Player Caught Marking Cards at the Battle of Malta – What Penalty Would You Give? 

  • The offending player in the Main Event marked Aces and Kings at least eight times
  • A new dealer was instructed to examine every card as she retrieved them
  • A player was caught red-handed within two hands with the new dealer
  • The cheater only received a one-orbit penalty from the floorperson
Negative view of player looking at hole cards
A player was caught marking cards at the Battle of Malta. What do you think his punishment should have been? [Image:]

Controversy at the Battle of Malta

The Battle of Malta has been known to court controversy. From topless dealers to accusations of the poor treatment of dealers, from hiring disgraced tournament director Thomas Kremser to highering the rake almost every year, this festival has been beset with problems since it took up its new residency in Casino Malta.

Battle of Malta organizers have gotten too greedy

I made a promise to myself last year to no longer play the rake-trap turbo side events on offer, but I did fire the €410 + €40 ($445 + $43) Mystery Bounty and the €530 + €70 ($575 + $76) Main Event. I think that as a player, you must eventually vote with your feet so that I have done, as have many of the local Maltese players who think that Battle of Malta organizers have gotten too greedy.

While playing the Main last Saturday, I was right in the thick of some more controversy as the floor staff was faced with a difficult problem. Cards were being regularly marked by a player at my table and when the culprit was discovered, a suitable punishment had to be found. What would you have done? I’m guessing you would have chosen a harsher penalty than the one chosen by the Battle of Malta’s senior tournament director.

New decks aplenty

I arrived fashionably late for Level 4 of the tournament, just after the first break. On the third hand after I sat down, somebody pointed out that a card was marked. I didn’t take much notice as this is not a super rare thing at the poker table – maybe even a once every two days of live poker sort of occurrence.

If this happens again, we will take action.”

The dealer hollered for a new deck and the floor was snappy, arriving within 20 seconds. In those 20 seconds, it was noticeable how riled up the table was becoming. I thought “hmmm what’s going on here?” The chatter was in Italian (which I don’t speak), but the accompanying gesticulating was becoming more animated by the second. The floor arrived with a stern but slightly oblique warning: “This is the fourth new deck for this table. If this happens again, we will take action.”

You would think that the offender would get the message and stop, but over the course of the next 90 minutes or so, there were three further incidences of marked cards, always an Ace or King, always the same indent a quarter of the way into the card parallel to its long side, the last of which I actually spotted on my neighbor’s card. Each time, more threats were dished out by the floor staff and eventually, they put a dealer on who was instructed to examine every card as she brought them in.

Got ‘em!

Having a dealer hawkishly monitor the play and scrutinize every card slows down the game dreadfully, but this was certainly the correct step to take by the organizers, admittedly a bit late in the day. It is fair to say that the players had gotten very suspicious of one another and the atmosphere was rather hostile. Poker really breaks down when you realize that not everyone at the table is on the up and up.

At this point, I know what you are thinking because it is what I thought. There is no way that even the most shameless, scurrilous, kleptomaniacal, Kassoufesque cheater is going keep marking cards. Our table wasn’t going to break, so I assumed that we were just in for a horribly but unavoidably slowed down game. However, lo and behold, within two hands the offender was caught red-handed by the dealer, who immediately alerted the table, pulled in his hand and, at the end of the hand, sure enough revealed that it was an Ace.

“it’s impossible not to mark these puny cards with my giant manly hands”

The table was livid and I made a clumsy joke about the rule being that we could each punch him in the face. For at least half the table, that wouldn’t have been punishment enough. The caitiff pleaded his innocence in Italian which the guy beside me translated as “it’s impossible not to mark these puny cards with my giant manly hands.” It is funny, though, that it was only the Kings and Aces that his muscular fingers had marked.

The best TDs in the world weigh in

So, as the other players debated the relative merits of public stoning, tar-and-feathering, and castration, the Italian sleeveen was plucked from the table for a spirited back-and-forth with the senior floorperson. Again, I don’t speak Italian, but he seemed to be pleading his innocence in the hopes of a lighter sentence. I presumed that disqualification was in the cards, but wondered what the penalty might be if the judgment fell just short of that.

I messaged three of the best tournament directors in the business to get their opinions and got the following responses…

Nick O’Hara: “If I can prove 100% that he was purposely marking Kings and Aces then I will disqualify him. However, this is very difficult to prove without doubt unless he admits it. Since he has definitely been caught marking at least one card, I will give him a three-round penalty straight away and warn him that his next offense means immediate disqualification and he will be banned from all future events.”

Glenn Doyle: “I would pull the guy aside and tell him that we believe that he is marking cards. Every dealer that’s on that table will be instructed to check the two cards that he folds. If one of them is marked again then he will be immediately disqualified with no refund.”

Matt Savage: “Since a warning to the table was already issued, I would remove him from the tournament. I feel the need to set an example of this unacceptable behavior. My stone minimum punishment would be a 24-48-hour ban from the venue.”

Sporco mascalzone marcio

I’ve got to say that I like all three responses. Instant disqualification for an offense this serious doesn’t at all seem like an overreach. I also think that there is merit to issuing a severe penalty with the caveat that the player is on his very last chance. My VSO News colleague Dara O’Kearney and talented Irish young gun Thomas Murphy weighed in with similar insights on the latest episode of “The Lock-In”.

With all of that in mind, you might be surprised to find out that the “sporco mascalzone marcio” (which Google translate has assured me means “dirty rotten scoundrel” in Italian) received a one-orbit penalty. That’s right – in all likelihood, this player marked Aces and Kings on eight occasions in the space of less than four hours and he got the proverbial “one round.”

Is it possible that a couple of the cards were not marked by him? Yes, it is possible, but he was caught by the dealer putting the exact same mark on a high value card that had been put on seven previous cards and that is a lot of circumstantial evidence to accompany the dealer’s testimony about what she saw. For me, a one-round penalty was a nonsense decision by a weak tournament director for what was a particularly scandalous breach of game integrity. I have seen equal penalties doled out for the accidental exposure of cards or when someone acted out of turn for a second time. I sincerely hope that the Battle of Malta looks into this incident and considers putting some better tournament directors (several of whom were on side event duty in the room) in positions of power for their flagship tournament.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *