July 2024
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Super Bowl coin toss rigged like online poker

Here’s an amazing statistic, coming from the insightful TV commentary leading up to kick off in yesterday’s Super Bowl.

It came after the large no-cash-value metal disc they loosely called a “coin” was flipped into the air and landed on the side they’d decided that today they would refer to as “heads”.  I think that side had a helmet on it, so it was close enough.

“The past 13 years the NFC team has won the toss.  The odds of one team winning 13 straight are about eighty-one hundred to one”.

Obviously, this kind of revelation is the reason commentators don’t STFU during the pre-match shenanigans and wait for the actual game to start.

In fact, the number he was looking for is closer to eighty-two hundred.  Two to the power of thirteen is 8,192, which would give odds (assuming a fair fake coin) of 8,191-1.

The number’s right, but it’s not quite the right context.  Indeed, across a series of Super Bowls, the odds of the team from one particular chosen conference to win 13 coin flips is as above, but the probability of one team winning 13 straight is lower.

If we don’t care who wins the first toss (after all, someone has to win it) then whoever does only needs to guess another 12 correctly to make a streak of 13.  The odds of that happening are 4095-1.

Still a fairly unlikely occurrence, but it’s half the first number – and I’m sure they’d still have mentioned it if was the AFC team who’d got there.

It would be just as noteworthy – in fact, probably more so – if there was a streak of 13 straight heads or 13 straight tails.  The odds of any one of the four streaks I’ve mentioned so far happening brings the price down to a heavily discounted 2047-1.

I began wondering, with all the stats that are thrown about during a typical NFL game, whether a game ever passes that something doesn’t show up that looks vaguely remarkable.

This coin toss streak actually only considers consecutive Super Bowls.  It’s much easier to find wonderful patterns if you consider consecutive playoff games, or Monday evening games, or games played in domes, or in the rain, on the West Coast where at least one team is wearing blue.  And they do look for this kind of meaningless correlation.  All the time.

But in this case it didn’t need any such fudging.  I’ve tried to discount it as much as I can, but it’s still a pretty terrific streak of coin flips coming down in the same arbitrary (yet definitely consistent) direction.

It’s one to remember the next time you hear someone complaining about a “sick” (see my air quotes there?) losing streak when playing online poker. Maybe they lost five or six 50/50 races in a row.

They’ll probably try to convince you this never happens in real life.  Guess what… it actually does.

For what it’s worth, if you’d bet a dollar on the NFC winning the coin toss in 1998 and parlayed the winnings onto the same bet for the past 13 years at the typical bookmakers odds of 10-11, you’d be in for a whopping payout of $4474.51.

Not too shabby – but that equates to juice of more than 45% when you compare it to the true odds payout of $8192!


(If they correctly guess the letters that have been starred out, it’s quite likely the title of this post will attract the attention of the Neteller staff that are following my Twitter feed. If it does, how about finally answering my questions please?)

There’s a difference between a wannabe bank not being able to do bankish things, not being able to add up correctly or having generally useless support staff, and one that makes you feel like a crook while you’re the one getting robbed.

Neteller frequently winds me up because they give two or more different answers to the same question and won’t let me get at my US Dollars without transferring them via at least two other currencies first.  Or they act all concerned for a moment but then never get back to you when you ask serious questions. Yet somehow I’ve never really been that worried about leaving significant sums of money in their hands.

However, when I attempted to withdraw some money from Moneybookers to a US bank account recently, they decided to treat me like a criminal, froze my account and now won’t give me any information – or my money.

It’s definitely worth pointing out that their withdrawal page actually suggests withdrawing to a US bank account as an option.  I wasn’t trying to subvert the system, for once.

Here’s another important point: while Moneybookers is a popular online payment method for gamblers, I’ve never actually used my account for gambling.  I’ve used it to receive payments for a business service which, in one case, just happened to be from someone whose email address has the word “poker” in it.

That probably means I’m a terrorist.

After my first attempt to withdraw, this is what they said:

Please be kindly informed that according to our Terms and Conditions with which you agreed upon registration of your Moneybookers account  we are strictly forbidden to allow gaming funds to be withdrawn to US bank accounts as such payments are restricted due to the legislation in the USA.

Please be kindly informed that according to our Terms and Conditions with which you agreed upon registration of your Moneybookers account  we are strictly forbidden to allow gaming funds to be withdrawn to US bank accounts as such payments are restricted due to the legislation in the USA.

The email refers me to sections 6.6 and 7.5 of the T&Cs.  The first section has nothing to do with this and the second one doesn’t even exist.

It does say the terms were updated on November 6th and I can’t find an older copy, so this is very worrying.  Although the (current) terms say that they’ll give you two months notice by email of any changes, it doesn’t look like they even tell their support staff when they decide to change the rules.

This time, I don’t think it particularly matters that they’ve pulled a switcheroo on me and I don’t have a printed copy to back up what I thought I’d agreed to – because even under the current terms, I’ve done nothing wrong.

However, if you use Moneybookers you might like to review the T&Cs – and then ask them why nobody told you they had changed.

I duly replied to tell them that this was not illicit gambling money – assuming that having received several months of payments for the same amount on the same date it would be quite obvious I was telling the truth.  They asked to see some photo ID and a copy of a recent bill – pretty standard stuff, which I did – but then:

In order to be able to complete the account verification procedure we would kindly ask you to provide us with some more information about the purpose of receiving payments via our services.

Would you please provide us the URL of your website and a brief description of the services you offer.

Well, frankly, what the fuck business is it of theirs?

I sent them a link and simply said “web hosting” after typing and deleting something to the effect of the line above.  The equivalent of muttering under your breath in an email.

I thought that when they replied to say:

We are writing to inform you that your account has been successfully verified.

that that was that.  They did point me towards section 11.2 of the T&Cs, which does exist this time but stipulates a restriction on residents of the USA from receiving gambling funds.  This couldn’t be more irrelevant, so I tried again to get my US Dollars out – after all, why would they still offer me a US bank withdrawal option if it wasn’t actually possible after I’d jumped through these hoops?

And then this:

We are writing to inform you that your account is under audit.  Once the audit has been completed we will be in contact.

Here’s where it starts to get stupid.  I said:

What does this mean?  I thought I’d just been through your verification process

And they replied.

Please be kindly informed that your your account is under audit.  As soon as the audit has been completed we will contact you.

It’s only because they changed the wording slightly in the second reply that I knew it was a real person fucking with me, not just a stupid autoresponder.  I tried again:

This is identical to the last message I received.  Can you please let me know what this means?  I have literally 3 transactions to audit.

And the last thing I had from them by email was:

We transferred your case to our security department and they should be getting back to you in the next 48 hours with more information about your account.

Two weeks, and three phone calls later, my money is still locked up in Moneybookers’ private jail, and I have no visitation rights.

This morning, all I could get out of them was that they’d make a note on my account and pass it to the security department as a matter of urgency.  I would hear back from them probably today, or at the latest tomorrow.

That’s exactly what they told me last time, but today I was told there was no such note on my account from any previous call.

I don’t really know what to think.  This should not be hard.

If you don’t allow withdrawals to the US, don’t offer it as an option.  If you still have cold feet about letting me withdraw to the US after telling you what you needed to know, then just say so and I’ll withdraw to the UK.  If you absolutely have to audit my account, go ahead.  It should take about thirty seconds.

But don’t be stealing my money with no good reason.

Because if you do, I’ll write about it on the internet and expose your shenanigans to, on a good day, dozens of people.


Finally, a response from Neteller about the questions I posed in the comments on this post a couple of weeks ago.

I’ll try to speak to them next week, but first I wanted to share my email reader’s insight on the matter:

Doesn’t really do them any favours, does it? 

Neteller in “not a bank” shocker

In case you had any concerns about how secure your money is with Neteller’s dodgy prepaid debit card, this reply I had from them should help to scare you away completely.

Looking for a way that I’d be happy to use it to take some of my money out at an ATM, I asked whether it was possible to have two separate accounts so that my whole balance would not be available to a card that has zero consumer protection.

Thank you for sending us an email.

Unfortunately one customer can have only one NETELLER account and one Net+ Card. 

The security is our first priority and NETELLER has various security measures against fraud or theft. But the system can never be perfect. In this sense we would think it is important to use the NETELLER account and the Net+ for not a big amount depositing only the amount necessary to use.

In fact the limits of cash withdraw as well as the purchase using Net+ Card are quite limited; For cash withdraw 500GBP/day and 1500GBP/4 days and for purchase 1500GBP/day and 4500GBP/4 dasy.

Please understand NETELLER is offering the service of money transfer online and is not a bank. 

It’s quite the supreme failure in terms of offering reassurance to a customer.

If I may paraphrase: "Our system isn’t perfect", "Don’t trust us with more money than you absolutely have to", "The most you could lose to fraud is eight grand a week" and of course "We are not a bank".

We knew the last part already, but at least they’re not trying to pretend any more.

Hit me with your BST shot

The Grand Series of Poker III is two weeks of online tournaments hosted by Gala Poker.

With relatively affordable buy-ins compared to other online series ($50 to $200 per event) and added value for a leaderboard of top finishers across the series, I’d decided I would take a punt at this.

I’d even accepted that if things were going well, I’d have to play the 6-handed Omaha tournament.  That would be seriously -EV, but it’s +Eleaderboardpoints, so what can you do?

According to Gala’s web site, things were due to kick off tonight at either 8pm or 9pm UK time.

I’m vague about the start time because it’s not exactly clear.  The site says: "All GSOP events start at 21:00 CET (20:00 GMT)"

This is confusing, because right now, with daylight savings time in effect, GMT is two hours behind CET, not one.

Given that the clock at the top of Gala’s own web site shows the time incorrectly – for example it says "19:30 GMT" when it’s actually 19:30 BST – my best guess was that it would start at 8pm UK time (20:00 on Gala’s not-GMT clock) but I figured there was a chance it would actually be 9pm (20:00 actual GMT, so 21:00 BST).

So, when I thought I was turning up in plenty of time to play it, logging on at just before 7pm to load my account and pre-register, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the event start right in front of my eyes almost exactly at the moment I went to buy in.

I guess that’ll teach me to check the times in the lobby when I want to play a poker tournament on an unfamiliar site.

Not that it would have done me much good, because for this tournament the lobby showed a start time of 19:00 CET.

So that would be 17:00 GMT or 18:00 BST, right?  (Trust me, it’s right).

And yet there it was, starting at 7pm – and with no option of late registration.  I just don’t know how I could have seen that coming.

I thought I’d call Gala to see if anyone knew what time it was.

"Hi, your poker series event tonight, what time was it meant to start?"

I’d naively assumed that just because they’d answered the phone with "Gala Poker, can I help you" that I’d be speaking to someone who actually worked for Gala and would therefore be aware of this multi-million dollar poker event.  I should know better by now.

So I gave him the full title of the tournament and waited patiently on hold for an answer.

"Sir, I just checked and on the web site it says 20:00 GMT, but as we’re in the summer right now, it’s actually an hour behind and it started a few minutes ago".

"But that would make it 9pm, wouldn’t it?" 

"I’m sorry, I mean it’s an hour ahead"

"OK, whatever.  But it’s only 18:00 GMT right now". 

He put me on hold to go and check, and came back a couple of minutes later to tell me that he’d looked at a world clock and it said the current time was just after 20:00 GMT.

The world clock web site I found told a different story (this screenshot taken after the call, but compare GMT to the times in Dublin and Frankfurt).

After holding once more, I came to the conclusion that nobody in the call centre knew what time the tournament was meant to start, what time it actually did start or even what time it was in the part of the world they were meant to be talking to.

At least he gave an honest explanation: "I’m from India and I’m struggling myself to see what’s going on with all the different timezones involved here".  He took my details and said he would ask a real person at actual Gala to send me an accurate schedule.  Whether they’ll have any more of a clue remains to be seen.

To be fair, this was one of the most helpful Indian call centre dudes I’ve dealt with in a long time.  Very polite, and he seemed keen to help me out with something that nobody could actually do anything about.

Really, it was just me having a whinge and being a bit awkward.

Thou shalt not accuse, falsely or otherwise

In a sit-and-go tournament at PokerStars, I’d reported a hand where two players (showing as from the same country) appeared to dump chips to each other to prevent one from being blinded all-in on the bubble.

Naturally, that fate then fell to me.

Blinds were 200/400 with a 25 ante. Villian 1, sitting on about half the chips in play, raised to 1,200 and then folded after Villain 2 moved all in for a total of 1,275.

With the dead blinds and antes, his pot odds were 37-1. It’s an instant call for just 75 more chips, even if all you have in your hand is one 3 and a bridge score card.

A couple of weeks later I got a reply from PokerStars with the result of their investigation.  It said they couldn’t find any history of these guys playing together in the past and concluded that the first player almost certainly clicked on the wrong button and folded by accident.

They even found hands earlier in the same tournament where those two had played hard against each other – and sent me two hand histories that showed it.

PokerStars has a reputation for providing first class support to players and they’ve yet to disappoint me.  Ideally I wanted my $16 back, but I can accept their findings.

I had forgotten that after this hand I wasn’t able to keep my mouth shut at the table, and their response also went on to reprimand me because of this:

On a related note, I noticed that you accused these players of collusion at the table. Three problems exist when you make an accusation at the table:

1) You may be accusing two perfectly innocent people of being dishonest. If they are innocent, then you have sullied their reputations amongst other players at the table without cause.

2) If they are guilty, you have just alerted them to your suspicions. This allows them to come up with cover stories and alter their play all of which makes it more difficult for us to confirm the suspicion.

3) In an environment where there is already concerns about cheating in different forms, making such an accusation only serves to propagate the existing fears. Our support staff works extremely hard investigating collusion complaints and dealing with the integrity of our site. A lot of that work is undone with an accusation of this nature.

Please understand that accusing a player of cheating at a poker table is extremely serious and should never be done. If you have concerns regarding the play of two or more individuals, we encourage you to notify us immediately so that we can investigate. Include as many details as possible including their player IDs and where they are playing.

As you can see, we have a lot of tools at our disposal which help us keep our games honest and fair. In addition, the thousands of honest, vigilant players who point out situations that merit investigation are an important part of our arsenal. Thank you for doing your part to protect the integrity of our games.

Well, that’s me told.

But I have to admit I had never thought about this in so much depth. Kudos to PokerStars, it’s a good point well made.

Even if it is a cut-and-pasted standard response, it’s a damn good one and I wanted to share it.

Doesn’t add up

I don’t use Moneybookers very often, but I have an account there for the odd times I need to receive money that way.

This was one of those times.  I was sent a sum of money, originally in British Pounds but it got converted to US Dollars as that’s the currency on my account.  It landed in my balance as $96.20.

Then I went to withdraw it.  As I hadn’t really taken any notice of the actual amount in dollars so far, I just agreed to everything – including a $2.50 withdrawal fee.  It said I could withdraw up to $93.69 and I asked for the lot.

Did you spot it?  $96.20 minus $2.50 cannot result in a number that ends with a 9.  There’s a penny missing somewhere, and I almost wan’t paying enough attention to notice.

Thankfully, it showed me a handy statement afterwards:

Great, everything balances in the end.  They just made a penny disappear to compensate for the error.

$2.51 minus $2.50 is zero.  Apparently.

I don’t think there can be anything more embarrasing for a wannabe bank than not being able to add or subtract two amounts of money.  Perhaps that’s why their software has this error correction built in: “If something goes wrong, we’ll just pretend that it didn’t and hope nobody notices”.

Guess what.  I noticed.

The penny is insignificant, especially when the amount of money we’re talking about has already been converted to once and will be converted again to end up back in a GBP bank account.  When that happens, you have to expect to be hit by an unfavourable exchange rate and that they’ll skim off fractions of a penny at every possible opportunity.

But that’s not what’s happened here.  The statement simply does not add up – it is blatently wrong.

We’re not talking about a dodgy online casino that only has to pay a sum of money to a random island nation in order to call itself licensed.  This is a financial institution regulated by the FSA in the UK, and it’s very worrying that such an organisation could make any sum of money vanish without an audit trail.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s not hard to make sure that your software handles decimal numbers correctly.  And, yes, I am available for consultancy work.

Let’s see what they say…

Least accessible poker bonus ever?

I just had this offer in an email from Party Poker.

Wow, a $975 bonus.  It’s a random amount, but it’s huge.  How can I resist?

5,850 Party Points sounds like a fair chunk, but to be honest it’s so long since I played there I couldn’t even remember how you earn them.

Playing tournaments, you earn 2 Party Points for every $1 paid in fees.  You pay $2,925 and get back $975, so it’s equivalent to getting precisely one-third of your fees back.

Not a bad deal.  But do you remember the last time you paid three grand in tournament fees in a month?  Me neither.

Admittedly, I rarely play much higher than the $20s, so I’d be looking at around 70 sit-and-gos a day for 21 days to unlock this bonus.  That’s a full time job – assuming you can play a dozen at a time, and I can’t.

It’s more achievable for high stakes SNG players.  The $100s have a $9 fee and Party have capped it $10 per tournament for higher buy-ins, right up to the $5,000 tournaments.  It would take 325 $100 tournaments or 293 at any higher level to get there.

That’s roughly 15 per day, which is still high for a casual player, but it’s more realistic.  However I can’t help thinking that if you can play that many of high stakes tournaments, you’re serious enough about poker to already have a rakeback at least as good as this elsewhere and that you wouldn’t want to jeopardise your VIP status by taking a few weeks out for this bonus, when you’d get almost no perks from Party after the bonus is over.

So… if it’s going to happen, it’ll have to be cash games.  A few years ago when Party Poker bonuses were just great, I used to clear them playing $1/$2 limit, which meant relatively soft games with fairly low variance, and the numbers meant that Party was actually giving away more in bonuses than you paid in rake.  It was awesome.

Now, things have tightened up.  At this level, it takes 57 raked hands to earn 10 Party Points, so for this promotion, you’d need to play 33,345 raked hands!

From my past experience, it takes about 5 hours four-tabling $1/$2 to play 1,000 raked hands, for which you’d pay about $55 in rake.  It’s possible, but it’s a lot of work.  In fact, it’s a full time job again, about 7 hours of solid play – that’s one-third of the 21 days you have to complete the play requirement.

For what it’s worth, the rake you’d pay is about $1800 so the $975 bonus is equivalent to a little over 50% rakeback.  Not bad at all.

The number of hands that are raked increases slightly as you move up limits, but that’s not as significant as the amount of rake you pay.  That’s why at $3/$6 you only need 14 raked hands to earn 10 Party Points.  That brings down the total number of raked hands required to 8,190 – or about 40 hours of play four-tabling.

It’s a pretty attractive bonus, but it’s also pretty inaccessible to the majority of players and I guess that’s the point.  They’re trying to deter the small-timers and serial bonus whores and get players who are prepared to commit a big chunk of time to Party Poker, then hope they stick around afterwards.

I’d love to be able to find a way to do exactly what they don’t want, but as I only have a week left before I head off to Vegas, I just can’t see it happening…

Hey hey we’re a winner

I had a heads up on this as I saw the results page yesterday, but this email just in confirms it.  My Poker Stars monkey photo won a prize!

Hello Christopher,

We have awarded 5,000 FPPs for your PokerStars Monkey Photo. Thank you for playing on PokerStars.


PokerStars VIP Team

The winning picture is excellent, but to be honest this one is my favourite:

What I wasn’t expecting was another email that arrived at exactly the same time announcing I had been upgraded to Silver Star status (I didn’t play enough last month and fell out of the VIP tier).  No idea how it works, and it’s not really that big a deal because Poker Stars are literally giving away VIP status this month, but it was a nice surprise.

5,000 FPPs would put me at Platinum Star, but they’ve weren’t added as status points (understandable, because I didn’t earn them) so it must have been a manual adjustment; either a 1-tier upgrade for winners or just "here, have Silver Star so you can spend your points on something other than another monkey".

Anyway, as the photos I entered into the competition of monkey in Vegas were (ahem) creatively enhanced, here’s one I actually took last month, straight out of the camera.



I don’t speak freaky deaky Dutch

This player’s screen name might be "italian62", but the poker software shows his location as Amsterdam, and he definitely talks trash in Dutch.

Most of his comments up to this point in the game had been along the lines of "pfffffffft" or other such language-neutral noises, and at times it was just a string of random characters – presumably caused by banging his fists on the keyboard in rage.

He was pretty tilty.

The little "holding hands" icon shows that he’d made my buddy list.  In fact, by playing more than 50% of hands I’d been datamining, he’d actually made the list before I sat next to him.

I won two hands back-to-back before this outburst:

1. He limped in and I raised with JJ.  He called and then immediately folded, first to act on an ace-high flop.  He was obviously more scared of the ace than I was.

2. He limped, I raised with AQ and he called.  We both caught a pair on a Q72 flop and he called down with 87 when I bet on every street.  Hardly spectacular.

Then, he made actual words: "Kanker donut".

According to Babel Fish, it means "cancer donut".  However that’s a very literal translation which really doesn’t convey the subtle idiom of the insult.

Is he telling me he wishes I would get cancer?  Is he likening me to a horrible disease?  Or am I completely missing the point?

If I could ascertain this, I think I could have a pretty good guess at what his next insult (sadly, not aimed at me) meant: "Kankerhomo".

Smoke and a pancake?