Brian Hastings took to Twitter yesterday to accuse Paul Dlugozima of failing to make good on a bet the two had over Hastings’ performance in this year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP). The two had apparently made an even-money $5000 bet regarding whether Hastings or Dylan Linde would perform better in the series, as measured by the points system used for the $25K WSOP Fantasy Draft.
Hastings’s name has come up often this summer, both due to his phenomenal performance during the WSOP, which won him the bet, and due to his alleged multi-accounting on PokerStars, which caused Dlugozima to call foul.
— Brian Hastings (@brianchastings) August 30, 2015
Halfway through the WSOP, Hastings was accused by David “Bakes” Baker of playing online at PokerStars under the screen name of “NoelHayes” rather than his usual “Stinger88.” In the modern high-stakes world, where players’ strategy is extremely opponent-specific, such play under a false identity is against the rules and generally regarded as equivalent to cheating. Although Hastings has not formally admitted to the allegations for legal reasons, his subsequent statements have more or less confirmed them, and he has begun making reparations to some of the players who had played against the NoelHayes account.
Back to the bet the in question, Hastings beat Linde in the WSOP draft standings by a margin of 257-3, but Dlugozima initially refused to pay up. Dlugozima did not respond to a request for comment, but according to Hastings, the reason he gave was that Hastings’ play on PokerStars under the NoelHayes account was something that needed to be disclosed for such a bet to be valid. Specifically, Dlugozima had made the bet in the belief that Hastings did not have sufficient experience to rate his own abilities accurately, was running hot, and could be expected to regress toward the mean in future.
Hastings vs. the “moral police”
Ever since the multi-accounting scandal broke, Hastings has been accusing both his fellow players and the poker media and community in general of hypocrisy. He insists that transgressions such as his are relatively minor compared to some of the other things which go on and, indeed, are carried out by some of the very people lambasting him.
When contacted about this story, Hastings had the following to say:
“These ‘moral police’ guys like Zima, Bakes, Andy McLeod who have [obviously] all made their own mistakes are very frustrating to deal with, especially since so many others in the poker community actually value their opinions. They are jealous, hateful people and brainwash others into thinking like them. It’s very sad all around.”
Most recently, Hastings has stated that he intends to quit poker and seek employment elsewhere, due to the “toxic” environment which poker fosters.
. @JakeWalters9 I agree. Applying for a job that has nothing to do with poker. Too much negativity and hypocrisy in poker world.
— Brian Hastings (@brianchastings) August 31, 2015
Necessary disclosure or valid edge?
Personally, I don’t think that Hastings’s multi-accounting was acceptable, and his subsequent apologies and reparatory payments are a straightforward scramble to salvage what he can of his reputation. That said, I also believe him when he says that few people at the top of the game would come up clean with sufficient digging.
More interesting to me, however, is Dlugozima’s argument that his WSOP bet with Hastings is invalid because of Hastings’ online misdeeds. After all, Hastings was playing as himself in the WSOP, not disguised as Noel Hayes. Whatever he did online had no direct impact on his performance in that live setting.
It might, however, have impacted Dlugozima’s decision-making. It’s much easier to gain experience playing online than live, and of course live players can’t manage the sort of volume that online players do, and are thus much more susceptible to variance (and therefore distorted self-perception) than online players. Dlugozima’s argument is, in effect, that he took the bet with the belief that Hastings was overrating himself, which he might not have believed if he’d known Hastings had been profiting consistently online in the meantime.
Proposition betting is a big part of the poker world, but one with which I don’t have much personal experience. One would have to be very naive, however, not to understand that asymmetric information is fundamental to being profitable on these bets. They’re almost always some variation on the classic pool hall hustle of losing some smaller-stakes games in order to coax an opponent into betting big on the next one.
Personally, I know one friend who formerly played basketball seriously and would bet people on whether he could jump high enough to touch various things. I also know an early adopter of body piercings who, back in the day before it was common, would take out her jewelry before a night out in order to bet older guys at the bar that she could stab a cocktail sword right through her tongue.
I don’t think you’d find many people – poker players or otherwise – who would insist that these friends of mine were obligated to disclose their respective histories of athleticism and/or body modification. Even when it comes to the stock market, our most formalized and respected method of gambling, the rules regarding insider trading are extremely narrow and hard to enforce. When it comes to one-on-one proposition betting, I think it goes without saying that it is always “buyer beware.”
That said, it is arguably relevant that the non-disclosed information about Hastings’ past was illegal, and undocumented specifically for that reason. I’m still not sure I would let Dlugozima off the hook for this, however. Consider a bet on an amateur boxing match, in which one fighter has officially fought only one prior bout, but turns out after the fact to have spent his youth as the muscle in an organized crime ring. Perhaps the other spent ten years training legally in a gym, also off the record. Does the legality or illegality of the competitors’ undocumented backgrounds affect the validity of the bet? I think I would have to say that it does not.
A struggle for the high ground
$5000 may seem like a lot of money to most of us, but for a guy living in the world Hastings currently inhabits, it’s really not that significant, just one buy-in to a tournament or a high-stakes cash game. It may be more meaningful for Dlugozima, but regardless, both men have insisted on turning this into a battle of morality, rather than legality.
@brianchastings it's fine buddy. I am sure people will draw their own conclusions. You are a known cheater, and my rep is spotless
— Paul Dlugozima (@zima421) August 31, 2015
Again, Dlugozima has not responded for comment, but his Tweets and private messages to Hastings – made public by the latter – indicate that his refusal to pay is as much motivated by a disdain for Hastings himself as by feeling cheated in the specific bet. That is, he feels justified in his treatment of Hastings based on the latter’s treatment of others. Hastings, meanwhile, had originally countered this ethical maneuvering by offering to allow Dlugozima to pay the $5000 to charity rather than himself.
The last and most recent twist to the saga is that Dlugozima agreed – according to Hastings – to pay the money to charity on August 2, then dragged his heels about actually doing so. On the 14th, he had still not done so, but told Hastings he would do so at the first opportunity. This Sunday, the 30th, he had apparently still not done so, which led to Hastings telling him that the charity offer was off the table, and that he once more was expecting to receive the $5000 personally. At that point, once the offer had been formally withdrawn, Dlugozima immediately made the charitable donation and sent confirmation to Hastings. This, in turn, was what led Hastings to go public with the story. This is Hastings’s timeline of events, at any rate.
— Brian Hastings (@brianchastings) August 31, 2015
Do two wrongs make a right? Can a post-hoc attempt to turn the second wrong into a right make the first wrong right as well? On the one hand, this is a personal dispute over what is a relatively minor bet in the grand scheme of things. On the other, it seems to me to be very typical of the ongoing fight over poker’s image, and even its soul. Are there any good guys anymore, or were there never any to begin with? Is there such a thing as an “honest gambler,” or is public perception just another angle to push in trying to get ahead in the hustle?
I honestly don’t know.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.