Two Million Questions: Poker Responds
It's been about two weeks since we released our first three articles on the two million extra chips introduced into the 2006 WSOP Main Event. We have gotten feedback from a lot of different segments of the poker community and we thought, in order to further the conversation, we would share what we have been hearing.
First, it seems only appropriate to report what we have heard from Harrah's. WSOP Director of Communications Gary Thompson sent PokerNews a brief official response to the articles:
"We are taking this matter very seriously and are conducting an internal investigation. As soon as that investigation is complete, we'll have more information to share with you."
We are happy to hear this and look forward to any forthcoming statements from Harrah's and the WSOP staff. However, one wonders why this "internal investigation" has now taken over a month and what it entails. Harrah's was certainly aware of the chip overage during the play of the Main Event, as their own end-of day chip counts attest, and the number of media inquiries they received would have signaled. Also in the course of our investigation, we have heard from several sources that Harrah's utilized an additional method of determining the number of chips in play. There was a nightly reconciliation of all chips not in play, meaning those chips still in the back cabinets. Harrah's knew precisely the number of chips in play and did not merely have to rely on what was written on the bags or recorded in any media chip count.
As we mentioned in the earlier articles, we were told by several WSOP officials that they believed the overage was a result of chip races. However, since the articles' release, Gary Thompson has acknowledged that the vast majority of extra chips were introduced into the tournament during the $5K color-up process just as we described in our articles. This is something he, and apparently other Harrah's officials, have known for some time. We have to conclude that Harrah's had already reviewed security tapes and interviewed floor staff, verifying the error.. We assume that the above reference to "an investigation" now has more to do with how to proceed than determining what happened. We are hopeful that Harrah's is using this time to prepare a thoughtful and comprehensive plan that addresses better tournament controls and procedures and we look forward to the results of their investigation.
Now on to other comments and other questions raised by our articles.
One thing we wanted to know was: How often have players experienced chip color-up mistakes in tournaments they have played. The internet forums have been full of stories of color-up errors but the definitive word came to us from Barry Greenstein:
"It was obvious to me what happened at the WSOP and I agree with your conclusion. I have seen double chips given more than twenty times in my tournament career. Normally the player getting them says something or someone else at the table notices the error, but obviously it occasionally goes uncorrected. I am sure most of the recipients of the extra chips know about it. I wonder who would refuse a lie detector test?"
During the $2000 NLHE event at the 2003 WSOP, Andy Glazer reported a similar problem during a color-up. He referred to it as one of the "uncomfortable but not-to-be-buried-or-ignored subjects, as is becoming more and more the case at the World Series each year." His account follows:
"…you'll notice that the chips in play added up to $414,500, which is about what you'd expect with 207 entrants and a few odd dollars added from blinded off empty stacks, chip ups and race offs. However, as it grew late in the tournament and we did a careful chip count; we discovered that there were $430,000 chips on the table.
While conventional paranoia would have indicated something fishy, I think conventional human error is more likely. It would have been awfully hard for someone to sneak extra chips onto a table not only closely watched but being taped.
The much more likely explanation is that an error was made as the $500 chips were being taken out of play and that somehow someone received three $5,000 chips he wasn't entitled to… Officials are going to be more careful about this in future events."
We know that that the WSOP staff was more careful during the color-ups during the recent Tahoe Circuit Event. But if the icon of all poker journalism Andy Glazer were alive today, we wonder if he would come to the same conclusion we have. Trying to be more careful is not sufficient in today's environment; better procedures and controls are needed..
We got a number of responses that spoke to the procedural needs and possible solutions relative to this specific error as well as other recurring tournament poker issues.
Jesse Jones of the World Poker Association had this to say:
"The WSOP main event chip discrepancy highlights the fact that we need uniform standards in the tournament poker industry to prevent this type of error. The integrity of tournaments should be priority number one. The World Poker Association will address these standards through committees and input from the membership. Individuals and organizations need to join the WPA to participate in the process of protecting the future of our great sport."
Dave Lamb speaking for the Tournament Directors Association was unclear as to what their role could be regarding this type of procedural control issue:
"The TDA was not formed to institute tournament procedures, although we are not ruling out the possibility of doing so in the future. One of the problems that we would face if we tried to institute tournament procedures is that many cardrooms are subject to their individual Gaming Commission regulations and these are different across the country. Thus the cardrooms who have to do things according to their Commissions would not necessarily be able to adhere to TDA regulations and thus would not be able to be TDA sanctioned."
Lou Krieger wondered about the often mentioned technological solution.
"Why are chips still being counted and verified by hand when the technology exists to do this remotely, via computer, with few chances for catastrophic errors of this type?"
"If smart chips embedded with sensors denoting their value were used, the remote sensing or portable reading devices could be used to audit the color-up procedures. No mistakes of multimillion dollar magnitude could be made, and small changes in the net value of chips at the table could easily be pinpointed and ascribed to situations when a chip is colored up to the next denomination."
"Your story really opened my eyes to the absurdly outdated horse-and-buggy procedures that have been carried over to today's modern, 8,000-player events, when the ability to preclude incidents like this is within reach of any casino running a major event."
Andy Bloch wrote an in-depth piece on RFID chips over four years ago, which you can find on his site at andybloch.com/safechips/ and as he says:
"I'm sure that the technology has been improved and the costs have come down significantly since then."
Jay Greenspan thinks there exists a more immediate solution and a more immediate problem:
"I agree that technology is part of the answer. But, at best, a technological solution would be years off, even if Harrah's, the WPT, and others were interested in making the investment (presumably, a third party would develop the technology). For the time being we have to rely on people — competent, experienced people. And as we all know, folks fitting that description were pretty hard to find at the Rio".
"Is Harrah's willing to pay appropriate salaries for the right people? Who will next year's TD be?"
"I think these are questions they should be able to answer now. They clearly need to revisit their staffing procedures and create thorough policy manuals. That takes time and so the management needs to be in place."
Daniel Negreanu weighed in on his personal blog on Full Contact Poker with an even stronger indictment of the staffing issues, which he feels led to this two million chip error:
"I hate to say it, but this debauchery didn't surprise me. It's not rocket science, but when the players as a whole fork over more than $5 million to Harrah's to run the main event properly, it's important that the staff is qualified to do their job properly."
"Some of the floor staff did a wonderful job with this year's WSOP, while others were not qualified to run a lemonade stand, yet they were on the floor during the largest cash prize pool in history."
"I'm confident that next year a better system will be put into place. I'm also hoping that next year, the floor staff in charge of millions of dollars will be more qualified than this year's cast."
Gavin Smith had this to add about mistakes and floor staff:
"The Series is biggest poker stage in the world. It's a pity Harrah's won't hire the best people to run the biggest show. Some mistakes are so big and on such a big stage that someone has to be fired. No where else in that corporation would a two million dollar mistake not cost you your job."
"It's not like things like this haven't happened before and will happen again if someone doesn't call them out and stay on their ass until they actually do something to be sure that the game is about what happens at the tables."
We were interested to see if people believed our conclusion that the extra chips were accidentally introduced during the $5K color-up. Without surveillance tapes or more information from Harrah's, many people still were not ready to close the door on more nefarious explanations. Richard Brodie leaves the possibility open:
"I don't know if that's what happened. What I do know is that the tournament staff knew about the extra chips at the time and they had surveillance cameras pointed at the tables. Surely they watched those tapes to try to discover what happened. Surely they have saved those tapes rather than destroy them after the minimum seven days required by the Nevada Gaming Control Board."
"Folks, we're talking about an error worth almost $2 million to the players who benefited. That is probably the grossest mistake in the history of casino gambling if it was inadvertent, and a hell of a criminal conspiracy if it was not."
Richard is not the only one to mention conspiracy. We know that no matter what we write, conspiracy theories will continue on the internet's various poker forums and discussion groups. There is, however, a way to end all of this speculation and conjecture. Harrah's must provide more detail about this specific error and a total accounting of chips introduced during the WSOP Main Event.
Here is what Paul Phillips had to say about the 'other' possibility:
"It seems close to certain that it was a color up that introduced the chips. That doesn't make it accidental though. A crooked floorman is in perfect position to 'accidentally' color up his confederate. If it's noticed he won't even be reprimanded."
…and what Paul says about the thinking behind the problem:
"My question is: what do you think the chances are that if you walked up to the cage with real chips and asked for a denomination change that they would accidentally give you $2,000,000 too much? Does that seem less probable somehow? The gap between the relative probabilities of these events is the difference between how much people care about their money and how much they care about your money."
….and a solution:
"It is impossible to bridge that gap with false promises and assurances. The gap can only be bridged by making your money equivalent to their money - meaning that the casino must be financially responsible for any extra chips introduced during play. In this case that means Harrah's owes the players two million dollars."
….and what is not a solution:
"Any measure short of this is hot air. When events like this transpire we always hear about how the casino 'takes responsibility' for what happened. What does that mean? If they don't augment the prize pool, it's meaningless. Anyone can take responsibility for anything if they don't have to do anything about it. Responsibility means making what reparations are possible."
Andy Bloch weighs in again with agreement and more:
"Tournament chips should be treated like cash chips. If there are extra chips, casinos should be responsible for adding the difference to the prize pool, as they, not the players, have control over them. Tournament chips should be kept in the casino cage and signed out and in just like any other chips. Tournament staff should only remove the number of chips they need to complete a color up. All color ups should be recorded and observed by surveillance, and signed off by dealers and floor people. Extra chip stacks that are removed should be counted and recorded, and verified by both the dealer and the floor."
"It's unfortunate that it takes a two million dollar error to get the casinos to wake up."
Will a two million chip error cause people to wake up? In our view, that remains to be seen. A hot issue usually awakens the best intentions, but it takes a stalwart effort over time to exact meaningful change. Players who foot the tournament bill are unhappy. Many perceive that the integrity of their game is at risk. The media is not satisfied with the answers to date. The current control issues expose hosting casinos to huge legal and financial liability. But will that be enough to sustain the effort it will take to make substantive and constructive change?
We believe that by continuing the dialogue about this issue, it will help the industry maintain its focus relative to addressing it. If you would like to comment directly to us or if you have information on this subject you would like us to consider, contact us at: TwoMillionChips@yahoo.com