The online poker world has been full of drama this week thanks to two scandals related to cheating. First, it was revealed that the winner of the largest online poker tournament in history (which took place last month) had his prize confiscated for cheating. The other was that the identification of the culprit(s) in the Absolute Poker cheating scandal were, indeed, Absolute Poker insiders. Get your popcorn ready; this has been one crazy week.
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Confiscated: $1,228,330.50 Online Poker Payday
PokerStars's World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) Main Event is one of the most expensive online tournaments of the year with a buy-in of $2,500+$100. That pricy entry fee didn't stop an astounding 2,998 players from entering this year's tournament, which was held on September 30th.
When the dust settled, "TheV0id" emerged victorious with the largest payday in online tournament history, $1,228,330. The PokerStars security team immediately began investigating the legitimacy of TheV0id's win, which is their standard procedure following large tournaments.
Shockingly, two weeks after their investigation began, PokerStars announced that TheV0id had breached the PokerStars terms of service and that his entire first-place prize was being confiscated. All of the tournament's participants were moved up one spot. The largest beneficiary of this was second place finisher, ka, whose payday increased from $850,000 to $1,378,000 and a gold bracelet. The player who originally finished 3rd in this event, Team PokerStars member Vanessa Rousso, saw her cash increase from $464,000 up to $700,000.
The player who originally finished 6th in this event, nitbuster, has engendered some controversy of his own this week. It was rumored that the account's operator is 2004 WSOP Main Event 3rd place finisher, Josh Arieh. Previously, Arieh played at PokerStars under the name "Razorbax". In an interview this week, Arieh admitted that he is nitbuster. When pressed about what happened to his "Razorbax" account, Arieh cagily responded that PokerStars let him change his screenname, but that he didn't know how it happened. Arieh's original score of $232,000 increased to $307,000 after TheV0id's disqualification.
Exactly what TheV0id did to warrant a disqualification is not clear. A popular, but unverifiable story is that TheV0id is the account of poker pro Mark Telscher's sister. Telscher plays on Stars as "play2kill". That account also participated in this tournament, but did not finish in the money. It is alleged that Telscher operated his sister's account in order to play the tournament with multiple accounts. After the victory, perhaps PokerStars contacted Telscher's sister to verify that she operated the tournament's winning account. Upon doing so, his sister might have revealed to PokerStars that she had no idea what the WCOOP was, let alone that she won it. Again, everything in this paragraph should be regarded as speculation, but it seems that this is the most well accepted theory to explain TheV0id's disqualification.
PokerStars cannot be pleased that their biggest tournament of the year was riddled with controversy, but they should be commended for their ethical handling of the situation. But let's stop talking about ethical poker rooms. Let's talk about Absolute Poker.
The Absolute Poker Scandal Involved An Insider
Four weeks ago, we detailed at length, a scandal involving certain accounts at Absolute Poker having the ability to know their opponents' hole cards. This power led them to rob their opponents of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In that article, we conceded that it was unclear how the assailants acquired the ability to know their opponents' cards. This week, the poker world received a disturbing resolution to that mystery.
CrazyMarco, a player who lost heads-up to one of the superaccounts (POTRIPPER) in a $1,000 buy-in tournament on September 12th, emailed Absolute Poker and requested the hand history from the final table. After POTRIPPER called an all-in with 10-high to win the tournament (CrazyMarco had a 9-high flush draw that missed), he was understandably suspicious. Several days later, Absolute Poker e-mailed CrazyMarco a 10 megabyte Microsoft Excel file. The data in the file was scrambled. Unsure what to make of it, CrazyMarco put the file aside.
In the following days, the Absolute Poker scandal rocked the poker world. Earlier this week, CrazyMarco decided to take a closer look at the Excel file he was sent by Absolute Poker. After unscrambling the data, the results were stunning. The file that Absolute Poker sent him contained not just CrazyMarco's hole cards, but the hole cards of all players at all tables in the tournament! The spreadsheet cut off after the first 2 hours and 20 minutes of the tournament. This is because one Excel file is not capable enough to support the entire tournament's data.
CrazyMarco shared this file with others in the poker community. It became crystal clear that POTRIPPER knew his opponents' hole cards based on the hand histories from the file. Credit should be given to Nat Arem for uncovering more shocking information from the file.
Nat realized that anytime an observer opened or closed a table, their IP address, email address, and user ID number were logged. Most of the observer data (a) involved someone opening a table and closing it within a few minutes, and (b) the user ID number of most observers numbered in the hundreds of thousands, or even in the millions. For example, an account with a user ID of 975000 means it was the 975,000th account created at Absolute Poker. However, one observer deviated from the above criteria.
This observer opened POTRIPPER's table after the second hand of the tournament (POTRIPPER folded the first two hands preflop). The observer stayed at the table for the duration of the file, whereupon POTRIPPER played every hand for the next twenty minutes until a situation where someone else at the table had Pocket Kings. This observer had a user ID of 363. A number that low means the account was created when Absolute Poker was in its infancy. Nat noted in this blog entry that, in all likelihood, the account "had been created by AP or someone who was associated in some way with AP. It had to be a test account of some kind to be made that early in the system."
When user 363's IP address was searched for within the file, another observer account with an identical IP address was spotted. This account, with a corresponding email address of firstname.lastname@example.org, watched Absolute Poker sponsored pro Mark Seif's table for about a minute before leaving. A ping to the rivieraltd.com domain yields that it points to a mail server on an IP address that belongs to Absolute Poker. Put more simply: the low-numbered observer watching POTRIPPER's table was connected to an IP address owned by Absolute Poker!
The TwoPlusTwo forums reported that the same IP address was used by one of their members, scotttom. Absolute Poker's President in 2005 was named Scott Tom.
So who does the POTRIPPER account belong to? This is where it gets even more disturbing. According to "adanthar", a reputable moderator from the TwoPlusTwo forums, sources at Absolute Poker told him the account belongs to AJ Green. Who is AJ Green? A former Director of Operations at Absolute Poker and currently a Vice President at nine.com, an online sportsbook.
To summarize what this all means: it appears that an employee or ex-employee (perhaps Scott Tom or perhaps someone else from the same IP address) had real-time access to all of the hole cards and was feeding this information to an accomplice (POTRIPPER, allegedly the account of a former Absolute Poker director).
Recently, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission (who issues Absolute Poker's gaming license), decided to launch an investigation into the alleged cheating. They hired Gaming Associates to audit Absolute Poker. While this may give players the sense of relief that there is some oversight over this issue, it should be noted that the Kahnawake Gaming Commission approved a license for Pro Poker for many years, which was an online poker room notorious for cheating players.
As of Thursday afternoon, Absolute Poker finally admitted that there was an internal breach in their system. They have stated that players affected by their breach will be reimbursed in full. They have also stated that it was in fact an insider that had intimate knowledge of their system and that no outsider could hack their software.
This comes in direct contrast to their previous statements where they denied that any cheating or chip dumping occurred.
At the time of this article's publication, many of the facts and discoveries in this case are still unfolding. By the time it's over, a summary of the situation will probably be the size of a small book.