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.


Nima G.

Just a quick anecdote for how this whole suspicion started.

A few months ago I was playing 200/400 limit holdem with a guy named graycat. I had played with graycat before, and he wasn't good. Mind you he wasn't the worst ive ever seen but there were things very fundamentally wrong with his play, and as a result he was a huge loser in the game.

I sit down at the table, and my friend sends me a message about how Graycat had been killing people. Sweet, more money for me. The game starts going, becomes 5 or 6 handed quickly, and ultimately fills up, because people know how bad this guy is. He's the type of guy that loves every poker hand he sees and is essentially a gambler: a poker pro's dream.

As the game goes, I'm running super hot. I'm hitting hands left and right, mostly against Graycat. But I begin to joke around about how he's (uncharacteristically) never paying me off: as in, he folds every time i hit my hand. I start showing my cards to the table after he folds and even make comments like "this guy can read my soul!" and "man this guy can see my cards" but jokingly of course.

The session ends with Graycat winning a few thousand dollars, and the table breaking up immediately upon his departure. I don't think anything of the situation, and move on.

The next day I see Graycat again. I decide to sit with him again, and the game goes with four players. This time Graycat is running over me and the rest of the table. The odd thing was not that I was losing; every good poker player goes through losing streaks. The main thing was the manner I was losing in. He would bet the maximum before any cards came out, and would keep betting if I had nothing, but if I had three of a kind, he would just check and fold his hand. Even after some of the cards came out. It became very odd when he seemed to "know" exactly what was in my hand time after time. The game broke when Graycat won about $20,000 this time.

Immediately one of the other guys at the table sends me a message asking me if I thought Graycat was cheating. I've never accused someone of cheating in online poker before (because I think it's extremely unlikely). But for someone to play THIS perfectly consistently for hundreds of hands is a near statistic impossibility. Given that every decision in poker is marginal to begin with, guessing right on every 50/50 shot is unbelievable.

Our discussions went from there, and we found out about the POTRIPPER and DOUBLEDRAG scandals as well, which ultimately led us here.

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jj

Santos - I don't believe you that potripper folded KK pre-flop "with nothing in the pot" as you write. Point to a hand reference or video where this supposedly happened.

As to Chris's comment - it's not enough to argue that because you are an expert poker player, and because you believe the hand histories show cheating, that there was cheating. Nor is it enough to conclusorily state that this is like "200 coin flips" (which is absurd).

Instead, to be persuasive, an expert must actually show his reasoning. It's this "showing the reasoning part" that is never described, or when described turns out to be fallacious.

I agree with you, if the mysterious observer really was a high-up employee or ex-employee, this is very compelling evidence. But the evidence for this, while suggestive, is still a bit uncertain.

nerkul

jj - statistical evidence is used in court often. This blog and the blog of Andrew Gelman write about it. What is absurd about winning 200 consecutive coin flips is the idea of it happening by chance.

You have obviously viewed the hand histories. Do you disagree with the expert analysis, or do you just not trust it?

CF

I encourage everyone to view the video replay of the tournament. You can either go to the above link at pokerxfactor.com and sign up for a free account in order to watch it or you can see it on youtube at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FczbS7FiWSM

There is absolutely no way that someone would be able to play perfect poker over 130 hands or so. The argument is that he doesn't know what's coming on the flop-turn or river but he has the ability to see everyone's cards and thus make perfect decisions everytime. Take a look for yourself if you have any doubts. He folds KQ in late position(this guy plays 82 in early position so KQ is a monster right?) but the blind happens to be holding AA when he folds it.

Enough of me rambling, I know he could see the cards and you should watch the video and judge for yourselves. Remember this is a $1K buy-in tournament so his opponents aren't slouches.

CF

Here are the four parts for the youtube video:

part 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FczbS7FiWSM

part 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbQyKgELDEA&watch_response

part 3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqmp-a7SzFs&watch_response

part 4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCMiK9pJ7Kw&watch_response

And the link to the thread of the guy who posted these on 2+2

http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/showflat.php?Cat=0&Board=beats&Number=12538837&page=0&fpart=1

Sam

There are a couple of things stated in this article that aren't exactly right, so I would encourage people to read the updated evidence, posted here:

http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/showthreaded.php?Cat=0&Number=12541923&page=0&vc=1

pyppi

Prison time? I lolled

Scott

One interesting aspect of this is that from AP's response, they are not really interested in showing what happened in these cases. According to AP's response:
"Specifically, Absolute Poker has requested that Gaming Associates conduct a thorough and extensive review of Absolute Poker's practices and security system's to determine whether it is possible for any person, device, program, script or other means to see hole cards thereby gaining an unfair advantage."

This seems to go along the wrong path. If someone claims to see a ghost, the best way to refute it is to prove that a ghost did not or could not appear in this case. If instead, you did an investigation which proclaimed, "We have proof that ghosts don't exist, therefore this person could not have seen a ghost." the results would be pretty incredulous.

I don't even know if it's possible to show that a site cannot be hacked or that it would be impossible for a backdoor to exist. When a situation exists in which the only plausible explanation is that someone somehow could see all the hole cards, the best way to refute it is to come up with a more plausible explanation or show specifically why this scenario could not exist.

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eric lynch

I am a professional poker player and I am taking all of my money offline and cashing out for good. I will only play live tournaments until people aren't able to multi-account and cheat. ONLINE POKER IS NOT SAFE! - Rizen

Bob

Theres NO cheating in online gambling...just ask anyone at www.pocketfives.com they will come out from under their rocks to tell you what a idiot you are or that the sites have too much to lose to cheat.

Muhahaha hahha

SCTrojans08

It's no surprise that there are a lot of us who all work together to win tourneys and split profits. I have several accounts myself for each site I play on. Increases my chances of winning if I bust out early.

Wilson

I don't know enough to comment on whether there was cheating or not. But I would like to point out, just because the statistical probability is extremly low doesn't mean it couldn't happen. The chance of winning lottery is about 1 in 175,000,000, but people win it all the time.

2+2Reader

I always knew AP was a scam site. Funny that I go from winning thousands to barely breaking even in 3 years. I hope Absolute and Ultimate Bet go down in flames. If you still have money on AP or UB, take it off now! We cannot trust online poker anymore. If it can happen at one site, it can happen at all of them.

bh

I play at UltimateBet, a sister site of UltimatePoker. Bad news...

One note about poker sites makeing money hand over fist... many sites offer large tourneys where the amount of money in the prize pool may exceed the number of registered players times their buy in.. (e.g $200K tourney, with 800 registered users at $200 entry is $180K collected.) So maybe Scott was a little behind on his country club dues... regardless, its a heck of a lot of money on the table to not be tempted..

Jamie Cole

Hey Levitt,

I have noticed another phenomenon on nearly all online poker sites. And if it is true, I doubt they are breaking any rules or promises.

I've observed that when you are a NEW player on one of their sister free sites, you almost always get better cards the first few days you sign up. Never fail. I am presuming that the idea is to make you think you are a better player than you are, and excite you into making the transition to the pay site.

And I have yet to find any notice or terms on any site stating that their free sites are guaranteed to be random or unaltered play.

The Zoner

I watched not even half of the video and was convinced he was cheating. Calling a raise with 10-5? Playing 3-7? In a 1K tourney? Garbage. Total cheating. I'm glad I quit playing there a long time ago.

KC

Jamie Cole-
I have actually noticed that when I sign up I do get better cards than what I will get a week or so later. The last two times that I deposited money on a poker site for the first time or at least for the first time in a while. I had taken down a MTT tourney for at least $1,100.... While this may just be coincidence, it is rather strange because I rarely get close to first again after that win.

Red Polka

interesting, but given the summary, i am sure that no cheating existed.
poker players love to claim cheats but in reality they would never pull that
in a tournament b/c the risk-reward is not there. there are too many
situations in no-limit tournaments where you have to put all of your money
in the pot and are the clear favorite but lose. even if they were workgin
with someone at absolute, that person couldnt know what the turn and river
were b/c they are randomly generated after the flop. if they were going to
do that, they would play at the high limit cash games and make alot of $

visit www.redpolka.com

Rocket21

The real scary thing is, these guys were only caught because they were basically the biggest idiots in the world. Anyone with half a brain coulda milked this scam forever without arousing any suspicion. These morons played every hand preflop and had an infinite river aggression factor, which every player with data mining software will spot. Then they win the big tourney of the week by calling an all-in with ten high.

The V0id

Hey all, I just got scammed by Pokerstars after I won the WCOOP Main Event. 22 hours of play and I won it! Then they take away my money because people thought I cheated. They now owe me 1.3 million dollars. It all boils down to who is going to rat who out now I guess. Looks like I am going to have to out a few multi-accounters myself you rats. You think AP scandal is gnarly? Wait until you see my list of players and their other account names on the same sites. If I can't do it then none of you little turds can either. If I see any of you rat clowns in Vegas you better run. Time to take a flight down to Costa Rica with some of my buddies and have a talk with some people that owe me some serious cash.- TheV0id