Thursday, September 16, 2004

Razz Cheating at the Four Queens

While I'm not crazy about posting my stories out of order, I feel so strongly about what happened on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Four Queens, that I think a separate post is the only way to properly express the emotion of it.

Tuesday at 2pm, the Four Queens hosted a Razz tournament. It was really kind of a bad schedule. The $500 Stud tournament was at noon; the $200 Razz tournament was at 2pm. This meant I had to decide which to play in. I had no idea that they would let me play in both, but later found out that it would have been okay, and David Levi did it.

Instead, I was forced to make a choice, not knowing which would get the bigger and/or softer crowd. I wasn't even sure the Razz tourney would get going! The Razz players assured me that if either of them were going to get canceled, it would probably be the Stud tourney, not the Razz tourney. The buy-in was higher, and there were lots of competing events.

The Stud players said that probably the Razz wouldn't get going. No one wants to play Razz!

Up until about 20 minutes before the tournament, there were only three people signed up for Razz. I ended up taking the chance on it anyway, looking at the competition for the Stud tourney, and it was the right choice. The Stud tourney was filled with very solid, top-notch players.

The Razz tournament ended up getting 28, the Stud only got 24.

I had a seat at a nice table. A Brit named Adrian who had been tearing up the scene at the Four Queens was to my right. He had never played Razz before, but did a pretty good job. Yeah, a couple of times he bet when he couldn't possibly have the best low, but he played a lot of pots, and only did it a couple of times, for someone who plays semi-loosely.

A guy named George, whom I'd been playing against in Razz live games, was at my table. He is extremely well mannered and one of the friendliest players I've met. He used to run the tourneys at the WSOP, mostly behind-the-scenes type stuff, not out in front like Matt or Jack.

Anyway, we had a nice table. Everyone was upbeat and cordial, not grumpy like the Razz stereotype :)

My stack was up and down for a long time. I never really got a good groove going, but I was never short, either. I can talk about my play more in following posts; I am mostly trying to concentrate on what happened later in the Razz tourney.

The fourth table broke up, and we were down to 24. We played that way for a long time. Then around 5pm or so, our table broke and we were down to 16.

I got moved to a strange table. The first thing that struck me about that particular table was that there were a high percentage of young players. A couple of them I knew. Yippee for Razz, perhaps it is catching on with the younger set!

Remember Joyce with the gangrene that I've spoken about before? She was one of them. It is so hard to tell her age because of the abuse she has inflicted upon herself, but at any rate, she was in the two seat, looked fine, smelled fine and was playing very well.

Yohanes Muruz is a youngish, east African player I've seen many times before. He plays at the series, in California, the bigger tourneys. He and I have always had a pleasant acquaintanceship, since I started playing in the medium to bigger buy-in tourneys.

I was seated in the six seat. The five seat was a guy named Greg Giannokostas, who had a big stack, probably the chip lead of the whole tourney. In the eight seat was a guy named Jason Maeroff. What struck me most about these two was how young they were. I mean, no one playing was quite that young. They must have been early to mid twenties, and it just looks so odd in a Razz tourney. Sure, they are everywhere in NLHE, and I see guys like that even in Omaha, but hardly ever in Razz. Everyone else was at least ten years their senior. There was another young guy at that table, but I don't believe anywhere nearly as young as these two. I wondered why they weren't in a NLHE tourney, why they weren't playing the twilight NLHE. I didn't have to wonder for long.

I had only been at their table for a few minutes. I hadn't yet noticed that they weren't in a hand together, but I had just sat down.

Suddenly a hand came up where the five seat completed on third. It was passed to the eight, who called, then folded around.

Fourth came out and there was no betting. I found that strange, but then again, these guys were probably new to Razz. Then fifth, nada, sixth, nada, seventh, nada. Check, check, check. Automatic pilot, they didn't even look at their board cards or river card in the hole.

Suddenly a light went on. I asked the guy in the five, Greg, "Um, are you guys friends?" He looked at me and said softly, "Oh, no. I don't know him."

The guy in the eight, Jason, didn't hear Greg and said, "Yeah, we're friends, what about it?"

I almost fell over. Joyce looked at me and said, "Heck yeah, they're friends, and they've been cheating since the first hand!"

Yohanes got into it and said, "Look you guys, you seem nice, and I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you cannot cheat this tournament, you have to play against each other. You have been doing this since the beginning of the tournament, you can't cheat."

Jason started protesting and saying, "We aren't cheating. He is my friend, I'm not going to bet into him and he's not going to bet into me. That isn't what friendship is about."

Greg kept quiet.

I started protesting, "No, no, no! You are in a tournament, you cannot check it down. You cannot raise to get it head's up, then check it down. You have to play against a friend, relative, spouse, as you would play against anyone else! It is against TDA rules to cheat in a tournament by using teamwork."

Jason said, "We are not cheating, we are not colluding. If we were colluding, I wouldn't have just called the raise (completion), I would have reraised! No one is getting hurt, I won't bet into my friend!"

The tournament director, Roland Waters, was called over to the table.

Jason told Roland that they were told when they signed up for the tournaments that they would be allowed to sit at the same table, and that they did not have to bet into each other.

Both Roland and I protested that they would never have been given that okay.

Jason asked me, "Listen, if you were at the table with your husband, would you bet into him?"

I told him, "Absolutely! I would try to bust him, if I got the chance, just like I would try to bust anyone else. To play otherwise is cheating! I have to play my husband, my mother, my brother just as I would play against a stranger!"

He said, "Well, you're just stupid then!"

Roland went to go check out what was going on with these two guys. He came back and said, "You lied to me! You have been warned about this before! You have been caught cheating before at this tournament and warned not to do it again. If you don't play against each other, I'm invoking a penalty."

I said, "The other players are saying they've been cheating the whole tournament. It's a little late for a warning, isn't it?"

He stuck to it, and just told them to play against each other. Greg sat silent; Jason firmly refused to play against Greg. He said, "You cannot make us play against each other. There is nothing you can do about it! We have been doing this all over town and no one has kicked us out yet!"

I just kept saying to Roland, "Are you doing to allow this? Aren't you going to do something about it?"

Pretty soon, our table still had six while the other table went down to four. Roland immediately moved Jason to the other table. He said, "There, the problem is solved."

I said, "Yeah, what happens when they get to the final table?"

I was busted out not long afterwards. No, it was neither of these guys. No, it wasn't a bad beat or anything, I was dominated the whole way.

As I was leaving, I told Roland again that this should not be tolerated, these guys should not be just given empty warning after empty warning.

I went to play live Razz for a few hours. Every fifteen minutes or so, I went to check on the Razz situation. I once watched for about 30 minutes when we took a break from the live game (we played shorthanded almost every session, so we usually just agreed to take bathroom breaks, etc.).

These guys never bet into each other. They never played in one hand together.

I thought maybe Joyce would still win it all when it got to HU, because she was a massive chip lead, but Razz is flaky, and Greg made a comeback to win it.

The fifth place finisher, Gene, came over to our Razz game and was very upset by the whole thing. He knew he got robbed out of third place, and instead only got a measly $490.

From everything I was told, and everything I witnessed, these guys refused to play against each other the entire tournament.

While watching the final table play, I displayed my protest over and over again to Roland. He just nodded passively.

This took such a toll out of me that I tossed and turned all night in bed. I had nightmares and wondered how in the world these things were still being tolerated in poker. With all of the rules regarding tournament play, with the TDA and all of the advances they have made to help make poker legitimate, I was just stunned and hurt that things like this were going on.

On Wednesday morning I woke up way too early, and completely worn out from tossing all night. I was more upset than I'd been when I got tossed from the Belle for reporting sexual harassment. Way more upset, even though it didn't involve me at all!

I went down to the poker area and we got a Stud 8 satellite going. Bonnie was once again playing. I had come to like Bonnie a little more than my initial impression. She still is way too foo-foo for someone like me to really become friends with, but I think most of what turned me off about her initially came down to just being way too busy for one person. She seemed flaky and dippy, when in fact, perhaps she was just too overworked. She does seem to genuinely care about players and things that are going on during her tournament, so for that, I give her credit and respect. The thing with the tee shirt was probably not any personal dislike of me.

Anyway, getting back to the satellite. I snagged David Lamb when he came into the room. David is the main tournament director at the Four Queens Classic, and also a member of the TDA. He has always been polite to me, so I called him over to find out what he thought.

I set up the incident as a generalized thing that had happened. Any tournament, any set-up with TDA rules. He said that the first time it happened, they would be warned. The second time, he would penalize them with time, whatever time limits that particular tournament imposed. The third time, one would be disqualified, the other would be allowed to play it out.

I asked, "But what if they had been warned several times before, in past events of that same tournament tour?" He said that they would then immediately serve the time penalty for the first offense, then one be disqualified.

I said, "That is interesting, that is what I thought, too."

He asked me where it had happened. I told him about it briefly. He went off to find out some more information and I thanked him.

In the meantime, Bonnie was sitting there flabbergasted. She asked me to tell the whole story, which I did. After the satellite was over, she went to find out more, and to confer with David.

Later, I was waiting for the Stud 8 tourney to begin and one of the other TD's (Leslie) came up to me. She said, "I just want to let you know, things have been taken care of, and what happened yesterday should never have been allowed. Roland is new and was trying to get into tournament directing. We have no idea why he didn't contact someone else in authority, but we are taking this situation very seriously, and Roland is no longer with us as of today, right now!"

I thanked her profusely. She had no obligation to tell me anything. I had no stake in the matter (I would have been eliminated outside of the money anyway, there is no way I could have made the money in this tournament). She didn't know that I had a website, that I posted to poker forums and that this entire story would be spread all over the Internet, lol, but she had the integrity to tell me anyway, knowing how much this bothered me. She owed me nothing, yet told me anyway.

Later I found out from a dealer and some other players that these two characters had cheated in a NLHE tourney, too! They had been warned, and once again refused to obey the rules. Players said that they told each other what they had in the hole. Things like, "Don't bet, I have a FH."

A player also told me that they'd bragged that they were staying at the Bellagio, and going all over town, running over the tournaments by softplaying, chip dumping and colluding. They said no one had had the balls to kick them out yet, they know no one was enforcing TDA rules. They bragged that they'd even gotten away with it at the WSOP (this they told me, at our Razz table, too, so they must have been spreading this same story all over).

While Glenn was playing in a 1/2 blind NLHE game, I went over to his table during my Stud 8 tourney break. Sitting there was the player who won third place in the Razz tournament, Tim Eastep. He said that things had gotten even worse when they reached the final table.

Tim was in the one seat, Jason in the two, and Greg in the three. He said that once they got four or five handed, Jason started chip dumping massively. He'd had the chip lead going into the final table, but knew that Greg was the superior player. So he decided to give Greg the best chance to win. Tim said that Jason and Tim would raise and reraise each other until the river, then Jason would simply fold to one last bet by Greg. He said Jason did that time and again until he was out of chips, and suddenly, the chip dog, Greg, was the chip lead, and went on to win the whole tournament.

He said Roland allowed this to happen, and never said "boo."

I called Bonnie over as Tim was telling me this, just so she could overhear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak. She was horrified. She said that if anything like this ever happened again in one of her tournaments, please call her. Contact her by cell phone, anything, just to get her in the room.

She apologized profusely to Tim and once again told him that Roland had been fired. I could tell she was genuinely hurt that something like this had occurred. She asked how many times Roland had been called over. It was a joke, no matter how many times he was summoned to the table, he refused to take any action.

I was going to join the Oregon event in November. The Wildhorse tournament. No way, jose, not with Roland as TD.

Leslie, the TD who had came to me that morning, told me that Greg and Jason would not be allowed back at the Four Queens. I doubt they would try it, I'm sure they knew they got away with murder, but who knows. People like that think they are invincible.

Too bad that the resolution was a little too little, a little too late. By my calculations, Joyce should have gotten first place, Tim second, and Gene third. I'm so sorry that you were robbed by this poker scum.

Yes, I am going to do everything in my power to bust these two. Russ said maybe Bellagio would be interested in hearing this tale...after all, they claimed they were staying there, bragging about living high on the hog and cheating tourneys all over town. I'm sure Bellagio has been cheated, too.

I guess perhaps the moral of this story is that people need to speak out. Until I arrived at the table, no one had said a thing. They had been playing together for hours, but never spoke up. Once I made the initial effort, almost every player at the table asserted that these two had been cheating from the first moment the tournament started. All of them were appalled and adamant that this was happening, but were too shy to say anything until I pointed it out. Some of these people are experienced players who should know better.

Please, if you are in this situation, do not be afraid to voice your fears. If you don't want to make a scene at the table, the next time you fold a hand in early position, go to the tournament director privately. These people are preventing our game from becoming legitimate. They are keeping poker seedy and dirty. They are stealing your money. Let's work together to stop this abuse. If you have enough balls to play poker, you have enough balls to speak up.

Felicia :)