As my colleague and friend John Caldwell reported recently, the world of online poker tournaments are getting to the level where they are challenging some of the brick and mortar casino events around today with the size of their prize pools. One of the bigger events is at PartyPoker, who ran their $500K Guaranteed Tournament Sunday (February 12th). The $200 buy in event, supplemented by a wealth of satellite players from the site, usually draws well over 2,500 runners for the tournament and ensures that the prize pool for the tournament will well exceed the guarantee. In the end, an unknown player by the name of "ABlackCar" ended up taking the first place prize worth over $140,000.
That's what we thought until last week, however. In a difficult, but necessary decision, the first place prize was stripped from the event winner and everyone moved up one slot on the money list. The reasons for this should serve as a warning to anyone else who attempts the act and has to be applauded by the online poker community for the actions taken to protect the integrity of the game.
After being stripped of the first place bounty, it was revealed on many of the online forums that "ABlackCar" was actually being financed by a player by the name of 'JJProdigy', who is viewed by many as one of the top ten players on the Internet and also played in the $500K event. In a posting at one of these forums after "ABlackCar" was stripped of the win, 'JJProdigy' defended himself, stating that the second account was for his grandmother to play on. When she worked her way deep into the tournament, 'JJProdigy' stated that he took over for her and let people know at the tables that he was playing the account.
After a few days, however, the true story of the event worked its way into the light. 'JJProdigy' eventually confessed to the deception that he had been running. In a second posting, 'JJProdigy' admitted to knowingly setting up the second account at the end of 2005 and, in fact, was playing both accounts throughout the tournament. It seems that he had heard of other players doing it and figured that he shouldn't be left out of the potential windfall (he explained it as "positive EV"). He also goes on to allege that many players he knows do the same thing and that many online sites have no idea that it is happening.
First off, one must credit PartyPoker and the policing of their games. They could have just gone on about their business and let 'JJProdigy' continue doing what he was doing. After all, they were making their money and it wasn't their concern to correct this issue or make it right for the rest of the players in the event. As with most (if not all) of the online poker rooms, PartyPoker spells out very distinctly the penalties for inappropriate actions such as 'JJProdigy's' ruse, and the penalty isn't a light one; revocation of any monies won and the immediate cancellation of all accounts involved. This was the action that 'JJProdigy' found himself hit with and justifiably so. Within a couple days of this story breaking, PokerStars started its own internal investigation, found impropriety, and also closed the JJProdigy account on their platform.
Now onto 'JJProdigy' himself. Why he felt the need to attempt such a scheme is a great first question. As stated before, he has been able to make a significant impact in the online poker rooms through some excellent play. It is obvious that he has some talent, otherwise he wouldn't have reached that rarefied air of being one of the Top Ten in the Internet community. Was it getting more difficult for him to "make it" in the Internet poker world because of this notoriety? Were people taking more shots at him, trying to take down one of the Top Guns of online poker and he was losing? Or was it a case of a young man who was simply trying to shoot an angle and got caught? These are a few questions that immediately pop to mind and, if given some time, I'm sure I could work up many more!
While PartyPoker and PokerStars have dealt with 'JJProdigy' (and appropriately, I must add), I think the action should be taken one step further. It is known that the online poker rooms share quite a bit of information to combat dishonest activities. I would suggest that 'JJProdigy's' actions should result in a ban across the board and be implemented for every room on the Internet. When a person is found cheating in one of the physical casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City or elsewhere, there is normally an immediate ban on the person that follows them to other gaming locations like literary character Hester Prynne's scarlet "A" emblazoned on her bosom. Many a card counter in blackjack has found themselves in this situation and banishment from the casinos of a particular locale is on the light end of the punishment scale. As such, the only logical course of action to take is the banishment of 'JJProdigy' from the online poker world.
While it might be a harsh punishment, it is the only way to ensure that online poker can continue to be viewed as a viable entity in Internet gaming. There are already the "Chicken Littles" of the message boards that rant about the possibilities of RNG rigging, collusion and other potential cheating maneuvers being plied by those that play on the Internet tables. Does this occur elsewhere? Of course. Is this widely rampant? Probably not.
Additionally, the chances of actual collusion in a poker tournament with 300 or 400 (or more) tables in play is still microscopic. Make no mistake, PartyPoker, and PokerStars took correct action here, and this young man was just the first one caught in a public manner. Discouraging players in this severe manner is the exact way to deal with situations like this. An example must be set, and 'JJProdigy' will be that example.
Now if you are worried about this being something that might happen to you, you shouldn't be. The best course of action to take if you have several players that have accounts through your computer system is to not be playing in the same events or at the same cash tables. If you qualify or buy into a tournament, ensure that the second computer in your house that your significant other is playing on isn't in the same game. This way, there isn't that potential for indiscretion to come up. While it may be exciting for the potential of both (or however many) of you to make the final table, it is best to avoid the potential of ending up in the same mess 'JJProdigy' finds himself in today.