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Oct. 18th, 2007 @ 08:23 am absolute poker
Not interested in poker anymore, but this one transcends the game. Super executive summary: it's obvious now that one or more people on absolute poker have been able to see everyone's hole cards and have stolen large sums of money this way, possibly millions. Recall past threads about the magic glasses (thread one and thread two) and realize this guy was living the hypothetical.

It was inevitable that this would happen somewhere eventually. What's jaw-dropping about this story is how this guy was caught. No matter how often I hear about dumb criminals, there is always room for greater amazement. The "inciting incident" was his winning a $1000 buyin tournament by, on the final hand, calling an all-in bet holding ten-high on a KK74 board. Greatest read ever because his opponent had a 9-high flush draw. Naturally the guy who took second was a little miffed and emailed absolute poker saying he thinks he was cheated. They sent him a file that includes every player's hole cards, matched up to their username and IP address, for every hand of the entire tournament! Speculation says this was done intentionally by a whistleblower, because it's way too unlikely a mistake to be a coincidence. Analysis of the file shows the winner made nearly zero mistakes after the flop despite playing tons of hands. You might have to be a poker player to understand how obvious the cheating is, but it's as close to certain as it can be without a confession - and it would have been SO EASY for him to disguise it.

He could have collected six figures a month indefinitely with a near-zero chance of detection. The idiocy, it's too much to take. Once you've taken the difficult steps of discarding all ethical baggage and gaining possession of magic glasses, why not take one day off for some IQ lessons?

I speculate that this will not be anywhere near a fatal blow to absolute poker. The online echo chamber makes it easy to conclude something is a bigger deal than it is. People forget that 95% of poker players don't read poker forums, and some huge percentage of people already figured they were being cheated and kept playing anyway. On top of that, the people who would stop playing over this are on average going to be better and most likely winning players, which leaves the remaining population fish-heavy, which then draws almost everyone back in. It's just the way of it. Once you have a reliable population of fish at an online poker site, there's little short of a nuke that could put you out of business. Hell, we re-elected bush - if torturing people in our name isn't reason enough to disavow someone, then a little stolen money is peanuts.
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From:alexi_desadesky
Date:October 18th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
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The other interesting part of this is that the IP addresses of all observers watching the table were also given. A particular observer was following the ABSOLUTE IDIOT'S table for the entire tournament and the IP address of said observer was traced back to Scott Tom, who is supposedly a partial owner of Absolute Poker. So, it seems pretty obvious that Scott Tom was relaying all the cards to his infinitely stupid friend. This makes much more sense than some genius computer whiz bypassing Absolute Poker's security and then taking a tremendous blow to the head to make him dumb enough to forget to conceal his cheating ways.
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From:ezrastiles
Date:October 18th, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC)
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http://www.neverwinpoker.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=44393

This is a great detailed summary by Dan Druff, before the Scott Tom connection was made.
From:alexi_desadesky
Date:October 18th, 2007 03:56 pm (UTC)
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Oh and you're ABSOLUTELY right that this will not effect AP's traffic. It hasnt thus far (http://www.pokersitescout.com/SiteDetail.asp?site=AbsolutePoker&ab=57994485) and I doubt it ever will.
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From:ezrastiles
Date:October 18th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC)
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Steven Leavitt has just written about this in the NY Times Freakonomics blog. This story is going to get bigger and bigger, and AP's traffic will decline.

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/the-absolute-poker-cheating-scandal-blown-wide-open/

The last word is that AP has said there has been no cheating, they are hiring an auditing company, and that Scott Tom is a former employee with no access, who of course did no cheating, because there was no cheating. Did you hear that AP said there was no cheating? All is well people, all is well. Go back to your gaming tables...

And no one mentioned the alleged Mark Seif incident. Mark Seif is AP's most well known pro, two bracelet winner at NL holdem, and supposedly an AP shareholder. The incident occured well before this cheating scandal, early this year I think. Mark, who is apparently a donk at high stakes limit, played regularly at AP's higher cash games where he was a net loser, and is prone to abusive blowups. He was playing 75-150 headsup against a good player who was cleaning Mark's clock, until Mark told him he need a break. Mark came back after the break, told him he was ready to take him down, and then played perfect poker (folding out of turn when his opponent flopped a full house) and busted the guy for $10k in 15 minutes.

http://www.internettexasholdem.com/phpbb2/1-vt34808.html?postdays=0&postorder=asc&&start=0
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From:extempore
Date:October 18th, 2007 04:44 pm (UTC)
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What I'm saying is it won't make any difference how big the story gets. Maybe they'll see a blip in their traffic, but unless there are new developments from here, I do not think they will be materially impacted. We'll know in a few months.
From:tuco99
Date:October 18th, 2007 07:41 pm (UTC)

traffic

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I talked to someone in the industry who had apparently talked to a bunch of their friends that work at AP. They said that that players are withdrawing en masse and people are playing hands to be able to withdraw and finish clearing bonuses.

They will be a ghost town soon. Also, all big affiliate sites are going to pull them if they haven't already. New traffic dries up fast.

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From:extempore
Date:October 18th, 2007 08:50 pm (UTC)

Re: traffic

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I don't have my thumb anywhere near the pulse of online poker (never did, really) so I could be totally wrong. But regardless of what you are seeing/hearing right now, my intuition still says they will not be materially hurt by this. We'll see.
From:tuco99
Date:October 18th, 2007 09:02 pm (UTC)

Re: traffic

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Care to bet $1 with a random internet stranger? :)

Adam.
From:tuco99
Date:October 21st, 2007 03:39 am (UTC)

Re: traffic

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I'm now offering 5:1!

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From:extempore
Date:October 18th, 2007 04:46 pm (UTC)
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By the way, seif denies the folding to a flopped boat out of turn story, and I don't see any evidence of it there other than some guy's word.
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From:ezrastiles
Date:October 18th, 2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
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But it's such an interesting coincidence, and it occurred in February 2006! It maybe Seif is telling the truth, but it sure burnishes the legend. I think this story just gets more interesting all the time.

Right now I am writing a script about poker players and how wonderful and awful the poker world is, and how it is a dead end for some of our most talented people. My goal is to write it without a single poker hand in it, despite being set in casinos, poker tournaments, etc. I'm so tired of quads losing to straight flushes and the son folding the nuts to good old dad so he can win the WSOP ME while wrapping up all the psychological issues they had.

But despite the no poker hands edict, I want it to be a very accurate reflection of the issues (bankroll, table selection, addiction issues, family withdrawal, career killing resume gaps) that make up a professional poker players life and I want it to be a current, post boom story.

So my wife says, you should use this online cheating scandal in your script! I told her that it's hard enough to write an interesting story about a bunch of smelly, greedy, ill mannered men sitting around tables for days at a time. How do you write one about socially inept shut-ins, sitting alone in their bedrooms starting at oversized computer monitors?

INT. DINGY MESSY BEDROOM LIT ONLY BY A HUGE COMPUTER SCREEN
Ed, an average looking nerd, chin covered in days old growth of beard, frantically stares at his monitor. "How can this guy beat me, I'm the world's greatest online poker player!" he says. He frantically text messages his friend, Bob.
Cut To:

Bob staring at his laptop as he sits in bed. Ed's IM pops up on screen. Bob looks brilliant and concerned, like Spock does after Kirk gets them stuck in another mess. He types 'My calculations are that it's a million to one that he's not cheating you'.

Cut To:
Ed's cell phone rings. It's his beautiful girl friend Natasha. "What's a matter Ed? Why didn't you show up for dinner?"

"Natasha, even though you are the only woman I will ever love and I know my poker obsession is tearing us apart, I can't see you right now. I've uncovered a conspiracy. And it leads.... all the way to the President! Of Absolute Poker!"

"A conspiracy? But how!" Natasha sobs.

Cut To:
5 minute voice over by Ed on how online poker works with flow charted visuals. Something like fish entering a multicolored maze called "internet poker", with sharks named Ed & Bob chomping the fish at every turn, and then a giant crab named "Cheater" pops out of a clam and bites the Ed shark. Ed's half way through his explanation of online poker when...

Cut To:
The visibly bored Natasha, in bed with Bob, holding her cell phone like a dead fish. "That's okay Ed", she interrupts,"but I'm actually dumping you for Bob anyways." And hangs up.

Arg! the horror.....
From:airshort7
Date:October 18th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)

Hilarious

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I would have sat at $100 sit n gos for the rest of my life.
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From:nibor
Date:October 18th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)
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I'm not buying at all the whistleblower theory, for one simple reason. Absolute has a history of being terrible about sending comprehensible hand histories for tournaments. Another player reported that months earlier he was given a similar report (although they had thought to remove the IP addresses at least) when he requested a HH - full view of all cards at all tables in the tournament. I suspect they just have terrible software for tournaments and can't automatically generate a HH for a given player, and instead have to manually provide it from the master tournament report. Results then vary based on who is helping you that day.

On the other hand, perhaps this will finally answer the long-ago speculation of what kind of winning rate you could have if you could see hole cards and your opponents didn't know. Obviously you should be winning well over 95% of the time - but after the fact it will be obvious you were cheating.
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From:extempore
Date:October 18th, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I wasn't clear but I meant "other peoples' speculation", not mine. I have a lot of trouble with the whistleblower theory, but I also can't buy it as coincidence if, as I've heard elsewhere, they usually manage to send out a file that's not a gross breach of everyone's privacy. In my view, what really happened there is the most intriguing remaining question.
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From:arasirsul
Date:October 18th, 2007 04:18 pm (UTC)
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Absolute Poker probably takes a 5%, maybe 10% rake to run the tournament. For a tournament that big, they probably pay out 20-25% to first place.

Seems to me it's in their best interests, if they're sure they'll never be caught, to have a few shills running around in their tournaments. The guy "playing" with all the info takes home some of the pot for his trouble (and to stay quiet), the house gets the rest? A nice 50-50 split means Absolute Poker could move their rake up from 5-10% to 20-25ish percent, and that's not peanuts.

And if someone does come clean, well, it's not like anyone's gonna remember it in a year, so you're absolutely right: it's not a fatal blow.

A buddy of mine keeps getting $10 free money from those guys to come back and play. No wonder they can afford it...

-F
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From:whisky_river
Date:October 18th, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC)
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The scary thing, as you mentioned, is how easy it would have been for this guy to get away with it, and still make a ton of money. He just got greedy.

I think I read somewhere in one of the many threads about this that after the original, semi-bombshell dropped, the account purposely went out and lost a bunch of money, as if that would change things.
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From:jonathankaplan
Date:October 18th, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)
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'Bout time (to all that).
I haven't played poker in months. Amazing that I could waste so much time pushing plastic, accumulating meaninglessness, wasting time with people I rarely liked. This game is much more interesting...smile...

Offtopic, although I hardly comment, I appreciate the great pics of your life. I said somewhen that fatherhood was going to be one of the best things you've ever discovered. I'm sure I wasn't wrong.
Our best to your girls.
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From:awesomescampi
Date:October 18th, 2007 06:16 pm (UTC)
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Is it this part that makes it interesting:

Some types of behaviour which in many other card games would be regarded as cheating are generally considered acceptable in Tien Len. For example among some players it OK to peek at other players' cards, or to play out of turn if you can get away with it.
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From:jonathankaplan
Date:October 19th, 2007 05:08 pm (UTC)
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LOL, I'd forgotten that part of the rules.
This game is (I've been told) the national game of Vietnam, and apparently they have different societal mores there. But the game (also called VC, for Viet Cong) as played on the internet, perhaps they are cheating at some tables, but I don't really care, they are providing the action, I'm still learning, and the chips are free.

It is a very stimulating, strategic game. Kind of time consuming to deal in person, but online, it works well.
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From:awesomescampi
Date:October 20th, 2007 03:35 am (UTC)
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Actually I know the game quite well. The best strategy while playing live is to slam down your runs with an extra card underneath that could have fit in with the previous play.
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From:badblood44
Date:October 18th, 2007 04:44 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure the concept of restraint in a money-making cheater exists. If you're a cheater at heart, I imagine that over time the boredom of "just" making $X is outweighed by your desire to make $2X. And until you're caught, it just keeps going.

I'm not too worried that there's a super-user account at any site smart enough to play "normally" while ensuring he/she brings home their monthly nut.

I don't think those two mentalities exist in the same person.
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From:meezerman
Date:October 18th, 2007 05:42 pm (UTC)
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It has been speculated that a recent software update is what allowed this security breach, although the alleged involvement of Scott and Seif's questionable play years earlier make this less likely. But if it is the case, it might make sense to make hay while the sun shines, lest the next update knock out your x-ray specs.

Sadly, I agree that this probably won't hurt AP too much. There's an outside chance that between the mainstream links on digg, reddit, freakonomics, etc. that we could do something. It's been blacklisted by bonuswhores, which is something. But poker sites have this weird economic equilibrium you alluded to, where the worse they are in terms of software, rake, customer service, honesty, etc., the fishier the player pool becomes, which draws the sharks right back.
From:drtjeckleburg
Date:October 18th, 2007 06:04 pm (UTC)

I ALMOST posted off-topic for this...

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I really wanted to ask you about this in a tentacle in one of the past few entries. I even went as far as to try to think of seguis between decomposing mushrooms and online poker.

But then I remembered you'd probably delete my tentacle and refuse to address the issue out of spite, and I didn't want to be responsible for the world not being able to hear paulp's take on the whole thing.
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From:joepro
Date:October 18th, 2007 09:10 pm (UTC)
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The video of this tournament is amazing. I just watched a good portion of the four part video, and then read comments from various poker web sites. Some of the more amazing things imo:

1. Many people are saying this is a "doctored video" and not real.
2. If anyone thought "magic glasses" would not lead to almost-perfect tournament/ cash game success, watch the videos.
3. I think my game actually improved by watching the videos. In video #1, the "hero" was getting some good hands and playing them perfectly. The fact he had a humongous pile of chips helped him bully the table. And the fact he could see their cards helped as well.
4. I'm going to go with the camp that says absolute poker is done. These sites do not have enough cash to pay out all the players who want to withdraw, and I predict this will cause a "run on the bank," and they won't be able to pay out fast enough, and it will snowball into another Pokerspot-type fiasco. Anyone want to set the line on Absolute's demise?
From:alexi_desadesky
Date:October 18th, 2007 09:53 pm (UTC)
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As sad as it is to say, I just don't see AP getting hit hard by this. I doubt it will get any legitimate media coverage and even if it did that still might not be enough to shut them down. Scams like these are reported everyday and, unless they are so widespread that they are effecting the masses, people take little notice. In the short run they will probably see a slight down turn, but they will make offers that new players can't refuse and will bounce back to full form. This does not seem to have effected more than a handful of people. Other than the players that are pissed at how AP is handling this, which should come as no surprise considering we are a forgetful people, and the longer they can take addressing the issue, chances are, the fewer the amount of people will check up on it to see the outcome. It's how every scandal is handled these days and it's because if an issue does not concern a very large number of people it is quickly dropped and forgotten about.
Whats even more frightening than someone being able to look in on our hole cards is someone being able to listen in on our phone conversations without a warrant and without fear of repercussion. oh and someone's ablity to jail us and basically throw away the key without any explanation????? Our rights as Americans, "Oh, not a problem. Do what ya gotta do ta get the terrorists G.B." Our rights as poker players, "HOLY HELL. SOMEONE SAW MY HOLE CARDS!!!! BURN THEM AT THE STAKE!" Granted this may turn out to be more of a problem than a small percentage of people getting cheated occasionally, in which case it would probably have greater ramifications. For now it would appear AP has little to worry about.
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From:allknight
Date:October 19th, 2007 01:07 am (UTC)
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This certainly is a sad story about at least one online poker site. Of course if you have been following this industry you must have heard something to about people having multiple poker site nicks which they use to enter a tournament.

Now that I have been living in Nevada for over three years I rarely play poker online any more. I wonder how often cheating at the brick and mortar games occurs???

Finally I am happy to see that your new life in Oregon agrees with you and your little family Paul!