Saturday, March 31, 2007

Real Content Soon

Had an unsettling week --- back in the saddle with a "Best of" piece in a flash.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Shocked and Appalled

Please check the addendums. This story ain't over, and it appears something that I thought was so, might not be. More very soon, promise --- hh

A surf of several poker-related posts on Bloglines last night uncovered a couple of poker blogs announcing their registration into a curious freeroll on Full Tilt Poker. Called the SEO Poker Tournament, this $5,000 freebie is being run by whatever king-sized asshat is behind the site

"SEO," should you be unaware, is short for "Search Engine Optimization," and a "black-hat SEO" is one of those people who typically scrapes your site and steals your content, putting his affiliate banners on the top of it, or litters your comment boxes with all sorts of unwarranted spam. Of course, that's just the start of it, as you can see by this neat list as shown on the site:

Now, that list isn't about things that are bad, it's about how to do them and get away with it. As an example, here's the lead-in for the "Scrapers" category:

"Borrow content from other sites," my ass. Basically, these guys traffic in theft, and if you create content, then you're one of the victims. Matter of fact, if you have a web site at all, then these guys victimize you, by manipulating meta code to mess with Google and Yahoo! search algorithms and get to the top of the list; in that instance, they're cutting in line, and they're not even doing it on their own dime.

These guys violate copyrights and ToS agreements by the thousands. Another of these sites proudly notes that "Yes, all these things are against the rules, but rules are made to broken." Don't step in front of my car, black-hat SEO guys; I guarantee you I won't brake.

So it's on to shocked and appalled time.

Shocking, that at least three recognizable poker bloggers have signed up for the event. Have you no pride, folks? No sense of worth for what you create? Shameful. One of them submitted an entry to my own puzzle contest a month or two back, but he won't be welcome to enter my future giveaways: I do not cater to thieves, nor those who would do business with them. As for this disgusting display, first prize is getting a bunch of other links to your site, but those three bloggers, who I previously listed, have been yanked from this site. They're on "-1" so far.

On to appalling. Not only does Full Tilt apparently think that site scrapers, spammers and link thieves are okay types, but they are actually donating $5,000 to the goddamned freeroll. I've fired off a complaint to Full Tilt, which they're in the process of shuffling from department to department until the event actually occurs, at which time they'll likely send me an empty, do-nothing apology.

It'll rank right up for there for meaningful value and sincerity with the apology Absolute sent to Pauly when his site got hacked. Absolute's way of dealing with that was to give the thief a brand new landing page, which remains operational to this day. If you think I kid, guess again; I saved the affiliate code from the thieving site and it's fully intact, right here. Then again, I do tend to be cynical; let's just say I'm seldom disappointed that way.

As to why this is so important, if you don't know, my screaming about it is unlikely to convince you. I'm way-y-y peeved, but I'm not going to call for a boycott, though the thought has crossed my mind. I'm just voting with my feet. I don't play at Absolute, and I won't be playing at Full Tilt anymore, either.

So be it.


Two of the three blogger sites I blind-referenced above pulled themselves out of the tournament after hearing about this post, one with the admonition that, frankly, I could have been a bit nicer about it. As in sending private e-mails. Umm, yes, but these tournaments tend to have a rush in late registrations, and I don't feel a nanny-type responsibility to keep chasing down any and every blogger who might register for something like this without thinking about the consequences. My aim is to tear that $5K bad boy down and leave a smoking crater in its wake. I doubt I'll be successful, but this thieving crap has gone on way too long and is too endemic. It's war.

The same writer tossed a small bomb my way, I guess for having an erstwhile link to Dutch Boyd's sad site. Besides the fact that I think Dutch's site is great for unintentional comic relief, there's still a huge distinction. Dutch maintains his innocence in a bizarre display of paralogical thinking, while these black-hat guys are not only proven thieves, they're willing and proud of it. And a site I give good money to is giving them more money, money that comes from people like me?

Seriously, I have made some friends in the blogging community, but I write what I think is important and what I believe in... and that comes first. For the rest of you, should you disagree, head on over to In the meantime, I'm putting my neck on the line trying to get things done. I'm no saint, I don't live in a white castle, but goddamnit, I'm better than these black-hat thieves.

If the tradeoff is that a lot of people are more aware of these issues, and a lot more people dislike me for forcing the issue, I can live with that.

* * * * * * *

Addendum 2: Gee, you'd think if I'd wrongly accused someone, they'd correct me. That didn't happen here, and while I am issuing an apology, pending further news, I'd like to bring y'all up to speed.

Short-Stacked Shamus over at Hard-Boiled Poker, which is a blog I've neglected to link up properly for far too long, has also been tracking this issue. Shamus sent off two different inquiries to FTP about this matter. He got nothing of worth on the first one, tried again, and got this back on the second one: "The prize pool of private freerolls is always supplied by the people who have requested the private tournament not us. Also Full Tilt Poker does not actively administrate private tournaments, we only host them."

Okay, but over on the black-hat site, there was this:

That pretty clearly says the opposite. Now far be it from a black-hat SEO site to lie, I know, but here we have $5,000 that no one now wants to take credit for or accept, except for that Tom dude in the comments. Nor, last time I checked, was your typical black-hat-SEO type in the habit of giving away five grand. And this isn't just any site; it is a trackable FTP affiliate (see below).

So you tell me, what gives?

I'd like to say that I jumped the gun on going off on Full Tilt, but I waited more than a day before making my post after notifying them of the tournament. Shamus's second try also included this text, and I'll just toss it out in his words:

I also asked whether FTP exercised any sort of discrimination when it came to allowing groups or organizations to use their site for private tourneys. I even gave the Ku Klux Klan as an example, asking would they
be allowed to host a tournament. In response to this question, FTP
says "We hold the tournament on our site to the specifications of the
person or group that has requested to hold it on our site. So it is open
to those who they want to participate in it."

--- Short-Stacked Shamus

I'm actually in agreement with that stance, though I note with a bit of a wry touch that Full Tilt's own in-house content is among the most commonly stolen in the poker world. I guess they're being paid not to care. But --- and this is a huge "but" --- it still doesn't answer where the money came from. I'm going to remain infernally curious about that one. If Full Tilt wants to disavow that site's claims, I'll be happy to print it here. I'd guess that making false statements about a poker site might violate an affiliate contract, and if Full Tilt has any interest in the matter, here's the seoblackhat site's affiliate landing page at FTP:


There, Full Tilt, I've done your work for you. What say you?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

No, No, It's St. Patty's Day, Not April Fool's, Dear Poker Sites

It was either 2005 or 2006 (I believe it was 2006), when Royal Vegas Poker offered a special St. Patrick's Day tournament to its participants. Having set up a couple of alternate skins, such as Poker Time, the RVP folks didn't quite get the private/special connections for the event worked out. Play began, but was terminated a short while later. Monies were refunded, but no complete explanation other than the usual "technical difficulties" was ever offered.

What are the odds that I'd get in another St. Patrick's Day tourney on a different site, and that the same thing would happen again?

Bet the over, whatever odds you get. Between watching basketball, handling some off-line chores and knocking off a couple of last-minute pieces, I found time to sign up for a $1,000-added St. Patrick's Day event over at It was an R&A event (not my favorite), but I chipped up gradually through the first hour, about doubling my initial 2,000-chip stack.

When, suddenly, the lights went out. A message went up on the screen stating that the tournament had been cancelled by an administrator and that all entry fees would be returned to the players per site rules. That's fine and all, but I detest things like this, particularly when the message indicated that the tournament had been halted intentionally, for whatever reason. Maybe it had something to do with the U.S.'s early shift to Daylight Savings Time, or maybe a pack of kangaroos invaded's Aussie headquarters.

I'm just jealous of my time, and I hate having it snatched from me in such a manner. Obviously, I'm not supposed to be playing promotional poker tournaments on St. Pat's Day, am I?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Other Side of the F-Bomb

One would probably think that I'm fanatical about the Mansion Poker Poker Dome show, having luckboxed my way onto the program last summer. Not true. In fact, I've only watched one complete episode of the show, and that's not the one I was on, which I have the DVD of but have never been able to bring myself to view.

So it was a bit of a surprise to find out that a hubbub broke out over the unfortunate occurrences that took place in Episode 41, the very last of the 'quarterfinal' episodes. The winner was decided because of not one, but two, abusive-language penalties that saw the Finnish player who held a commanding lead at the start of heads-up play eventually blinded out, to the delight of his Canadian opponent, who pocketed the $25,000 winner's check by acting as quickly as possible during the five minutes called for by the penalties.

I didn't see the episode, and in fact a week passed before I learned of it, only encountering the story when I saw the posts that the show's tournament director, Matt Savage, posted on the topic. The first of these was put up on (link via Google), and the second was a running commentary of about 100 posts over at 2+2, where Savage also commented. There may be others; I haven't checked.

In reading through the posts, what's been most amazing to me are the number of posters willing to villify Savage for taking the action that he had to, given the circumstances. It sucked that the player uttered the bombs, even as accidental exclamations, but I can verify that everything Savage has laid out as being explained to the players is true.

The people who seem willing to pillory Savage --- for not somehow ruling in the "spirit" of the law, rather than the "letter" --- ignore the fact that he had no other choice, given the contractual circumstances as he's explained them. I'd even go a step further and say that the folks doing most of the bitching in general are players who just have a problem with f-bomb rules in general... and I don't agree with them. There is no reason why organized, competitive poker should not be able to establish a baseline for acceptable social standards, and constant f-bomb uttering, despite the accidental occasional exclamation (as happened here, unfortunately), is a part of that standard.

Let's face it: Constant f-bombs (rather than the rare, unintentional exclamation) are often just a cheap, adolescent attempt to intimidate a table.

But back to Matt Savage and the Poker Dome tale of woe. I'm sure this is the first time that any televised event has been settled in this manner, and Savage himself emphasizes how sorry he was that he felt compelled to enforce the rule. Instead of being slammed for it, he needs to be applauded... simply because, in the heat of the moment, he remembered the importance of existing precedent and acted accordingly.

Here's what a lot of the people slamming Savage are forgetting to include: The Poker Dome was designed to put people off balance, to put them under unusual pressure, and see how they react. It's an experimental format that is built within the framework of a poker game, but is really something more of a reality show. The no-swearing rules are a part of that format, an additional burden placed upon the player to see how much stress he or she can take.

I cracked under the stress; I made two clear mistakes, one when I didn't trust an obvious tell and another when I mis-spoke a bet, which happened after the action really heated up. (The excessive on-set heat was one of several contributing factors.)

The point is that this is what the show is designed to do --- to quickly force situations where people play subpar poker. That subpar performance can occur in many forms, and in the case of the Finnish player, it emerged in the form of unexpected (and forbidden) utterances. It's unfortunate.

It's also true that the show's bigwigs (including Savage) underestimated just how Draconian the penalty would be if it occurred during late-stage play. They've quickly made changes to the format for the remaining shows (actually, now just "show"), to bring it more in line with what some pure concept of "fair" would be.

Perhaps it's an unfortunate coda to the Poker Dome experiment. My guess is the show will go away after this season's run, but that's due to the impact of the UIGEA, not to the success or appeal of the show itself. If nothing else, though, the recent f-bomb episode may have a lasting impact on the way this type of penalty is administered throughout poker.

Matt Savage has a very high reputation among tournament directors as well. I'd heard of him long before I stumbled onto the Dome....

Untold anecdote: On our first trip downtown to the Neonopolis (the show's studio locale), we waited around for some time through a sorta-kinda-press conference stretching into eternity... then were escorted down into the set to be shown the layout and to conduct the seat drawing for the next night's taping. Our tour guide/nanny handed us over to the set producer, and that person introduced this second man, there in a t-shirt and jeans: "This is Matt Savage, the tournament director."

That was my second biggest jolt of the weekend, following my wandering upstairs in the Caesar's labyrinth of business suites and walking smack-dab into Tony G. As Savage came around to greet each of us in person, I said something like, "Matt Savage! I'm pleased and honored to meet you!"

And Matt said, "No, I'm pleased and honored to meet you, Haley." Which was nice. (Thick, too, in the way of a great PR guy.) Matt had certainly read all our bios, and on mine was the information that I was a fledgling poker writer, but at that point my list of paid poker credits was pretty miniscule. These days I have a few more, but Matt played it up in style, and we were all there in Tony's shadow, anyway.

Matt then gave me the honor of drawing the first seat card, which was the three, and we got around to the other business at hand. During the taping of the show, Matt would pop in behind us during breaks, looking rather dapper but still affected a bit by the heat, like the rest of us. He'd encourage us to chat it up a bit, as I did with Tony once or twice during the show. And then he'd melt back to his post at the left-rear of the set, from the audience perspective.

So much more, so many strange, surreal things. Do I regret not playing better? Of course. Do I regret going through the experience? Not for a minute.

That's maybe why this latest Poker Dome episode is so noteworthy. The concept pushed the edge, creating unforeseen circumstances and situations where no one really quite knew, going in, what the result would be.

Poker quality aside, that willingness to push the edge isn't a bad legacy for the show, come what may.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

PPA --- The Organization that Can't Shoot Straight?

Talking about the Poker Players Alliance these days seems to be dangerous territory, but what the heck, I'm going there anyway.

I need to preface this post by saying that I am neutral toward the PPA. That's not "pro," and not "anti." Color me agnostic. I'd also like to point out that due to my inquiring nature, the president of the PPA, Michael Bolcerek, might not believe that. In working on several stories about the lack of transparency the PPA initially proffered concerning their finances, stirred in part by the private investigation of the PPA undertaken by 2+2 head Mason Malmuth, I did a bit of research into the PPA myself. I also made several phone calls and sent a few e-mails on the topic, and was promised a callback from Bolcerek (not by him, but by the office staffer taking my calls) on multiple occasions.

None of those callbacks ever occurred, nor were my e-mails through standard channels ever answered. That said, however, I think that the voices of several writers, my tiny contribution included, were a part of what finally prompted the PPA to post some of its financial information.

This is a good thing, in my estimation. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

As I mentioned in a post on another site, the PPA went ahead and posted its 2005 financials, which you can view here.

I'm really pleased to see this stuff, just on general principle. I do however, disagree with leading the page off with this: "While there is no legal requirement that we make this information publicly available on our website,..."

That reads as more than a bit defensive to me. Given that the PPA is not a scam, they should be happy to present their financials upon request, not make it seem as though the world is pulling their teeth. This is an organization that deals in goodwill and is dependent upon contributions for its very survival. I don't feel that any contributor owes them anything, and I feel that people who write about poker have a responsibility to look into organizations such as the PPA and, basically, check them out.

I'm reminded of this when I think of the one return contact I did have from Mr. Bolcerek. Working on a D'Amato story, I was, asking for comment on the early rumors, and I made some calls and e-mails and finally uncovered his PPA e-mail address. I sent off a letter explaining my inquiry and indeed did get a response to my asking if he or the PPA had a comment. It read like this, in its entirety:

no i do not

No signature, no cap letters, no nuttin'. That's fine and all, but it underscores a lack of professionalism on the part of Mr. Bolcerek in dealing with the media, at least in this instance. In this case, he may well have been rushed, but given the height of D'Amato rumors that were swirling, right from the start, I'm a bit incredulous that he and the PPA didn't have a canned "no comment" statement ready for any and all inquiries.

Does the PPA really not know how the game is played? Previous history (imagined or not) aside, when a writer makes a legitimate request for comment, either issue something with at least a minimal level of professionalism, or just accidentally delete the request and pretend it never showed up. Instead, the PPA continually seems to take a stance that says, "If you ain't solid behin' us, you're agin' us," and that can't be healthy for the PPA as a whole.

If it were only an isolated example. The PPA has recently put several promotional ads up on its You Tube site (id: pokerplayersalliance), and two of them look like pretty decent efforts. Here's the links:

"Poker Presidents"
"The State of Play: America and Online Poker"

Good stuff. Nice to see the PPA making an effort like this, and these need to be distributed to a wider audience.

And then there's this:

"Bad Beat"

Are you kidding me? Please-oh-please-oh-please, do not let 19-year-olds with misguided views of property rights post videos on the PPA site without executive overview. Or at least that's what it looks like. In the animated clip, a couple of pretend cops bust a player who tells his tablemates that he's from Phoenix, and bloody him up a bit in the process.

A bit crude, but funny. But then, the cartoon cop delivers an extra kick, and says this: "AND THATS FOR FILE SHARING LAST JULY YOU PIECE OF SHIT!!"

As a crime, file-sharing ranks right up with shoplifting a candy bar, but it's still wrong. Worse, not only is wrong, it's off message: it has no business whatsoever appearing in a PPA video. Of course, the denouement them comes as no surprise:

Worst of all, it's not even right, except in the state of Washington at the present time. C'mon, PPA. If you're going to bring respect to the world of poker, you need to show some professionalism yourselves.

That is all.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007's Mark Kreidler: Independent Buffoon or Corporate Lackey?'s Mark Kreidler has authored a piece, published yesterday, that begins with the signing of Alfonse D'Amato as chairman of the PPA, and ends by taking a broad swipe at the whole of online poker. It's a wretched piece, full of half-truths, misinformation, badly interpreted statistics and at least one flat-out personal attack, and while "shit journalism" has its place in the world (for better or worse), this one's a prime example of why one doesn't want to make a mess of one's own nest. The piece appeared on the front page of ESPN's own Poker Club, populated by the very same online poker players Kriedler chooses to slap.

A dunderheaded, vacuous move. Or was it?

Given that the piece is appallingly short of meeting professionally standards, one has to wonder about motive. It's not about why the piece was written --- because any idiot can vomit forth inane wordage --- but about how the piece managed to pass editorial muster and see the light of day. This one smells bad.

Maybe, just maybe, Kreidler's taking one for the (ESPN) team. ESPN's WSOP broadcasts remain a staple of the network's off-primetime programming, and there's no doubt that ratings for all poker programs are off in general. The biggest reason for the decline isn't because people no longer want to watch poker on TV, but rather, that there are so many poker programs to choose from.

Given that many televised poker programs are sponsored in whole or in part by online sites, anything that damages those sites therefore makes sense, in a lefthanded sort of way, to ESPN's bottom line. It'd be a fool's quest of sorts, thinking that making a Fox Sports Net's or Game Show Network's selection of poker programs disappear would somehow be good for the game, but ESPN has no interest in poker itself. ESPN only cares in milking poker for whatever can be added to ESPN's own bottom line.

It's good to see folks like Daniel Negreanu quickly speak out against the article. While the story shouldn't be yanked, despite its appalling inaccuracies, it certainly should be subject to some sort of rebuttal. It would also be interesting to see what will happen with name players in the absence of such a rebuttal or followup. Do you think Negreanu would decline an interview opportunity with ESPN at next year's opportunity, as a way of making a statement against the publishing of crap by

I highly doubt that, cynical person that I am. But we shall see, won't we?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

And a Fond Farewell Flip of the Bird to Paradise Affiliates

Paradise sent out this mailing to its affiliate network today:

Dear Affiliate,

Firstly you are receiving this email because you have registered on the affiliate program at and
you have the USA as your registered address.

If you no longer promote, please ignore this email.

As I’m sure you are aware UIGEA has made any financial transactions
into the US very difficult for gaming companies. Netteller have had
their US funds seized and I’m sure you have all been hit by this. As
a result we have been working to find a new solution by which to pay you
your affiliate commissions.

Unfortunately the messages out there are too strong and no financial
institution or their subsidiaries are willing to touch the States, with
many of them already under investigation.

This doesn’t leave us with many options to get payment to you if you
reside in the US.

I therefore urge you to look into foreign (non US and non US$) banking

If you have a bank account outside the US (in a non US$ currency), or a
non US Netteller account, then these are your best options going
forwards. Please update these at

In recent weeks we have managed to wire some funds to US bank accounts,
but the window of opportunity is soon to close. For now we will
continue to make bank wires of over $500 – so please make sure you
update your payment methods at to your bank
details. We also urge you to use a non US$ currency if possible.

Going forwards it is likely that payments are stopped or seized and it
is therefore in your interests to set up non US banking facilities so
we can get payment to you, there are no other options at this stage.

Please let me know if you have any questions and we’ll do our best to
help you in this difficult time.

Best Regards

Peter Hanford
Affiliate Manager

First, I'm on the mailing list but I'm not actually an affiliate, having pulled my banner when I long ago rethought what I wanted my blog to be about. Second, despite its nonprofessionalism, the mailing raises all sorts of interesting points, doesn't it? And how's that for the opening salvo of the new month? In like a lion, out with the bath and the baby, or something like that....

So exactly what are we to make of a line like this? "Unfortunately the messages out there are too strong and no financial institution or their subsidiaries are willing to touch the States, with many of them already under investigation."

Heck, it might be true. But I also doubt that Paradise has put full effort into obtaining a U.S.-facing payment processor or of setting up a payment-by-check system. Given its pullout from the player market, Paradise has a largely reduced need to arrange any special mechanism for such payments, and Paradise had a bit of a shifty reputation in dealing with affiliates, anyway. Speaking of shifting, this letter attempts to rather neatly shift the blame onto nefarious "others," partially true or not, absolving Paradise from any responsibility in the matter. How nice for them. And of course, for any Americans unwilling or unable to establish overseas corporations at a cost of several thousand dollars a pop, I guess Paradise just gets to keep the payments due those affiliates.

Color me unconvinced.

Notice this ominous line from later in the missive: "In recent weeks we have managed to wire some funds to US bank accounts, but the window of opportunity is soon to close." Note that what it specifically does not say is whom is doing the closing of the window. My guess it's Paradise, not wanting to bother with doing direct bank transfers for its U.S.-based affiliates.

Well, Paradise isn't much to worry about these days, anyway. It was my first online poker room, back in the day, though as I garnered knowledge of the online scene, I thought that the site combined poor customer service with a certain flair for promotions that leaned toward the ol' bait-and-switch style, so I departed for more forthright, if not necessarily greener, pastures.

Au revoir, Paradise, if ever. And since you're short-arming your affiliates as you depart, don't let the door hit you in the butt as you leave.