IF YOU SUBSCRIBE TO THE WINGS BLOCKLIST YOU ARE MISSING HALF THE DEBATE

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TLDR: subscribing to a blocklist means letting someone else act as a censor and you only ever hear one side of the argument and assume that everyone agrees with that side.

Reverend Stuart Campbell, AKA Wings Over Scotland.

I’ve been aware and fond of Stuart Campbell long before he joined whatever church it is that made him Rev. Stu. I owned a Commodore Amiga computer in the late 80s and early 90s and a games magazine called ‘Amiga Power’ was regularly purchased so I could read his output and takedowns of the latest games, it was sometimes provocative but always genuinely funny.

I even met him in the Virgin Megastore Glasgow at the time when I took part in a games competition they were running, I did something counter intuitive but the right strategy for the time limited ‘high score’ challenge in ‘Pinball Fantasies’ and he spotted it immediately and commented “that’s very clever”. High praise indeed from someone so sharp minded.

I’m not really aware too much of him over the next 20 or so years until the run up to the Scottish Independence referendum. I’m firmly pro Indy, I’d newly joined Twitter and I saw the Wings output stand out from the wealth of debates around the pros and cons of whether my country should run its own affairs.

Over the years I agreed with much of his output, I’d enjoy his takedowns of the biased media and of unionist politicians. I engaged with him twice on Twitter, once over Hillsborough, his firmly fixed stance that the fans caused the deaths, and then as he started to take up the mantle around trans issues. My main message around that being that whatever you think about trans issues Wings is a significant and influential pro Indy voice and being so provocative towards the trans community harms the cause of Indy. It really turns people off contributing and working towards an Independent Scotland while Wings is pumping out vitriolic bile about this oppressed and incredibly vulnerable minority.

William Elliot, AKA @Willie_Hmmm

Most people around Scottish politics won’t know me because I’m not that active. My most notable contribution was from 2 years ago, catching and calling out media bias around the last Scottish Council elections.

That thread was seen by tens of thousands, the video clip watched over 66,000 times, lots of prominent Indy people liked and shared it, including Wings. A wee moment of pride for me that I’d contributed a little bit to the cause.

Fast forward to a few days ago and Wings was posting another thread about trans issues. He then posts this:

Wings Over Scotland: “The additional rapes and sexual assaults which will inescapably follow are Nicola Sturgeon’s responsibility.”

This prominent and influential pro Indy blogger, Stuart Campbell, says he holds her “responsible” for “rape”. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, the leader of the SNP and of the Indy movement.

Just to be clear, this MAN says he holds this WOMAN “responsible” for “rape”.

I call him out on this appalling take, there’s a few tweets back and forward before he reaches for the ‘block’ button.

Wings blocked

Some of his followers engage with me afterwards, pushing his points, but there’s surprisingly no visible support for my position. It is just one way traffic of ‘pro-Wings anti-trans’ messages.

Later that day I see mentions of a tweet Pat Kane (@thoughtland) posted. I follow Pat so I go to look for it but find I’m blocked by him. My only interaction ever with Pat was when he retweeted my ‘BBC bias over council elections’ thread. I finally see a screengrab of Pat’s tweet and it’s something I agree with.

Illiberal screamers

It turns out he takes a massive backlash from the ‘pro-Wings anti-trans’ mob and he deletes the tweet posting this series of tweets to explain his position:

During the build up to the Indy referendum in 2014, the voices of non politicians like Pat Kane, Brian Cox, Kevin Bridges and Frankie Boyle, for me these were what broke through the media bias. Intelligent and articulate voices breaking down the misinformation and bias that was on our TV screens and in our newspapers from an otherwise on message unionist and London centric message of IndyBad.

It seemed strange to be blocked by Pat and when I looked through threads and discussions I’d found that not only had he blocked me but there were whole discussion threads that showed “This tweet is unavailable”. I’d click the next message I could see in the thread and see who they were replying to, click their @name and I’d see they too had blocked me. I was suddenly blocked by thousands of people.

01 My twitter feed

I had no idea what a ‘blocklist’ was or what it did before now, but that afternoon Wings blocking me meant I was now added to his ‘blocklist’, and those who have subscribed to it were part of thousands who also now blocked me, just with one push of his finger.

For genuine reasons of wanting to filter out pro unionist trolls many thousands of pro Indy supporters have subscribed to his blocklist, including it seems Pat Kane. The trouble now is, Wings is using this blocklist to block anyone he sees on the opposing side of the trans debate. I’ve seen polite and courteous people making valid points get told to “fuck off” and they’re gone from the debate on his whim.

That has an incredibly damaging effect on both sides and it not only stifles debate, it kills it. The ‘pro-Wings anti-trans’ group will see Wings threads debating trans issues where it is just all anti-trans voices singing from the same Rev. Stu hymn sheet. His shitty takes about Nicola Sturgeon being “responsible” for “rape” go unchallenged, as I found out as the lone voice in that thread taking him on.

He only ever hears a chorus of approval and I’m sure that’s very reassuring that he’s safe in his entrenched position. No one is around to pick apart his arguments because they literally don’t see them. The very definition of an echo chamber.

Equally the pro-trans pro-equality voices making their own points in their own threads are invisible to those subscribed to Wings blocklist. I believe those concerned about women’s safe spaces are genuine and sincere in their opinions, but they don’t get to voice their concerns or share their opinions in those threads because they just won’t see them. They’ve inadvertently had all opposing voices on the issue blocked by signing up to Wings blocklist.

There is no debate to be had if people don’t listen to and engage with the other side’s points.

The Wings blocklist was once centred around unionist trolls. He says of it “we have a hair-trigger blocking policy, and the main criterion is stupidity. Nobody is blocked for being a Unionist, only for being a troll or an idiot.

Towards a better, kinder world

https://blocktogether.org/show-blocks/IehCU4yqucbDYYYLJYjZ0GdpcG9KawMVBodj3rRJ

I was blocked for taking exception to and challenging his statement that the leader of the SNP and the Indy movement is “responsible” for “rape”. Doing that, standing up to his appalling take, that apparently makes me a “troll or an idiot”.

The people on his subscribe list also unwittingly blocked me for that, without any consultation from him. One click and me and thousands of other reasonable and rational voices who disagree with him on this one issue are now out of the debate. Or rather the thousands who have subscribed to his blocklist are out of the debate, unable to see and participate in the discussions that everyone else is having.

Sadly that means even people I have enormous respect for like Pat Kane, someone who I agree 100% with on every point he’s made around trans issues and the infighting in the Indy movement, he is only getting half the argument, only seeing the pro-Wings half of the debate.

My own view on trans issues is that I don’t believe Nicola Sturgeon, or the incredibly talented and capable group of senior female politicians that we have in the SNP, I don’t believe they will do anything that places women in harm’s way as they proceed with legislation making trans people feel included, protected and welcome in Scotland.

The Wings blocklist is a massive obstacle to reasonable and rational debate taking place. It’s not an insurmountable task to acknowledge and provide reassurances around sincere fears that women have, while at the same time recognising and protecting the trans community and ensuring that this most vulnerable of groups is also safe from harassment and violence in a modern and progressive Scotland.

I’m in no way an expert on the issues being discussed, but I do believe they should be discussed and debated and for both sides to hear each other out.

Wings output and opinions are available at:

A very good thread on the other side of the debate, and one that I’m more persuaded by, that’s available here:

I despair at what Wings said about Nicola Sturgeon and I despair at him gloating and retweeting those cancelling their SNP membership, he is a pariah.

I know a lot of what Wings posts is to get a reaction, well today I reacted. I’ve never been a member of a political party, but today I joined the SNP. Fuck you Stu.

Join the SNP

If anyone is interested in seeing and hearing about issues from a trans perspective, I’d recommend watching this hilarious and heart wrenching take from someone who has lived it.

Thanks for reading and please, please unsubscribe from the Wings blocklist. If you see someone that you find disagreeable and don’t want to interact with them, block them yourself, and that way you get to engage with people you do want to interact with even though they hold an opposing view.

Maybe then we can find some common ground and we can make progress together, instead of having Stuart Campbell control the agenda and decide whose views you’re allowed to listen to. Fuck that guy!

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Neil Strike is a grimmer, a thief and a liar.

UPDATE as of 17/04/2018:

The full story below stands but to give him a little credit, I never thought I’d see a penny of the money owed again, however Since July 2017 Neil Strike has been making small but semi regular payments to those he owes.

I’ve had £1,050 paid back to me since last year, others have had similar amounts which means he’s paid back over £20,000 of the £160,000 in loans we gave him.

At this rate it’ll take many years to pay it off.  We’re giving him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll stick to it.

Whilst there’s no more updates, you should assume that payments are continuing.  If payments stop, I’ll report back on that.

 

TL:DR Neil Strike, a poker player from Newcastle, is a thief, a liar, a grimmer and a con man.  In 2016 he stole over £160,000 from 20 UK poker players.  Below is how he stole from me.

neil

neil-2

As some will know, I was the carer for my disabled brother Gordon, he’d lived with me and my partner since 2003 when my mother passed away.  Gordon was diagnosed with cancer in March 2015 and we were told he would only live for 3 to 6 months.  I stepped away from poker to make sure I could give my brother the best end of life possible and I think we managed that.

Fast forward to 18th April 2016 and my brother has surpassed all expectations for how long he’d live, but he’s struggling now and we’re back in the palliative care ward at our local hospital.  I check my phone and I see a message from Neil Strike asking for a loan.  This is the same message he sent to at least a dozen people that day and hundreds more over the coming weeks and months.

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Many people who loaned him money described how they felt stupid, gullible, like they had the word “mug” printed on their head.  I didn’t though, I asked for proof he had the means to pay me back, I wanted to see statements or screengrabs from online accounts.

Neil Strike had a very successful 2014 & 2015, with numerous big cashes.

cashes

This was money Neil claimed to have safe in a long term savings account.  By April 2016 that account was empty.  Redactions are to protect the identity of Neil’s partner, who is also a victim of Neil’s scams and manipulation.

statement

To get around having to provide me the proof I was asking for, Neil claimed the account was in his partners name and she was in hospital with a cancer scare.

The truth was the account was empty but Neil, knowing the situation I was going through with my brother said the one word he knew would garner sympathy.  “Cancer”.

He knew I was going through hell with my brother, I’d posted nothing else on my facebook but progress updates for how my brother was doing for the past 12 months.  I’d posted that we were in hospital with my brother that week.

Neil wanted £10,000 from me, which at that stage, he’d already decided he wasn’t paying back to anyone who loaned it to him.  He literally asked a hundred people and even after we’d given him £100,000 he asked a hundred more people.  But to get me to part with my cash and give up on my demand for proof, Neil said he couldn’t show me the statement (for the empty account) because his partner had a cancer scare and the account was in her name.

He manipulated my dying brother and our situation because he knew I would automatically feel sympathy for him, because I knew exactly what it was like to face the prospect of losing someone to cancer.  I wasn’t going to press him for proof when he and his partner were going through the hell that me and my brother were going through.

I relented and that day, within an hour of him asking, I transferred £5,000 directly to his bank account and told him I would send another £5k in 2 weeks.  He promised he would give me £12,000 back but I insisted I didn’t want anything extra, just the £10,000, but that I really couldnt afford to lose it.  He promised me it was safe.

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Later that afternoon he was sending the same message to dozens more people, the next day another load of messages asking for help with the same business cash flow problem to a dozen more.

I sent the 2nd £5,000 payment on the 29th April.  He’d requested I send it to a different account.  This seemed suspicious and I briefly considered his facebook may have been hacked and that it hadn’t been Neil I’d been speaking to all along, so just for an extra reassurance I texted his phone to make sure it was him, and it was, so I sent the 2nd £5,000.

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2 days before and 1 day after I sent Neil the 2nd £5k, he cashed for a combined £25,000 in 2 events at EPT Monaco.  Throughout May Neil continued asking people for loans.  He cashed again for £5k in the middle of May.

cashes-2

On Monday the 9th of May my brother died, peacefully in his sleep at home, after a weekend being visited by all his friends and family, his favourite thing, the people he loved and who loved him.

We’d been ready for a terrible & frightening end.  We had powerful sedatives at home and been trained to administer them, in the event he was dying in pain and distress.

Fortunately this wasn’t needed and he had a gentle end, he just drifted off in his sleep, no pain, no suffering, no distress and no fear.

gordon

26th of May.

Neil asks if he can extend the loan for another 4 weeks, with a mixture of lies and excuses.

30th of June.

More excuses and the Brexit vote, oh that’s terrible for him, he would have been able to pay me (and everyone else I assume) if it hadn’t been a vote to leave.  All lies of course.

All through June & July he’s been asking and getting more loans from people, and apparently its all been gambled away.

15th of August.

My circumstances are getting dire.  My brother’s funeral costs and a few other things in my personal life have cropped up that have tied up most of the rest of my spare cash (around £15k).  Something that’s still ongoing into 2017, but I hope should be resolved soon.

I’ve qualified for €50 to the Estrellas Barcelona €1k, so has Neil.  He tells me he’s borrowed £8,000 from his mother in law to go to Barcelona and he transfers £4,000 to me, 40% of what he owes, 5 months into a 4 week loan.  I see Neil over there briefly.  He’s standing with 2 other people who he’d borrowed large sums from.  None of us know about each others debts at this stage, we are very discreet and loyal to him, no wonder he looked awkward.

Later in December once all is revealed I ask him about the £4k.  He then claims it was paid from £60k that was repaid from a £100k loan that went bad.  Once I’d went public another debtor contacted me and confirmed he’d loaned Neil £7,000 just before Barcelona and that he thinks my £4k was paid from that.  Somehow I cant help but feel guilty about it even though I’ve done nothing wrong.

It looks as though my 1st £5k payment in April was used to repay a loan of £3k that someone gave Neil in March.  It looks like he borrowed from new people to pay some old debts to keep his scam going for longer and keep his borrowing from going public.

September & October.

The excuses keep coming and when a grimmer is exposed he messages me to reassure me that’s not what’s happening with us.

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17th of November.

Neil comes clean for the first time, starting with a load of excuses but then admits he’s gambled away my money and money borrowed from a few named people and a “a couple of others”.  There’s actually £225,000 owed (including interest he’d promised) from 20 different people.  A hundred others have contacted me since I went public on facebook saying he’d asked them with a near identical copied and pasted message about his business cash flow problems, how he needed them to be discreet, that we know him and he’d be embarrassed if this ever came out.

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5th of December.

One of the creditors tries to help Neil.  He handles the communication with those owed, gets us to agree to drop all the interest Neil promised us and asks if any would be willing to accept a smaller amount.  The friend then takes control of Neil’s finances, gets him a job and monitors him, ensuring he attends Gamblers anonymous.  Neil now owes £160,000.

Going over how events unfolded I realise Neil used my brother dying of cancer to stop me getting proof of his finances.  I challenge him and threaten to expose this.  He pleads with me not to.  He shows me the statement that he did have money at one time (but not when he borrowed from me) and shows me hospital letters from March and the beginning of April, 2 weeks before he borrowed from me.  He thinks this is proof he didn’t lie.

He used his own partner’s cancer scare and my brother dying of cancer to hide the fact he didn’t have the means to repay me.  That is how low and scummy he is.  He has zero morals and has shown no real remorse for the damage he’s caused to some of the best people in our community.

The other creditor who was helping him persuaded me to not go public, I reluctantly agreed.

10th of February 2017.

The other creditor contacts us all to tell us Neil has stolen £8,000 from him.  An element of the job he got him was trusting him with cash.  This is acknowledged to be a mistake.

Its assumed Neil has also gambled this cash away.

Neil Strike is a scumbag, a con man, a liar, a thief, a grimmer and a sociopath.  He feels no empathy for those he’s wronged, he doesn’t care about anyone except himself.  Even after people he has grimmed give him another chance, he steals from them again and lies about it.

Please share this widely, and make sure no one else gets taken in by him again.

Since going public on facebook, I’ve had hundreds of people contact me telling me he tried to get money from them.  Rather than a problem gambler who let things get out of control, as he’s portrayed it.  It seems he set out in a methodical way to get as much money as possible from as many people as possible.  The victims are some of the nicest people in poker, the warm hearted, the kind, the generous.  We don’t feel that way, we feel like the stupid, the gullible, the suckers.  A guy we trusted, a guy we knew, someone who wouldn’t steal from his friends.  We were wrong.

For me personally its doubly shit.  His timing couldn’t have been worse.  People have reached out and offered me financial help and it’s been pretty humbling, but that is something about the community we’re in.  There are so many good people, even in the midst of this shitstorm where the reputation of all are tarnished by this prick’s actions, people are still kind, caring & considerate.

I didn’t need to take anyone’s help but its reassuring to know it was there.  Instead, I’m having to work for a living.  A job.  I mean, it feels wrong.  I feel dirty.  But…  I can look myself in the mirror, unlike Neil Strike.

Long term, everything looks good, so no sympathy please, I’ll be fine.

Thanks for reading, please share, NOW GO AWAY*.  🙂

*© Charlie Brooker 2007

The Price of Poker

Price of Poker

Mid stages of a tournament, we’re on the flop holding Ks 8s, which we’d called from the big blind, and we saw a pretty flop, As 2s 6h. We’ve got the nut flush draw and our opponent has just moved all in, we put him on top pair, therefore we have 9 spades to catch, approximately a 2/1 hand. We ask the dealer how much then we add on the raise, blinds and antes pre and we work out if we are getting the 2/1 price we need to call.

Pot odds will dictate our decision, if the price is 2/1 or better, we call, if the price is less than 2/1, we pass.

But what if the dealer refused to count our opponents stack and in fact concealed it, just stating that it wasn’t for all our chips and we’d have to make the decision based on that.

Everyone would agree, that was an appalling decision by the dealer. Poker is a game of incomplete information, but not being told how much your decision to call will cost you, that’s not the information that should be incomplete.

In tournament poker our buy in is made up of two amounts of money, the cash that goes into the prize pool which we are playing for and hoping to win back, not only our own contribution but that of many others. The other amount is the tournament fee, the rake, the juice, the cut, the take, the vig. This is money that the players will never see again but it’s money that compensates the bricks and mortar casinos for hosting us, it’s the money that pays for the staff and the dealers who allow us to play this wonderful game. It’s made clear what this is with the buy in format £100+£10; £100 goes to the prize pool, £10 to the organisers.

Myself and most other UK players are used to this fee being 10%, and for this fee to be clearly stated up front:

UKIPTs £700+£70 and £1,000+£100 for this season’s events.
GPS £400+£40.
25/25 series £200+£20.

When we look at bigger buy in events like EPTs, high rollers and super high rollers, this fee is advertised as approximately 6% for 5k buy ins, 3% for 10k and 2% for 25k, 50k and 100k buy ins.

However, a growing trend by some casinos and tours is to include the registration fee with the buy in. The recent Sky UKPC had a straight £1,000 buy in and previously the WPT500 and WPT Main at Dusk Till Dawn had £500 and £3,000 buy ins.

This resulted in the £1,000 buy in being £900+£100, the £500 being £450+£50 and the £3,000 being £2,700+£300. A price increase on the usual 10%, where we actually pay as much as 11.1%. But more importantly, a pricing structure that seems to have been designed purely to hide this higher than normal fee. Possibly with the intention of confusing the average punter, the majority of whom won’t read the small print, after all if the buy in is £1,000 and the registration fee is £100, 100 is 10% of 1,000, right? But £100 is not 10% of £900.

Combine this with a one million guaranteed prize pool, make the numbers published on the Hendon Mob match the advertised guarantee rather than the actual amounts given out as prizes and we end up with something that fits a marketing strategy and a squeeze on players but doesn’t accurately represent the total money charged to play or the total paid out.

WPT 500 UKPC

A similar lack of transparency that has been the hallmark of the World Series of Poker. It’s simply not immediately clear how much you’re paying towards a prize pool and how much is paid in tournament fees. They don’t advertise a breakdown, you either know because you’ve worked out prize pools and payouts from previous years, or you’re in the dark about how much of the money goes to the prize pool and how much is our fee for playing.

To a lesser extent, some criticism can be levelled at PokerStars events. An asterisk and small print reveals that 3% of EPT & UKIPT prize pools will be withheld for staffing costs. This makes a £1,000+£100 UKIPT Nottingham buy in really a £970+£130. A 10% fee becomes 13.4%. A €5,000+€300 EPT Malta buy in becomes a €4,850+€450. A 6% fee becomes 9.27%.

These numbers are published (in small print) and most regulars know them, but along with the events mentioned above, for players, it is as clear as mud how much we will actually pay to participate. We wouldn’t tolerate a dealer not giving us the chip count of an all in player, we wouldn’t tolerate a menu in a restaurant with no prices or a supermarket that hides what the goods cost. The normal operation of a marketplace is that the provider of a service makes his price known to the consumer and the consumer consents to purchase the service at that price. If he doesn’t think the price represents good value, he doesn’t buy the goods or service.

Any attempt to hide the true price is angle shooting. As the consumers/players, as we become aware of this, we are rightly suspicious of their motives. Trust and respect are damaged and that will inevitably lead to ill feeling and resentment.

Poker needs to be profitable to the service providers, the price we pay, if it’s reasonable, isn’t my issue. My issue is that the price we actually pay is higher than advertised, higher than what we are led to believe. For poker to thrive, the providers need to have a sustainable business model and if the price needs to be 11.1% or 13.4%, then that is what it needs to be, but a fair and transparent marketing and advertising of that pricing model is essential for continued goodwill.

It needs to be said, I would rather pay 13.4% for UKIPT staffed events than 10% for lesser skilled staff. I’ve played in some good and some bad card rooms and UKIPT/EPT staff are head and shoulders above the standard of anywhere else I’ve played. From the tour manager, to TDs and floor staff, to dealers and staff at buy in desks and the information desk, they are quite simply the best in the business. Having played in some poorly organised tournaments, I know PokerStars provide a premium service and I’m happy to pay more for it.

Equally, Dusk till Dawn is a jewel in the UK poker landscape. Rob Yong and Simon Trumper are rightly highly respected and admired for their years of relentless work. Time after time putting their money where their mouth is, creating huge guaranteed prize pools, stepping in to save events and giving the live UK poker scene the solid foundation it has.

When poker pros from around the world are asked what their favourite card room is, huge numbers of them talk about a converted warehouse on an industrial estate in the East Midlands. There’s nowhere else I’d rather play cards.

And there’s no question that both PokerStars and Dusk till Dawn have given good value to UK players. Both have had significant amounts of overlay for events they’ve organised in the past few years. Overlay is the shortfall where an event guarantees a prize pool, say 1 million, but the event has insufficient entries to generate the million and the organisers make up that shortfall, effectively giving money to the players.

There is no question that they give great value and provide a fantastic service to the poker community, but they sometimes fall a little short in transparency for fees. Before buying in, a player should know the fee they are paying to play. This isn’t always the case.

The Price of Poker

Price of poker table
The web site for WPT Nottingham has a table which states 10% of the prize pool is withheld as a registration fee. That is accurate but it is an accounting trick. To think the most pedantic, nerdiest, group of maths geeks ever assembled on the planet wouldn’t see through this, it’s an insult. We sniff out bullshit narratives for a living, this bluff isn’t getting through. We know that the real rake is the amount taken as a percentage of the buy in that goes to the prize pool, so as per the tables above for WPT, that’s 11.1%.

WPT table

http://www.worldpokertour.com/Shared/Tournaments/Seasons/Season_XIII/partypoker_WPT_UK.aspx

Another recent trend that is becoming more widespread is the inclusion of entries to a further tournament, a satellite within a tournament. My first experience of these was my local Edinburgh Genting casino, who used to add 2 entries into a larger buy in upcoming seasonal tournament. These seats were added at a cost to the casino and represented extra value for the players. This extra incentive, this bonus value, was appreciated and added an extra dimension at the final tables where the final few pay jumps held extra value.

Then in June last year, a seasonal special event, the Summer Sizzler was announced, it was to have a £25k guaranteed prize pool, but part of that prize pool was x5 £600 packages to Newcastle GPS. Rather than added value given by the casino, the cost of these packages was to be taken from the prize pool. In effect, the casino was deciding for you how to spend £600 of the money you would win (£440 seat, £160 cash for travel/hotel).

I wasn’t going to be able to play Newcastle GPS so I was then faced with the prospect of playing a tournament where up to 12% of the prize pool I was contributing to was of no use to me. But even if I had been available to play, I didn’t feel it was right that the venue could dictate to the players how the prize pool, money that belongs to the players, should be spent. Why not include x5 60” plasma TVs for the top 5 finishers, paid for from the prize pool? It’s the same thing!

The way it is worded appears to be deliberately ambiguous, “£25,000 guaranteed, including x5 £600 GPS packages”. Many players reading that believed that the casino was including the seats, topping up the value of the tournament to encourage people to play. So clearly as a cynical marketing ploy, it is effective.

I completely understand why a casino would want to offer payout structures like this. It is entirely in their interests to get players to pre-spend part of their winnings on entries to events at their venue. But it is not transparent and it is not the casino’s money, it is our money, the prize pool belongs to the players.

The Scottish poker community has a fantastic social media presence, in thanks wholly to Martin J. Smith, who runs Poker In Edinburgh, Poker In Glasgow and ScottishPoker.net. His websites and FaceBook pages have given us a really good sense of community and let us come together to project our voice.

The majority of responses on social media to these ‘included seats’ were negative, many interesting points were raised and anomalies in the structure highlighted. However I need to give full credit to the casino, this event went ahead as planned with some minor changes, but since then there has not been a repeat of the casino dictating how players’ money is spent.

This feels like a victory for player power but that was only possible because the casino recognised it has to take the players with it and keep them onside. Fair play to Genting Edinburgh for doing that.

Some of the key arguments used against this ‘satellite inside a tournament’ structure were:

● The prize pool belongs to the players, casinos should not dictate how it is spent.

● Being raked twice, £10 rake for initial entry, if you win a seat, £40 rake is taken from that.

● You may not be able to attend the event, so lose £440 value.

● If the seat is transferable, and you sell it, you will likely have to sell at less than face value. Seats were changing hands at £350-£400, a big difference over winning your own £440 cash.

● Tournament pace and structure is altered because there is a double bubble, 1 for the cash prizes and 1 for the x5 £600 packages.

● In this event the pay jump from 6th to 5th was greater than the pay jump from 5th to 4th or the pay jump from 4th to 3rd. Pay jumps should never be smaller than the previous pay jump.

● It is in effect, a compulsory ‘last longer’ bet, where the £100+£10 buy in is really an £85+£10+£15 ‘last longer’.

● The terminology “included seats” is just not transparent or understood properly by the majority of players.

Although we haven’t seen this repeated in Scotland, elsewhere in the UK it seems to be a regular occurrence. Tournaments regularly run with 10%, 20% and as much as 30% of the prize pool withheld, converted into seats for upcoming events, which ensure the prize pool, the players’ money, never leaves that casino. You have been forced to spend it on their upcoming tournaments. I feel it’s an appalling abuse. The casino’s role should solely be to hold onto the prize pool while we play, it should have no say in how that money is spent. That money is ours and they are taking liberties with it.

Where this happens in an extreme way is Dusk till Dawn. There are 2 recent examples I’d like to highlight.

Firstly in February and March this year, the Sky Poker UKPC mini £100+£10, £200k GTD, with x50 £1k seats taken from the £200k guaranteed prize pool (£50,000 taken from the prize pool). 209 players cashed in this event, 51st place finisher received £500, 50th got £500 and a £1,000 seat. The next occurrence of a £1,000 pay jump didn’t happen again until the final table, the pay jump from 8th to 7th.

Clearly this is a massive distortion of the normal structure of a tournament. £50,000 of players’ money is automatically re-circulated within the card room, raked twice, and the players have no say in the matter other than to not attend and not support this fantastic card room and the great events they hold.

Secondly, last November we had the WPT, with a series of events leading up to the £3k main event.

If you played the series of WPT events:

WPT Warm Up £125, £250k GTD, with x100 WPT500 £500 seats taken from the prize pool (£50k). If you won one of the WPT500 seats, and then played…

£1 million GTD WPT500 with x50 £3k seats (£150k), won one of those seats and then played…

£1 million GTD WPT Main event £3k.

You’ve just had your money raked 3 times, whether you wanted it or not.

Looking at the results pages for the WPT500:

http://pokerdb.thehendonmob.com/event.php?a=r&n=259000

It’s impossible to work out at a glance if the prize pool displayed includes the ‘included’ seats, or if they’ve been deducted. While the UKPC main reports a £1,002,000 prize pool, yet we know that includes the rake and the actual prize pool paid out is really £901,800.

tweet

UKPC no correction

Because of the combination of the 1 million guarantee and the registration fee being deducted from the prize pool this rather strange anomaly occurs. In a situation where there are 900 players and it doesn’t look like hitting 1,000, there is no incentive for anyone else to join the tournament as no extra money from the next 100 entries goes into the prize pool. It merely meets the card room’s tournament fees and stops them having to pay out an overlay. In the eternal battle of the players’ interests versus the casinos’ interests, it would be in the player’s best interest not to make other players aware of the overlay. 11.1% more players just makes the event 11.1% harder to win. The optimal play from the players’ point of view is to dissuade others from coming to play. Casinos rely on word of mouth as a way to attract players, having a situation where its optimal for players to be on social media ‘radio silence’ to maximise their own chances, clearly that isn’t ideal.

Huge overlays and casinos losing money by staging events with guarantees that aren’t met, isn’t good for the long term prospect of poker. Casinos and card rooms need to be viable and profitable.

These observations needs to be balanced with the gratitude we have that card rooms like Dusk till Dawn and tours like the UKIPT stick their neck out and put on £1,000,000 guaranteed events. These big numbers draw the crowds and create excitement and hype, stimulating the UK poker economy.

So the balance has to be right for us both. Poker tours, casinos and card rooms need to be profitable but players need to be treated with respect. The product on sale and its cost has to be transparent. No one likes to feel conned or cheated so it is fundamental that before we cough up our hard earned money, players need to be aware of ‘the Price of Poker’.

When you fail to be transparent, we have to assume it’s because you have something to hide.

A Bankroll challenge & twitch

Twitch Blog

After a wee break from poker I’m now back playing and broadcasting as I play on the super dooper fantastical Twitch.com eSports streaming site.

http://www.twitch.tv/wil_scottish

I have no real reason for doing this other than, everyone else is…

Rather than just play for random wealth, I’m setting myself a bankroll challenge. From a bankroll of $3,000 I hope to turn this into $15,000 and use that to pay my way to ‘Vegas Baby’ for my 1st attempt at the WSOP main event in July 2015.

So I need to spin up $3k to $15k between Mar, Apr, May & Jun. That’s about $4k per month I need to make. I will only be playing 3 or 4 days per week, so I need to hit an average $285 profit each day.

My MTT results are a little skewed, 55% ROI over a 1,300 sample $27.50 avg buy in. Giving me an avg profit of $16.39. If I can maintain that ROI I would only need to play 17 MTTs per day.

I don’t think my ROI will survive this challenge. A more realistic expectation is 20% ROI, so to meet my $285 profit per day I’ll likely have to play a much, much higher volume.

I’ll resist playing bigger buy ins until my bankroll has grown to accommodate them. It’s my intention to stick to a pretty rigid 100 buy ins, no shot taking unless there’s a VERY good reason.

To make my challenge just that little bit tougher, I’ll be giving away 1% of my daily winnings to 5 people, picked at random from those retweeting my Twitch channel – http://www.twitch.tv/wil_scottish with the hashtag #WilScottishTwitch

I’m on Twitter as @Willie_Hmmm

https://twitter.com/Willie_Hmmm

Further to this, I’m hoping to break into the top 10 in the PocketFives.com Scotland page.

http://www.pocketfives.com/united-kingdom/scotland-poker-community/

I think this will be an even tougher ask as the stakes I plan to play mean I’ll not be competing for the bigger leaderboard points. And to put this into context, after 5 months of not playing I currently sit 217th in Scotland.
So here goes…

02/03/2015 Balance $3,000

Good luck us.

I should really give a shoutout to
http://www.twitch.tv/easywithaces

Fintan Hand, who inspired me with his very own bankroll challenge. Looks like he’s crushing it, good luck bud.

https://easywithaces.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/time-to-move-up/

Folding A Winning Hand

winning hand

This is quite a difficult blog to write. I think I’m about to slate one of my poker heroes. Based on just about any measure you care to use, he is the number one poker player in the world. I currently rank 9,000th in the world, so I may not be best qualified to judge him. I talk of Daniel Negreanu.

I started watching poker in the late 90s on Channel 4. Late Night Poker, a darkened smoke filled room with dodgy looking characters straight out of an east end gangster movie. I was hooked pretty much straight away even though I didn’t know the rules. As the years and series passed and various new poker shows were made & broadcast, these ‘characters’ became familiar faces. The top British & European players mixed with the top Americans.

Like a lot of sports, you soon get your favourites. I was particularly fond of a young pretty girl called Vicky Coren and a witty, chatty, fun loving American called Daniel Negreanu.

Poker can be very unforgiving. Poker stars who shine bright tend to fade away very quickly. There have been more people launched into outer space than there are people who were winning at poker 15 years ago who are still winning now. The game develops at such a pace, this has been exaggerated with the growth of online poker. If you stand still ability wise, you are left behind.

Vicky Coren Mitchell became the first 2 time EPT winner last year. This is an achievement I rate higher than any of the multiple WSOP main event winners, partly because of the bigger fields she faced, but more importantly, the standard of opposition has never been higher. The average WSOP main event player of the 70s 80s & 90s would not compete vs the average EPT player of the 2000s & 2010s.

Similarly Daniel Negreanu, Kid Poker, this year he moved himself to the top of the all time money list and last year he won the WSOP player of the year title for the 2nd time.

These two buck the trend, alongside Ivey & Hellmuth and a very few others, no one else who was winning at poker 15 years ago is still winning today. The current crop of winning players are simply technically better and there are so many of them. Those who failed to adapt and improve have fallen by the wayside.

That I chose Vicky & Daniel as ‘MY’ players just shows what a great judge of character I am.

Amongst the many changes announced by PokerStars, the latest is the addition of Casino Gaming & Sports Betting.

Announced here – http://www.pokernews.com/news/2014/11/pokerstars-sports-betting-casino-games-19891.htm

This was followed shortly after by an announcement from Vicky that she is to leave PokerStars Team Pro over this launch and her principled objection to combining poker with other more “dangerous” forms of gambling.

She wrote “I know in my heart that continuing in my current role could risk helping to send people to a place where they would encounter something I think is dangerous. That’s not the way I want to make a living”.

Her full statement is here http://www.victoriacoren.com/main/blog/archive/goodbye_team_pro

Each Team Pro has their own deal, the only figure I’ve actually had confirmed was for a lesser known pro who had a playing & expenses budget in the region of 6 figures. At the very least Vicky has given up a deal which over the years would have been worth millions.

I can’t imagine, nor would I want to bring any pressure to bear on any other member of Team Pro to take the same stance. The current climate in the poker economy is a difficult one. There are very few sponsorship opportunities for the up and coming batch of young players. If you have a deal, whatever your view is, it’s in your best interests not to express any critical opinions.

Vicky Coren Mitchell did not do what was in her best interests, but she comes out of this with almost universal praise for her principled stance. It is rare these days to see such an obvious display of integrity. I was genuinely shocked by her announcement. Saddened too, because she is a 1st class ambassador for our game and I just adore her.

Here’s where my blog gets tricky. I’ve always considered Daniel Negreanu one of my favourite players. I based my own playing style & table manner on what I saw him do. And what he does is talk and talk and talk. He enjoys himself at the poker table and it’s fantastic for the spectators & viewers. His engagement at the table and speech play maybe won’t work too often on experienced pros who will make maths based decisions and won’t be moved from the correct play even if Daniel is telling them their exact 2 cards and goading them to call his river bomb. I was sat 3 tables away from Daniel at EPT London 2013, and in a room of 500 people, I could follow the action of every flop turn & river from his table. He was constant. I can imagine it tilting all but the very strongest of characters.

He blogged his own response to Vicky’s announcement here – http://www.fullcontactpoker.com/poker-journal.php?subaction=showfull&id=1417239608&archive=&start_from=&ucat=&

I’ll paraphrase what he said into ‘why is it okay for winning players to exploit losing players at the poker table, but it’s not okay for the house to exploit players in casino games’. A fair point but one that’ll I’ll address once I’ve explained my own filtered perception of Daniel.

As I say above, I always liked Daniel. The entertainment value he provides to viewers is second to none. The work he has done to promote the game, second to none. His place in the history of the game, second to none. He is the number one poker player for a good reason.

With Dan Colman’s recent attack on Phil Hellmuth in mind, where I feel in almost complete agreement with Colman on most opinions he’s expressed, his decision & reasons for not giving an interview after his one drop win, his ‘Free Gaza’ t-shirt at an EPT event final table. His attack on a legend of our game. I thought the attack was justified, Hellmuth has unanswered questions about the Ultimate Bet cheating scandal.

But here’s the thing with Hellmuth. He’s one of the guys who worked tirelessly to promote poker. His ‘antics’ as the ‘Poker Brat’ made it entertaining for a wider audience. His ability to still compete 25 years after he won the WSOP main event. For me, that gives him a pass. He’s earned the right to have made huge mistakes and still get respect and acknowledgement for his achievements.

My admiration for Daniel Negreanu has waned for a few specific reasons. Daniel as a vegan (I’m vegetarian for reasons of animal welfare) and someone I consider as a caring & compassionate human being, a philanthropist. I admire these qualities greatly. Yet during the recent conflict in Gaza, Daniel tweeted his support for Israel, at a time when it was known 2,000 civilians, 500 of them children, had been killed by the Israeli Defence Forces.

“For the record I’m 100% pro-Israel defending themselves against terrorist groups like Hamas and you aren’t going to change my mind on twitter”

In fairness to Daniel he engaged with people on Twitter and debated with them, myself included, and with mutual respect signed off with a desire for there to be peace and no more killing.

I’m aware I’m subjected to a media that is more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians than Daniel is. American politics is unambiguously sympathetic to Israel and this gets reflected in the US media. It’s tough to form views that contradict the constant stream of propaganda. Daniel also stated he’s had discussions with an ex Israeli military friend. It’s easy for me to say, well that’s obvious bias, but I don’t live in Tel Aviv and I’m not subjected to the acts committed, desperate attempts of desperate people to achieve statehood and recognition for their plight. I have more sympathy for the Palestinians because they appear to be suffering much more than their Israeli counterparts. But Daniel isn’t killing anyone, he’s just expressed a sincere opinion about who his sympathies are with. I’m disappointed and I feel his humanitarian credentials are lessened, but I respect his right to have a different opinion, and I appreciate that he is engaging with people who are appalled by his opinions.

Next up is Daniel defending the recent changes in rake and charges for currency conversion. http://www.fullcontactpoker.com/poker-forum/index.php?showtopic=147358

More than defending it, I felt Daniel was cheerleading the changes. I can understand an employee who is required to reflect changes to his companies’ terms & policies, but to say these are good things for the poker community, that we are better off for the price increase in poker, I found this disingenuous. Again I appreciate him engaging with followers on Twitter, myself included, but this led to Daniel making some appalling statements. It clearly showed to me that Daniel is a company man. He is more concerned with the interests of PokerStars than the interests of its players.

“the goal of an online poker company is increased profits. The ROI of it’s winning players doesn’t enter into the equation”

“when pros left UB (Ultimate Bet) what remained was awesome games for any pros who took the gamble with them”

I thought these tweets were incendiary. That PokerStars doesn’t care about its winning players, even though they are the highest volume players on the site and pay more rake than anyone. Talking about Ultimate Bet & PokerStars, making comparisons. The most shameful site in the history of online poker, who literally cheated and stole from its players, that this was a good site to play once all the sensible grinders left because it was only fish left. And to have that site compared to PokerStars because it’s driving away the sensible grinders with its price hike.

I didn’t engage on these points because I like Daniel. I don’t want this blog to be about the worst things Daniel has ever said and lets all hate on him.

As with Hellmuth, Daniel gets a pass. He can say things I disagree with, he can side with a company who seems not to care about the health of poker and are only interested in their own profit margins. He gets to do this and say these things and still get my respect, simply because he is still around. Longevity. You’re not supposed to last this long in poker. Very few have, and those that do make it, they get a pass from me, even if what they’re saying is kick the ladders away from underneath me, lets damage the poker economy so fewer and fewer people can make it to my level because we’re damaging poker in the hope of increased profits for my sponsor.

The introduction of casino games & sports betting. Putting these services on the client alongside poker. This can only result in there being less money in the poker economy. PokerStars own press release announcing this even confirmed there will be “a negligible impact on poker spend”. That is an announcement telling us all how great it will be acknowledging there will be less money in the poker economy as a result. This is a bad thing, the poker economy is already shrinking, making changes that will shrink it even more is not the solution to improve the game.

I’m fortunate enough to know a few of the top poker players in the UK. As good as their poker skills are and the edge they have over the average player, I’m aware of some who love the thrill of the gamble. I have seen them wager huge amounts on casino gaming. They know and every sensible poker player knows, these games are for losers. It is not possible to beat casino games long term. Anyone with a basic sense of maths & odds knows this, yet some with addictive personalities are attracted to them. The thrill, the swings, the occasional high, but the inevitable lows, these games are not beatable, but those with weaknesses will play them.

Adding them to our poker client is an abomination. I was fortunate enough to see the damaging effects of problem gambling at a young age. Enough so that it put me off for life. As Daniel points out, how then can I rationalise that obvious exploitation of the casino, the house, over the ‘mug punters’, with the same exploitation that winning players have against losing players in poker? Well, I can’t easily. I recognise poker is a pyramid where those with most ability will rise to the top, those with least ability will eventually lose their bankroll, leave the game and need to be replaced to keep the pyramid topped up to pay the elite.

I find myself to be one of the top 4 or 5 earners in Scotland in 2014, but I’m aware this has more to do with good fortune than overall ability. I recognise my place in the food chain. My results over the past 18 months online and live show a healthy profit, but that profit comes out of only 4 tournaments. Without those I am an entirely break even player. Those 4 games represent my top 0.5% of results. I suspect my stats & ROI won’t look too bad Vs any player if you remove their top 0.5% of results. But I know I am a lesser able player than the very best and I’ve had good fortune to get results beyond my level of play. I’ve also found myself having to speak to friends who are losing players. I’ve not told them to stop playing, as they enjoy the game, but I’ve advised them to play at lower buy in levels where they will be some of  better players playing at that level and the rates of losses are more sustainable. Some have taken my advice, some have not.

If you are a bad poker player, your hobby will cost you money, but I rationalise that with other hobbies which have a cost attached, golf, go karting, 5 a-side football. There is a cost to participate, but the social interaction, the fun element, the challenge to be overcome, those have more value than what it costs in financial terms. This is just the same with poker as long as those playing are doing so within their limits and enjoying the experience, it is a perfectly good pastime to take part in. The winning players will win more often and get their wage from it, but most of us know our own ability level and consent to this. Sometimes getting to play with players much better than ourselves is the thrill.

Daniel points out he doesn’t need any more money, he won’t be able to spend the money he has already won in his lifetime, therefore that’s not why he plays poker. Similarly, I don’t rely on poker for an income, but I do rely on it to fund further poker adventures. My ability to continue to play poker relies on getting a return often enough that it funds future buy ins. So far, all good, I get to play the games I want with no detrimental effect to my finances.

Playing poker gives me a challenge to overcome and it gives me social interaction. I value the challenge and I’ve risen to it often enough that it’s been profitable for me. The social interaction is why I prefer live poker to online. I genuinely want it to be a pleasant experience for the people I’m playing with and for myself. I talk to my opponents, engage with them, I’m interested to hear their stories and their opinions. I’ve made many friends with complete strangers I’m randomly assigned to sit down and play with for 8 or 10 hours. For me this is the beauty of poker, other human beings, part of a community, playing with billionaire hedge fund managers and playing with those who empty bins, accomplished winning professionals and guys who have won entries through satellites for $10. We all come together on an even playing field and we compete against each other in a battle of wits.

This community we’re part of. There isn’t an equivalent in the casino gaming world. There aren’t forums where we discuss roulette strategy and evolve a thought process, interact and improve our roulette ability to a place where we can beat the game. We will always be mug punters in roulette. Poker is unique & distinct as a form of gambling. PokerStars decision to include these games on the poker client, to tarnish our ‘skill’ game by association with these exploitative long term losing games, where the house will always win. To raid our poker economy so they can take a bigger cut for themselves with these games. To knowingly damage & shrink the poker economy, meaning less money will make it into poker prizepools by shunting people & their deposits off to routlette, blackjack & slots.

PokerStars revenues will not decrease, but the poker economy will. The money available to gamble with is finite, PokerStars seems intent on ensuring it takes a bigger & bigger share.

My perception of Daniel is diminished, Israel comments, rake increase, casino games. His voice is that of his corporate masters. He speaks for them and not for his community.

But his place in poker is set. He is the number one. And even from this position he has always been generous with his time on twitter responding to comments and engaging with people. I give him great credit for this. He doesn’t have to speak to us, he doesn’t have to open himself up to the abuse he sometimes takes. But I would also say, he doesn’t have to be a cheerleader for every negative change being implemented. Other Team Pros have managed a dignified silence.

Vicky managed to get universal respect and admiration for her stance. PokerStars not only lost a two time EPT winner, they also lost a level of respectability and class that Vicky brought to the brand. A portal direct to the UK celebrity classes who saw poker through Vicky as a respectable game played by intellectuals. An accomplished author, broadcaster & wit, lending her good name to our disreputable game. We’ve been very lucky to have her and she’ll be a huge loss to PokerStars.

I love you PokerStars, but WTF???

clubs players

As has been known to happen when I write, I plan a blog, this time a travel/poker blog about my recent trips to UKIPT Isle of Man & UKIPT London, then events overtake me and there is something more important I want to write about.  Specifically, it’s what is happening with the changes to PokerStars in what some on twitter have labelled as ‘Red Thursday’!

But before I get into that, I’ll say what I want to say about these trips because it is important.

UKIPT Isle of Man at the beginning of October and UKIPT London the week after.  It went for me in poker terms as bad as it possibly could have, I played bad, I ran bad, but out of it I somehow managed to still have a great time.  I rationalise my poker losses as part of an overall great year.  Friendships I’ve built up with some of the best players in the UK grow as I get to know more people and in those 2 weeks, we experienced the mixture of my relative failure and their enormous successes.  Specifically Daragh Davey, crowned UKIPT player of the year, a fantastic achievement and thoroughly deserved.  This line is stolen but I liked it a lot, “anyone can go on a heater and go deep in a few tourneys or even win a few of them, but to have been so consistent over a season of 80 or 90 tourneys, main events & side events, that is the mark of someone with real ability”.  Daragh who’s a member of a group of Irish pros called ‘The Firm’ who had 3 or 4 players in the top 10 of all the UKIPT leaderboards, and that finished off nicely with Kevin Killeen (another ‘Firm’ member) getting 3rd in EPT London for the biggest score of his career.  ‘The Firm’ are, I dare to say, firmly established as a group of players who do poker the right way.  If any group of friends who play poker are looking for a formula for how to approach the game, these are the guys I would base it on.

UKIPT season 4 started off with Ludovich Geilich winning in Marbella, he finished off with a final table in UKIPT Isle of Man, and 21st in UKIPT London, back to back top 2% finishes, neither for huge amounts of cash, but testament to the fact that Ludo is without a doubt one the best up & coming players in the UK.  And a fantastic win for Brett Angell in UKIPT London, a thoroughly nice guy who I’d first seen on the UKIPT when it was televised when he came 2nd to Gaz Walker in Nottingham in season 2.  Also worth a mention is Tomasz Raniszewski who came 2nd in the UKIPT player of the year leaderboard.  Tomasz was sat with with some of the Firm lads in a Nottingham side event that was down to 2 or 3 tables, while they inadvertently discussed him and saying at least he wasn’t there to pick up leaderboard points, he sat quietly listening to it all while they were oblivious to his presence, he of course goes on to win that side event.  I’m sat in the later stages of a side event in the Isle of Man telling this amusing story to Max Silver who was also in the leaderboard hunt.  Max calls me over later and says, “Willie, see that TomaszRa guy you were talking about, he was at our table when you were telling the story”.  Oops, I finally figured out who Tomasz was and made sure he got introduced to the people I knew.  Again, a thoroughly nice guy I got to know, who has a huge talent for the game and is destined for big things.

In the 2nd visit to Marbella this season, where I’d turned my poker trip into part poker, part holiday, I’d arranged with a few other players to have a day out Go Karting.  Most who’d expressed an interest ended up hungover and unwell so couldn’t make it, but the few who did had a great day out.

10264673_814413171910240_7214101981709279156_nI set out to organise another day out like this at the Isle of Man and cheekily asked the people I knew who manage and run the UKIPT if they’d be interested in putting up a small prize for the winner and seeing if any of the UKIPT staff would be interested in coming along too.  Their response was amazing but not surprising, the management of the UKIPT are so well respected by the players, we are so lucky in the UK & Ireland to have such a well run tour backed by a major player like PokerStars.  They ended up handling the booking, putting on a free bus to transport players to and from the karting venue and the small prize for a winner grew into an entry to UKIPT London worth £770.  An amazing gesture by an amazing bunch of people.  Specific thanks to David Curtis, Jamie Moniz & Kenny Diack for organising everything and looking after us so well.

We have a fantastic day, although again, the numbers were reduced as many of the players I know who were interested in coming along had made it into the last 20% of the main.  I really do know some fantastic players.

20141004_162618_resizedNo surprise to me, the winner was my brother Dode Elliot, with myself getting a creditable but far behind 2nd.  As much as it pains me to say, he is faster than me in a go kart.  Well played bro.

20141004_171102_resizedIMG_0662 - Copy

And thanks to Paul Rimmer of My Poker Pal for donating the trophy for the winner.

The fantastic service the public facing staff of PokerStars & the UKIPT give is second to none.  The management, the TDs, the admin staff, the dealers, just brilliant, I cannot praise them highly enough.  I’m also an avid follower of the EPT and again, the staff who we see and who are always willing to interact with the viewers & players, from those in the commentary booth to the bloggers, just brilliant at what they do and how they come across.

I am a huge and loyal supporter of PokerStars.  I literally don’t play on any other site.  My choice of live games is based around the tours they run and I have always felt well looked after, that the company had the interests of the players at its heart and was dedicated to looking after us and making sure the playing experience for the players was a positive one.  This sentiment was echoed by people who knew the market better than me, so I have remained a one site player, I play on PokerStars, I only play on PokerStars.  I’ve never felt the need to give more than a cursory glance to what other sites offered, I was satisfied with the site I played on.

But today, after the announcements of various changes PokerStars are implementing, I find myself in a tricky position.  The brand I love and the brand I’m loyal to, it appears to want to bring its business in line with the standards of the lesser poker sites.  Fees are being incurred, rake is increasing, bonuses and promotions are being cut back.  The motive for these changes appear to be centred on increasing profit and the backlash from the poker community is very hostile.  These links on 2+2 poker forum appear to be the only formal way players are being notified of these changes, so those who don’t live in the poker bubble will be oblivious to them…

http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/28/internet-poker/announcement-pokerstars-changes-rake-spin-go-prizes-battle-planets-1485512/

http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/28/internet-poker/pokerstars-currency-exchange-rates-1484001/

The price of poker has gone up.  I am not a professional player, I don’t rely on poker for a living, but for the people who do, life just got a bit tougher.  The people who play the game the right way, approach it like a business, who know their ROI and hit it at a consistent level over the long term, the increase in rake & fees & the removal of promotions & bonuses represents a massive pay cut for them.  Some beat the game by a big enough margin that they will continue on with that reduction in pay, but for many others, these changes mean they will no longer be able make a living from the game.

For a recreational player like myself, I had been trying to work out how I could approach a grind to start playing a more serious volume, but these changes make that a more difficult prospect.

PokerStars approach seems to be to squeeze more and more out of the game for themselves leaving less and less in the poker economy for the players.  I assume they have conducted market research that shows although they will lose a percentage of players, the majority of recreational players will continue to play oblivious to this profit creep.  And as there are no serious competitors in the market, PokerStars can be as ruthless as they want to the players, because where else are they going to play that has the volume of games available?

PokerStars is the biggest because they were the best.  Making their product just that bit shittier is something you can do when you have a near monopoly.  While discussing the fallout of some of the earlier announced changes, someone from PokerStars said of the new PokerStars 7 client, something like 12% of PokerStars players are using the new client, and if that client was being run by another company, they’d be the 2nd biggest in terms of share of the market.  That’s a very unhealthy position for the industry to be in.  When one company has such a dominant position in the market, it doesn’t need the consent of its customers to change its business practices, hence the recent announcements have come and the player outrage can be ignored, because what are we going to do about it, what can we do about it?

The answer is sadly nothing.  Until there is real competition in the market place, we had better get used to a poorer service and increasing fees at the whim of what appears to be a profit driven ethos.

There is a stark contrast of how well players are treated at live events versus what appears to be sheer contempt the corporate arm of PokerStars has towards its online customers.

Within a week, I’ve been moved from being an adoring and loyal fan of brand PokerStars to being cautious and dubious of their motives.  I no longer trust that they have the players best interests at heart.

It feels like a very dark day for our industry/our sport/our fun…

With all that said, people are entitled to feel aggrieved, annoyed, upset at how we’re being treated, I know I am.  But it’s important to remember, the public facing staff members of PokerStars, these are not the people who came up with these changes, and it’s important we don’t direct our anger towards them.  I had the pleasure to sit with many of the back room staff at the Isle of Man, and a you couldn’t meet a nicer bunch of people.  Every staff member I played with shared the enthusiasm for the game that we the players have, it must be hurting them to feel the backlash that is happening on social media today, but these decisions are happening way above the pay grade of anyone we’ll get to communicate with, so please go easy on them while you’re venting your anger & frustration.

 

I heart PokerStars.

but…

PokerStars clubs players.

 

Sigh.

Poker & Politics…

Politics logo

I wasn’t going to write this blog. Two players, Olivier Busqet & Daniel Colman (him again, trouble maker), they recently played the final table of the €50k Super High Roller at EPT11 Barcelona wearing t-shirts with the messages “Save Gaza” & “Free Palestine”. They came 1st and 2nd, and as good friends they agreed on an amicable chop of the prize money, with Olivier going on to take the title. There was a little commotion on twitter but the moment came and went. They’d made their statements and initially didn’t comment or elaborate further on the slogans.

 

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So that was an interesting side note as part of an excellent tournament, but I thought I’d pass on giving my views which were being echoed succinctly on twitter by people more eloquent than me. I don’t do succinct…

 

However, the day after, it was announced that PokerStars were now going to implement a ban on players displaying “political slogans” at their events. They stated “We will refuse entry to any player displaying political statements of any kind.”

 

The statement was as vague as it gets. What actually constitutes a political statement? A CND symbol? A Smiths “Meat is Murder” t-shirt? A Che Guevara t-shirt? A Gay Pride t-shirt? An AIDS awareness ribbon? A charity wristband? Gavin Griffin’s pink hair to raise awareness of breast cancer? All are political slogans or symbols.

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I have first hand experience volunteering for an AIDS charity which was involved in intense political lobbying for its cause. The nature of almost all charities is they have to lobby, campaign and dare I say, express ‘political statements’. In my time I met MPs, Peers, Cabinet Ministers. Charities are political and would potentially fall foul of this ban.

 

So are these “political statements” to be banned for players on outer tables, or is it only players on feature tables, which will be broadcast on the livestream and for future TV broadcasts?

 

And if this ban only applies to feature tables, what then if a player is moved to the feature table mid way through the day. Will they then be told they will be removed from play if they don’t remove the clothing with the political statement?

 

Like in gym at school, where if you forgot your PE kit and were made to play in your underpants, will players be sitting bare chested at feature tables?

 

As much appeal as this has for tables featuring Liv Boeree, Vicky Coren Mitchell & Fatima Moreira de Melo, I feel it would be very unfair to all men to have the naked toned torsos of Patrick Antonius and David Williams on display.

 

And is a ban like this even legal? In Europe, where we have a shameful history of oppressive regimes, we have human rights written into law, so they cannot be breached on a whim. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights covers Freedom of Expression, which includes political expression.

 

Some have surmised that as these tournaments are private events in private venues, therefore the organiser can set any restrictions they see fit and refuse entry for any reason they want. I would argue that as it is an event open to any member of the public, they must operate within the law. They cannot refuse admission on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, as this would breach discrimination laws.

 

Refusing admission on the basis of clothing that doesn’t breach a casino’s dress code and is legal and inoffensive, I suspect that would leave PokerStars vulnerable to being sued. Refusing admission while breaching someones legally protected right to freedom of expression surely cannot be right.

 

I accept that PokerStars broadcasting these ‘political statements’ may cause diplomatic ripples in some of their more sensitive markets. This is not an issue that affects the players. We have paid to participate in a tournament, the broadcast & promotional elements are secondary to the players tournament.

 

And as a few big names on twitter have said –

Everyone should sport a ‘political’ message or symbol at the next EPT. But no shades, right?

 

One thing is certain: you can expect some players to troll until they back down from this ridiculous position

 

Part of the statement released by PokerStars said “In retrospect it was a mistake to allow them entry (Olivier Busqet & Daniel Colman)”. Would they really have removed 2 players from a final table? I can only imagine the reaction to this would have been explosive and incredibly toxic for PokerStars. It would have gone way beyond the poker press and become a mainstream news story about censorship.

 

As far as I was concerned, the story was over, the whole episode would have been forgotten about after a short while. But now the ban is the story. And this will run & run as more people test PokerStars resolve. There are many creative, intelligent & opinionated poker players who through polite civil disobedience will give this issue longevity.

 

PokerStars in their heavy handed attempt to shut down this issue, have now created a rod for their own back. Are they bluffing? Will they have to fold? If an entire final table full of players turn up wearing ‘political statements’ which they refuse to remove, is the tournament over? Only time will tell…

 

Sport & Politics…

 In 1968 at the height of the civil rights movement in America, Tommie Smith & John Carlos won Gold and Bronze in the 200m final at the Mexico Olympics, during the medal ceremony they each held a black gloved fist aloft. This iconic image was seen around the world and has since become one of the most recognised symbols of the struggle against black oppression & racism.

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Smith & Carlos were expelled from the Olympics for this political statement.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/18732127

 

Cassius Clay , the greatest boxer in the history of the sport, respected & admired around the world, but forced to live as a 2nd class citizen at home in a deeply troubled & divided 1960s America. Cassius had to deal with segregation & discrimination daily. And the legend goes, when refused service in a diner and attacked by a racist gang, Cassius took the gold medal he won at the 1960 Olympics and threw it into the Ohio River.

 

http://archive.courier-journal.com/article/20100830/ALI/308300041/Was-medal-thrown-river-Tales-still-vary

 

Then in 1967, with the Vietnam War at its height, the now renamed Muhammad Ali, takes a stand and refuses to be drafted. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

 

http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2013/apr/29/muhammad-ali-refuses-to-fight-in-vietnam-war-1967

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Ali is banned from competing for 4 years for taking this political stand.

 

Along with Smith & Carlos, Ali believed the civil rights issues in America and the Vietnam War, were more important issues than the sport they competed in.

 

Busquet & Colman used their opportunity to highlight the terrible loss of human life in Gaza. To show empathy with those suffering. They did so without bluster and without pointing the finger of blame. I thought they did this in a dignified way and showed sincere humanity & compassion. On the morning of potentially a million euro pay day, they were thinking of others living in an impossibly difficult situation.

 

I don’t believe they set out to offend anyone and I don’t believe anyone should have been offended.

Save Gaza.

Free Palestine.

For these to be achieved Palestine would need to be a viable functioning state living in peace with a safe & secure Israel. I see nothing controversial about wanting the conflict & killing to end. It’s only the extremists who want anything different.

 

Some have asked, what if others want to display swastikas or homophobic slogans. Football players aren’t allowed to show political slogans.

That’s not exactly true. For tributes, for charities, for causes, football teams often display overtly political messages.

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These are acceptable, but what is not acceptable, is offensive gestures or slogans. Gestures which promote hate, incite racism, encourage violence. These are not acceptable. And these are not protected under article 10 of ECHR. We are not free to express views which incite hatred, violence or criminality.

 

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This is not what Busquet & Coleman did.

If PokerStars act on this threat to ban players, I anticipate a large number of players will act as the community we are and resist.  We are the players.  The tournaments belong to us, we’ve paid for them. 

We Are Poker!