The Cheater Challenge

(I’m going to leave names out of this post because I think it applies to a lot of people, many of whom I don’t know about. Obviously I have some specific people in mind, though.)

I’ve had a lot of discussions over the past year or so with known former cheaters and friends of known former cheaters. A lot of them feel that the sort of incessant verbal abuse directed at them on the internet (and much much less often, in real life) is unfair. Their arguments of course vary, but usually the gist will be something like this: “I made mistakes in the past. I’m a different person now. I can’t take back my actions.”

I agree. I believe strongly in forgiveness, and I absolutely hate the idea of giving known former cheaters no chance of redemption and therefore very little incentive to avoid cheating, scamming, and stealing in the future. So, I’d like to try to do something about this.

While I don’t claim to speak for the peanut gallery and I certainly can’t control their opinions, I do think I know enough about the poker community to know how former cheaters (and likely former scammers and thieves as well) can salvage their reputations with the majority of its members. Frankly, it’s pretty obvious, but most known former cheaters are too busy feeling like victims to actually proactively try to make up for what they’ve done, and the community seems to be mostly interested in insulting cheaters and arguing about whether they deserve to be insulted. So, in order to nudge both parties towards a solution, I present The Cheater Challenge:

If you are a former cheater and you would like to reform your reputation, simply do the following:

  1. Come clean about ALL of your cheating.

    If not all of your cheating has been made public, make it public. Even if it is all public, you should make it clear what happened. People have a right to know what you’ve done, and you owe it to those that you’ve cheated to admit exactly what happened. You can do this through whatever medium you’d like, be it a blog, a forum, or whatever else. If you’d like, you can e-mail me at noahsd (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ll post your statement here.

    Of course, if it turns out that you left something out, that certainly won’t look good for you.

  3. Pay your victims back.

    If you won money from cheating, that money does not belong to you; it belongs to the victims of your cheating. So, you should give it back. I can’t stress this enough, so I’ll just say it again: People lost money because you chose not to play by the rules. You should feel bad about that, and you should try to make it right.

    If you refuse to do this, then you are acknowledging that the money that you’ve earned is worth more to you than the hit to your reputation that your cheating caused. This leads to two points: First, it gives people absolutely no reason to assume that you won’t cheat, scam, or steal in the future. If you don’t care about your reputation (and your integrity) enough to give back ill-gotten money to repair it, then why should anyone expect you to pass up opportunities to cheat, scam, and steal when there’s a chance that you won’t even be caught and your already damaged reputation might not even suffer further harm? Second, your cheating has clearly benefited you more than it’s hurt you in this case, so you certainly have no right to complain about some name-calling and ostracizing. In fact, you clearly haven’t been punished enough.

    I’ll discuss how much you should pay and how you should distribute it below.

  5. Announce how much you’ve paid back, and provide evidence that you’ve done it.

    Again, you can post on 2p2, Pocket Fives, your blog, or wherever. And, again, if you’d like, you can e-mail me at noahsd (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ll confirm via TeamViewer and post the info here.

  7. Live a cleaner-than-clean life afterwards.

    If you’re a former cheater, even if you’ve paid people back, you’ll be under heightened scrutiny. So, things that might be considered to be in a gray area for most will be off limits for you. And, obviously, if you cheat, attempt to repair your reputation, and then cheat again, people likely won’t forgive you a second time.

Again, while I certainly can’t control the poker community, I think that this would be enough to appease the vast majority of the masses. At the very least, if you do this, you’ll be a mench in my eyes. You’re not a scumbag if you do something wrong; you’re a scumbag if you do something wrong and don’t try to make it right.

Of course, if you read this and choose not to accept the challenge, that says a lot about your character. This is an opportunity to effectively take back what you’ve done, and if you refuse to take it, even after having it laid out for you clearly here, you’ll be deciding that you deserve the money that you took from your victims more than your victims do. And that would make you a scumbag.

How Can the Community Help?

Most people in the poker community choose one of the following strategies when dealing with cheaters: ignoring them, mocking them, flipping out at them, or defending them.

If you ignore them, that’s perfectly understandable, and I certainly don’t blame you if you continue to do so. You should keep yourself up to speed with these sorts of things if you do many transactions in the poker world, though, because it’s unfortunately quite easy to end up scammed, robbed, or cheated.

If you make fun of them and/or rant angrily about them, however, then you should start mentioning The Cheater Challenge. Instead of calling them scumbags for the fact that they’ve cheated, call them scumbags for the fact they still haven’t repaid the victims of their cheating, and let them know that you’ll no longer think they’re scumbags if they make things right by taking The Cheater Challenge. Hell, feel free to make fun of them and rant angrily about them more than you did before, since now your jabs will actually serve a purpose beyond humor and catharsis: You’ll actually be suggesting a solution. And, of course, true to your word, don’t bother those who do step up.

If you defend them, I’d like it if you thought about this challenge and considered what it means for someone to refuse. In particular (and I just can’t say this enough), a former cheater who refuses to take this challenge is making it pretty damn clear that he does not regret his actions. That doesn’t sit well with me, and I’d be surprised if it sits well with you. (Of course, if someone takes the Cheater Challenge, they’re clean in my eyes, and I’ll defend them with you.)


That’s the gist, but I anticipate some confusion. So, I’ll rant about a few points:

How Much Does a Cheater Owe, and How Should He Distribute It?

Well, if someone lost money to a cheater; that’s unfair. So, if a cheater won money from somebody while cheating, he should pay it back. If he lost money to someone or broke even against him while cheating, the cheater owes nothing. This just seems really obvious to me. Yes, this means that you will be a net loser from your cheating, but I don’t really think that you should have much say in the matter–People lost money to you in an unfair way, and they deserve their money back.

Some people will argue that the appropriate thing to do is for the cheater only to pay back net winnings or to try and calculate the edge that the cheater gained from cheating and pay back that amount (whether it’s more or less than the amount they actually won). That’s completely ridiculous, though. That’s like asking a bank robber to hand over the cash, but then paying him back for his totalled getaway car and confiscated gun. (I’m really wary of moral analogies, but I think that one is pretty spot on.)

So, if you cheated in online cash games, the solution is pretty easy. Open up your site’s transfer feature and your favorite tracking software, filter for when you cheated, go to the vs. players tab, and start sending money to everyone that you beat. If your site doesn’t have a transfer feature, you don’t have tracking software, or you don’t have all the hands from when you cheated, contact me and I’ll figure it out.

If you cheated in online tournaments, the situation is a bit more complicated. The ideal solution would be to bump everyone who placed below you up one spot in the payout structure. The sites might be willing to help do that, or in some cases it might be practical to just do it by hand. In other cases, you might have to do something less exact. Regardless, you should contact me, and I’ll figure it out.

For anything else, just e-mail me at noahsd (at) gmail (dot) com, and we’ll come up with something fair.

Various excuses

I’ve made this argument to a bunch of different former cheaters already, and I’ve heard a lot of excuses, so I thought I’d address some. Frankly, this feels a bit like I’m setting up strawmen because these excuses are so terrible, but I actually hear them consistently:

  1. “Other people cheated too.” Yes, they did. That doesn’t make cheating okay; it just means that other people did it too. (And, of course, if you know of cheating that the public doesn’t know about, you should make it public. You might think that that’s mean to your buddy the cheater, but the important thing is that it’s the right thing to do for those who were cheated.)
  2. “But I lost the money.” Well, that wasn’t your money to lose. If you have money right now, you owe that to the people that you cheated. (I’ve actually had people say that they lost the money that they won from cheating and now have made “other” money, so they don’t owe anything anymore. I feel dumb having to point out why that doesn’t make sense.) If you don’t have money right now, you should set up a payment plan. I’m willing to help, of course.

    The only exception is if you lost the money directly because of the cheating. In other words, if you got funds confiscated because of cheating and the amount was equal to or greater than the amount that you would have paid, then you don’t owe anything. But, if you degened the money away or got robbed or got cheated yourself or spent it to pay for medical bills for your sick grandmother or whatever else, that money wasn’t yours to lose, so you should repay your victims.
  3. “What about Shmee Shmashmibertay?” This comes up every time anyone talks about punishing people for cheating. Everyone is terrified that Guy might be punished and that that might discourage similar whales from coming around later. First of all, cheating is cheating independent of motives or how good you are at poker. If basic ethical decisions scare fish away, that doesn’t make them wrong.

    But, if a player’s opponents are ok with him using multiple accounts (or having a fifth card in PLO or getting to see one of his opponent’s hole cards on the river or whatever else) that’s obviously fine. It isn’t cheating if your opponents know about it and are ok with it, and in particular, I don’t really have a problem with multiaccounting if everyone knows who they’re playing. Plus, the natural method of punishment only requires payment if you won money from somebody. So, if there’s some guy out there who lost money to Guy and didn’t know he was playing Guy at the time, then Guy owes him money. I sorta doubt that that guy exists, though, given the pretty unique circumstances.

What Counts as Cheating?

This is a really difficult question in general. Some things are against the rules of the sites, but IMHO are clearly not cheating (e.g. playing underage). Some things weren’t considered to be cheating in the past but are now (e.g. multiaccounting). Some things aren’t against the rules but clearly are cheating (e.g. grimming).

In general, the purpose of this is for cheaters to have an opportunity to rehabilitate their reputations with the poker community, and all I’m doing is suggesting a method that I think will work. So, I suppose if the community thinks it’s cheating, then this should apply. Obviously, this leaves some gray area since the community doesn’t have one voice. But, luckily, in almost all cases, the community is actually in pretty strong agreement. For example, if you multiaccounted in the last year, you cheated; if you profited from the superusing on UB, you cheated; if you colluded, you cheated, etc.

Of course, I have my own personal thoughts on some of the gray areas, and true to form, I can’t help but post them. But, I should reiterate that I don’t think I have the right to decide this question for everybody. I simply have my own opinions and some reasoning to back them up. I’d love it if everybody agreed with me because I think they’re quite reasonable guidelines, but ethics are debatable. In particular, you don’t have to agree with me here to agree with the idea of The Cheater Challenge.

Indeed, I fully anticipate some people being labeled cheaters and asked to take this challenge who I don’t consider to be cheaters and some people who I do consider to be cheaters being given a pass by the community. That’s just part of life in the shades-of-gray world of poker ethics.

Anyway, here are my opinions on what I think are the three most debatable questions here:

  1. The line on multiaccounting (et al.) is blurry and drawn on the internet. The general consensus about multiaccounting in cash games or multiaccounting in tournaments (which are definitely separate issues) is that each was once acceptable but is no longer. Of course, there’s no clear time when suddenly multiaccounting in cash games became unethical, nor is there one for multiaccounting in tournaments. However, there is clear evidence saved for posterity on the internet that set clear boundaries on these dates. So, I suggest the following rules: Multiaccounting in cash games was ok when people were still posting hands on 2p2 that said “I think this is a second account/shared account” and nobody batted an eyelash. (Here’s an example from Jan of 2007.) Multiaccounting was not ok in cash games after threads started appearing on 2p2 in which the mob was up in arms about it. (Note that I don’t care at all why you multiaccounted. Everyone who got caught multiaccounting says they didn’t do it to gain an edge. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t gain an edge.) A similar rule can apply to multiaccounting in tournaments or anything else that used to be considered kosher but now isn’t: It was ok when it was openly talked about on 2p2 without much negative feedback, and it was not ok after people started being attacked for doing it. Of course, these rules aren’t clear-cut; there may be times when the community was pretty clearly divided or times when people weren’t comfortable talking about this stuff publicly but also weren’t being attacked for it. But, this should handle the vast majority of cases.
  2. Datamining, PTR, Sharkscope, OPR, etc. are ok with me. This is obviously going to be a controversial opinion, but I really don’t have a problem with people datamining or using datamining services. I just don’t see what’s wrong with people gathering publicly available information, and I have a problem with poker rules bleeding into what people do away from the table. Sites obviously have no right to tell you not to use these services when you don’t even have their client open, and I see very little difference between looking up someone’s datamined stats between sessions and doing it during a session. (Note: This is my opinion on how the community should view players who datamine for themselves or use a datamining service. I do think that the services themselves are operating in a moral gray area and that the current situation isn’t great, and I discuss solutions to this in some of my other posts.)
  3. Ghosting isn’t cool, but there are clearly degrees. I don’t think that ghosting should be accepted in general because people have a right to know who they’re playing. But, I have a hard time caring much about somebody giving his buddy help on one hand. Frankly, I’m sure I’ve done this occasionally without even thinking about it. I think that that’s something that we shouldn’t do, and I regret doing it myself. But, it’s natural for poker players to talk about hands with each other, and occasionally people won’t think to bite their tongues until the hand is over. However, things get much more serious in my opinion when ghosting is systematic. E.g., if one person is clicking all the buttons but another person is making most of the decisions, that’s just multiaccounting by another name, and it should be treated as such.

Anyway, as I said, I don’t think that these are my calls to make. These are just my opinions on the three grayest areas (and they’re really not even that gray in most cases), and most situations are much much clearer than what’s outlined above. So, I hope you don’t end up taking away from that tangent that identifying cheating is difficult–In almost all cases, almost everyone in the community is in agreement.


So that’s my rant. I hope some people take me up on this. Honestly, it just seems totally obvious to me that this is what should happen. (I removed a lot of instances of the word “obviously” from this before posting it.)


  1. The Cheater Challenge | NoahSD's Awesome Poker Blog | My Blog - pingback on April 4, 2011 at 3:11 pm
  2. Good post. However, I am not anxious to be receiving transfers from known cheaters in this age of account association. There’s got to be some better way.

  3. Hey Noah, take of those rose tinted glasses. Rehabilitating cheaters…..get a grip on reality.

  4. well written post and i’m glad someone said it.
    i would like to state the obvious that if you get caught cheating twice you just can not be trusted, regardless of completing the challenge the first time, or the second time for that matter.
    also i disagree that ghosting (if we have the same definition) is cheating. i think it’s a good tool for coaching people, and stars doesn’t have a rule against it (mostly because it just can not be enforced, see your other post). when you’re watching someone play, whether or not you give them advice on how to play the current hand, you can ask them why they did what they did, which is very important for coaching imho. and as long as you’re watching someone and coaching them you may as well tell them to play the way you want them to always be playing anyway.

  5. Frankly, it’s pretty obvious, but most known former cheaters are too busy feeling like victims to actually proactively try to make up for what they’ve done,

  6. I have seen a lot of tools online that promise to cheat at poker, even “pro tools” but I highly doubt any of them actually work. I’m fairly certain most poker sites and even live poker places maintain an eye out for such people. I cannot stand cheaters!

  7. Data-mining isn’t a problem, as the data is normally widely available, and different sites offer this information. Obviously beware of any online “bots or helper tools” because they often do the opposite of helping.

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