The high-stakes hullabaloo over alleged “ghosting” activity in an invitation-only, online-app-based poker cash game hosted by multimillionaire Bill Perkins has lit up the poker world through the entirety of the extended Memorial Day weekend and much of this past week, exposing what can only be described as the sad state of affairs in at least one portion of the game’s upper reaches. 

The strange tale began with accusations by Perkins, but no names, then moved on to Perkins pal Dan Bilzerian disclosing that elite “super pro” Daniel “Jungleman” Cates had participated in the game by surreptitiously playing on behalf of another of the group’s well-heeled but amateur players. That, in turn, led to a not-very-apologetic apology by Cates, who’s been down this ghosting road at least once before. Eventually, none of the known participants emerges as a sympathetic character, to few onlookers’ surprise.

The dustup began on Saturday when Perkins, @bp22 on Twitter, offered the following tease to his roughly 45,000 Twitter followers:

Perkins at first failed to offer further details, leading many observers to accuse him of inflating the seriousness of the situation. When pressed about his comparisons to the Postle situation, he described it as being more severe in a “financial” sense, though Perkins later acknowledged the situation wasn’t really as severe an example of cheating as the Postle-centered allegations, it instead being a heat-of-the-moment Tweet.

Information underflow

By Sunday, though, Perkins had offered few additional details, other than disclosing that the cheating was about ghosting (“pros playing on a fish account”) and it being in an app-based online game, in which participants typical settle up profits and losses after the game:

However, Perkins stoppered the flow of real information at that point. He declared he’d be naming the most egregious cheat no matter what, but was trading anonymity for the single person who’d confessed in exchange for information on other high-stakes games who’d been ghosting the game, a no-limit hold’em offering with $500/$1,000 blinds and a reported $1,000 ante as well.

As the weekend wore on, however, Perkins declared he’d been lied to again, having promised to not out the confessed cheat. That apparently pushed Bilzerian over the edge. Last Sunday, he named Cates, a/k/a “jungleman”, as one of the game’s ghosting players:

Racing to the bottom

Bilzerian pulled down that Tweet a few hours later, having partly misidentified Sina, whose last name isn’t Taleb, as well as posting the phone number of an innocent bystander. That said, several commenters suggested Sina or Cates had responded by threatening to out the misdeeds of Perkins, Bilzerian, and perhaps others of the game’s participants, which is a proper indicator of just how sleazy and blown out of the water the whole tale had become.

Cates, for his part, first Tweeted this response to the Bilzerian post, in which he didn’t actually deny doing the ghosting:

A couple of days later, he followed that up with the non-apologetic apology that really turned some heads. You can read it here. The last paragraph is perhaps the most interesting, and I’m not talking about Cates’ shoutout to Nick Schulman. Instead, the original version of Cates’ apology ended with this line: “To those who attacked my integrity, I forgive you.”

Floating ethics on display

That’s not quite off the scale as hubris goes, but it’s way, way up there. And that line in particular drew so much heat that Cates went back and deleted it a few hours later. Perhaps Cates might have discovered that money can’t buy universal praise. Then again, perhaps not.

Poker-world veterans might remember that Cates was outed as a ghosting player a decade ago, in the infamous “Girah” scandal on Lock Poker. Having trashed himself once, one might think that he’d be loath to get caught a second time, but no. What’s perhaps as much a surprise as anything is the way numerous high-stakes pros — Schulman included — have taken Cates’ line, essentially arguing that since ghosting online can be done, it’s automatically okay.

I’ve never bought that sort of trash. Imagine the obverse: Instead of this being a private game played via smartphone app, imagine instead that this game involved the same group of “friends”, but instead it was a live game taking place in Bill Perkins’ basement. What if, during such an imagined game, one of the invitees suddenly opened the door to allow his friend Daniel Cates in, then allowed Cates to view his hand, see the board, and whisper advice into the player’s ear each and every hand.

That’s what ghosting is, after all. It’s an utter violation of poker’s “one player to a hand” tradition. I think it’s a form of cheating, and a lot of other players think it is as well. Now, I get that a player as talented as Cates might have trouble finding his way into games as juicy as he’d like. But you know what? That’s part of poker, too. In a way, this reminds of all those heads-up no-limit players who threatened to go on strike a couple of years ago against PokerStars. Their argument in large part was that Stars owed them the right to make a living at poker, a stance I find as hilariously self-entitled today as I did back then.

I think the attitude of Cates and his supporters is every bit as arrogant and self-entitled. Some “pros” think it’s about getting the money at all costs. Others recognize that there are indeed limits.

As for this trio of big names, none of them come out looking better than before. Perkins appeared to most to be in full diva mode for several days. Bilzerian was Bilzerian, meaning obnoxious, though for Bilz haters the highlight was probably Perkins allowing in another Tweet that no, Bilzerian isn’t really a very good player. Though there’s a very thin possibility that Bilzerian actually did score a huge pot or two in those “Molly’s Game” games, no one with half a brain has ever believed that the real source of Bilzerian’s millions was anything other than his convicted father’s stolen investment funds. This episode does nothing to change that.

And then there’s Cates. Talented as all git, yet most people just don’t care.

By the way, I’d guess that ultra-high-stakes, invite-only app-based game that once included all these peeps is now… dead as can be. That’s what all this produced.

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