Fun idea gone wrong

Poker controversy time! This one won’t have the legs that the “was her pocket vibrating or did she misread her cards” scandal had, but it is interesting, nonetheless. Hell, my wife thought it was interesting, so that’s something. Last week, 22-year-old chess woman grandmaster Qiyu “akaNemsko” Zhou won a WPT World Championship prize package and decided to give it away in a contest on her YouTube channel. The giveaway did not go as her followers thought it would and the poker community has been left fuming.

Zhou live streamed the qualifier and did a fantastic job to win the $12,000 prize package, at one point down to less than two-thirds of a big blind. She decided to give the prize away, tweeting on November 30 that she would hide a “code phrase” in her next YouTube video, which would be posted within 12 hours. The first ten people (who also subscribe to her channel) to comment on the video with the code phrase were eligible to win. Zhou said she would choose the person “from comment creativity and ability to use the seat.”

She said she did not know when the video would be posted, that it was her editor that was going to do it. Some people said that they constantly refreshed her YouTube page for hours, hoping to be one of the first ten to comment.

The next day, Zhou announced that the person among the ten qualifiers to receive the WPT World Championship prize package just so happened to be Alex “Thallo” Epstein, her poker coach and boyfriend.

What were they thinking?

The cries of foul reverberated around the internet. After all, who sets up a contest just to give the prize to a person close to them? As many said, if she wanted to give it to Thallo, she should have just done that without the “contest.” It got people’s hopes up and many spent a lot of time trying to win.

On top of that, it appears that Thallo cheated in order to be eligible, or at the very least, as poker players would call it, “angle shot” the contest. He posted a comment on the video quickly so he could be among the first ten, but later went back and edited it to add the code phrase once he watched the video and saw what it was. He claims he was just “following the rules,” but I would bet that the vast majority of people would consider this angle shooting at a minimum and probably cheating. In either case, it’s not good.

Plus, what are chances that Thallo was quick enough to be one of the first ten commenters when Zhou said she didn’t know when the video was going up? Something smells there, too.

Time for a do-over

Neither Zhou nor Thallo were apologetic initially. Zhou got very defensive and Thallo was outright hostile:

Zhou has since apologized, said that Thallo is no longer taking the prize, and that she will award it randomly.

“I messed up,” she admitted. “When I won the seat, I was excited and overwhelmed. I wanted to share that with Thallo, who has invested hours and hours helping me improve my game and I got carried away. If I wanted to give him the seat, I should have done so directly. I should not have run the contest for the seat and let him be eligible; it wasn’t fair to everyone else who participated.”

Thallo, meanwhile, still never really apologized (maybe half-heartedly), claiming that he participated in the contest fair and square. Interestingly, in a Twitter back-and-forth with Todd Witteles, Thallo admitted that he knew Zhou was giving him the WPT prize package.

Thallo’s side of the conversation is gone, since he appears to have deleted his Twitter account, but thanks to the internet archive, we can see that at one point, he said, “Should I not have tried to win because I knew she wanted to give it to me? It’s a valid argument.”

So somehow, Thallo couldn’t (or wouldn’t) figure out that because Zhou intended to give him the prize, the contest could never have been fair. He still thinks he did nothing wrong (not to mention editing his comment) and seems to only be rejecting the prize now because he and Zhou have taken so much heat.

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