Featured in this article:
  • What Was the Prize on Offer?
  • Why Did Zhou Misjudge the Reaction?
  • Will the World Poker Tour Act?
  • Matt Berkey Wades In

6 Minute Read

Finding Nemo's ticket? 'Nemo' Zhou got into hot water when she gave away a $12,000 WPT package in a competition won by her coach and boyfriend.

The WPT World Championship takes place between December 12th and 20th this month and has already attracted plenty of attention. With a legendary meet-up game held just this past week, the World Poker Tour is pulling out all the stops for a massive attendance as the $15 million guaranteed Main Event take place. Part of the party atmosphere has been garnered by the brand giving away several Main Event packages, but this week, a ‘giveaway’ was the subject of criticism and ire as the poker industry bit back against a perceived scam.

What Was the Prize on Offer?

The prize was one really worth jumping through hoops for. A seat into the forthcoming World Poker Tour World Championship, worth a cool $12,000 as a package won on WPT Global. The package was to be given away by the popular Twitch streamer Nemo Zhou, who also goes under the screenname ‘akaNemsko’.

Running a competition, the gifted chess player received plenty of entries before eventually awarding the ticket to… her coach and boyfriend. That didn’t sit well with the poker industry. The prize itself was the latest in a long line of big WPT giveaways, but the first in recent memory to feature the Wynn. One of the world’s most popular casinos, it was the location for the Wynn Fall Poker Classic earlier in the year and the success of that event led to the Wynn-based WPT World Championship.

Even Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson can’t wait for that one, as this hilarious promotional video shows.

The World Poker Tour have had a very busy 2022, with the additions of DJ Steve Aoki and meet up game and YouTube legends Brad Owen and Andrew Neeme were joined by the Poker Hall of Famer Phil Ivey on their roster. It’s fair to say that the WPT’s stock was already high and will continue to be so despite this faux pas which is nothing to do with their own giveaways.

Why Did Zhou Misjudge the Reaction?

It’s easy to look back and say ‘what a bad idea’, but looking into the culture of giveaways and there are major differences between chess and poker and their culture when it comes to handing out prizes. Often in strategic games, a prize will be given out to an entrant who has shown they deserve it more. Clearly, Zhou’s poker coach boyfriend qualifies on the first count, but giving anything to friends and family can only be cool if its at random, which by her announcement it is obvious it clearly wasn’t.

By handing the prize to Alex ‘Thallo’ Epstein, she angered the poker industry and players such as Shaun Deeb immediately let her know that it was an ill-timed misstep.

Anyone hoping to win the package had to comment on a video on hers using a coded phrase found therein and be one of the first 10 to do so, so the barometer was set at a random callout from that number. Despite clarifying that she would award the prize to someone from those 10 who she felt was most deserving, her live-in boyfriend should never have made that list and with viewers unable when she’d upload that video, plenty spent a long time watching her stream in order to take part in the competition. Ill-judged is an understatement.

Will the World Poker Tour Act?

As Deeb would later comment, “WPT should really consider removing this seat and doing a proper giveaway for the community.” And the World Poker Tour is unlikely to be too forgiving for this clear transgression of their ‘family’ values. As a company, they expect the best and this certainly didn’t deliver.

Zhou has since retracted the awarding of the prize to her boyfriend and has confirmed that for her next giveaway, it will be a random winner drawn out of a hat.

As one player in the contest said. “Every single person that is standing up for those of us who were cheated of a fair chance in the recent $12k seat giveaway scandal… thank you! Let this serve as a reminder that this poker community is a family of integrity and that makes us all winners.”

The World Poker Tour have an excellent reputation for giving prizes and free seats away, and no-one will want this ill-timed media faux pas to steal the thunder from a spectacular tournament which will take place later this month. The WPT World Championship at the Wynn has a hefty $15 million guarantee.

Matt Berkey Wades In

“I wanted to share that with Thallo, who has invested hours and hours helping me improve my game.”

While the literal meaning of everyone being a winner is the very opposite of poker in a sense, the sentiment is true and with Thallo’s comments since having been removed, the whole escapade looks to be something of a bin fire that only a full competition will put out.

Zhou herself has since clarified her stance, saying: “I messed up. 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.”

Zhou may have attracted a tonne of criticism, but Solve for Why founder Matt Berkey stuck up for her on Twitter.

“It’s really unfair that Nemo is taking all the heat here when it’s pretty clear to me he [Thallo] understood the ramifications and optics. This will get spun as the poker community being cold & toxic, alienating outsiders but, in reality, he willingly threw his girl to the wolves.”

Strong words, but as ever, thought-provoking ones from Berkey, one of the most reputable players in the game. The World Poker Tour will continue to look into the giveaway and having already awarded dozens of packages to deserving players in their own giveaways, might well be adding small print into competition or satellite winners’ terms and conditions as we speak.

Arthur Crowson

Arthur Crowson writes for GambleOnline.co about the gambling industry. His experience ranges from crypto and technology to sports, casinos, and poker. He went to Douglas College and started his journalism career at the Merritt Herald as a general beat reporter covering news, sports and community. Arthur lives in Hawaii and is passionate about writing, editing, and photography.

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