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Last Updated: January 15, 2008

Absolute Poker Warning


On September 24, 2007, allegations of cheating at Absolute Poker were brought to my attention by an anonymous source. It was alleged that a player by the handle of POTRIPPER had the ability to see the hole cards of his opponents. As someone who has exposed non-random play in blackjack, roulette, and video poker several times, I have become an unofficial policeman of Internet gambling fair play. My earlier investigations can be found at my Online Casino Blacklist. Since I developed this reputation, I have heard from hundreds, if not thousands, of crybabies who had some bad luck and made accusations of cheating, usually with no evidence other than adjective-laden stories of how badly they were beaten. In the rare cases where numerical evidence was provided, it could have easily been explained by simple bad luck. So, it takes a lot to convince me that losses are due to foul play, as opposed to bad luck.

When I heard the allegations, I went to the bulletin boards and was underwhelmed by the evidence. At first all I saw were a few fishy looking hands posted at twoplustwo.com, amongst a great deal of chatter. I had to agree the hands looked suspicious, but it wasn?t nearly enough to be convincing. After all, stranger things have happened. However, the story kept heating up.

On October 8 I was provided various log files of tournaments that POTRIPPER played. Many were in formats that were unreadable, but I was able to view the details of a tournament played on September 13. In that tournament POTRIPPER played 41 hands, with an average of six players at the table. Assuming all players were equally skilled and played the same way, and I admit that is a big assumption, he would expect to win 7.28 hands. The number of hands he actually won was 25. That is 7.29 standard deviations above expectations. The probability of doing that well or better is 1 in 6.6 trillion. Again, assuming equal skill and strategy of all the players involved. It would be 469,000 times easier to win a 6/49 lottery. So my eyebrows were officially raised. However, I was still concerned that it could have been due to chip dumping by other players. That is a common way to steal a player?s money if you get a hold of his login and password, for example with a key logger. While this is a serious problem, it is outside of my purview of casino-involved foul play.

The next significant event was on October 15, when I was made aware of an animated playback of another tournament POTRIPPER played. This tournament is posted at pokerxfactor.com. The link is password protected, but signing up for access is easy. Surprisingly, this playback shows the cards of every player. Supposedly, Absolute Poker gave the player CRAZYMARCO this file when he made accusations of cheating by POTRIPPER. The file was in a garbled Excel format, and it took some time to clean it up, so that the playback feature at pokerxfactor.com could read it. Still, some hands, and events within hands, are slightly out of order. However, it is still fairly easy to follow the event of each hand. It is surprising to me that Absolute Poker provided this file, because in my opinion it is the bloody glove this case needed to make a case for something more sinister than chip dumping.

Although there are 130 hands in the playback, only the first 93 show all player cards. Suddenly, on hand 94, it is a different tournament, and only the cards of CRAZYMARCO are shown, unless other players were forced to show. Following is my own summary of the first 93 hands.

POTRIPPER Tournament TranscriptExpand

Hand
Number
Total
Players
PR
Position
PR Cards PR
Win/Loss
Pre-flop
Action
River
Action
Comments
1 7 BB 26 W Call n/a Check-raise on flop with garbage, knowing SCOTT_NZL would likely fold.
2 7 SB 3Q W Raise n/a Raise pre-flop against hands not strong enough to call.
3 7 D 8K W Raise n/a Made large bet on turn with best hand.
4 7 D-1 QJ W Call n/a All in on turn with nut straight.
5 7 D-3 A5 W Raise Raise Large raise on river, with only two pair, but best hand.
6 7 D-4 A4 W Raise n/a Made large raise on turn with weak hand, knowning JOSIAHW would likely fold.
7 9 BB 2K W Call Raise Raise on river with best hand.
8 9 SB 35 W Raise n/a Raise pre-flop, knowing POTROAST would likely fold.
9 9 D QQ W Raise n/a All in on flop with best hand.
10 8 d-1 Q5 L Call n/a Fold on turn against strong hand of SCARFACE.
11 8 d-2 37 W Call Raise Raise on river with best hand.
12 8 d-3 84 L Raise n/a Fold pre-flop with bad hand and large re-raise to call.
13 8 d-5 K2 L Call n/a Fold against a set on the flop.
14 8 d-5 48 L Call n/a Fold pre-flop with bad hand and large raise to call.
15 8 SB 45 W Call n/a Raise on turn with bad hand, and likely fold by SCARFACE_79.
16 8 D 78 L Call Fold Fold on river against two stronger hands.
17 8 D-1 QQ W Raise n/a Raise on flop with stonger hand, DZOONUTS folds.
18 8 D-2 6Q W Raise n/a Raise pre-flop with strongest hand, opponents fold.
19 8 d-3 JQ L Raise n/a Fold on flop after POKERME420 flopped a set.
20 8 d-4 2Q L Raise Fold Fold on river against stronger hand.
21 8 d-5 48 L Raise n/a Fold on flop against stronger hands.
22 8 BB 7Q W Raise n/a Raise pre-flop with garbage, knowing opponents would likely fold.
23 8 SB Q7 L Call n/a Fold on turn with bad hand.
24 8 D QA W Raise n/a Large raise on turn with weak hand, knowing opponent would likely fold.
25 8 D-1 Q8 L Call n/a Fold on flop with weak hand against top pair.
26 8 D-2 A8 W Raise n/a Check-raise on flop with ace high, knowing POTROAST would likely fold.
27 8 D-3 A3 W Raise n/a Raise on flop with ace high, knowing opponents would likely fold.
28 8 D-4 66 W Raise n/a Raise pre-flop, opponents fold.
29 8 D-5 45 W Raise n/a Raise pre-flop with garbage, opponents not strong enough to call.
30 8 BB 46 W Raise n/a Raise pre-flop with garbage, KOOLKEITH13 not strong enough to call.
31 8 SB QQ W Call n/a Raise on flop with queen high, opponents not strong enough to call.
32 8 D 79 L Call n/a Fold on turn, against stronger opponent.
33 8 D-1 J4 W Raise n/a Raise on flop with weak hand, BIGREDAK86 not strong enough to call.
34 8 D-2 76 W Raise n/a All in on turn with pair of sixes, knowing POKERME420 not strong enough to call.
35 8 D-3 A5 W Raise Raise Raise on river with best hand.
36 8 D-5 Q4 L Raise n/a Fold on turn against top pair.
37 8 BB QK W Raise n/a Raise on flop with marginal hand, JOSIAHW could not justify calling.
38 8 SB JJ L Call n/a Fold on turn against stronger hand.
39 8 D 4K L Call n/a Fold on turn against stronger hand.
40 8 D-1 QQ W Raise Raise Win on river with best hand.
41 8 D-2 3Q W Call n/a Raise on flop with garbage, opponents could not justify call.
42 8 D-3 65 W Raise n/a Raise pre-flop with garbage, opponents not strong enough to call.
43 8 D-4 99 W Call Raise Raise on river with best hand.
44 9 D-5 55 W Raise n/a Raise on turn with best hand.
45 9 BB 94 L Check Fold Fold on river with losing hand.
46 9 SB 5K W Call Raise Raise on river with best hand.
47 9 D 35 L Fold n/a Fold pre-flop with bad hand, against pocket queens.
48 9 D-1 5J L Fold n/a Fold pre-flop with bad hand, against pocket kings.
49 9 D-2 A9 W Raise n/a Raise on flop with stronger hand.
50 9 D-3 A2 L Raise n/a Called all-in on turn with stronger hand.
51 9 D-4 89 W Raise n/a Raised on flop with inside straight draw, opponents not strong enough to call.
52 9 D-5 37 L Raise n/a Folded all-in pre-flop, against much stronger hand.
53 9 D-6 52 L Fold n/a Folded pre-flop, against stronger hands, including pocket queens.
54 9 SB J5 W Raise n/a Re-raised bluff by BIGREDAK86, call not justified.
55 9 D 4Q L Fold n/a Fold pre-flop with bad hand against pocket jacks.
56 9 D-1 43 L Raise n/a Fold on flop with weak hand against top pair.
57 9 D-2 AA W Call n/a Called all-in on flop with stronger hand.
58 8 D-3 KQ L Fold n/a Folded pre-flop against pocket aces.
59 8 D-4 KQ W Raise Raise Raised on river with stronger hand.
60 9 BB QQ W Call n/a Called all-in on turn with stronger hand.
61 8 SB J9 W Call Raise Raised on river with stronger hand.
62 8 D-2 84 L Fold n/a Folded pre-flop against stronger hands.
63 8 D-3 6J W Raise n/a Raised pre-flop, all others folded.
64 8 D-4 82 W Raise n/a Folded on flop with middle pair against high pair.
65 8 D-5 62 W Raise n/a Raised with garbage pre-flop against weak opponents, who could not justify calling.
66 8 BB K8 W Raise n/a All in pre-flop, with no strong opponents.
67 8 SB A6 L Raise n/a All in on turn, play by POTROAST excessively aggressive.
68 8 D 92 L Fold n/a Folded pre-flop.
69 8 D-2 AK L Raise n/a Folded on turn against high pair.
70 8 D-3 K8 L Raise n/a Folded on flop against top two pair.
71 8 D-4 27 W Raise n/a Raise pre-flop with garbage against weak opponents, calling not justified.
72 8 D-5 32 L Fold n/a Folded pre-flop with bad cards and bad position.
73 8 BB 95 W Call n/a Bluffed on turn, SCARFACE could not justify calling.
74 8 SB 32 W Raise n/a Bluffed pre-flop, POTROAST could not justify calling.
75 8 D 45 W Raise n/a Bluffed on flop, CLOVER777 not strong enough to call.
76 8 D-2 Q5 L Raise n/a Folded all-in reraise.
77 7 D-3 9Q W Raise n/a CLOVER777 folded on turn with weaker hand.
78 8 BB 7Q W Call Raise Bluffed on river, SCARFACE likely fearing a straight or flush.
79 8 SB 94 W Raise n/a Bluffed pre-flop, opponents not strong enough to call.
80 8 D-1 KQ L Fold n/a Folded with strong hand against pocket aces.
81 8 D-4 A6 L Raise n/a Folded re-raise against stronger hand.
82 8 BB QJ W Raise n/a Raised on flop, opponent could not justify calling.
83 8 SB QJ W Call Raise All-in bluff on river, SCARFACE could not justify calling.
84 8 D KJ W Call n/a Raised on flop, AUTOSMOKE could not justify calling.
85 9 D-2 Q3 W Raise Raise Raised on river with stronger hand, POTROAST very aggressive.
86 9 D-3 A2 W Raise Raise Raised on river with stronger hand.
87 8 D-3 79 L Raise n/a Folded all-in raise on flop with weaker hand.
88 8 D-4 QQ L Raise n/a Called small all-in on flop.
89 8 D-5 2Q L Fold n/a Folded pre-flop with weak cards and bad position.
90 8 BB 55 W Raise n/a Called all-in bluff pre-flop with pocket fives.
91 7 SB 3K W Call n/a Called all-in bluff pre-flop with K/3 off-suit.
92 7 D 26 L Raise n/a Folded all-in re-raise pre-flop.
93 9 D-1 Q6 L Call n/a Folded all-in raise pre-flop.

Explanation of Column Headings:

Hand Number: Order of hand, as shown in Playback
Total Players: Total number of players in hand
PR Position: Position of POTRIPPER. BB=Big Blind, SB=Small Blind, D=Dealer, D-n=n positions behind dealer.
PR Win/Loss: Self explanatory
PR Pre-flop Action: First action pre-flop made by POTRIPPER
River Action: First action on river made by POTRIPPER
Comments: My own brief synopsis

Of these 93 hands, POTRIPPER won 56 times, in an average 8.13 players per hand. Assuming all players are equally skilled you would expect 11.49 wins. POTRIPPER was 14.03 standard deviations above expectations. The probability of luck this good or better is 1 in 1.88 × 1044. It would be easier to buy a 6/49 lottery ticket in six different states, and hit the jackpot all six times. Still, could it still just be chip dumping, or playing very bad players? The playback, in my opinion, shows otherwise.

Hand after hand POTRIPPER?s play is consistent with that of a player who had knowledge of every player?s hole cards. The majority of hands show POTRIPPER bluffing at just the right times when his opponents were weak. Yet, when he was hopelessly outmatched, even with good cards, he laid them down. For example, in hand 80, he had king-queen off-suit but folded pre-flop against a player with pocket aces. This coming from a player who called, checked, or in most cases raised, pre-flop 89% of the time. When POTRIPPER was bluffed, he usually would omnisciently reraise.

POTRIPPER had decision-making ability at the river 16 times, and he won all 16 of those times. When he had the best hand, he always raised. When he didn?t he either folded or bluffed against a weak opponent. Never once did he call on the river.

If you know poker, it is almost impossible to watch the playback and have any doubt that something is terribly fishy. If POTRIPPER could indeed see the other players' cards, he seemed to be rubbing this ability in their faces. There is no camouflage, or smoothing things over, at all. Even his handle betrays what he is doing. As they say, you can shear a sheep many times, but you can only slaughter it once. This was not a lesson POTRIPPER evidently learned, as he slaughtered the other players with a meat cleaver in a bloody mess.

The story doesn't end here. The hand history file that Absolute Poker gave to CRAZYMARCO indicates lots of information usually unknown to the player, including the e-mail and IP address of those watching. As told in the bulletin boards, and in this New York Times blog, one of the lurkers had an address that matched those of an alleged part-owner of Absolute Poker named Scott Tom. I won?t even get into this angle, but it is well discussed at all the poker bulletin boards.

On October 17 Absolute related a statement, which is posted at the New York Times Freakonomics blog, that they are taking the allegations seriously, and have hired Gaming Associates, a third-party auditor, to conduct an investigation. This statement is conveniently missing from the list of press releases listed at their own web site.

I'm always one to give both sides a chance to be heard. I also make no claims that the evidence provided to me was not tampered with, for example cherry-picking hands that made the best case. So once the results of this investigation are completed, I will be happy to post them here. Meanwhile, in the interests of fair play, I will link to a blog entry by Justin West at pokerpages.com, who is skeptical of the allegations. Until the Gaming Associates investigation is completed, I will refrain from pronouncing a verdict.

Note: If the link to Justin's article doesn't work, I maintained this copy.

October 19 Update

A day after I posted the above, a story at MSNBC (in which I am quoted) states that, indeed, the charges were true. The article quotes a company spokesman saying,

"We acknowledge a significant internal security breach whereby a resource who was infinitely knowledgeable about the system was able to get into the accounts in question. He played on those accounts and he saw hole cards."

A written statement was released shortly afterward. Four days later a more detailed statement was issued by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

The confession comes when any reasonable doubt was vanishing fast, and the mainstream media started to take an interest. Is it just a coincidence? We will probably never know.

January 15 Update

On Jan. 11, 2008 the Kahnawake Gaming Commission rendered their verdict on the the Absolute Poker case. In part, they imposed a fine of $500,000, and AP will undergo random audits. That same day, AP rendered their respons, accepting the findings of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

For more information, I recommend these links.