Pokerstars 70 Billionth hand Promotion Under a Cloud?

Nov. 12, 2011, Posted by Submission

Pokerstars 70 Billionth hand Promotion Under a Cloud?

Within seconds of the 70 Billionth Hand being dealt, there were cries of "Foul Play!" on message boards and Twitter accounts all across the internet. What had happened to earn the wrath of internet forums everywhere?

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, Pokerstars has been running another "Road to 100 Billion Hands" promotion. Players who got dealt into a milestone hand (every million hands after hand 69,700,000,000) got a free amount of money, with more going to the winner of the hand.

So, why all the furore? Why are people so upset? Surely there should be dancing in the streets, party hats, and streamers celebrating that some lucky sod has just won $70k?

Well, unfortunately for the "Lucky Sod" (a player named koenigskebap) and Pokerstars PR team, the way in which he won the promotion is tainted in the eyes of a lot of players.

It came to light, very quickly after the 70 Billionth hand had been dealt, that koenigskebap and the other player (DodgeUrOuts) at his $0.25/$0.50 Heads Up table had been open folding to each other, in an attempt to increase their likelihood of getting the wining hand dealt at their table. It also seemed that they both had 24 (the maximum permitted number of cash tables possible) Heads Up tables open doing the same thing, which coincidentally meant they didn't pay any rake.

Players around the world of poker felt cheated. They had been playing normal poker, maybe with a few more tables open, trying to hit this massive prize, but paying Pokerstars rake for the privilege. Had these two players actually done anything wrong? People have been having some very heated arguments about this, and some still are.

The thing is, even if the worst accusations are true, did these guys do anything against the rules of either Pokerstars, or the promotion? Pokerstars says not.

In a statement made to the media, Pokerstars said "The winner of our 70 billion hand promotion appears to have worked with another player to use "fast-folding" methods in an attempt to gain an advantage, which has raised concerns among a number of our players. We have reviewed the circumstances around the winning hand and have determined that while the fast-folding may not be in the spirit of the promotion, it does not violate the rules and regulations of the promotion or our Terms of Service. As such, we will honour our promotional award."

"We are reviewing the format of the promotion to try to minimize this kind of activity in future milestone hand promotions. We'll provide more information on this in the near future. Rest assured that any format revisions will be implemented in time for the next milestone hands promotion, which will be a special edition during the 10th Anniversary celebrations."

So it seems that what these guys did was within the rules, but still people are saying that it was ethically wrong (By the way, Pokerstars support had said in the past that folding like this was allowed, but frowned upon).  

However, this is poker. This game is about making money, plain and simple. Is there scope for pseudo rules in poker?

Live, I think that table etiquette makes for a more pleasant playing environment, and allows the game to move more quickly and more profitably for all involved. Does that mean I've never done a "Phil Hellmuth" and thrown the rattle out of the pram when I get sucked out on? Of course not, just ask my home game. But would I actively try and look at my opponents cards if they were flashing them? The answer is no, and trust me, with some of the less than sober games we've played, I've had more than a couple of opportunities to do it. It's a matter of my personal morals. Would I berate someone for taking advantage of someone flashing their cards? Probably not, but if  I noticed it, I would warn the flasher they were making it easy.

In this way, Poker is like Boxing. You always have to be able to protect yourself, and if you can't do that, you shouldn't be sitting at the table. Similarly  with this promotion, two players saw a way to take advantage of this loophole, trying to increase slightly their chances of a massive payday. They took advantage of Pokerstars metaphorically "flashing its cards".  

Pokerstars, through the rather general terms and conditions of this promotion, could have taken this prize away, but it would have got very messy, and would most likely be challenged with its regulator. Instead, Pokerstars has shown its ethics, and accepted that it left open a loophole. These guys took advantage of this, and increased their probability of scooping this massive prize.

For me, this episode has exposed the wide gamut of ethics within poker. The winners of this promotion found a legal edge, used it, and profited. Surely we should all look for opportunities like this at the tables, and take advantage of them if they fit within our own Moral Code?

Pokerstars has shown that when it makes a mistake, and leaves a door wide open, it will own up to it and will take the hit squarely on the jaw. It could have tried to squirm out of it, but agreed that the players had seen an edge, and taken it.

What's also interesting, and I think very good for poker, is the outpouring of people talking about this. I could live without the whining, whinging and bitching about the actual situation, but it does show that the vast of majority poker players have a moral code.

Some of the comments I've read have been vehemently opposed to Pokerstars giving the players the money, some have been impressed with the ingenuity of the players to maximise their chances, and some have been somewhere in the middle.

What it says to me is, Poker Players have a moral code, it's just different for each one of them, which makes us kind of like the rest of humanity.


Rob "Hippy80" King is a recreational poker player and businessman with a history of working in Financial Services. He turned his thoughts to writing about online poker after Black Friday, and has spent much of his recent free time delving into Full Tilt Poker and its legal issues. You Can Follow him on Twitter


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