Online Poker: Chris Vaughn and Sorel 'Imper1um' Mizzi Speak, Part 2
In Part One of our interview with Sorel and Chris, we learned about the facts concerning the sale of Vaughn's account the night he won the Full Tilt $1 Million Guaranteed.
In Part Two of the interview, we discuss the reaction of Full Tilt and the poker community as a whole. In addition, we discuss Vaughn's subsequent PokerStars Sunday Million win, and where Mizzi and Vaughn go from here.
John Caldwell: So, now, let's talk about the process of Full Tilt discovering that this had gone on. What was the first piece of communication you received and when did you know it was going to be a real issue?
Chris Vaughn: I guess someone contacted them and asked for an investigation. I assume they did this to PokerStars and Full Tilt both. Full Tilt found reason to believe that we were in violation of their rules. They temporarily suspended our accounts to investigate and the correspondence began. They had questions, and they had to use their technology to investigate what they thought happened and it took a couple weeks of just going back and forth. Their questions were pretty cut and dried, as in: What happened? Did you disconnect? That kind of thing.
JC: And so in the meantime your account was frozen?
JC: The money – you couldn't cash out?
JC: And so that money is now on to Soren Kongsgaard? (Kongsgaard was the runner-up in the Full Tilt tournament in question.)
JC: Have you been officially told that your account has been closed at Full Tilt?
JC: So, is there any type of statement that says you're not welcome to open another account with them?
CV: Correct, yes there is.
JC: So, Sorel – On to you. As an Internet pro, I assume not being able to play at Full Tilt is like a baseball player being told he can't play in the American League. How has this, and the surrounding attention, affected you?
Sorel Mizzi: The attention that I've received has been astronomical, both positive and negative. On the extreme side, the physical threats that I've received have been tough on me mentally, even if I don't believe them to be credible. And my goal in 2007 was to win the online player of the year. I was locked in and I felt my chances were very good. However, the inability to accumulate the necessary points by eliminating a huge resource in Full Tilt Poker has thrown these strong chances away. I am now limited as an online pro. I have lost good friends and my credibility.
JC: So, what can you say about this experience?
SM: Well, first of all I'd like to come out with an apology, because I know that what I did was wrong. The more I think about it, the more I believe what I did was wrong and it's something that I want the poker community to know that I would never do again. And my primary focus, like I said, was to be a contender for the online player of the year and because of all these things that have happened, my resource from Full Tilt has been cut off and I can no longer play on there, so I think I'm more inclined to focus on the live tournament arena and sort of move more away from online as the year ends. Hopefully people can forgive me for what I've done and I can move forward with my life and not be known as someone who cheats or someone who multi-accounts, rather, known for my achievements online and my achievements live. That's kind of what I'm hoping from the situation.
JC: You brought up something I think is interesting. You said that there's good elements and bad that have been reacted to positively and negatively. Tell me a little bit about the positive reaction. I assume this is from people from the culture of online poker who don't see this as problematic?
SM: There have been a lot of people – and a lot of the PMs (personal messages) have been very positive, that I've gotten. There's a lot of people that don't think what I did was a huge issue and those people, instead of posting on the forums and getting lynched, they decided to PM me directly and tell me how they felt about the situation. And the truth of the matter is, the whole thing has been blown severely out of proportion and I think that I've suffered enough, to be honest. I mean, the fact that I can no longer make a run at the online player of the year, my account is closed on Full Tilt for good, I lost the good amount of money that would've been helpful and I've also lost a lot of people, or a lot of friends and a lot of fan base because of the issue. But the positive from it is like a lot of the players have come up to me personally and a lot of players have PM'ed me, like I said, and told me that they're still friends with me and they still believe in me and they still have trust for me and everything like that and I really appreciate those comments. Although there's a lot of people who seem to think that, this is not a big issue, the more and more I think about it, the more I realize that it is a big issue.
The support that I have received from both my family and close inner circle of friends has truly helped me cope with this disastrous situation. Even upon arriving to Las Vegas this week to play the Venetian and Five Diamond, having other big known pros pull me aside and offer support has helped me pick up a little bit. I have been advised as to my course of action and hope that everyone was able to see I felt a need to express myself in a professional and sincere manner. Most importantly, making light of the story in a setting that is both professional and appropriate. But, so yeah, I've received a lot of support from people that I know in the community and people who have said that they still think that I have a lot of potential for the future and that this situation shouldn't really affect me as much. A lot of people are optimistic that my reputation will be recovered and I'll have the credibility that I once did have and a lot of people have told me that this will all pass over – which I'm really looking forward to happening.
JC: Chris, do you feel it's fair that you be held to a different standard because you are a member of the poker media?
CV: Separately from working in poker, I think that anyone who enters a poker tournament should be held to all of the same standards. I feel that any random player that plays the Sunday Million should have the same ethical standards that a poker journalist should have. That's not to say that poker journalists should have more standards than the average player – or less. It's something that, maybe because of my opportunity to work in the poker media that I might understand better than some others, because I understand the history of online poker – stuff like this – and I understand the kind of trouble that can be gotten into by doing things like this, because I work for a major poker magazine. I obviously should've behaved myself in a much different manner, for sure.
JC: So, how have the people at Bluff reacted to you?
CV: They've treated this as a poor decision that I made, on my own, in my personal life. They've been very supportive of me. You know, the people I work with have been some of the people that have been most supportive through all this. I've had people that have had my back that have really helped me a lot – that have offered me continued and pretty unconditional support, so, I'm very proud to be working there. They, I think, have shown a lot of character throughout this, when, I put them in a spot where they didn't necessarily even need to be. [Editor's Note – Bluff Media sent us a statement when they heard we would be conducting this interview. Their statement runs at the end of this interview.]
JC: As Chris Vaughn, online poker player, how does it make you feel that there are going to be people out there, especially poker media people, who are going to say you're affiliated with something that was really, really bad for poker? How are you going to deal with that personally going forward and how do you deal with those people?
CV: I'm angry at myself and I expect other people to be angry at me. I wish there was something I could do. I can't. I think I just have to listen to their concerns and address them. I don't think there's any real response that I can give anyone at this point that's really going to change anything that we did. I can apologize, I apologize on behalf of myself, and on behalf of the magazine I work for. You know, it's embarrassing – I'm embarrassed of myself.
JC: Chris, Let's talk about the Sunday Million tournament you won on October 28th. You and I have spoken a few times throughout this process. You have always maintained that you sat at your own computer, and played that tournament with absolutely no assistance from any other player, is that correct?
JC: Ok, and every piece of evidence out there seems to indicate that that is exactly what happened. Anything to say about Stars? Has Stars been in touch with you at all?
CV: No, not at all.
JC: And your account is still open and active?
CV: Sure. I play on it all the time.
JC: Last question for you both, let's start with you, Chris. Who do you feel personally the worst for in this entire situation?
CV: We've both been through a lot in this. We've taken a lot of heat. We've taken a lot of heat in different ways. It's hard to say. You said "feel bad." The best way to put it is I feel sorry for myself. It's difficult to wake up and think about this everyday for sure. Do we deserve it? Probably. You know, it's a hard lesson learned. You deal with it everyday – you wake up, you try not to read the posts, you read them. It's ruined a lot of days, it's ruined a month, but you just have to deal with it one day at a time and yes, it's real easy to feel sorry for yourself. But I think you have to accept blame and as far as feeling bad, I think you have to feel bad for the players that were involved in the tournament where you cheated them out of their money. All of a sudden they're playing a world-class player. It was me and now all of a sudden, you were putting –
JC: A world-class player in your seat?
CV: Sure, right, and of course once you realize what's happened, you start to accept that and you really start to feel bad for everyone else that was involved. It's hard not to feel bad for Sorel too because he's gonna feel this a lot more than I will. It sucks for everyone.
JC: Sorel, same question for you. Who do you feel the worst for in this situation?
SM: I feel equally bad for me, as I do for Chris, as I do for the players involved in this. To be perfectly honest, at the time, I didn't think of how it would affect the players as much as the financial gain and playing the tournament. I think I had a really bad Sunday that time, so it was a new opportunity for me and I was excited about it. But, I think that we all have equally suffered from this. The poker sites have probably suffered a little bit, and we have suffered. To have that amount of money taken away from us, and the suspension of the accounts and Chris being a respected member of the media. It's just been a really terrible situation for everyone and it's something that should've never happened and I think that we all, equally, have suffered. I think that Chris and I have suffered the same amount as the players have suffered. I really hope that everyone can move forward and forget about the situation. I have had a clean track record online for over two years and nothing like this has ever happened and I hope that people will respect me like they once did and look at me as ambassador of the game, because that's what I want to be. I want to be an ambassador for the game because I love poker and I love everything about it and it's something I see myself doing for a very long time.
JC: Sorel, when someone sees you on the tournament floor – what do you want them to know?
SM: I want them to think of a young, naïve 21-year-old who made a mistake and is trying to put it all behind him and move forward. I think I've grown through this situation and I've realized that a lot of my morals and beliefs have changed about the situation and I want them to think that I am working on a better me and I'm trying. I want them to think that I've gained maturity throughout this whole situation and that it's something that I never see myself doing again and it's something that I look down upon.
[End of interview.]
Statement from Bluff Media on the Chris Vaughn situation:
"Bluff Media in no way, shape, or form condones the actions of Chris Vaughn. We were extremely unhappy, and disappointed. However we feel that Chris has always acted in a professional manner at BLUFF in the past, and we have no plans for terminating his employment with the company. He has been given a warning, and is on probation. We hope that we can all move past this, and learn from it."