It's pretty common to see comments such as "Online poker is rigged" in chat windows of your favorite online poker sites or on your favorite online forum.
Of course it always ends up being some tinfoil-hat wearing fish waving the rigged flag, so it's usually easy to brush it off.
If these people used their common sense they'd recognize that online poker isn't rigged: thousands of players in the United States and abroad make a good living off playing the game online and its integrity has never been brought seriously into question.
However, claims have surfaced about Absolute Poker that are hard to ignore. After a $1,000 multi-table tournament Sept. 12, rumors of a player cheating at the game by using a sort of "god mode" or "super user account" started to spread, and the story unfolded in several online forums.
It All Began With Potripper
It began with a player named Potripper winning the tournament when he made a miraculous call with ten-high, no pair, no draw while heads-up to win the tournament.
CrazyMarco, the player who finished second, was obviously instantly skeptical. In the days following the tournament he e-mailed Absolute Poker to ask them for the hand history from the tournament. What he received was a massive 10MB Excel spreadsheet.
When CrazyMarco opened the spreadsheet he had no idea what he was looking at. He was overwhelmed by all of the data and miscellaneous information that it contained. Not sure what to make of it, he promptly closed it and forgot about the file.
As the days went by he got to talking about the incident with some of his fellow poker players and mentioned this file. They decided to distribute it to a few people in the close knit 2+2 community. These individuals included N 80 50 24, ampokerdb.com maintainer and part owner of Bluff Media, and 2+2 forum poster SnagglePuss.
They independently examined the document with a fine-tooth comb. During the course of their communications, they realized that they were looking at the smoking gun. This file contained the entire hand history for the tournament, showing all tables and everyone's hole cards rather than just CrazyMarco's information.
It also showed the IP addresses and e-mail addresses of players both playing and observing the tables. So far, there's no explanation for how the document was released. Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, said in his NY Times blog that he believes the file was leaked from the inside by a whistle-blower who wanted expose the cheater.
Hand History is Most Telling
The hand history would turn out to be the most telling. Even if this was the only information that was extracted from the Excel file, it would still be obvious to everyone that something strange went on.
The data was plugged into a program that can take hand histories and play them back like a movie that is uploaded to YouTube. It was obvious to anybody familiar with the game of poker that something wasn't right.
First of all, Potripper played every single hand in the tournament. This playing style would cause any normal player to bleed money through the nose.
However, Potripper never, ever made a wrong decision. He always made a bet when he was ahead, he always folded when he was behind, he always bluffed at exactly the right time. He never made a mistake.
Furthermore, the only time Potripper folded before the flop was when someone at the table held a high pocket pair.
User 363 Opened and Observed the Entire Tournament
The giant Excel spreadsheet that was leaked also contained a wealth of other information. Whenever somebody joined a table it recorded their IP address, e-mail and user ID.
N 80 50 24 pored over all of the data, especially at Table 13 where Potripper was seated. What he found was that a player with a very low user ID, User 363, opened the table and observed it for the entirety of the tournament.
The significance of this User 363 is that such an incredibly low user ID must have been created by Absolute Poker, probably as a test account when Absolute was in its beta testing stages. This "User 363" had a Costa Rican IP (Absolute is based in Costa Rica) and shared the exact same IP with another user, "[email protected]"
Through further investigation, the Internet sleuths at 2+2 traced the Rivieraltd.com domain name back to the same servers that host Absolute Poker. They then set their sights on unmasking [email protected]
It didn't take them much longer to crack the case. The same IP had been used for an account on the 2+2 forums. Using this connection to 2+2, the IP address in question was identified as belonging to Scott Tom. Scott Tom was an executive and partial owner of Absolute Poker.
Potripper Belonged to AJ Green
It was also discovered that the Potripper account belonged to AJ Green, alleged best friend of Scott Tom and former director of operations at Absolute Poker. Was this all just a big coincidence or evidence of a much more sinister scandal?
Despite the mounting evidence, Absolute Poker issued a statement denying any and all allegations made against the company. They claimed that Scott Tom has not been employed at Absolute Poker for more than a year. They also stated that it is impossible for any user to see everyone's hole cards.
Absolute Poker remained steadfast in their position that no "super user" account exists. Beyond that, Absolute hasn't answered any questions about the incident.
Now, Absolute Poker is set to undergo an "independent third-party audit" by the firm Gaming Associates, after the Kahnawake Gaming Commission asked them to investigate the situation. Absolute Poker is licensed in Canada by the KGC.
A Debacle at a Bad Time
This debacle could not come at a worse time. The atmosphere around online poker and other online gambling is still in question in the United States where the government has already been working to ban the industry.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) passed in the U.S. in fall 2006 has already created extreme restrictions around financing online poker, and many in the American government are firm believers in "the horrors" of online gaming.
A fraud on this scale may only serve to solidify the opinions of naysayers.
Unfortunately, the scandal will shift focus away from the real debate. This is not a widespread problem. It is likely an isolated instance in which some former executives found a way to bamboozle their former customers.
It should be obvious to everyone that stepping up and dealing with a problem is going to be better in the long run for Absolute Poker than just stonewalling and flat-out denying any wrongdoing.
Just look at Poker Stars and how they handled The V0id and his multi-account playing during the WCOOP. Granted, that isn't as serious as a player being able to see hole cards, but nevertheless Poker Stars looked into the matter and discovered that there were activities going on that were against the rules. They dealt with the problem swiftly by disqualifying The V0id, seizing his $1 million in prize money and redistributing it to the proper winners.
Poker players need to be to feel at ease playing poker online. They need to be able to believe that if something like this happens, as rare as it is, the support on their site will come to their aid and do the right thing. Absolute Poker needs to step up and take responsibility: it needs to admit that some shady activities went on, make reparations for them and enact measures that will prevent incidents like this in the future.