The WSOP Card Debacle: Players Question Game Integrity Over Poor Quality, Fixes Don’t Go Far Enough

Steve Ruddock June 28, 2017 2431 Reads
WSOP poor card quality

There’s no longer any doubt: The World Series of Poker has a card problem.

Players have been complaining on social media about the quality, or lack thereof, of the Copag playing cards specially made for the WSOP.

The problem with the WSOP cards

The consensus is the cards are inferior to the decks used in other card rooms and on other poker tours. As such, they are easily marked.

This isn’t simply a case of poker players nitpicking. Even though different decks were used, the quality of the cards was enough of a concern that the One Drop High Roller tournament had to take a break when players noticed the cards were marked.

The One Drop stoppage was initially explained away as an issue with the automatic shuffler. But as the series has worn on and the quality of the cards has become an issue, it’s hard to believe the card quality didn’t play a factor.

It wasn’t until a tweet on Tuesday night by poker pro DJ MacKinnon that people not at the WSOP finally understood how big of a problem the playing cards are.

This should have been solved already

As the issue stretches into its fourth week, poker players have gone from annoyed to infuriated as marked cards continue to turn up in play.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the situation is that it’s not the first time card quality has been an issue at the WSOP. It could have been avoided by using higher quality cards — the same cards in use at the casino’s blackjack and other card game tables, and used by poker tournaments around the globe.

The cards should have been tested before the series. Backup decks should have been ready in case problems arose.

It does appear the WSOP has switched to a higher quality card for $10,000 events. But based on MacKinnon’s tweet the cards are still in use in other events.

I’d speculate the reason for this is they haven’t been able to get their hands on enough higher quality decks to replace all of the lower quality ones.

Is it a player problem or a card problem?

There is a group of players, that includes poker pro Allen Kessler, who feel the issue is overblown, and if players would simply be a bit gentler with the cards the issue would disappear.

But as poker pro Matt Glantz told US Poker, if it’s the players than why aren’t marked cards an issue at other tournaments and in poker rooms across the country?

“Poker players play cash games and tournaments all year round at casinos all around the country, and the cards are rarely if ever an issue,” Glantz said. “It’s not the players; it’s the cards!”

Kessler later clarified that he thought the cards were substandard, but the wear and tear was also due to rough handling by some players.

Game integrity at the core of the issue

Glantz, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the cards on social media, sees this as a serious issue that goes straight to the core of poker’s integrity.

“Game integrity is a huge question when these cards are in use,” he said. “Any cards the venue uses at its poker tables, it should also be willing to use in its blackjack and other pit games. Why should the casino put poker players at risk with substandard cards when it would never take that risk itself and use these cards in its blackjack games?”

Glantz finds it hard to believe a casino would willingly use these cards in any of their house-banked card games.

“If it did use these cards in blackjack, the casino would soon be out of business,” he said.

Why it’s such a big problem

The marks may be inadvertent, but as Matt Glantz implies, the sheer number of marked cards could lead to complacency and indifference. That creates the perfect environment for real card-markers to ply their trade.

“It’s bad enough that the cards are of such bad quality that they can be so easily and inadvertently marked,” Glantz began. “But what’s really concerning is that because of the constant marks on the cards, it give cheaters, card-markers, the easiest platform ever to do their mischievous work with very little chance of getting caught.”

And make no mistake about, just like a poker player looks for the most profitable game, if cheaters know cards are easier to mark in “casino x,” they’ll stop going to “casino y.”

As MacKinnon’s picture shows, the cards are so marked up it becomes impossible to determine if a mark is intentional or inadvertent… unless you are the cheater who put very specific marks on the cards and know which marks are intentional and which aren’t.

Final thoughts on the WSOP cards

This isn’t an inconvenience, or the usual poker player gripes about start times and tanking. Marked cards, intentional or not, are a serious issue.

As Jesse Martin learned, even if a mark is unintentional, other players can still use it to their advantage if they want to.

Yes, the players could be gentler with the cards, but it’s possible to use cards that render this moot. And it wouldn’t solve the central problem: the use of substandard playing cards.

The supplies used in a poker room should act as a deterrent to cheaters, it shouldn’t embolden them.