Partouche Poker Tour

Partouche Poker Tour Cheating: Merci, No More

The past week’s revelation of alleged cheating and collusion at the final table of the 2009 Partouche Poker Tour main event adds another sordid tale to poker’s spotty history.  The alleged behavior of French players Jean-Paul Pasqualini and Cedric Rossi, who officially finished 1-2 in the tourney for a combined total of nearly $2.3 million, reminds us that the riches available in big-money poker tournaments often people who are less that honorable, and that a tournament or series that’s not willing to put the extra effort  into ensuring a fair game deserves the damaged legacy it will, inevitably, harvest.

The tale of Rossi and Pasqualini became a headline story after the publication of an eight-and-a-half-minute video on the small French poker news site Poker en Linge.  The video, put together by poker player and author Nordine Bouya, splices together action from about 18 hands from the final table of the PPT main event showing either Pasqualini and Rossi (and often both of them), apparently passing signals to each about their hole cards according to a pre-arranged system, touching their hands to various parts of their body as follows:

  • Ace: Top of Head / Scalp
  • King: Forehead
  • Queen: Eye
  • Jack: Nose
  • Ten: Mouth
  • Eight or Nine: Neck and Chin
  • Arms: Small Pair

The intent, of course, is by letting each other know what they hold, Pasqualini and Rossi were able to avoid getting into a big hand against each other, and improve their odds of moving on while other players were knocked out.

And that’s exactly what happened — and for the record, I’ve watched the video several times and I believe that Pasqualini and Rossi did cheat, blatantly and repeatedly.  The very worst hand appears about halfway through Bouya’s video, at 4:25 or so, where Pasqualini inexplicably folds his A-K to a three-bet from Rossi… who held A-A.  The tipoff?  Pasqualini’s smile:

ScreenHunter_01 Feb. 04 10.25

According to accounts from the tourney, Pasqualini was short-stacked as this hand occurred.  The actual exchange of signals can be seen just seconds prior, but the upshot is that Pasqualini should have been busto right here.  Instead, he folded, then went on a hot streak and won the tournament, almost certainly having cut a deal with Rossi beforehand to split the winnings.

What’s sick about this hand is that there’s no realistic way a player should be folding A-K in this situation, having a short stack of chips.  And, even if the very unlikely occurred — that being that he had a non-cheating, rock-solid read that Rossi had A-A, or K-K (the only two hands where a Pasqualini fold would be mathematically correct) — he’d be folding while steam was coming out of his ears, not happy about it, as the photo above shows.

To me, that’s a damning moment.  There is a classic post-action poker tell that comes into play here.  Novice and intermediate players invariably smile a bit when they’ve successfully executed a bluff; it’s an involuntary human psychological reaction having to do with the relief of having gotten away with something.  Veteran players learn to disguise that reaction, but here the framing situation is different and more complex, and Pasqualini just can’t cover up the smile at the game he’s just played.  It’s more than just running a bluff; it’s cheating to stay alive in the tourney, and he can’t help but grin a bit at the audacity of having succeeded.

It’s all slimy.  The sad aftermath of this adds to the lasting stink of the Partouche Tour, where allegations of cheathing were frequent and the claims of favoritism shown to local French players (a category that includes both Rossi and Pasqualini) rampant.

In this case either Rossi and Pasqualini likely helped themselves to a million dollars or so more from the prize pool than they should have earned, had they been honest.  And if they’d have been caught and bounced properly at the time, all that money should have went to the other players.  The biggest victim was the elderly third-place finisher, Gianno Giaroni, who has since passed away.  Giaroni officially cashed for about $510,000, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime run, and Pasqualini and Rossi robbed an old man and others of a chance for a million-dollar score.

Back at Poker en Ligne, the story rages on.  To date, there have been five features devoted to the Bouya video and related matters, including a heated denial by Pasqualini that’s been immediately discredited.  Even though Bouya’s video is poor, containing racist elements unnecessarily attacking Rossi’s and Pasqualini’s Corsican roots, the evidence in the video is still quite strong.  They cheated, and there’s no getting around it.

It was all just par for the PPT.  A year later, the Ali Tekintamgac affair brought a different form of cheating allegations to the Partouche final table, and in 2012, the Partouche organizers themseleves tried to cheat, by trying to avoid honoring their pre-tournament guarantee.  In that one, they finally acquiesced and made good on their promises, then folded the tour out of spite.

I’m guessing no one will miss it.  Its stink will hang around for a while.

As for Pasqualini and Rossi, they’re now damaged goods.  They got away with the riches, but as so often happens, the apparent truth in these things always seem to come out.

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