Inner world of online poker far cry from casinos

AP News
Posted: Apr 20, 2011 5:12 PM
Inner world of online poker far cry from casinos

The crackdown on the nation's Internet poker industry has put the spotlight on a shadowy world where players all around the world engage in a supercharged form of gambling on a daily basis _ all without leaving their homes.

It's a far different atmosphere than casinos, where gamblers have to play one hand at a time and wait for dealers to shuffle cards and opponents to make decisions. There, the smarter players will attempt to read their opponents to notice "tells," a sign a person gives off that can show strength or weakness in a hand.

On the Internet, people constantly play multiple tables or hands at once, wagering from minuscule amounts like 10 cents to hundreds of thousands of dollars in a hand. With no way to read their opponents expressions' and body language, most players try to pick up clues through betting patterns, while some sophisticated competitors rely on special software that tracks players' betting tendencies and quantifies their weaknesses. The information can track, for example, that a player has a tendency to over-bet weak hands, allowing his opponent to exploit those weaknesses.

Like in live poker, the best players are known as "sharks," and the weaker ones are "fish." The good players live for the opportunity to devour the bankroll of a "fish," often relying heavily on the tracking software to wipe out opponents.

For 25-year-old Michael Borg of Sacramento, the shutdown of Full Tilt Poker has meant he can't play Rush Poker, a spruced-up version of Texas Hold 'em on the site that bounces players from table to table immediately after they finish a hand. There's nothing comparable in a casino.

The switch between hands happens within half a second, and even one Rush table at once isn't enough for Borg.

"I was playing four Rush Poker tables, which is like the equivalent of 16 tables in terms of hands per hour played," he said. "Literally every minute that you're doing it, you're engaged and you're actively making decisions."

"So when you're doing poker for three hours it feels like you're working a regular job for eight," he said.

Poker players who want to compete online typically go to one of the three main sites _ PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker _ and fund their accounts through a credit card.

But federal law makes it illegal for banks to knowingly process such transactions. Prosecutors say the poker sites have manipulated the system by creating fraudulent intermediaries to process the transactions and trick the banks into thinking the money is going toward legitimate purposes when in fact it's going to an off-shore gambling site.

The stakes can be incredibly high online.

In 2009, online sensation Tom "durrrr" Dwan issued a challenge to all high-stakes poker players: to play heads-up at four tables at once for 50,000 hands in no-limit Texas Hold 'em or pot-limit Omaha, with minimum bets of at least $200 and $400. After 50,000 hands, Dwan offered to pay any opponent $1.5 million if they came out ahead. If Dwan wins, the opponent would have to pay $500,000.

Players including Patrik Antonius and Phil Ivey have accepted the challenge, and Daniel "Jungleman12" Cates is up $1.25 million on Dwan through 19,335 hands in 19 sessions, according to Full Tilt.

A session late last month that lasted just over two hours yielded pots worth more than $108,000, $101,000 and nearly $97,000.

The amounts are enough to buy a modest home in Las Vegas _ and enough to make even the city's biggest gamblers pay attention.


Oskar Garcia covers gambling and casinos for the AP in Las Vegas. Reach him on Twitter at