salary when taking less would allow the team to (perhaps) spend more and have better players for the rest of the squad slots. Or the vast array of Enron/Worldcom/et al corporate executives who were already worth hundreds of millions yet were driven to break the law for a little more. So excuse me for not taking such sentiments at face value. FWIW CountD, I'm as uninterested in seeing this on ESPN as you; I thought the potential for unethical behavior was worth a discussion.

posted by billsaysthis at 01:35 PM on January 01, 2006

Hal, all I can tell you is that people who win the money have nothing to lose by saying they want the bracelet more than the cash but never seem to back it up by refusing the cash or playing for a charity (except in certain celebrity events). Barry Greenstein gives all his winnings to charity.

posted by skydivemom at 01:58 PM on January 01, 2006

NEWSFLASH!!!!!!!!!!! THIS IS NOT A SPORT! Are you a fan of NASCAR or competitive cheerleading? If you are I would seriously consider editing that statement.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 02:31 PM on January 01, 2006

I think the top players care less about the money than you'd think. They've made many hundreds of thousands or even millions from the WSOP alone. Actually, they probably make more money from cash games than they do from tournaments. Barry Greenstein (as mentioned above) gives all his tournament winnings to charity. However, he makes a LOT of money playing in cash games with big stakes internet millionaires and adrenaline junkie old time money. Before these big name TV tournaments, that's how they earned a living. As bad as the potential for unethical behaviour might be for "live" gambling, "online" gambling is probably ten times worse. The only thing that offers protection for the online poker player is that the site using statistical monitoring to try and spot "trends" where one player lays down for another (or bets against the proper play too often).

posted by grum@work at 05:51 PM on January 01, 2006

billsaysthis: Hal, all I can tell you is that people who win the money have nothing to lose by saying they want the bracelet more than the cash
And I promptly noted that he didn't actually give up the cash, but only used that as an example of how at least among the top players, the money is less and less of a concern. Do you think guys like Chan, Doyle Brunson, or Phil Hellmuth, who have spent the last 3-4 years in a crazy race to hold the most bracelets, where they each won two tourneys in the 2003 WSOP to stay tied, where Brunson and Chan won their 10th within 4 days of each other in the 2005 WSOP, and Hellmuth got to the final table but couldn't convert... do you think these guys are thinking about the money when they try to win, or about getting another bracelet to shove in the face of the other two? My point, and I thought I sure put enough words to not be misunderstood here: the top players aren't going to throw a tournament for the mere few thousand dollars they put into one player; there's as much risk of non-backing players to collude or cheat in some fashion as any two players where one backed the other- in part because the ability to control table position is not there for a player who's backing another player.
grum: Actually, they probably make more money from cash games than they do from tournaments.
Were you too freakin' lazy to finish quoting my very next goddamned sentence, when I said "they are making even more from various private tournaments and private games (I'm sure guys like Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth can make a tidy sum just playing privately against well-to-do people who won't even mind losing tens of thousands just to brag to their friends that they played at a table with Johnny Chan)." (emphasis added) What the fuck, grum?! Seriously, this thread makes me wonder if 2006 is the "Year of Misunderstanding and Selectively Misquoting Hal Incandenza"!!! Harumph. New Year's is a Humbug...

posted by hincandenza at 10:56 PM on January 01, 2006

Im not sure what to do. There is controversy before i've posted. Anyway, I think poker is another attempt to hold the black man down. How come phil ivey and phil helmuth have the same first name, but you see helmuth twice as much?......Calmdown, im kidding. Quick side note, greg rahmer was accused of collusion on pokerstars before he won the world series. While i understand what greenstien means when he says "why back a player who cant scrape up the buy-in himself". I would say because they may turn out to be a rahmer (who was backed the year he won) or moneymaker (who won his seat from a $40 buy in satellite thus being backed by pokerstars) thats why. Is it ethical to back a player in a tournament in which you yourself are competing? Maybe not, but I cant remember the last "ethical" card game i was in.

posted by RZA at 12:48 AM on January 02, 2006

I don't think it's being "backed" by a site to enter a low buy-in tournament and win it, thus securing a seat bought by the site... in lieu of the cash equivalent. If PS.N hosts a tournament, and thousands of people pay $40 each to play and the top few people get a seat, they're no more being backed by the site than you would say that the WSOP itself "backed" the players with a multi-million dollar seat at the final table by hosting the first few days of the tournament for a low, low $10,000 buyin. See what I mean? A pokerstars.net site is really just like an internet version of trolling private card rooms around the city to raise the $10G for the main event buy-in. The idea of earning your way to a seat via winning lower-level cash games is a long-established one: Rahmer beat out many other people to earn that seat first, proving that he had some poker chops (had not heard that collusion rumor). PS.N hosted a free tournament with several tens of thousands of players, and "backed" only a few of them. Greenstein's point implies that someone who plays a cashless tourney and wins is no different than someone who plays a low buy-in local tournament and wins, and puts that money towards a seat at the WSOP ME: in both cases, they've proven their ability to win. Ultimately, if you want to be in the Main Event, you either have to have disposable cash, or be a consistent enough winner you can raise the money with your card playing. If you just flat out give someone the $10k to enter the WSOP Main Event because you think they are a good player, they haven't proven they can actually be net profitable by winning, have they? And that, not the Rahmer's or Moneymakers cases, is what Greenstein means when he says backing a player is a losing proposition....

posted by hincandenza at 06:26 AM on January 02, 2006

A lack of ethics in Poker.... For shame. They may want the bracelets, but 1,000,000 bucks is still alot of money. And frankly, there's alot safer ways to bet it than going up against all of the best players in the world. By backing multiple players you increase the odds of winning back what you've spent to attend the tourney. It's called hedging your bets. Since the players more than anyone know the sport is 25% skill and 75% luck, why not teach and back say... 10 players. You average out the luck that way. Plenty of players compete very well with only 6 months of experience... Consider that splitting the Pot for the #4 spot is 1 Million, and you still have 10-1 odds against any one of ten guys finishing in the top few. Heck, if you win the bracelet against a player you sponsored, you would stand to make over $6 Million. Not bad for betting 100-200 thousand...

posted by LostInDaJungle at 01:27 PM on January 02, 2006

Do you think guys like Chan, Doyle Brunson, or Phil Hellmuth, who have spent the last 3-4 years in a crazy race to hold the most bracelets, where they each won two tourneys in the 2003 WSOP to stay tied, where Brunson and Chan won their 10th within 4 days of each other in the 2005 WSOP, and Hellmuth got to the final table but couldn't convert... do you think these guys are thinking about the money when they try to win, or about getting another bracelet to shove in the face of the other two? I think the bracelets represent money, winning the tournament represents money, beating the other players means money and finally I think you vastly understate the importance of the money to these people. The ability to shove a representational object in the face of the other competitors is ego, certainly something most competitors at this level of accomplishment in any field (sports, business, politics, entertainment) have in spades, and moainly icing on the cake. (LOL, I made a pun.)

posted by billsaysthis at 03:13 PM on January 02, 2006

I think high stakes tournament players are in it to win it - it would explain a lot of the play that happens around the bubble. Ethically, there is nothing wrong with backing other players - provided they are up front about it (as Hasan and Lee were in the example stated) - because, frankly, it is extremely difficult to run a team game at a pro final table. That shit works on the dead money, in non-tourney scenarios far more than it does at a thousand person event, where the odds of being put in a position to do anything team oriented are low to begin with. Besides - the way that backing works doesn't necessarily translate immediately into a beneficial situation where either the guy backing, or the guy being backed benefit from a avoidance/chip dumping strategy. The best strategy is to play your hands well and pay attention to your game. Don't be cute with millions at stake.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 04:22 PM on January 02, 2006

Actually, the only reason i considered that a form of backing was due to the fact that they (rahmer, moneymaker) did have financial obligations to ps.n after winning. So, in comparison, i meant that if you back someone that otherwise cant pay their own way into the tourny, maybe theres a chance that they would end up like a rahmer or a moneymaker, thats all. It was a response to "why back someone that cant pay their own way into the main event". My answer was, they may end up like a moneymaker or a rahmer. Ya just never know. Some of these guys look at it like they're betting on horses. Even if there are long odds against, they see it as buying a lottery ticket for say 5 grand, the prize pool being a % of 7.5 million. You just never know how the cards are going to fall. And God forbid if you end up at the same table as the person you backed, you just increased your odds by a truck load. Some of these die hards are just all out gamblholics.

posted by RZA at 08:10 PM on January 02, 2006

Back these players: Scott 'Kickyourace' Neuman or some guy from Bentonville, AR.

posted by jasonspaceman at 10:15 AM on January 03, 2006

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