Called to Account

Called to Account

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Eve Goodman on the multi-accounting debate

In online poker, we have all encountered the paranoid loser. The poor fool who cannot suffer a suckout without plaintively bleating ‘jokerstars’ into the disinterested abyss of the chatbox, or wailing piteously that the site is ‘full of cheaters’. Most often, peace of mind dictates that we dismiss them as mere butthurt conspiracy theorists, most likely gently rocking back and forth in a basement somewhere all the while wearing a fetching tinfoil hat. However, murmurs in the poker community about cheating have only intensified over recent years, with one of the most hotly debated issues being that of multi-accounting.

Multi-accounting, often referred to as MAing in poker forum shorthand, refers to the practice of using multiple accounts to play on one poker client. Although the size of the advantage that this gives to the multi-accounting player is debatable, it is essentially the difference between facing a reg (whom you may have notes, hand histories and therefore instinctive reads on), and a nameless, faceless unknown. This edge is obviously most pronounced in high-stakes games where the player pools tend to be more familiar with each other. While the multi-accounting player often has knowledge of his opponent’s playing style gleaned from past hands together, as far as the opponent knows he is up against an entirely new player and completely in the dark. By the time the opponent adjusts or realises he is playing someone familiar, they may be too late and more than several buy-ins down.

The issue was dragged into the spotlight last September when the shit really hit the fan in an explosive high-stakes row. This happened when English pro Luke ‘FullFlush’ Schwartz accused Jared ‘harrington25’ Bleznick of multi-accounting on PokerStars. Bleznick, Schwartz alleged, was fraudulently behind accounts such as ‘longerpig’ and ‘Gozoboro’, as well as his main ‘harrington25’ handle. Schwartz blasted the New Yorker for this, saying in chat “I think it’s wrong […] not knowing who your [sic] playing”.

Luke Schwartz 2

Can multi-accounting really be equated to cheating, though? The PokerStars terms and conditions clearly say that it is, stating categorically that “It is prohibited for a User to open multiple accounts with PokerStars [10.4]”, duly threatening to freeze the funds of any player caught doing so. The fact that it is a ban-incurring offence seems to unwaveringly define it as a wholly unacceptable practice.

Through the eyes of many, however, the issue is not so black and white, but rather something akin to the silvery grey of Doyle Brunson’s cowboy-hat-flattened locks. Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan denies that multi-accounting is cheating, as expressed in a controversial post on the 2+2 forums:

“multiaccounting isnt cheating. its a flawed rule that the sites try to enforce partly for their own benefits. that said in the current climate u shouldn't do it, just like u shouldn't angleshoot in a poker game. but angling and throwing in a chip that looks like a raise intentionally, while scummy, is way different than marking the cards and knowing all of them.”

Durrrr 2

Reactions to this, predictably, were mixed, and many big name pros jumped into the fray to give their two cents. One of these was online wizard Ben ‘Milkybarkid’ Grundy, appearing to sympathise with Bleznick in his assertion that often good players have no choice but to multi-account since they “can’t find anyone that will give them action HU”. Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates struck a similar note, saying that the only problem with multi-accounting is “a matter of technicality”, and it is only “unethical because it breaks the rules”.

Not all pros in the discussion were quite as relaxed, however. Nosebleed veteran Ben ‘Sauce123’ Sulsky made an appearance in the thread in order to “clarify exactly how much of an advantage MAing is/can be”, while former Two Months Two Million star Dani ‘Ansky’ Stern attacked Dwan’s casual stance:

“So very disappointing to see you [Dwan] post this. Surely you realize you are looked up to and when you speak people listen. You didnt exactly give multi accounting your consent, but why post anything even mildly condoning it? We aren't talking about someone playing on someone else's account occasionally while they are bored or something. This is extremely deliberate and malicious multi accounting being used to squeeze out every cent available, from already winning players.”

Much like Stern, many 2+2 commenters seem to feel that multi-accounting should be more than simply frowned on, describing it as a long-running injustice that needs to be tackled by poker sites. But practical solutions as to how exactly large sites can effectively police this are few and far between. While the use of webcams has been gingerly suggested by some, this is obviously something that many high-stakes pros would be extremely reluctant to agree to, and is problematic in the context of online gameplay.

Overall, in a game where the market seems to be becoming more and more saturated with competent players every year, the fight to maintain a competitive edge becomes that much fiercer. But just how far it is legitimately acceptable to go to keep that edge? It is a basic truth that poker is a game where success depends on the effective deception of your opponent. In light of this, perhaps the expectation that all players should present themselves fairly and honestly – in this case maintaining a consistent online identity – is a naïve one. Even the most courteous and honourable player is out to make his money by misleading and preying on the weaknesses of others, and this is a fact that is hard to gloss over.

Whether or not multi-accounting is technically cheating or not seems to be a matter of personal opinion. One thing that is generally agreed upon, however, is that it is an unscrupulous practice, and that scandals like these are deplorably unhelpful in the fight to re-legalise online poker in the US. It will not be until the game is able to move away from its persistent associations of dishonesty, degeneracy and fraud that it stands a chance of being recognised as legitimate by the American government, and multi-accounting is arguably a significant part of this problem.

Tags: multi-accounting, eve goodman