The controversy surrounding the 70th billion hand dealt at PokerStars in which two players (both from Germany) at a heads-up table fast-folded their hands leading up to the milestone hand to better their chances of playing in the celebratory hand is not in the least bit surprising.
The sports world is replete with examples of behavior that is seen as dishonest, all with the intention of gaining an edge over your opponents. However, it can be argued that certain types of dishonesty in sports are just a part of the game. Let’s take a look at some past events in sports history and see what kind of dishonest practices would be seen as fair or unfair.
Finding some goons to whack the knee of your figure skating opponent with a blunt object to increase your chances of winning – not at all fair and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. “Doctoring” a baseball with hair gel or some other foreign object hidden in your cap – seems “crafty,” let’s allow it. Stealing the playbook of your football opponent before the big game – no good. Stealing signs from the catcher as a runner on second base – again this seems acceptable and part of the game. Corking your bat to make the ball fly better or farther – that’s low, dirty and deceitful.
Running a marathon and somehow not running the whole distance, yet getting in position to make it appear that you actually ran the route all along – not at all fair to the runners who actually did run the exhausting 26.2 miles. Giving your horse some sort of steroid or amphetamine-type drug to make him run faster – no way. Pitching in the Little League World Series against 12-year-olds when you are really 14 – hey, try pitching against your own age group and see how effective that fastball is.
Putting an ointment on your boxing gloves to burn the eyes of your opponent – that’s bad. As reported here, sliding the die or dice at a craps table to get a favorable roll. If you can pull that off, more power to you. The odds at a craps table are so skewed in favor of the house that whatever edge you can manage to get against the casino seems fair. However, if you can actually slide the dice effectively, you’ve probably missed your calling and should become a magician to entertain others with sleight of hand tricks. Also reported here, marking a deck of cards at a poker table with invisible ink and wearing infrared glasses to see through the cards – it’s a crime.
How about in football when a player is tackled and extends his arms with the ball in order to get a better “spot” or placement from the referee. Not 100% honest, yet a common, accepted practice. Or a Paralympics competition where all the participants are supposed to be disabled, but some are found to be able. Anyone in on this scheme is undoubtedly cheating, as Spain was found to be in the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.
Getting back to poker, Canadian pro and future Hall of Famer Daniel Negreanu said a few months ago that he “had someone texting me with physical tells while I was at the table.” This occurred during the 2011 World Series of Poker Main Event in July when a cohort of Negreanu’s apparently gave him information after the players’ hole cards were revealed following a 30-minute delay. Is this dishonest or a player using all information possible to gain an edge over an opponent? It seems a bit on the shady side because Negreanu was using someone else to reveal a tell of another player.
As for the poker players involved in the 70th billion hand, this was collusion, pure and simple. Was it illegal? PokerStars said no. Many who were playing on the up and up at the site at the time and hoping to be part of the milestone hand would strongly disagree.
There is sometimes a gray area in games of sport or competition where the lines of honest and fair play are not drawn very clearly. But if you collaborate with someone in an effort to get an edge when all the rest of the participants are playing “normally,” so to speak, it’s really very clear that the boundaries of honest behavior have been crossed.