Great News, Terrible News
In the past week, two significant events have occurred in the poker world that have diametrically opposite effects. One is perhaps some of the best news to happen to poker in years, while the other is undoubtedly among the worst. Never believers in saving the best for last, let's dive right into the bright side.
Great News - Annette Obrestad Wins Inaugural WSOP Europe Main Event
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Many point to online-qualifier Chris Moneymaker's win in the 2003 WSOP Main Event as the spark that lit the fire for the popularity of online poker. No single tournament winner will ever top Moneymaker's impact on the game of poker. But Moneymaker aside, Annette Obrestad did the poker world a huge favor by winning the first annual WSOP Europe Main Event. Not only female, but also just 18 years old, Annette bulldozed past 360 of the world's toughest players to win £1,000,000 (nearly $2,000,000).
What made Chris Moneymaker's win so special was the message it sent to Joe Anybody. For just $40, regular-old Chris won a seat to the World Series of Poker, beat the best players in the world, and took home $2.5 million. That landmark win sent a statement to average people everywhere: "Hey, if that guy can win, I can too!" Queue online poker boom.
Annette's win will not have as large of an effect as Moneymaker's, but it could give the poker world a nice second wind. In the same way Moneymaker encouraged average middle-class Americans to start playing poker, Obrestad's win could have the same effect on women, young people, and Europeans. That is not to suggest that poker isn't already popular among those three groups; it is. However, when television episodes begin to air coverage showing an 18 year-old girl beating up cool-hand seasoned males en route to £1,000,000, online poker could experience a surge as a result.
The Internet is where Annette honed her poker skills. Known to the online world as "Annette_15", she was ranked by Pocket Fives as the 4th best online tournament player at the time of her WSOP Europe victory. Annette's story gets better from there: she built her way to such heights by playing freeroll tournaments, which were her only option since she was both underage and without a bank account.
There have been other Chris Moneymakers (in fact, every WSOP Main Event winner since Moneymaker had a very similar relationship to the poker world prior to their win). However, there might never be another Annette Obrestad. I would be willing to wager that no female will win a WSOP Main Event (be it in Vegas or London) in the next ten years, and never again will someone win in his or her first year of eligibility (21 in Vegas and 18 in London). Annette's story is arguably the most positive news in the history of poker.
On that note... onto the bad news.
Awful News - Incident At Absolute Poker Gives Credence To "Rigged" Proponents
The online poker world has been in a frenzy for the past ten days when suspicions surfaced that some players at Absolute Poker might be able to see their opponents' hole cards. This possibility was first brought to public light by "fearme" in this thread on the 2+2 forums. Since that time, several high-stakes players have provided damning evidence through hand histories and PokerTracker screenshots that indicate foul play from some accounts at Absolute Poker (PokerTracker is a software program that compiles statistics from online poker sessions).
Part One - The Evidence
One PokerTracker screenshot showed that "GRAYCAT" played 190 hands of $200-$400 limit hold'em heads-up poker without ever calling a bet on the river. In other words, this player either raised or folded on every single river-betting situation. This is an almost impossible occurrence in limit poker since pot odds often justify crying calls on the river.
Another screenshot showed that "DOUBLEDRAG" played 138 hands of $15-$30 no-limit hold'em without making a single call on the river. This player won $38,000 in those 138 hands while voluntarily putting money in the pot on 96% of the hands. Put more simply: he played 138 hands, almost never folded, never once called a bet on the river, and somehow managed to win over 1,200 big blinds doing so. To perform such a feat without being able to see the opponents' hole cards borders on statistically impossibility.
A hand history involving another suspected superaccount, "POTRIPPER", showed him winning a $1,000 buy-in multi-table tournament by making a miraculous call. On the turn, POTRIPPER's opponent makes a very large all-in raise on a board of King-King-Seven-Four with two hearts. POTRIPPER calls the bet with Ten-Nine, no flush draw. His opponent had Nine-Two of hearts and missed his draw on the river. POTRIPPER won $30,000 in that September 12th tournament; it was the only tournament he has ever played on Absolute Poker.
Some consider the most damning hand history to stem from the GRAYCAT account. In a $200-$400 limit hold'em game, GRAYCAT caps the betting preflop. Three players see the flop of Five-Two-Two. GRAYCAT checked and folded to a single bet on the flop. The player who provided this suspicious hand history was holding pocket fives.
By now, you get the point. But there are several more examples of this suspicious play catalogued in this thread on the 2+2 forums.
On September 16th, while this situation was being widely discussed, DOUBLEDRAG sat down in a $10-$20 no-limit game at Absolute Poker. Evidently one player, "2006STANGGT", was unaware of the allegations against his opponent and joined the table. What ensued served as evidence that DOUBLEDRAG has his finger on the pulse of the poker world. He began dumping chips to other players perhaps as an attempt to demonstrate that he is, in fact, not able to see their hole cards.
One hand in particular was especially incriminating: on a board of Five-Five-Queen-Seven-Two, DOUBLEDRAG called his opponent's bet with Four-Three (read: the only possible hand that had absolutely no chance of winning the entire pot).
Several other hand histories from this chip-dumping session clearly show DOUBLEDRAG's awareness of the accusations against him. On one hand, his opponent bet all-in $3,300 on a flop of Queen-Ten-Six, two hearts.. DOUBLEDRAG called the bet with Three-Two offsuit.
After playing 117 hands and losing $11,000, DOUBLEDRAG left the table. More hand histories from this chip dumping session were posted in the previously mentioned 2+2 thread.
Part Two - What Went Wrong?
Any reasonable person who has reviewed the evidence in this situation is left with one undeniable conclusion: the players in question can see their opponents' hole cards. So far five accounts are suspected to possess this ability. The suspicious play all began shortly after a recent software upgrade was released by Absolute Poker. Ironically, Absolute Poker promoted their new upgrade as a "whole new way to look at poker." For at least five accounts, that statement is especially accurate.
A theory exists that the software upgrade might have been sabotaged by a disgruntled employee. The notion that an outsider hacked into Absolute's server and enabled some accounts to see cards face-up seems to be debunked by the overt manner in which these accounts employed their new powers. Surely, anyone smart enough to hack into Absolute's server would also be smart enough to slowly and quietly use their powers to bleed the resident high-stakes players of their bankrolls.
In a way, the poker community is extremely lucky that the operator(s) of these accounts was not bright enough to disguise their abilities. However, one shouldn't completely assume that the infected accounts simply "messed up" by playing too forthright. Another popular theory is that the firebomb approach was purposeful - a planned attack on Absolute Poker's integrity as an online cardroom.
Management at Absolute Poker has so far handled this incident horribly. In a statement, they said the accounts being suspected of foul play have been temporarily frozen while they investigate the matter. However, they further stated that they "have yet to find any evidence of wrong doing," and that they, "have found no proof that they had any knowledge of other player's hole cards." Much of their statement reads like a generic reply sent to small-stakes players complaining about a bad beat. The full response from Absolute Poker is available in this this post from the 2+2 forums.
Part Three - What This Means For Poker
Since the inception of online poker, losing players have enjoyed blaming their downfalls on the fact that online poker is "rigged". Rational responders have demonstrated why online poker is, indeed, not rigged; much like we did in a previous Weekly Shuffle. Until now, there was never a major incident for the "rigged" proponents to rest their hat on. Sure, puny Planet Poker's RNG was infiltrated two years before the Chris Moneymaker boom. Sure, there was the fringe room ProPoker that used insiders to play against customers. But never before now has a mainstream, popular room been demonstrated as being "rigged".
Many members of the poker community think this event will have a significant negative impact on the future of online poker. Depending on how well news of this incident circulates, it could deter thousands of casual players from depositing money online.
Most likely though, this event will remain relatively obscure in the history of online poker. The majority of people who even know about this event are serious players that can separate one room's incompetence from poker sites being rigged as a whole. Absolute Poker will likely lose many of its high-stakes players (who tend to be more active in the online poker community), but I would wager that half of Absolute's player base will never even hear about this event. From what it looks like, Absolute Poker is attempting to just brush this affair under the table, and they will likely be successful at doing so.
There are only two ways for us to know the full story about what happened at Absolute Poker. The person who operated the 'superaccounts' could come forward and explain exactly what happened, similar to what the people who hacked Planet Poker's RNG did in 2001. The other way is if Absolute Poker uncovers exactly what occurred and has the integrity to admit to it. If they did this, they would risk losing the majority of their player base. This is a lot to expect from a poker room, especially one that employs shady practices such as copying some of our strategy articles and pretending its their own unique content.