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Year in Review: Poker under fire in late fall

October and November brought a threat to the online poker world from something more sinister than anything an elected government could ever do: improprieties by both players and online poker rooms.

October saw the crowning of the sixth champion of the World Championships of Online Poker (WCOOP) events on PokerStars. "TheV0id", a virtual unknown, took the title. As soon as the tournament finished, however, there were cries that the account had actually been shared during the 22-hour tournament.

An investigation by PokerStars found that the winning account was set up by a highly successful professional (allegedly for his sister) and that he took it over once it was deep in the tournament.

For the first time in the six-year history of the WCOOP, PokerStars disqualified "TheV0id" for this violation of the rules and awarded the championship to "ka$ino", with poker pro Vanessa Rousso officially finishing second.

While PokerStars was quite open about this situation, another online room had its feet held to the fire soon afterward. Absolute Poker began to question the results of one of its tournaments and the play of a handful of participants in cash games on its site.

Absolute Poker staunchly stated that, through their own investigation, they could find no wrongdoing. It wasn't until a highly incriminating file made its way into the hands of prominent members of the online forum community, most notably Nat Arem, that Absolute Poker's tune began to change.

The hand history file, sent to a participant in one of the questionable tournaments, displayed information that no one should have been able to access and, as Arem continued to investigate, showed that there was an observer who shadowed a particular player from table to table.

It was at this time that the "super-user" scandal broke into the limelight. As mainstream media began to pick up on the story, Absolute Poker revised its previously stated findings and opened a second investigation.

Absolute eventually revealed that it was a "rogue employee" who was responsible for the security breach, which allowed someone to see the hole cards of all the players at the table. That wasn't enough for the online poker world; its members continued to push for a full investigation of the site by an independent authority.

As 2007 comes to a close, the final investigative report regarding Absolute Poker is still forthcoming, although Absolute has awarded millions of dollars to players who were affected by the situation.

Another tournament scandal came to light during October and November that again demonstrated the ramifications of violating online poker site rules. After "BluffMagCV" was able to defeat European poker pro Soren Kongsgaard in a Million Dollar Guaranteed event at Full Tilt (during which Kongsgaard's Internet connection cut out), many were surprised the next week when "BluffMagCV" captured another similar event at PokerStars.

Once again, the online forum community brought to light the possibility that "BluffMagCV" wasn't the player who signed up for the account.

After investigation by Full Tilt, it was discovered that "BluffMagCV," Chris Vaughn, had sold his account in the Full Tilt tournament to online powerhouse Sorel "Imper1um" Mizzi. The selling of the account was a violation of the terms and conditions of the site and, as a result, both Vaughn and Mizzi were banned from the site and the first-place prize awarded to Kongsgaard.

While online poker was having problems on the player front, it was also still facing threats from the U.S. government as well. After several delays, the government was beginning attempts to create guidelines for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

This came as many nations, including Antigua, the European Union, Australia and China, were challenging the validity of the U.S. administration's actions at the level of the World Trade Organization. By the end of the year, the WTO had announced $21 million per year in sanctions for Antigua from the United States, and the United States had settled with the EU, but the ongoing storm is one that should rage into 2008.

On the lighter side of poker, professional Jean-Robert Bellande entered into television by competing on Survivor: China. Bellande's considerable poker skills and general personality were able to keep him around for about half of the competition but, in the end, he didn't come close to taking away the $1 million prize.

Bellande's appearance on the popular reality show was a key indicator that poker has become part of the mainstream.

Amidst all the controversy and federal government moves, the live tournament world kept on trucking as well. The WPT ventured into the Caribbean (Turks & Caicos) and Spain, with Rhynie Campbell and Markus Lehmann winning championships. Scott Clements took the North American Poker Championships in Canada, and Michael Vela prevailed at Foxwoods.

Newcomer Carlos Uz was a main event winner on the WSOP Circuit and was joined in winning the championship ring by pros Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Andy Philachack.

Finally, on the EPT, Julian Thew and Rueben Peters captured titles, with the surprising Annette "Annette_15" Obrestad following up on her WSOPE championship by finishing as the runner-up to Peters in Dublin.

December would be the endgame for 2007 and it would bring perhaps the saddest news of the entire year. In the final installment of the 2007 Year in Review, we'll look at December and its headlines.

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