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Fairness: Dead at the Bike - Steve Brecher
January 12th, 2012
04:05 pm


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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.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:January 13th, 2012 12:16 am (UTC)
I think the key point here is prior notice.

If this was in the tournament rules that were made available to all players, then it's a reasonable condition-- you can agree to it, or not play the tournament. Did they give you the option to unregister once you saw it on the receipt?
[User Picture]
Date:January 13th, 2012 12:21 am (UTC)
I'm going to be lazy rather than polite: please review what happened vs. what was on the receipt.

Without confirmation I assume that any player would be able to un-register before the start of the event.
[User Picture]
Date:January 13th, 2012 12:25 am (UTC)
My apologies-- I did see the discrepancy, but glossed over it in my relatively quick comment. Allow me to clarify.

In general, I think it's reasonable for casinos to put such qualifiers on tournaments, so long as they are known to players in advance, and the players have the opportunity not to participate if they find such requirements to be unpalatable. In this particular case, the requirements weren't all that clearly spelled out ahead of time, and the actual situation was outside the requirement that was on the receipt.

So yes, I agree with you that the casino was completely in the wrong.
[User Picture]
Date:January 13th, 2012 12:32 am (UTC)
In addition, there's nothing stopping you from pursuing legal action after the tournament, right?
[User Picture]
Date:January 13th, 2012 02:32 am (UTC)
This isn't hard to understand when you consider one pertinent fact:

The casinos absolutely do not care what the players want or what is fair.
Date:January 13th, 2012 02:34 am (UTC)
I appreciate your the analysis of the costs of the change in rules and possible security issues but that seems mostly irrelevant to me.

They choose to change the rules after the game started. That is broken. The fact ya'all had access to the the same information missed the point in such a typical poker room way.

I agree with Patti they probably took the worse of it here. IANAL but by disagreeing I think you keep most of your ability to responding legally open while also taking advantage of your equity at the moment.

My perception from fairly far outside of the tournament world is that tournament vendors see the players as actors and not as competitors.
[User Picture]
Date:January 13th, 2012 02:38 am (UTC)
I think you have more of a gripe because they specified it would happen for the final table. That sort of implies that it would happen only at the final table.
[User Picture]
Date:January 13th, 2012 04:15 am (UTC)
I'm going to take a Devil's Advocate position first, and then hopefully destroy that position.

Why can't the Bike change the rules? I'm certain that buried in the fine print of the advertisement of the tournament series is their usual disclaimer, something like: "The Bike reserves the right to make any changes to the tournament at any time." You were put in no worse a position than anyone else. You could get on your cellphone, call anyone you know, and have them scout the hands. You even state that, noting, "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."

Now, let me destroy that position.

First, there's the obvious argument, the one you and clutch_c stated: This wasn't part of the terms and conditions of the event. You had played well over several hours, outlasting a good portion of the field, and given a bad choice. You could either accept conditions you were unaware of or be disqualified. (It's unclear whether or not the Bike would have refunded your entry. If they wouldn't have, that would be far worse.)

Second, there's the issue that I've pondered about since the WSOP began the videocasting of tournaments. This gives a huge advantage to those who have expert friends who are watching the hole card play of others. Consider Ben Lamb at this year's main event. Daniel Negreanu stated he was part of Ben Lamb's "team;" presumably, there were several other experts. I remember watching some of the final table and seeing Daniel's tweets about certain tells (I spotted one).

Now consider the situation if I made such a table and was up against, say, Daniel. Daniel would likely recruit his friends to let them know about the hole cards and their expert takes about what was going on. I would do the same, but while I know many good players I will be honest: Daniel knows better players who would be more likely to spot things I and my contemporaries would likely miss. Yes, we're all "free" to get help, but some help is better than others.

Finally, it's not poker--at least, not poker as you and I know it. Or maybe I should say knew it. Because Marc is right: The casinos care only about their bottom lines and the players be damned.
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