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.


Mango

@Chip #6:
"Would the data back me up? Do gamblers drink, smoke, cheat, commit adultery more than the general population?"

Yes. It seems on the DSCA Index (drinking, smoking, cheating, adultery) gamblers do rank significantly worse than lawyers and truck drivers. However they are not quite as bad as journalists, and still a long way from catching television evangelists.

Chris

GF- Read the threads. You argument holds no water as it fails to address why that observer observing the table (which wasn't the final table at all) is interesting.

As someone who put time into those threads I can assure you there is much more to the story than you can dismiss with that short and misguided post.

NN

to 'jj',

regarding your first point, I would suggest you would search through the entire thread, and the threads before that. There is both statistical and IT information to be found there that backs up all the arguments.

ChrisV

#16 jj:

You raise reasonable points. The problem is that Levitt is trying to condense a large amount of information, some of it technical, into a short, easily understood post.

To take things in order:

First, Levitt has linked to the evidence. The star evidence we have is the POTRIPPER hand histories. That isn't the only evidence, but it is quite sufficient by itself. If you're not an expert at poker, you're going to have to take the word of people like me on 2+2 (expert witnesses, if you like) that these histories unequivocally show that cheating was occurring. They are akin to somebody flipping a coin 200 times and having it come up heads every time. The more experienced among us spend quite a bit of time debunking half-baked "online poker is rigged" conspiracy theories, but in this case the evidence is overwhelming.

Secondly, the reason Levitt is able to state that virtually all serious players view the histories as cheating is that nobody on 2+2 (the biggest and best poker forum online, home to some of the best players in the world) has challenged this conclusion after these histories came to light. This is not a case of groupthink, since some remained unconvinced by the lesser evidence we had prior to these histories becoming public.

Employees would often observe final tables of tournaments, but the histories we have are from the start of the tournament. There is no reason for an employee to observe a random table of a big tournament and to observe that table only and not switch. The fact that POTRIPPER folded two hands in a row before this observer joined and then didn't fold another hand for 20 minutes is pretty suggestive. Also, something Levitt left out is that the internal userid of this user was recorded in the spreadsheet and he is user #363. Userid will increment as users are added, with new ones now being in the 7 digit range. A userid of 363 means that this user was added in the very early days of Absolute, probably during alpha or beta testing. The speculation therefore is that this is a testing account with special privileges.

There is other circumstantial evidence. For instance, investigators on 2+2 looked at the email address of a suspicious user and traced it (via WHOIS) to servers owned by Absolute Entertainment. The day after this discovery was made, DNS and WHOIS queries had suddenly been altered to hide this information. This is an awfully large coincidence unless you think a coverup is in progress.

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jj

NN - I have read through those threads, and I have not seen seen specific "statistical and IT information" that demonstrates Potripper could see opponents' hole cards.

The point is that Levitt is making the claim, so he should link to *specific* evidence, not some huge thread, 99.9% of which comprises people who just repeat that there is this evidence out there.

What Levitt is doing is bootstrapping: he's reporting on a large crowd of people, many shouting "there is cheating" and taking that as actual evidence of cheating. But it's not evidence of cheating - it's just evidence of crowd behavior. He needs to look at specific primary evidence of cheating, if any, and cite that.

Tim441

jj,

ALL serious poker players who have followed the issue are certain that cheating took place. The evidence is overwhelming. You need to try looking at the evidence in those threads. If that's too much trouble for you then you shouldn't be making ill-informed comments.

jeffery smythe

Here is the latest from AP -

Absolute Poker Official Management Statement
Absolute Poker Management wishes to inform the poker community of the following information in response to the most recent claims posted over the past 48 hours on the 2+2 and Pocket Fives forums wherein again it is alleged that some person or persons breached Absolute Poker's redundant and varying levels of game client security. As was stated in Absolute Poker's Official Response released on Friday October 12, 2007, Absolute Poker conducted an extensive investigation in response to the claims it was made aware of and received. The results of that investigation indicated that to the best of Absolute Poker's knowledge, information and belief there was no security breach. Specifically, Absolute Poker's internal investigation determined that it is impossible for any person, device, program, script or other means to see hole cards.

Based on the most recent claims that Absolute Poker has been made aware of and at the request of some of our players and business partners, Absolute Poker has agreed to retain a widely acclaimed independent third party auditor, Gaming Associates, to conduct an independent audit of Absolute Poker's security systems. 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. (http://www.gamingassociates.com)

Absolute Poker has agreed to fully cooperate with Gaming Associates and its investigative team and to provide the above with unfettered access to all systems, protocols and databases at Absolute Poker worldwide. Absolute Poker has also agreed to allow Gaming Associate's final report to be made available to Pocket Fives and Bluff Media for their review.

With respect to the claims that Scott Tom, a former Member of Team Absolute Poker, is in anyway involved in wrong-doing, Absolute Poker has requested a formal investigation into that matter as well. Mr. Tom has not been involved with Absolute Poker for over a year and to the best of our knowledge, information and belief has not had access to any of Absolute Poker's systems, databases or information.

Absolute Poker reserves the right to pursue any and all remedies whether in law or equitable which may procure to it as a result of any unlawful and injurious actions taken by any individuals who may have falsified any information, documents, files, or have by other means attempted to disparage and/or harm Absolute Poker, its Players, its current or former management, employees, business partners or affiliates.

Absolute Poker shall bear all expenses related to such investigation and is eager to learn about Gaming Associate's findings. Absolute Poker highly values and intends to protect its players, shareholders, business partners, and affiliates.

Absolute Poker Management

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Lester McFadden

With daily revenues of 300k+ it is a truly subhuman that would find the need to cheat. 300k a day isn't enough for these thieves? They just couldn't help themselves.

Chris

One more point for those who won't read the threads but will continue to refute things here.
The Absolute release states Scott Tom has not been part of Absolute Poker for over a year.

There is no doubt based on information sent from Absolute Poker to Marco in that file that someone using his email/modem is observing POTRIPPER's table during the tournament.

jeffery smythe

The site is clearly growing with all this attention - the information being argued is clearly speculative with no factual backing other than a long chinese whisper and a number of intellegent poker players arguing the statistical probability of being able to play and win like the accounts in question won - however noone has looked at nor as access to the long term picture of these accounts - Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP and yet many regarded his actual play as bad, the 3rd party auditor will decide if its possible for anyone to hack the site to gain an unfair advantage, and thats the key here - is it possible of anyone to cheat - my last comment is based on having i just visited www.Pokersitescout.com which tracks the daily activity of online poker sites - seems Absolute is still doing well - i think all the conspiracy theories will only allow the site to gain more attention, below are the average numbers of cash players/ day - you will note there seems to be more players there recently......
Sep 8 @ 8:10 PM 1852
Sep 9 @ 7:49 PM 2052
Sep 10 @ 7:49 PM 2226
Sep 11 @ 7:53 PM 2507
Sep 12 @ 7:27 PM 2629
Sep 13 @ 6:58 PM 2678
Sep 14 @ 8:09 PM 2296
Sep 15 @ 8:40 PM 2059
Sep 16 @ 7:49 PM 2257
Sep 17 @ 8:32 PM 2430
Sep 18 @ 9:00 PM 2269
Sep 19 @ 7:00 PM 2523
Sep 20 @ 7:13 PM 2462
Sep 21 @ 8:13 PM 2227
Sep 22 @ 7:08 PM 1902
Sep 23 @ 6:58 PM 2096
Sep 24 @ 7:53 PM 2311
Sep 25 @ 8:05 PM 2453
Sep 26 @ 7:41 PM 2422
Sep 27 @ 7:45 PM 2420
Sep 28 @ 7:05 PM 2345
Sep 29 @ 6:31 PM 2120
Sep 30 @ 7:40 PM 2414
Oct 1 @ 7:27 PM 2341
Oct 2 @ 7:32 PM 2504
Oct 3 @ 8:06 PM 2301
Oct 4 @ 7:48 PM 2622
Oct 5 @ 7:23 PM 2301
Oct 6 @ 8:31 PM 2200
Oct 7 @ 7:31 PM 2447
Oct 8 @ 7:54 PM 2417
Oct 9 @ 7:45 PM 2619
Oct 10 @ 7:51 PM 2795
Oct 11 @ 7:50 PM 2613
Oct 12 @ 7:14 PM 2479
Oct 13 @ 8:09 PM 2163
Oct 14 @ 7:39 PM 2352
Oct 15 @ 8:02 PM 2611
Oct 16 @ 6:49 PM 2593

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The Watcher

Hang them up to dry.... Lets shut AP down.. Pull our funds... We don't need cheaters....

Matt Anderson

It is also worth noting--since Absolute's latest reply has been posted--who is doing the auditing.

From http://www.absolutepoker.com/support/privacy.asp:
"Absolute Poker and this website is solely owned and operated by Tokwiro Enterprises ENRG, Route 138, Kahnawake, Quebec J0L 1B0. Tokwiro Enterprises ENRG is owned by a Mohawk of Kahnawake, and is operated from the sovereign nation of the Mohawks of Kahnawake, located near Montreal Quebec. The Mohawks of Kahnawake have an aboriginal right to conduct online gaming that is recognized and protected by the Canadian Constitution.

Absolute Poker is licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission that enforces regulations designed to ensure, amongst other goals, that: (1) only suitable persons/entities operate within Kahnawake; (2) all games offered are fair to the player; and (3) all winners are paid."

Aaaaand, from http://www.kahnawake.com/gamingcommission/ :
"The Commission has adopted technical standards that are applied to ensure that the games offered by a permit holder are fair to players. An applicant's systems are subjected to a risk analysis prior to implementation and an audit plan is established to ensure systems comply with the Commission's requirements. Operational monitoring and audits are conducted on a monthly basis to ensure continuing compliance. *
. . .
* Risk analysis performed by Gaming Associates"

The legitimacy of GA seems to still be up for discussion, and there is a pretty obvious conflict of interest.

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Russ Patterson

#27 Jeffrey,
The number of players on AP can be misleading. Because of the current broadcasting of the final table of the WSOP and AP's ad campaign, you would excpect a greater number of players there. I am sure all the sites are seeing greater numbers at this time for the same reason.
If you go to AP's site and look at where they are playing, you will see very little play at the high stakes tables.

Tim441

jeffery,

If people are learning about Absolute Poker through rumors of cheating I seriously doubt they're signing up for new accounts. If they knew about this information they'd be leaving. The story isn't really out there yet.

And the evidence is overwhelming if you bother to look at it. If you click the links to 2+2 you should be directed to all relevant threads, including the video in which you can watch a replay of the tournament that POTRIPPER wins.

All serious online poker players are in agreement about this, which says a lot given that winning online players are very skeptical of cheating and rigging claims in general. They are constantly rebuffing conspiracy theorists who blame their losses on cheating and card rigging. This time it actually happened, and the toughest skeptics are acknowledging it.

Santos L Hauper

The evidence that cheating occurred is the hand histories. If you do not play poker, you are dependent on poker players examining the evidence and determining if it's cheating. Poker is a game of incomplete information. If a player plays absolutely perfectly every hand throughout an entire tournament, it is evidence that either a)he is a divine being, or b)is cheating.

As a poker player, I can say for me one of the particularly obvious plays is folding KK with no one in the pot. Only the insane, divine, or cheating would ever do that.

jeffery smythe

Tim441
I hear you - the claims and accusations are serious for all poker players, and so is the concept of someone being able to hack the system to gain some kind of advantage over fellow players - however i still believe having absorbed all the evidence being argued that given Absolute Poker has been audited in the past and is prepared to go through the process again with an apparently legit 3rd party - surely we wait to see if it is possible for someone to hack the system and cheat and allow the media companies they mention to offer all of us a fair explanation? And until this is complete all of the evidence being used by forum posters is purely circumstantial and doesn't prove beyond reasonable doubt that anyone was able to hack the system and cheat.
I'm sure you know well that poker isn't just about stats - so if luck and strategy didn't have anything to do with the game - why would millions of people worldwide have poker as their prime recreation?

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Jack Tipper

Well - the biggest mistake is AP's claim that Scott Tom has not worked for AP for over a year. I know this to be false. I've met with Scott within this past year and he was infact the CEO of the business.

He is also the CEO of the same company that bought another big Poker site ultimatebet.com.

You have to understand that they guys are 20-somethings with too much money, thrown in to a shady culture in a country with no laws (Costa Rica), where everything goes.

kb

Jeffery,

You forgot your job title in the last post.

"AP Public Relations Director"

Stop spewing your crap. All of the evidence provided, even that by ABSOLUTE POKER, represents that cheating occurred beyond a reasonable doubt.

The only evidence that contrandicts these allegations, well, has not been provided by anyone. I insist, muster up something besides site player counts or generic PR statements by AP. Which are a joke at best. Seriously, if AP wants to squash the "Security Issue" an audit would've taken place BEFORE this happened to indicate an ongoing practice of security management. AP did not mention that in their statement. The just made a claim that their security couldn't be breached without proof from an independent third party. The fact that AP is going to audit their security AFTER this occurred and AFTER an "INTERNAL INVESTIGATION" screams cover up.

But of course everything is fine at Absolute Poker. Excuse me while I go vomit.

I suggest you rest your case and look for another job.

-kb

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ap player

What Dandruff and others are implicating is that it might not be Absolute Poker trying to gain excess profits by rigging tourneys, cash games, but Scott Tom who was a former owner having the ability and a superuser account to be able to see players hole cards. It is possible Absolute poker could be involved with this scandal but I think it's unlikely. I do however feel that one or more AP employees could be helping Scott and reaping benefits from taking money from the high stakes players on AP like myself.

Online-r

Absolutely stay away from AP until this is resolved but even the best site has had a recent cheating scandal. The winner of the World Championship of Online Poker was found to have cheated by PokerStars.