The Absolute Poker Cheating Scandal Blown Wide Open

[Addendum appended.]

A few weeks back I blogged about allegations of cheating at an online poker site called Absolute Poker. While things looked awfully suspicious, there wasn’t quite a smoking gun, and it was unclear exactly how the cheater might have cheated.

A combination of some incredible detective work by some poker players and an accidental (?) data leak by Absolute Poker have blown the scandal wide open.

You can read the first-hand account in the following thread at 2+2 Poker Forum, but here’s the short version:

Some opponents became suspicious of how a certain player was playing. He seemed to know what the opponents’ hole cards were. The suspicious players provided examples of these hands, which were so outrageous that virtually all serious poker players were convinced that cheating had occurred. One of the players who’d been cheated requested that Absolute Poker provide hand histories from the tournament (which is standard practice for online sites). In this case, Absolute Poker “accidentally” did not send the usual hand histories, but instead sent a file that contained all sorts of private information that the poker site would never release. The file contained every player’s hole cards, observations of the tables, and even the IP addresses of every person playing. (I put “accidentally” in quotes because the mistake seems like too great a coincidence when you learn what followed.) I suspect that someone at Absolute knew about the cheating and how it happened, and was acting as a whistleblower by sending these data. If that is the case, I hope whomever “accidentally” sent the file gets their proper hero’s welcome in the end.

Then the poker players went to work analyzing the data — not the hand histories themselves, but other, more subtle information contained in the file. What these players-turned-detectives noticed was that, starting with the third hand of the tournament, there was an observer who watched every subsequent hand played by the cheater. (For those of you who don’t know much about online poker, anyone who wants can observe a particular table, although, of course, the observers can’t see any of the players’ hole cards.) Interestingly, the cheater folded the first two hands before this observer showed up, then did not fold a single hand before the flop for the next 20 minutes, and then folded his hand pre-flop when another player had a pair of kings as hole cards! This sort of cheating went on throughout the tournament.

So the poker detectives turned their attention to this observer. They traced the observer’s IP address and account name to the same set of servers that host Absolute Poker, and also, apparently, to a particular individual named Scott Tom, who seems to be a part-owner of Absolute Poker! If all of this is correct, it shows exactly how the cheating would have transpired: an insider at the Web site had real-time access to all of the hole cards (it is not hard to believe that this capability would exist) and was relaying this information to an outside accomplice.

If this is all true, I presume that the two cheaters are looking at potential prison time. I would also guess that if Absolute Poker continues to argue that nothing out of the ordinary happened, they will take an enormous hit to their profits. Online poker is a game of trust — players send their money to a site believing that they will be playing a fair game, and trusting that the site will send them their winnings. If there is even a little bit of uncertainty about either one of those factors, there is no good reason for a player to choose that site over the many close substitutes that exist. If I ran Absolute Poker, I would take a lesson from past corporate attempts at cover ups, sacrifice the cheaters, and institute safeguards to prevent this ever happening again.

The real lesson of this all, however, is probably the following: guys who aren’t that smart will figure out ways to cheat. And, with a little luck and the right data, folks who are a lot smarter will catch them doing it.

(Hat tip: Dan Hirschberg and Dean Strachan, who have kept me up to date on this story.)

Addendum: After the publication of this blog post, Absolute Poker conducted an investigation which did not find any evidence suggesting that Scott Tom was himself directly involved in the cheating.

jeffery smythe

Clearly you should join the fbi and i'll leave my day job too, loose a few pounds, get in a time machine and roll back 40 or so years, forget about the wife and kids, get me a flight to Costa Rica and see if the guys at Absolute mind having a retired maths teacher run their PR department.
- JS


I've been playing poker since I was 8 years old. I'm now 50. I've played in Las Vegas since I was 18(illegal). So in 37 years I've pretty much seen everything that can happen in all types of poker. I've been playing on-line for about 3 years until the US government decided we weren't adult enough for that. I've played in live tournaments for years.

My father has played poker all over the planet since 1937 and has 70 years of playing experience.

His brother, my uncle, is retired from the gaming industry in Las Vegas. He was the casino manager of a major strip hotel that has been in business since 1952. He was the first casino manager to install a poker room in a strip hotel in 1953.

He was also responsible for getting me laid the first time but that's another story.

We all took a look at the hand histories and other data that was available for this tournament.

Our Conclusion:

While Potripper did catch some pretty good hands in places that were extremely lucky for him our overall impression is that he was colluding with someone and quite possibly knew what other people's hole cards were.

There was more than one instance where his betting patterns and style of play went counter to what a knowledgeable player would do in that particular situation unless he knew what all the cards in play were. In a couple of instances it was pretty clear that he altered his play and betting at the exact moment when he was in a huge advantage or already knew he couldn't possible lose even though the cards he was holding at the time were marginal at best.

You have to understand that in order to win a tournament you have to play almost perfect poker for the whole tournament. What this guy was doing went far beyond that, anyone who has a moderate amount of poker knowledge could see it.

If you don't think this is possible anyone remember these three guys?

Chris Harn, Glen DaSilva and Derrick Davis.

If you don't, they had a great scam going for years
got greedy, won 3 million dollars, and got busted.

Cheating and cheaters exist in everything we do and everywhere we go. I for one have no trust in online poker anymore. Maybe the FEDS did everyone a favor.


Christopher T

As a regular online player (though no pro), I too thought the hand history was so astoundingly in favor of Potripper as to strongly suggest "prescience" on his part. If in fact there was none then this fellow needs to go pro ASAP, if he hasn't already.

However, I'd like to address the majority of this comment to Mr. Levitt. First of all, I'd take slight issue with your contention that cheating is primarily the province of the less intelligent. As many contemporary scandals have suggested, cheating is also the province of the extremely intelligent or talented, e.g., Bill Belichick, Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds, Enron, etc. I think the primary commonality is opportunism rather than intelligence.

Also, it's my view that the risk-benefit analysis strongly militates IN FAVOR of online poker sites rigging their software, at least on the play chip tables if not the cash tables.

Here's why, imo. Poker sites make their profit from the rakes on cash hands played. The more cash hands played, the more profit. Therefore, if by rigging the software to produce results which would persuade even, say, 5% of marginally skilled players who otherwise would not play cash tables that they're skilled enough to play for cash, the site stands to gain additional millions in annual profit. It would be easy enough to implement software to identify, target and reward the "fish" players with winning flops.

And there's almost no downside, at least not to rigging the play chip games. You have the initial defense of disbelief that it would even actually occur, perpetuated by the conspiracy debunkers and flat denials issued by the site itself.

Then you have the next line of defense, that these sites are audited by independent regulators. Well that may be so, but how often are these sites actually audited? Even assuming periodic random audits DO occur, how hard is it to change the software, even immediately prior to an audit? If nothing else, claim a server shutdown/system difficulty and delay the audit. And even assuming the audit uncovered the cheat program before it could be removed or concealed, how hard is it simply to claim a programming glitch?

Finally, you have the last resort line of defense...where is the harm in rigging only play chip tables? There's no consideration, so there is no legal remedy. Yes, the site itself has suffered appreciable damage to its reputational interest, but can that not be sufficiently remedied by the "bad apple/we're working diligently to regain your trust" patch? In all honesty, I doubt it would drive every player away from the site to begin with, since a fair number playing there ALREADY believe it's rigged and still choose to play there anyway, on top of those who wouldn't even learn of the scandal to begin with.

Let's assume a poker site presently generates $75K/day profit from the cash rakes. Let's further assume that an additional $7.5K/day would be generated by rigging play chips and hustling marginal players to play for cash. You've increased your annual profit by 10%, from $27M/yr to $30M.

Let's further assume that if you get caught rigging, your profit will take a nasty plunge of 50% to $13.5M/yr from all the harm to the site's interests. However, let's assume there's only a 10% chance you'll get caught redhanded worst-case scenario, so the amount you're actually placing at risk to cheat is only $1.3M. Your cheating ROI is 100%!

So imo, there's very little downside to rigging, at least not the play chip games, and a huge upside. Imo the high +EV suggests that it would be foolish for the poker sites NOT to rig.

Granted, I'm not an economist and I've probably made some rosy assumptions, but what say you, Mr. Levitt?


Mark McAndrew

Hi folks,

I'm a freelance who occasionally writes about poker. My most recent article was about the history and methods of cheating at the live game, and I'm writing a follow-up about online shenanigans.

For example, the recent WCOOP still has some unanswered questions (although PokerStars disqualified winner 'TheVOid' for cheating, he may not have been alone), but everything - and I mean everything - pales into insignificance compared to the Absolute scandal.

This isn't just an inside job, it's THE inside job. Like Enron, it goes all the way to the top - and it will probably bring down more than one company and lead to jail time.

Before this, the questions were, 'Are there really many cheats? Do the sites genuinely try to catch them?'

Now it turns out a site IS the cheat. It simply doesn't get any worse than this.

FWIW, the guys on the poker forums (TwoPlusTwo and Pocket5s) have done an astonishingly brilliant piece of detective work. Without their dedication, tenacity, and that bit of good luck in receiving the complete hand histories, AP would not have admitted anything - and the scam would still be ongoing. The horrible implication, of course, is that it may still be happening elsewhere.

Online poker needs proper regulation (thank you, UK Govt) and, maybe, a fundamental rule change to beat the cheats once and for all.

Imagine if ALL hole cards were shown at the end of every hand. That would solve a few problems.



I think the REAL lesson here is that gambling in a virtual world is a gamble in and of itself.

Panem et Circanses

Prison time, for an online scam outside the US? Trust, when we have no idea how many such things have happened that weren't so blatant and weren't discovered? Online isn't the way to play, folks...


who is gonna put the cheaters in prison? the chilean government? these guys aren't allowed to operate in the us. collusion, the act of several people playing co-operatively, is also rampant on internet poker though not as lucrative. unfortunately real money gambling sites aren't regulated by our government.


well, any time money is involved (whether it's live gambling, buying stocks, getting a contractor to do work for you, etc), there will be a few bad seeds out there that try to cheat you out of money one way or another.

just like you can be smart and get reputable contractors to do work for you and invest in quality companies with proven management, you cna choose to play poker only at sites like Poker Stars and Full Tilt, and stay away from "sham" sites like Absolute with seedy owner/operators.



Online gambling sites (as are casinos) are built around trust. If the trust is gone (say a insider cheating scandal) than gamblers won't go to that site and that site won't stay in business long. There social networks out there that rate the "trust" of gambling sites and other gamblers.


Is anyone surprised that there is cheating in gambling? To this fellow from the midwest, it all seems to go together; gambling, drinking, smoking, cheating, adultery. Would the data back me up? Do gamblers drink, smoke, cheat, commit adultery more than the general population? For instance, how much in gambling winnings are reported by taxpayers that have not had a Form W2-G issued by the payer?


What an idiot! Not suprising that he/ they would be tempted, but a large online poker site like Absolute must have been making money hand over fist and to risk it all just to win a few hands! I would not be suprised if similar schemes ended up surfacing now.
The only solution would be to legalize it here in the US, you can be sure that MGM would not be caught doing these paltry parlor games.


@tim - isn't trust a gamble?


An employee of Absolute Poker observing one of their own $1000-buyin tournaments from work? What more proof is needed of cheating!

Seriously, I can't believe you wrote that nonsense. If someone had hacked Absolute's gaming servers in Canada, or an employee was cooperating with a player to cheat, it would have nothing to do with someone observing a table. I can't imagine there wouldn't be staff observing a $1000-buyin tournament. Have you ever made the final table of a major tournament, or even watched one? The staff is often right there chatting, arranging deals, etc.

If you want to make an argument that online poker is rigged, at least make it a good one. All I see here is irrationality and paranoia.


Discordian #1 wrote:
"I think the REAL lesson here is that gambling in a virtual world is a gamble in and of itself."

How ironic.


GF -

Read some of the hand histories at the 2 +2 forum. Anyone with a somewhat - advanced knowledge of tournament poker strategy, or poker strategy in general for that matter, can see that it was obvious that someone could see the hole cards of every player.

Making a great play in one hand is one thing. Making a good bluffs, good calls, and good folds are the three main keys to being a successful poker player. To do it with the regularity and success the person had in this tournament is completely unmatched and obviously points to cheating of some sort.

What's really sad is that poker has been crawling out from under the shadows since 2003. Ingrates like those in this scandal are doing all they can to restore its old connotation as a seedy, violent, morally corrupt game played by no one but degenerates.

Mike S


What you are suggesting is easily distinguishable from the case at hand. The staff at a final table is of course observing, but how many of them are taking a peek at all the player's cards and telling one player what everyone else has? It's like playing poker where everyone has a sign on their forehead announcing to you what they have, but no one else can see it except you, and no one knows what your cards are...

See the difference?

Nice work by the detectives...

Santos L Hauper

To GF; if you read the link provided, it mentions how the observer account was able to see the hole cards. It is an account software engineers used to make sure the software was working, thus was able to see the cards.

To Chip; 1- Buying stocks is gambling. 2- Does the Enron scandal mean all corporations are cooking the books?


You are obviously not a poker player and have not researched this matter closely. Did you even look at the hand history for the tournament in question GF?
This scandal is paramount to the future of safe online gambling. Online poker needs to be regulated in the U.S. to prevent corruption like this from occuring.
Great article Mr. Levitt, very well written. I would not be surprised if GF worked for Absolute Poker's public relations department.


This article contains three main errors.

First, it links for support of its claims to various huge threads (thousands of posts) on another message-board, which are full of various allegations of varying levels of plausibility. To support his claim, the author should link to specific evidence or statements - something that can be checked, in other words.

Second, the article states without evidence that "virtually all serious players" view the hand histories as evidence of cheating. There is no way for the author to know this, and it seems very implausible. There has not been specific credible evidence that the hand history alone is evidence of cheating, much less that most serious players think it is.

Third, the article circularly suggests that an Absolute Poker employee observing a tournament is evidence of collusion. Why wouldn't employees routinely observe tournaments anyway?

Thus, although there is insufficient evidence to rule out cheating, the article overstates its case as to any actual evidence thereof.


Its time for them to step up and admit the fact that security was compromised , No more lying and saying there is nothing wrong .