Poker is a game of skill in many ways, but it also involves an element of luck and is closely tied to casinos and the gambling world at large. The gambling circle has always attracted some unsavory characters to it, and the game of poker itself is no stranger to cheating scandals.
Cheating in poker has been around since the earliest days of the game, and while cowboys used to lose their heads over it, players in the modern era often get nothing more than some bad reputation on online forums.
If you are a part of the poker world, you should be aware of the biggest poker cheating scandals and how they went down.
These are the five of the biggest poker cheating scandals that shook the very foundations of the game and changed it in one way or another.
The vast majority of modern poker cheating scandals don’t happen at the actual poker tables, as the people behind the curtains are sometimes the biggest cheats of them all.
This was the case with the founders of Full Tilt Poker (FTP), one of the biggest online poker sites of the early 2000s, which was all the rage during the years of the Poker Boom.
Back in 2011, the United States government was actively fighting online gambling on its soil, and companies were not allowed to operate within the US. However, many big online poker sites, including PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker, all allowed American players to play on their respective platforms.
On April 11, 2011, the US Department of Justice accused the three online poker operators of violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and cracked down on them hard.
Offices were raided, domain names were seized, and millions of poker players worldwide were left wondering what would happen next as their funds were seized.
Information quickly started to leak, and players at PokerStars were soon made whole and allowed to withdraw their balances despite not being able to play real money poker on the platform for a while.
This gave hope to FTP players that they, too, would be getting their money back, but things were direr than they seemed at first.
It turned out that the FTP team had been running several schemes, including allowing players to play with unprocessed deposits from the US, using player funds for operating costs, and staking players to play high-stakes games on the platform.
Ray Bitar, Howard “The Professor” Lederer, and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson were the people at the top of FTP, and they were all directly implicated in the entire scandal. FTP bank accounts were nearly empty when Black Friday hit, meaning players would have to wait years before seeing any of their money.
The poker community blamed Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson, the faces of FTP, for the scandal, although it seems that CEO Ray Bitar was the biggest poker cheat of them all.
Full Tilt players finally got their balances back when PokerStars struck a deal with the DOJ to buy out FTP and make players whole in return for more favorable treatment in the future.
Players at Absolute Poker, on the other hand, got very little of their money back and were straight-up cheated out of their funds by the operator.
We can only speculate what would have happened to Absolute Poker, and FTP had Black Friday never gone down, but it's very likely that players would still have suffered the consequences of the cheating in the long run.
Ray Bitar and others involved with the alleged Ponzi scheme at FTP all eventually settled with the DOJ in one way or another, and Chris Ferguson even returned to the World Series of Poker and was named Player of the Year of the 2017 WSOP.
Have you ever played poker and felt like the other guy could see through your cards? This is exactly what happened to hundreds of players at AP and UB in late 2007 and 2008.
This poker cheating scandal came out slowly, as players took to online forums and started discussing that certain players seemed to make some abnormal plays in big online poker tournaments, which would always go their way.
The first such allegations were made in late 2007 against a player under the nickname "POTRIPPER," who had won obscene amounts of money playing tournaments on the platform in a very unorthodox style.
Players analyzed hundreds of hands played against POTRIPPER, and there was a consensus among the online poker community that POTRIPPER was a poker cheat. The only thing that remained unclear was what he was doing to be able to play so perfectly, and most believed that he was able to see player cards in some way.
Further accusations were made against players at Ultimate Bet Poker with similar implications, and it would turn out that these, too, were correct.
Investigations by the security teams of the two poker sites and the Kahnawake Gaming Commission eventually proved that Super User accounts were used in both cases to access player cards and share them with players behind the suspected screen names.
While the AP scandal resulted in $1.6 million being returned to players, the results of the Gaming Commission’s investigation showed that upwards of $20 million had been stolen from UB players using the Super User method between 2005 and 2008.
The 1994 WSOP Main Event champion Russ Hamilton, who was a prominent figure at UB and served as a gaming consultant, was accused of accessing the Super User account for his benefit.
Further evidence against Hamilton was later found, including a recording of a phone call between him and UB management discussing how they would cover up the whole case.
This marked an abrupt end to Hamilton’s poker career, although the known poker cheat was never really held accountable for his actions.
Like many who participated in some form of poker cheating in recent decades, Russ Hamilton was left with a tarnished reputation but also millions of dollars in stolen cash sitting in their vaults.
The start of the second decade of the 21st century saw many poker phenoms rise to fame, including the likes of Jungleman, durrrr, Isildur1, and Girah.
Around 2010 and 2011, Jose “Girah” Macedo was one of the biggest names in poker, as the Portuguese player was dubbed by many as the next poker superstar.
Girah was having plenty of success at the tables, and with the endorsement of none other than Dan “Jungleman” Cates, his career was looking bright. Jungleman’s young prodigy was definitely going places, and people were afraid to sit down and play with him despite his young age.
And yet, all of this was about to come to a crashing end as Macedo decided to use his fame to make some fairly nefarious plans come true.
Girah joined a number of coaching/sweating groups and would offer players coaching and sweating sessions, which many accepted wholeheartedly.
Players under Girah’s patronage were instructed to play heads-up against “sauron1989,” who he claimed was a massive fish they could print money off.
Yet, sauron1989 seemed to play perfectly against Girah’s students during sweating sessions, which some players quickly caught up with.
According to his own admission, Macedo had been sharing players’ cards with sauron1989 which gave him a massive advantage that no player could fight against.
In the end, Macedo claimed that sauron1989 was a friend he introduced to poker and who was losing a lot of money because of it, so he was trying to make up some of his losses this way.
Jose Macedo disappeared from the online poker community shortly after that and never showed up again, making us all wonder whatever happened to him.
Girah’s poker cheating scandal only cost the poker community about $30,000 and brought down one of the brightest minds of poker at the time, which was a true shame for everyone involved.
Video streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch became a big thing in poker as we neared 2020 and the live cash games streamed from the Stones Gambling Hall in California was one of the shows going strong in 2019.
The stream was just beginning to pick up some viewers and grow in popularity when one name came under quite a bit of scrutiny from everyone involved. It was Veronica Brill, an analyst and journalist working with Stones, that first noticed something was amiss and decided to bring the issue up.
One player under the name of Mike Postle seemed to be winning all the money despite playing a very unorthodox style of poker that other pros would never dream of trying.
Postle was involved in more pots than anyone else and seemed to make some crazy plays that won him huge pots in the most obscure ways.
After Brill’s initial accusation, a number of other players and poker community members decided to look into the case, which became stronger by the day. The likes of Joey Ingram and Doug Polk got involved with the investigation, and all evidence was pointing to Postle using some sort of a device to get news of when his hand was good and how to proceed.
Mike was eventually sued for $30,000,000 by a group of about 90 people who were possibly damaged but managed to defeat the lawsuit in court.
While Mike Postle was never sentenced as a poker cheat, the vast majority of the poker community still believes him to be one.
The Mike Postle case brought the issue of security into focus when live poker streams are concerned, with the whole issue reignited more recently when an incident of Hustler Casino Live once again had the entire community scratching their heads and asking questions about game integrity.
One of the most recent poker cheating scandals that took the poker world by storm in 2022 was related to poker pro Brynn Kenney, who was accused by fellow player Martin Zamani of several wrongdoings.
Zamani was a part of Kenney's poker staking group, which played high-stakes tournaments on various online poker sites, including GGPoker, over the years.
One of the best tournament poker players of all time was accused of running a cult-like group, forcing his horses to undergo various rituals such as ingesting frog poison and breaking GGPoker rules in more ways than one.
Zamani accused Kenney of ghosting other players and having better players play on his horses’ accounts during final tables and a number of other smaller infractions.
Whether or not Kenney actually did all or some of the things Martin Zamani accused him of remains unproven, as any proper authorities never investigated the whole case.
Yet, the Brynn Kenney debate in the poker community brought some important questions about staking groups and the security of online poker as such.
Cheating accusations were later made against the likes of Ali Imsirovic and Jake Schindler, both of whom are known high-stakes crushers, with reports of the pair using various poker cheating methods to benefit themselves.
All of this led GGPoker to start a Poker Integrity Council, which would deal with similar issues and serve the entire community to prevent poker cheats from going about their business without penalty.
We will yet see what kind of effect it will have in preventing big incidents in the future, but it is safe to assume that there are plenty of risks for online poker players, including real-time assistance software, ghosting players in the late stages of the tournaments, and likely something we are not even aware at this point.
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