Thursday, August 10, 2006

An Example of Lax Chip Security at the WSOP

(Blogger's note -- I've been having trouble uploading two of three images referenced within this story. Nonetheless, I wanted to get the piece up, and I'll add in the images once the tech issues have been resolved.)

With the chip counts of the WSOP Main Event adding up to either a little bit more or a whole lot more than the original $87,730,000 of chips that were placed into play, one of the questions that's arisen in the last couple of days has been --- are the chip counts off? How did these chips get there? What's going on?

The latest word, courtesy of Pauly's blog via Michael Craig, is that there is an extra $2.41 million in chips on the table as the final players take the stage. I believe Michael. According to Pauly:

"Some are dead stacks like Minh Nguyen's snafu. Some are color ups. And some are chips stolen from other tournaments and introduced into the main event."

Yes, yes, and yes --- and now to add possibility #4, the theft and resurfacing of chips during the Main Event itself, connected to the color-ups but not in the way Pauly or the others have mentioned. Let me tell you a little story...

Below you'll see a diagram, very crudely created, put together by yours truly. Hey, I'm no art student --- I paint with words. But this diagram will show a section of the Amazon, beginning with the mid-point of the room (lower left) and working toward the north and east, the quarter of the room where the tables are kept running the longest.

The tables should be pretty evident, but a few other things need detailing. The "Tour. Podm." is the tournament podium that was erected at the center of the hall before Day Three play began. It required a climb-up of several steps to gain entry, and off to its north (north is up in the diagram, more or less), an additional open-air standing area rose well above the floor. Play is continuing in the quadrant of the room that I've shown a portion of in the diagram, as well in the quadrant off to the left of the diagram's edge, where I've just hinted at a couple of the tables.

An hour or two after the bubble bursts and all the remaining players are in the money, we reach the level break where it's time to color up and run off all the $100 chips. Lots of $500 pinks are wheeled out from the secure chip lockers located against the back wall --- the area that supervisor Jay Gullo patrols --- on an open-air two-tiered cart. Gullo doesn't run the cart, though, it's the task of an assistant supervisor to bring the chips out to the various dealers on the floor.

And this guy wheels the cart full of $500 chips, in chip racks, but splayed around the top of the cart a bit, from the voyage through the aisles, to a spot below the podium. The cart is the small rectangle with the "C" in it. There's a single security guard stationed nearby, who I've represented with the little "G" in the circle.

Now the assistant supervisor leaves the cart in the middle of this area, which is about 10 or 15 feet wide, and it's subject to traffic of all sorts. The opening next to the podium is one of only three through which players, media, and fans leaving the feature area can pass, without climbing over the rail and through the crowd itself. The cart is so close to the players at the corner table that Tyler Pendleton actually bumps it once when he leans back in his chair; Pendleton is one of the personal stories that I uncovered and followed, as is Day Three "chip and a chair" story Jonathan Diamond, plus Hans "Tuna" Lund. The next table has David Chiu, Cameron Frye [Ferris Bueller] lookalike Mark Zadjner, and for a short while, Layne Flack. Hellmuth's in the area, as is T.J. for a shorter while, talking with Lund, and Hellmuth crisscrosses the space and lounges there as he makes trips up to the feature table, and nearby tables holding Annie Duke and Daniel Negreanu. Fans wander through, many leaving the ESPN bleachers deeper in.

Want worse? There were a half a dozen of us low-level, red-badged newbies in the general vicinity as well, milling around there because we could only get "perimeter" access. Oh, and let's not forget the rushing ESPN camera crews and Card Player chip counters themselves, nor the big ESPN boom cam that was positioned about where the words "Cash Games" appear, and distracted everyone (players included) as it made low, swoop-in pan shots only a foot or two above the players.

The assistant tournament director who wheeled the cart out for use in the pending chip-up, an hour or so away, leaves the cart unguarded. He walks into deeper into the maelstrom. The other WSOP suits in the vicinity are looking inward, too, and the ones stationed up above are so far up and back that the cart (positioned beneath them) is actually out of their sight lines.

Here's a photo of the interior of the booth, taken the following day. (Okay, so there's a lot of snacks and beverages up in the booth, so sue 'em, whatever.) But the front railing that you see is not only overly broad, it's seven or more feet above the ground. From that vantage point, they can look out across the floor and see what tables are still in play, but they couldn't see any hanky-panky directly beneath them, should said hanky-panky occur. Take a look for yourself:

The assistant tournament comes back from the middle of the floor; I'm just staring there at this abandoned cart with its rackfuls of $500 chips. "Hey, you," the guy yells, to the single security guard, who's actually had to go out into the crowd, fifteen or twenty feet, to shoo people off tables and chairs. "It's your job to watch this cart," the assistant supervisor declares, then walks off again.

The security guard shrugs. He can't argue, but he's got no chance to comply, and when I wander by later, he's back out in the crowd, wrestling with stupid railbirds who continue to do something that puts them at risk of self-injury, and of Harrah's on the wrong end of a personal-injury lawsuit. So the guard's priorities are in order as he's been taught, but the end result is that the cart goes unguarded and unwatched for two, three, five minutes. And even later, when the assistant supervisor returns and starts delivering the chips to tables, he drags the cart behind him as he works his way along the outside of the player's area, rather than through the largest aisle one row of tables in, because that one's clogged with ESPN crews and other suits. So he's dragging the cart behind him, eyes on it maybe one fifth of the time, literally tantalizing hundreds of onlookers with racks of pink chips within easy arm's reach.

And you wonder how extra chips can get into play.

The people inside the ropes varied by the minute, and even then, the chips were about as unsecure as could be. One of the three members of John Diamond's crew was way inside the ropes, long after Diamond had finally busted, but with his Bluff t-shirt on (rightmost dude in photo above), half the people just took him for an errand runner who'd misplaced his badge. (Unless they got real close, when they could smell that he was tanked.) Nor am I saying that the kid took any of the chips, because I don't think he did --- I'm just saying the the situation was out of control, and the opportunity to steal chips was there for him, me, or almost anyone. Well, I didn't take any --- but I saw the opportunity, and it wouldn't surprise me if someone made off with a rack or two from their convenient perch.

1 comment:

Matt said...

You should've called this post "diagram of a debacle". Or "illustration of idiocy". Or "Harrah's fucking sucks."

Either way nice work.