Tough Times For Absolute Poker
Editor's Note: Late-breaking reports from online poker forum Pocket Fives suggest that Absolute Poker will be issuing a statement in the near future, detailing the latest information on its investigation into alleged cheating connected to a small number of accounts on its site. The expected statement is likely to address ongoing and widespread allegations within the poker-discussion community, both that the cheating occurred and that one or more persons connected to Absolute Poker were somehow involved in the matter. While information on Absolute's findings will be forthcoming, PokerNews here presents the information as it is known to date.
Absolute Poker recently issued its latest official statement in response to accusations of possible player fraud and/or a security breach; the unfolding situation has resulted in tens of thousands of heated posts on various poker- and gambling-related forums over the past few weeks as bits and pieces of several storylines have emerged, centering on rampant speculation about the alleged viewing of hole cards (if possible), by a small number of suspect accounts. The story has been whipped into a frenzy by the members of various discussion boards and has also been picked up by several mainstream media outlets, despite the fact that many of the assertions cannot be supported as yet by the available information.
In its most recent mailing, Absolute announced that they would be retaining the services of auditing firm Gaming Associates, which specializes in online-gaming systems and reports to the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, to examine Absolute's procedures and gaming controls to rule out any security breach. Specifically mentioned by Absolute is that Gaming Associates would attempt "to determine whether it is possible for any person, device, program, script or other means to see hole cards thereby gaining an unfair advantage." The possible viewing or relaying of opponents' hole-card information by or to the alleged cheating accounts is the core point of the furor, because of the unfairness such a capability would imply.
The statement from Absolute follows an earlier statement from the company on October 12th. In that statement, Absolute issued an official denial of the allegations that had been published on discussion sites such as PocketFives and 2+2 to that date. Those initial allegations involved high-stakes cash games on AP and had involved several accounts that posted phenomenally high win rates over a span of weeks, netting hundreds of thousands of dollars against a field of reasonably skilled opponents. At that time, and perhaps having not fully analyzed of all the information, Absolute Poker denied the 'super-user' accusations: "A 'super-user' account does not exist in our software."
However, one of the accounts suspected and included in the investigation had been involved in what appeared to outside observers as a chip-dumping of some $300,000, and in its earlier reply, Absolute did confirm that chip-dumping had occurred. From the statement: "With respect to the allegation of chip dumping, we have determined that chip dumping by at least one of the accounts at issue, did in fact, take place. We have determined that the chip dumping was made to several seemingly unrelated accounts. We are continuing to investigate this issue." However, in a move consistent with most online poker sites' privacy policies, Absolute declined at that time to release specifics about the matter.
Elsewhere, as reports of the phenomenal high win rates exhibited by the accounts emerged, a clearer picture of the unusual scope of the accounts' success had been assembled by various opponents who later ran statistical analysis of the play. It was shortly after the release of Absolute's initial findings, however, that a deeper picture of the suspect play began to emerge.
Examination of many profitable hands by frequent board posters suggested that the plays made seemed logical only if the accounts somehow had knowledge of their opponents' holdings. Any single hand was easy to explain away, but collectively, the data showed win rates far out of line with any statistical norm.
In roughly the same time frame, forum posters' speculation also refocused on curious happenings in the September 12, 2007 $100,000 Guarantee, won by an account named 'POTRIPPER'. This event is also the largest on Absolute's regular weekly schedule, and subsequent checking of third-party databases showed that the POTRIPPER account had entered only three previous AP tourneys, one each at buy-ins of $5, $20 and $50, compared to the $1,000+50 required in the September 12 event. In the final hand of the tourney, POTRIPPER called an all-in, naked bluff made by the eventual runner-up, Marco 'CrazyMarco' Johnson, showing a 10-high to Johnson's 9-high. The complete action of the curious hand unfolded as follows:
POTRIPPER (765,740 chips, on button)
CRAZYMARCO (214,260, in BB)
The players anted 450 each; POTRIPPER posted the small blind of 2,250, and CRAZYMARCO the big blind of 4,500.
POTRIPPER - Calls 2,250
CRAZYMARCO – Checks his option
CRAZYMARCO - Checks
POTRIPPER - Bets 9,000
CRAZYMARCO - Calls 9,000
CRAZYMARCO - Checks
POTRIPPER - Bets 13,500
CRAZYMARCO – Check-raises all-in for 200,310
POTRIPPER - Calls for 186,810
This gave the 428,500-chip pot and the $30,000 first-place money to POTRIPPER. The questions raised by the hand were obvious --- how could a player risk a 3:1 margin in chips and the high chance of turning it into a level battle, chip-wise, by making a call of a check-raise all-in with nothing more than 10-high and no flush or straight draw? Anecdotes soon began to surface on the discussion forums that the POTRIPPER account had engaged in similar plays throughout the tourney.
Johnson, still disturbed by the hand and POTRIPPER's dominance, made a request from AP for the hand history of the final table. Instead of that, or in addition to it, he received a spreadsheet containing something else: a largely complete data dump of tournament actions from all tables during the first two hours and twenty minutes of play. Since the spreadsheet did not contain the part of the event where Johnson and the POTRIPPER account squared off at the final table, Johnson set it aside for a week or longer, only remembering the file when discussions of POTRIPPER's earlier tournament play emerged. He subsequently sent the file to other well-regarded forum members.
The emergence of the spreadsheet's existence and contents occurred just after Absolute's October 12th statement and investigation into the matter was released, in large part why the entire furor has reignited in recent days. The spreadsheet contained information on both the game play itself and on any railbirds who would open up any given table to view the action.
[Author's note: PokerNews has obtained a copy of the spreadsheet and has examined its contents, which appear on its surface to be genuine. To date, Absolute Poker has not commented on the accuracy or origination of the spreadsheet's contents, and because of the immense size of the file, over 65,000 lines, there has been no official determination as of yet as to whether every data cell in the file is genuine. It is not known if Absolute's upcoming statement will specifically address the spreadsheet or its contents.]
The first 90-plus hands of POTRIPPER's tourney were included in the spreadsheet. As skilled poker players sorted and decoded the history of the hands, another pattern of consistently unusual play emerged that at least demonstrated the need for further examination. The online site PokerXFactor even created a playback file containing almost all of the hands recorded for POTRIPPER during the event, including the final table, which was added in from other sources.
However, while Absolute's Oct 12th statement denied that outside accounts had access to or were able to view opponents' hole cards, a different possibility was not specifically addressed — that an as-yet-uncovered person at AP had somehow breached system security and was also somehow relaying opponents' hole cards to an outside accomplice, or that the site's software had been hacked or compromised in an as-yet-undetermined way. Such a possibility may not have been explored by AP at the time, if the focus of the original investigation had been on the chip-dumping allegations. This dangerous speculation was hard to accept without any basis in fact, but then the lengthy, curious hand-history spreadsheet coughed up another surprise.
Specifically, the data-dumping process that created the spreadsheet captured all the actions from each and every table, and also captured ID information for any third party that decided to railbird the event. The saved information included the watcher's site-registered e-mail address, his Absolute account #, and the IP [Internet Protocol] address of the location where the watcher's computer connected to the Internet. Such addresses are traceable, in general terms. E-mails of the active players themselves were not in the file unless they separately sweated another table.
Each table in the event had visitors during the 2:20 captured in the file, but Nat Arem, founder and creator of thepokerdb (now a part of Bluff) and one of the people curiously examining the file, discovered that before the third hand on the table where POTRIPPER started the tourney, one railbird was shown in the file's contents as opening a tourney table to watch the action. According to the file's historical record, this account watched the table (Table 13) continuously — there is no record of the railbird's departure — and the account's IP address was later traced by Arem to a virtual location reportedly tying former AP CEO Scott Tom to the observing account. The account in question watched no other tables during the initial hours of action, according to the record presented in the file. There is also no indication within the file as to whether that account watched POTRIPPER's later play, including the final table, though speculation multiplied.
An additional factor was that this unknown, AP-connected account carried an internal AP number of 363; historically, account numbers such as these are generated sequentially and chronologically, and at AP currently number somewhere over two million. Anecdotes circulated by data-programmer types — common enough in poker-forum circles — opine that such a low-numbered account may have existed since the beta-test days of AP, several years ago. It is according to these speculative theories that such an account might have been created as a testing device within the system, and was perhaps used illicitly.
The connection of former CEO Tom began to emerge after examination of a second address shown as a railbird during the event's early play. That account listed an address domain of 'RIVIERALTD.COM', and showed the same IP block address as the low-numbered account sweating the POTRIPPER table. This account, however, stayed only a short time at a different table, Table 9.
It was during an Internet chat with Arem on Monday that this author suggested a possible connection between the Canada-traced rivieraltd.com domain and the other railbird shown as shadowing POTRIPPER, which Arem investigated separately over the next hour and confirmed, then explored in further detail; Arem then went on to publish his findings to various poker-forum threads devoted to the matter.
Absolute noted in its Wednesday statements its plans to investigate Tom: "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."
It is likely that more information will emerge in the coming days concerning the Absolute Poker situation, disregarding the rampant speculation attached to the story. PokerNews has been monitoring the situation since its outset, and will bring you the latest information as it develops.