Fairness: Dead at the Bike
After the dinner break on Day 2, Weds. Jan. 11, of the WSOPC Main Event at the Bicycle Casino my table was moved to the "feature table," the feature being that it was streamed, including hole cards, to the Bike's "Live at the Bike!" web site. We were told that, despite the "Live" part of the name, the webcast was delayed one hour from real time. We were further instructed in a specific procedure required to reveal our hole cards to the RFID receivers embedded in the table at certain locations.
We had no prior notice of the requirement to reveal hole cards. I objected and stated I would not follow the specified procedure. I stated my reason as the potential for unequal information among the players after the one hour delay, when most of us would likely still be playing against each other. Those who had friends or paid assistants watching the webcast could learn opponent hole cards from an hour earlier, and those who did not could not. Opinions will vary as to the value of this information, but there is a lot of money at stake in tournaments like this -- in this instance, a prize pool of about $800,000 -- and in my view this potential inequality of information about opponent play is unfair. I said that if the Bike provided a monitor displaying the earlier hole cards that was visible to all the players, I would have no objection to revealing them. Incidentally, we were informed that players would NOT be allowed to watch the webcast on their smartphones or other devices at the table.
The rejoinder was that there was equality of opportunity among all the players, i.e., that all were free to recruit or employ assistants to provide them with opponents' earlier hole cards.
I was told by Tournament Director Mo Fathipour that if I did not follow the specified procedure, I would be given a one-orbit penalty for each refusal, and after two such penalties I would be disqualified from the tournament.
Please note that not only had I not provided any prior consent to comply with this requirement, I, and none of the other players, had any notice of it. The only loosely-related notice was the following on the receipt providing starting table and seat numbers given to me after I paid the buy-in and entry fee: "The final table of this tournament may be streamed live to the Internet via "Live at the Bike!" at management's discretion. If selected, players will be required to complete a Player's Release form before final table play can begin. Your participation in this tournament indicates your consent to this filming and internet streaming." In short, after paying to play the event, players are put on notice that they will be required to execute an agreement, the content of which is as yet not revealed, "before final table play can begin."
At the time my table became the feature table, it was not only not the final table, the tournament field had not yet reached the money.
I was told that I had to perform a specified procedure with my cards, which had nothing to do with providing or protecting the tournament play -- i.e.,nothing to do with the services for which each entrant paid the Bike $145 -- and was not in any way for the benefit of the players, or I would be disqualified from the tournament and be forced to abandon thousands of dollars of equity.
I considered disqualification with ensuing legal action, but in the end I decided to allow the dealer to follow the card revelation procedure with my cards before releasing them to me. All of the other players at the table elected to place their hole cards in the designated spots for a couple of seconds so they could be read by the RFID receivers.
[I inquired about the real-time security of this information. I was told that it was transmitted by cable, which was visible on the floor, to a booth containing personnel who were required to leave their cell phones outside.]
I have played at many "TV tables" and have had no objection to showing my hole cards to recording equipment. But in all those instances the revelation was to be months later, well after the end of the event. In this instance -- and in others -- the revelation is 30-60 minutes later, when many if not all the players involved will still be playing against each other in the same event. This webcast trend is burgeoning, and I don't actually expect much support for my objection to it.
But I do hope for support for the more absract issue: that venues should not be allowed to require arbitrary positive action of tournament entrants that is not related to providing or protecting the game, without prior notice and consent and with disqualification as penalty for noncompliance. By "prior" I mean not only prior to paying to play, but prior to traveling to the venue.