During the last level of play on Day 1a of the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event at Harrah's Tunica, the PokerNews Live Reporting Team was told that Drew McIlvain was disqualified for collusion. In the days following the event, a thread was started on TwoPlusTwo, and Mcilvain himself posted an explanation.
We reached out to McIlvain to get the full story, and we also spoke with Seth Palansky, the Vice President of Corporate Communications at Caesars Entertainment, to learn more about the hand in question, and the appeals process.
Can you first explain what happened?
Drew McIlvain: I’m sitting at Table 26, Seat 9, and I’m doing decent. I’m picking good spots, and my opponents are basically just giving me their chips. I’m literally running them over. A friend of mine comes to the table, and he re-raises the guy to my right — we’ll call him Terry — and Terry re-raises my friend Andrew. Andrew raises all-in, Terry calls. Terry has pocket kings, Andrew has pocket aces, there’s a king on the flop and Andrew is eliminated. Terry is excited.
In another hand, I have pocket nines and make it 2,200. There’s a guy in Seat 4 who calls and the flop comes king-king-seven. I check, he bets 2,200, and I call. The turn is a nine — it brings a third club — I check, gets bet 7,000, and I call. The river is the , I lead for 7,000, he quickly goes all-in, and I call. He has pocket aces, and I win.
Then, Terry tells me that I played the hand very well and he was very surprised that that’s what I had, and I think that I heard him say that I was a good player — or maybe that it was a good play. One of the two.
There’s a hand that — I wasn’t watching much of it — but Terry has on a queen-high board, and I think there’s a nine on the flop. The turn is nothing, and a bigger fellow goes all-in on Terry. Terry calls. The guy had and the river was a jack to give him a straight. So Terry is down to right around 15,000, and within the next five hands — while I’m standing and stretching — Terry comes up to me and taps me on the shoulder. I turned, and verbatim his words are, “Next time I’m in the small blind, and you’re in the big blind, I’m going to go all-in, and you call.”
So this wasn’t during a break?
DM: No, there we’re probably 25 minutes left in the day. So he says what he said, and I say like “OK, whatever.” And I’m thinking to myself, 'what the f**k?' A) Why would he want to get rid of his chips? B) Why is he choosing me? and C) Is he telling the truth? Is he bluffing?
I’d like to definitely make it clear that had I known that if someone had told me that they would be giving me their chips, that I needed to go to the floor and make it clear that that was the case, I would’ve done that. Nevertheless, I didn’t know, and I didn’t do that. But how do you believe him? How do you assume that a short stack is going to donate you their chips?
So then we talk again, and he’s like, “How should I do it?” And I’m like, “Man, I don’t know.” And he mentioned something about raise, re-raise, and as soon as he said that I walked back to the table and he was still talking. That’s where I would assume a few people could have heard him say something, because I’m walking back to the table and he’s still talking.
At that point, why didn’t you go to the floor?
DM: I guess because I just didn’t know that he was serious. I still believe, in my eyes, that he just wants a cheap double-up. I’m still confused about why I’m the one he wants to give his stack to. Honestly, I just didn’t know that that would’ve been the proper ruling. I just didn’t know that I needed to make the floor aware that this guy was now convinced that he was going to give me his chips.
So the guy’s game plan was to give them to me when I was in the big blind and he was in the small blind. Well, that never was an option because under the gun I have pocket eights, I make it 3,000, it folds all the way to him, he makes it 6,000, I go all-in, and he calls with . The flop is . The turn is a — giving him a straight draw — and he bricks. He busts out, shakes my hand, tells me good luck, and he quickly — I mean I’m getting the chips and someone at the table comments about how fast he’s leaving — and I turn to look and I see his wife either has him by the arm and is pulling him, or he’s trying to catch up with her. One of the two, but he was in a hurry to get out of there.
What happened then? Did the floor come up to you? Did someone at the table call the floor?
DM: Bill Bruce immediately taps me on the shoulder and says, “Why don’t you come with me for a second.” So know I’m thinking, “Great, did he really set me up? What the f**k just happened?”
He says, “That hand looked awfully suspicious” — he may have mentioned colluding — then he asks, “What just happened there?” I explained to him the hand, and he asked if we talked before the hand. I said we did. I explained to Bill how everything happened, and he started to walk away. I asked him what’s going on, and he told me I was on a penalty. I asked him for how long, and he said potentially for the rest of the tournament.
At this point, I’m thinking, “Great. I just told Bill the truth, and now somehow I’m going to get f**ked.”
The security guard, or someone from Mississippi Gaming, comes in and they tell me to follow them. I assume that we’re going to look at the footage and listen to the audio of me and Terry’s conversation, that [in] no way, shape, or form, says that I’m helping him synchronize this or like I’m paying him under the table. I'm hoping — I’m praying actually — that they’ve got the audio, and if someone can convince [me] that I cheated with this guy, then I’m a terrible person.
When I get back there the first thing the guard does is make a phone call and say, “Andrew McIlvain is disqualified from the main event.”
I don’t know if someone told him that I was disqualified, or if he made the judgment, but I knew nothing about what happened.
Were you escorted off of the property at that point?
DM: Well, when the guard left the room, I told him this was a misunderstanding, and that I did not cheat and I did not collude. He leaves for like 30 minutes, and I literally have my head buried in my hands praying to Christ — I don’t go to church, I pray more than the people who did. I just didn’t understand. I was so confused. I was in shock.
As soon as the guard returned, he asked me about the conversation I had with Terry. And again I explained to him Terry’s game plan, and that he was going to donate his chips to me because I’m assuming he was so impressed by my nines play and — I didn’t mention this to you — but in the first conversation he told me it doesn’t make sense for me [Terry] to get another room for another night to come back so short-stacked.
Never did I say no, but never did I fully agree that this was going on or I couldn’t wait to get his chips.
The security guard told me I had been caught cheating, and he had paperwork for me to sign. He read a little bit of it, then I started reading the rest, and he asked me why wasn’t signing it. I told him I was reading it — truthfully I don’t even remember what the paperwork said — and I signed it, and they 86’d me from the property.
Can you return to the property?
DM: I cannot. I’ve been calling Harrah’s, and I’ve been emailing Harrah’s. I’m just trying to figure out what kind of evidence they have that I didn’t know about. I’ve also contacted Mississippi Gaming just to get a little information about whether or not I’m completely banned from the entire state of Mississippi or what. Most importantly, I’d like to hear the audio of me agreeing with this guy that we’re going to be chip dumping.
I’ve heard reports that my table was interviewed, and at first I wondered how my table could turn on me? How could they say they heard something if they didn’t? Why would they want me gone? And then I thought to myself, “I’m running them over. Why would they want me to stay?”
Not all poker players are good people. Probably a lot of the people that play poker are terrible people, so they would quickly want me gone as fast as possible. I’m not saying that I’m a great person, but if there were somebody at the table, and there was a potential collusion going on, I would be like, “Get him the f**k out of here, I’m not playing with him.”
Would you say that the way you play could be seen as confrontational?
DM: Absolutely. It has a lot to do with my personality — I’m very outgoing. Truthfully, there’s been times where I’ve said things that I know I shouldn’t have said. I have a few African-American friends, and from time-to-time and I’ll say like, “Hey n***a.” I know I shouldn’t say that around some people, but I guess it’s just natural for me to say things. But yes, I definitely like to be in the conversation, and I like to be heard. Maybe that’s why I won a ring. I had quite a few chips going into the mishap, if you will.
You played in a number of events in Tunica. Did you receive any penalties before this incident?
DM: Yes, there was one. I can kind of give you rough around the edges. I went up to a table where a friend was sitting behind a few girls, and ultimately I was asking him if any of the dealers had dealt him a really crappy hand and he lost a lot of chips. But, what I really said was, “has anyone blanked your sister.”
So Kevin [a floorman] comes up to me and tells me that he heard this, and I told him that was 45 minutes ago. I ended up blinding out of the satellite I was in. I should’ve got a penalty then, as opposed to 45 minutes later.
Are you in the middle of an appeals process right now?
DM: To tell you the truth, I don’t know. No one will respond. Yes, there will be an appeal. It’s literally a nightmare that I walked into. I don’t know if it was God’s way of punishing me or what is was, but I got absolutely n*****ed.
Is there anything you would like to add?
DM: The real questions that I have are: If there was such a big possibility that this was going to happen before it did, why didn’t somebody stop Terry? Why am I the only one that’s being investigated? Maybe Terry has been talked to, and maybe Terry has leaked some false information, but I don’t know.
I’m truly disappointed in the way things went down. This is not what I expected coming into trying to make this a career. It’s the sickest beat I’ve ever taken. If you think getting aces beat by kings is bad, try getting disqualified from the main event for colluding with someone that you don’t even know.
PokerNews also sat down with Vice President of Corporate Communications at Caesars Entertainment, Seth Palansky to discuss due process in instances like this and the appeals process.
The PokerNews Live Reporting Team in Tunica wasn’t provided very many details regarding the hand in question. Can you tell us anything more than, “he was disqualified?”
Seth Palansky: After a review by the security team, he was escorted from the property. There were only 20 minutes left in the day at the time the incident occurred, and therefore the tournament staff was still gathering information when security looked into it.
The evidence included both video and audio. He bagged his chips for the night, but obviously didn’t come back to use them. Technically was he disqualified? He was banned from the property, and therefore couldn’t come back to play his chips. Ultimately, all of the evidence showed that in no way would he have continued in the event anyway.
What happens with the unknown player who “dumped” his chips?
SP: Last I heard, they have his information and they are reaching out to him. He faces discipline, as well.
What happens in these situations beyond the hand in question? Is there any further investigation?
SP: In most cases, there’s surveillance and the corroborating evidence is overwhelming. If we’re going to go through the process, not allow a player to continue playing, and escort them from the property, it’s because it’s very cut and dry that an offense was committed.
My understanding is that Tunica has banned him from the property, and at that point there’s a denotation in his records and it is investigated and discussed further to see whether or not that ban extends company-wide. It’s still in that process now.
Is there any kind of appeals process?
SP: Sure. Anyone is welcome to plead their case, and this gentleman in question did admit some things during his interview process that affected the result in this case. Ultimately, in cases that involved alleged cheating or collusion in our poker events, you can say all you want, but the video doesn’t lie.
We care more about the integrity of the tournament and ensuring that our players don’t have to worry about that entering an event. At the end of the day, it’s hard for an individual to get re-instated when they’ve committed an act that is in violation of our rules, but we do accept a review and go through the process to see if it makes sense to lift the ban.
According to Drew, the “dumper” came to him and told him what was going to happen. What would have been done if Drew then relayed that information to the floor?
SP: It’s hard to hypothetically determine that, but obviously it’s against the rules to collude, so his proper course of action is to notify the tournament staff that someone has attempted to collude with him.
The definition of collude in the dictionary that I have in my hands, is two words: conspire together. He admits to having more than one conversation with the gentleman about it. Clearly by conversation number two, he had the ability to tell the guy, “I’m not interested, let’s play poker.”
At the end of the day, an act took place that was collusion, and any party involved in colluding is not tolerated in our events.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
SP: In general, for readers to understand, this happens from time to time. No one is suggesting that anyone entered the tournament with a scheme to chip-dump, collude, or cheat. You don’t have to be the instigator to find yourself in a situation that affects your standing in an event or at our properties. It’s not about intent.
I want to caution people: surveillance is so good these days, and these cameras are so well-equipped. There’s audio, and everything is being recorded and can be reviewed. It’s not the old days where everything is on VHS. It’s all digitally recorded, easy to file, and easy to find. It’s just not wise to put yourself in a situation where you gain chips dishonorably.
We have to ensure that this doesn’t occur — whether it’s intentional or not is not the bar.
*Photo courtesy of WSOP.com