David Baker has typed up and shared on Twitter a brief report on his feelings about and experiences with the controversial Modiano cards being used at this year’s World Series of Poker. In it, he vents about the dealers’ unwillingness or inability to do anything about the problem, and even mentions one dealer who told him that they’ve been instructed not to discuss it in meetings. Most importantly, though, he points out why easily-damaged cards can compromise the game even when all players at the table are acting in good faith.
When one hears the term “marked cards,” what typically springs to mind is the image of deliberate cheating of the type Valeriu Coca has been accused of. Cards get dinged and scratched through normal wear, however, and one of the most common complaints about the Modiano cards is how easily and quickly this happens to them.
Still, if the damage is happening at random and to all the cards, then on first thought it would seem to require a conscious effort on the part of a player to take note of and memorize the patterns of damage visible on one card or another in order to distinguish them. What Baker points out is that this is not the case, and that the hands people choose to play or not play will affect how badly damaged a given card gets.
Baker points out that on average, bad cards get mucked quickly, while good cards tend to remain in players’ hands longer and therefore get re-checked and manipulated more than the bad ones, especially in the draw games, whose nature is such that players must periodically handle their cards in order to draw. This unequal handling means that after a number of hands, the accumulated damage on the good cards ends up being greater than on the bad ones. The best cards showing the most damage is a pattern which would be impossible not to notice once one has become aware of it, unlike the more conscious effort required to observe that a specific card has, say, a scratch or a dinged corner.
He provides several examples, including one from a hand of 2-7 Triple Draw in which he is dealt a card which is so obviously bent from repeated checking that he knows it will be a low card before he peeks: it turns out to be a 3. This is of course just anecdotal evidence, and you could argue that Baker may be suffering confirmation bias – perhaps another bent card turned out to be a Queen, but he promptly forgot about it because his prediction proved incorrect that time. Nonetheless, his argument makes a lot of sense, and more to the point, there shouldn’t be any question of whether the equipment is providing anyone an unfair advantage in a competition as important as the World Series of Poker.
Rumor has it that new and improved cards are on the way from Modiano, which will hopefully rectify the situation. This is yet to be confirmed by the series organizers, however, and unfortunately, we’re already about halfway through the series. Even if the problem is soon fixed, it’s impossible to know whether – and to what extent – events which have already run may have been affected by accidental marking of cards.
Update: Jack Effel has confirmed the above rumor that new cards are on the way.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.