The Top Ten Poker Scandals of All-Time
In a game where being dishonest can be incredibly profitable, is it really a shock that real money poker has seen more than its fair share of cheats, scams, and scandals over the years? The variation of these goes far beyond someone not paying what is owed; instead, we have seen super-using, millions of a bonus not paid out, the mingling of players’ online bankrolls, and more.
It feels like a poker scandal or scam comes out every few months, like a Mission Impossible movie, but we’ve done our best to nail down the ten biggest poker scandals that have stained the poker industry.
An event that the poker world has yet to truly heal from, April 11, 2011, lives in infamy for many poker players and fans. The United States Department of Justice rained fire on the most prominent online poker operators at the time, indicting PokerStars, UltimateBet, and Full Tilt Poker. The charges include money laundering, illegal gambling activities, and bank fraud. The sites were snap-closed in the United States, leading to a loss of funds for many full-time poker players.
This incident harmed the reputation of online poker and the game of poker irrevocably, turning potential players away and driving poker players to leave their homes in the US to find someone with whom they could pursue their profession legally. PokerStars absorbed Full Tilt Poker, absorbing their losses and paying out players who had their funds co-mingled illegally by the former. The damage was done, and regulation in the United States for online poker has been an on-going battle ever since.
It took some players years to be made whole after Black Friday, and it drove people away from online poker and towards the live realm where poker could still be played. Regardless, the poker community saw the beginnings of fractures in the relationship between poker players and operators. A rapidly growing industry at the time, Black Friday stifled any kind of innovation, creation, or entrepreneurship. The smoke has still not cleared, the damage has not been fully assessed, and we still ask the question: Will the online poker industry ever recover from Black Friday?
Going back a few years before Black Friday, the early 2000s saw some of the juiciest action online poker has ever seen. Sites competed for players, and the poker bonuses, promotions, and action were flowing for everyone. One site called UltimateBet grew dramatically amidst the competition, endorsed by well-known names like Phil Hellmuth and the 1994 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion Russ Hamilton. Players flocked in their droves to play with their poker heroes; little did they know the game was rigged from the start.
It was not until 2008 that rumors began circulating on forums like Two Plus Two, that players began noticing something weird; a select few accounts would always make the perfect play in every situation against them - almost as if they knew their hole cards. The rumors spread, but the accusatory players were dismissed as sore losers. The evidence would eventually become too big to ignore.
Investigations started into these “Super-User” accounts, and the mind-boggling and stomach-churning truth was revealed: the accounts could see other players’ hole cards. The uncovering of this scandal was beyond stunning. What is the damage to the online poker community? An estimated $22,000,000, and more than likely north of this figure. Who was the key villain behind some heinous online poker acts?
Once the mask was removed, it was none other than Russ Hamilton, the at-the-time famous former Main Event champ. Would there be any resolution for the cheated players, akin to Black Friday? No chance. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission stepped in with a measly $1.5 million fine against UltimateBet, and even though the commission demanded a return of the ill-gotten gains, only 10% of the funds were ever given back.
The UltimateBet scandal was a reckoning moment in a Wild West-like atmosphere for online poker, serving as a dark reminder of the capacity of those greedy individuals who have access to power. You can win and lose big blinds, big pots, and poker tournaments - what you can not get back is trust. UltimateBet serves as a dark reminder of the need for regulation, checks and balances, and good character in the poker industry.
When two of the biggest names in the industry collaborated on something extraordinary, eyes were glued to it. Annie Duke and Jeffrey Pollack launched the Epic Poker League in 2011, a league that would elevate the game of poker globally with its professional roster of players and a huge $1,000,000 freeroll. The sports-like structure was thought to be a catalyst for growth for the game, taking it from a frowned-upon pastime into something that could be considered a legitimate sporting game.
The star-studded line-up included Daniel Negreanu, Huck Seed, Antonio Esfandiari, and even Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow. The media caught wind of this huge poker event, and the buzz was palpable. As the first season approached, the cracks all of a sudden appeared.
The hype turned into hysteria, as attendance was far lower than expected and the league struggled to capture long-term sponsors. The future was in question: could the Epic Poker League truly deliver on its lofty promises?
In swift fashion, the bubble burst, and the Epic Poker League was busted. The financial records showed the league to have assets totaling just $15,000, while the debts amounted to over $5 million. The $1 million freeroll disappeared, and players were left feeling betrayed.
The bankruptcy rippled through the professional poker community, with players having invested money, time, and their reputation into the venture. The Epic Poker League's failure also cast a stain on the game of poker, damaging the small chances it had to become professional in the sporting world and turning away potential investors.
Mike Postle was a little-known and unremarkable poker player who frequented little-known and lesser-watched poker streams from 2018 to 2019. How did this Under-Armour cap-wearing guy go from a dull, bland individual to capturing the imagination of cash game poker fans like no other player?
His ability to make the perfect play at the right moment, regardless of his wild pre-flop hand selection or against-the-grain bet sizings, captured the attention of the more savvy and intelligent poker fans. It took fellow Stones local and commentator Veronica Brill to speak out and say something after witnessing Poslte make the perfect play one too many times.
It took the pain-staking investigation of popular poker player and content creator Joey Ingram to uncover the data behind the scandal; over $250,000 won in $1/$3 and $2/$5 games during the year, a 62-session winning streak, and, most glaring of all, not one single oblivious mistake by the Crotch God.
It was essentially confirmed via Ingram’s detective work that Postle had some kind of hole card access on his phone, which he would place around his crotch and stare before he would make the perfect play. What followed was a $30 million lawsuit from the Stones poker community, which had been cheated by someone they considered a friend.
Despite the overwhelming evidence and mathematical anomalies, the judges and officials had a disturbing lack of poker knowledge or understanding, and Postle got off free. He tried and failed with a weak defamation suit, and the questions have lingered ever since this disturbing livestream scandal.
Pitbull Poker burst on the scene using the Flash-based poker platform, and players thought they had found a gold mine of a poker site with juicy games running on this unregulated poker site.
The odd behaviors were noticed fairly quickly; strong “bot-like” players and a recurring amount of painful beats. The foul play flags began to grow until they could not be ignored. The site went off for maintenance for a day, and two company employees fled the Costa Rican office. They would eventually get arrested and would confess to seeing other players' hole cards.
Pitbull Poker would never return online, and players were never made whole. The estimated loss was around $220,000, and the unregulated small-site poker operators were irreparably damaged.
When two of the game’s biggest and brightest talents were found to be using RTA (Real-Time Assistance) during their huge run in the high-stakes poker arena, the trust level of poker took a substantial hit across the board.
The duo were expected to be at the forefront of poker’s next generation. Instead, they became labelled as cheats and shunned by a community they had once been revered in. It is suspected that over five high-stakes tournaments were played by the duo where RTA was used, on top of allegations of ghosting and multi-accounting.
The scandal was put into the spotlight by well-known high-stakes pro Alex Foxen, who had seen Ali Imsirovic cheat one too many times when he sneaked a look at Paul Phua’s cards during a live poker tournament. The scandal damaged the high-stakes community significantly, as well as online poker in general. How do you know that some regular player you battle against isn’t using RTA against you? That question will linger for a long time.
It only took one tweet from poker pro Martin Zamani to set the poker world ablaze. He accused Bryn Kenney, one of the most winning poker players of all time, of being a cheat with unethical behavior and various forms of cheating. The accusations grew in depth and severity, starting with Kenney having his stable undertake acupuncture and frog poison by a Shaman to him having colluded in high-stakes poker tournaments on GGPoker and encouraged ghosting in his stable.
Kenney was accused of angling high-stakes poker “whales” by having them sit at tables with his horses, and the horses would go on to collude against these individuals. It was also alleged that Kenney’s horses actively used RTA during their tournaments. The community was split, as interviews held by Kenney with Joey Ingram and other poker news outlets would show him to be tripping over himself, but nothing concrete would come out.
It was revealed that Kenney had some kind of affiliate deal with GGPoker, adding to the lack of ethics, clarity, and morality in the poker saga. Kenney remains to be a prominent poker player, having featured at recent Triton poker events and even sitting next to Zamani at a Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open event.
Fedor Kruse was a young German poker player who aspired to reach the lofty heights of high-stakes poker. He would sit and grind the 50NL and 100NL PokerStars cash games, dreaming of the day he would sit at $25/$50 and battle against Linus Loeliger and the likes.
During the pandemic lockdown, he would rapidly climb from his low-stakes games to the highest games running, setting off shock and envy in his poker friends and the grinder community. In 2020, the envy grew too much, and his two housemates found that he was using a “dream machine”, a secondary offline computer that had a prebuilt RTA ready for him to solve any tough poker spot.
Evidence was collected and the poker community condemned him. Sites had to adapt quickly to become more prepared and stringent against this kind of RTA, although more cases would soon follow. Kruse would get banned for using the dream machine, but the trust and suspicions would become ingrained in the game, and we are yet to restore this damage.
Mark Teltscher was a growing pro in UK poker had a record of high-stakes wins, and seemed destined for the very top of the game. But after one World Championship of Online Poker Main Event, the destiny of fame and poker glory was swapped for a cloud of poker ethics and fair play.
In 2007, Mark Teltscher’s sister “TheV0id” would win the WCOOP Main Event, bagging $1,400,000 for the score. It was a huge win, but the celebrations were swapped for suspicions very quickly. It was discovered that her account had violated PokerStars’ terms and conditions under multi-accounting, and the account was linked back to her brother, Mark Teltscher.
An investigation found that Teltscher had used his sister’s account to enter the enormous event, and this was breaking the rules. A fine would follow of $10,000, but even more painfully, the $1.4 million was confiscated. The scandal would ripple through not just Teltscher’s poker career but also the notion of integrity and cheating in online poker. Mark Teltscher continues to be active in the poker world, but his name will be synonymously tied to the 2007 WCOOP Main Event.
The Hustler Casino LIVE streams generate a huge amount of fandom for the high-stakes cash games and the funny and friendly faces you see at the table. One of the more affable characters was the unknown Japanese pro Rysuke, who was always laughing and was more than happy to play huge pots and make adventurous plays.
He became a fan favorite and staple of the show until one day, he wasn’t. It became clear thereafter that the once fun and happy-go-lucky character had borrowed huge sums from HCL players and beyond and simply disappeared from the LA cash game poker scene, and his whereabouts were unknown.
His socials were silent; no one could find him. Until one picture surfaced of him playing in Florida at the Seminole Hard Rock poker room, seemingly playing $10/$20. This added to the mystery and allure of this scandal, but at the route of it is poker players who were left cheated by someone they took in as a friend. It is a cautionary tale for anyone who lends or borrows money in poker.