Open-Face Chinese Poker has really taken off. For example, during previous years at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure we always had a $200/$400 or $400/$800 mixed game. But this year rather than a big mixed game, there were four tables of Open-Face Chinese Poker going.
I’ve just started to play the game. I’m not real good as yet, but I ventured in during the last day at PCA because it looked like a pretty good game and that there might be some people I thought I still might be able to beat. As it happened, I ran pretty good — I had two straight flushes — and I won a decent amount of money.
I was told then by some people that many were playing Open-Face Chinese on an app that’s available for iPhones and the iPad. So when I got home I downloaded the app, and I started playing just for fun against some people. You can even play against the app itself.
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I did that for a while until I thought I was ready to play for small stakes against some players. I started out playing small — just $10 a point — and I was losing a little bit as I was playing against people who were better than I was. Then once I got a little better I kicked up against some other poker players to $25/point because that seemed to be the normal amount for which people were playing.
Then a guy challenged me to $50/point, and even though I’d heard that he might be a better player than I was, I thought perhaps I could learn playing against a better player. Nowadays poker players seem to learn from videos and by going onto forums, but in my day the way you got better was you watched better players and tried to see what they were doing and then tried to incorporate what you saw into your game. That’s what I was trying to do here.
Of course, one of the problems right now with Open-Face Chinese Poker is that you have a lot of disagreement about who the better players are. It’s a pretty complicated game, and at this stage in the growth of the game everybody makes some mistakes.
In any case, I played this guy and I actually beat him out of about 100 points. Then he suggested we double the stakes and so we did and played some more, and that’s when he started winning.
Now, it’s not that he beat me, but it’s how he beat me. It seemed like after being in trouble he kept getting saved on the river over and over and over. Even though it was believable that he was a better player than I was, I decided I wanted to start keeping track of when he needed to get outs in these situations. When he had to get an out on the river to beat me, I wanted to see what his percentage was.
I started keeping track, and the next 14 times it came up, he hit seven times. Now that’s not every time, but it was enough that after that I quit.
I have a nephew who is a programmer and I called him up. I told him I thought I was being cheated, and asked him if he could figure out if there was any way you could see if a person could download this app and perhaps change the cards or do whatever, because I suspected there might be something going on here.
My nephew downloaded the app and once he had a chance to start looking at it he called me back within 30 minutes. He said anyone who’s a programmer who knows how to hook up an iPad to another computer could easily cheat using the app.
He said he could see all the cards and do whatever he wanted. I asked him if he could give me a demo, and we played a game and he sent me three kings on top, a flush in the middle, and a straight flush in the back. He explained that anyone who was a programmer or who had a friend who was a programmer could cheat me at the game, no problem.
Using a proxy server, with the current version of the app, you can see all thirteen cards of yours and your opponents when each deal is begun. Most cheaters wouldn’t spend the time to change the cards as my nephew did. They would know whether their flushes and full houses were going to come in, which allows them to play efficiently like normal Chinese poker.
It was just as I’d expected. I began calling around to people who were playing a lot. Pretty much anybody who has won big at this game at this point is under suspicion, because it’s so easy to cheat.
My nephew got in touch with the app’s programmers to tell them what they have to do to fix their app. The Apple documentation actually explains how to make an app secure, but when these programmers wrote this Open-Face Chinese Poker app, they didn’t know people were going to be playing for lots of money using it. And so they didn’t write it in a secure way, because they thought it was just going to be a fun game that people were going to play for free. So it’s not even really their fault.
Besides offering a specific warning here about the Open-Face Chinese Poker app and its current vulnerabilities to cheating, then, I think there are two broader morals to the story.
One is that when you play on an app such as this one for money, you better know who you’re playing with and that you’re in possible danger of being cheated. Even as future games come out, you’ll want to remain wary.
To draw a comparison with PokerStars, they have an app with a whole security team of people trying to protect you by keeping track of data, looking at hand histories for anything suspicious, and so forth. It’s a very different situation to play an app written by just a couple of guys who weren’t really thinking that their game might be played for a lot of money.
So you have to be very wary when playing for any significant sum of money on some of these games that may come out in the future.
Secondly, as a general gambling premise, if you go somewhere and you lose and you don’t understand why you’re losing — especially if you seem to be losing in ways that don’t seem right to you — you have to quit. If there’s one game where you think the players are better than you but you do okay, go and play in that one even if there might be another game where the players seem really bad, but you don’t win.
That’s just a general rule of gambling that you need to use to protect yourself.
Barry Greenstein is a member of Team PokerStars Pro