Friday, October 19, 2007

Absolute Crap

Absolute BSI first opened my Absolute Poker account almost exactly one year ago. At the time, I wrote here about how I’d signed up through Poker Source Online, getting fifty free clams with which to start playing. My primary motivation for opening an account at AP was the fact that Party Poker had left the U.S. market and I was looking for another site on which to play. Getting the free startup funds meant I didn’t have to fret about how to get money onto the site, an issue that became even more relevant later on when Neteller left us as well.

For whatever reason, I always did well over on Absolute. I built the original $50 into a few hundred, cashed out some (with no hassles), and kept playing there off and on. At the moment I have a little over $360 on the site. Despite my successes over there, I hadn’t been playing very much on Absolute since they started that miserable Bad Beat Jackpot back in the summer. (You might recall me whining about that here.) Such a lousy promotion for those of us at the 1/2 LHE tables. And since there usually wasn’t much action at the PLO50 tables, either, I mostly stayed away.

Like everyone else, I heard that story a little over a month ago about some weirdness having occurred at the 9/12/07 $100K Guarantee over at Absolute. Something about a guy calling down with ten-high to take the first-place prize money. Sounded sketchy, but like most of us my first instinct was to be fairly nonplussed about the matter. In a post on 9/23, I speculated that of the several theories then being floated, the only one that seemed at all plausible was that someone had actually managed to hack into Absolute from the outside. Even that seemed fantastic, though. The idea that we were looking at an “inside job” -- as some were suggesting -- seemed utter applesauce.

Well, it looks as though I was wrong to doubt the doubters. Man oh man has the applesauce hit the fan.

Major Tom to Ground Control

From what has come to light over the past couple of days, it sounds as though several players’ accounts were involved in the so-called “super user” scam, so named because an account enabling access to all players’ hole cards was used to perpetrate the cheating. In addition to Potripper (the winner of the suspect $100K Guarantee), the names DoubleDrag, Graycat, Payup, and Steamroller have also been mentioned as having been involved in cheating. Others’ accounts have been identified as having participated in some post-hustle chip-dumping as well.

And -- wildest of all -- the whole operation has been apparently traced back to a person named Scott Tom, whom I’ve heard variously identified as the former Vice President of Operations at Absolute Poker, as well as the (former or current?) co-owner and CEO of AP. (According to Absolute, he has not been connected with the company for over a year.)

Apparently shortly after the 9/12 tourney concluded, second-place finisher CrazyMarco emailed AP support asking for a copy of the tourney’s hand histories. They sent him a large Excel file, and when he eventually got around to examining it, he discovered the hand histories included all players’ hole cards, thus adding to CrazyMarco’s already heightened suspicions about what had happened that night.

Further analysis revealed some suspicious comings and goings of observers to Potripper’s tables, one of whom has been allegedly linked to Scott Tom. The story is this Tom’s “super user” account had opened the tables on which Potripper was playing, showing all of the hole cards. That information was conveyed to Potripper, who then was able to play the tourney with full knowledge of what his opponents’ were holding.

Watching the Detectives

I’m not even going to try to rehearse all of the details of the investigation here. I will say that as someone who loves well-plotted whodunits, this here is one hell of a detective story.

For those looking for a good summary of what has come to light, the various, lengthy threads on 2+2 and Pocket Fives are a bit arduous to wade through, although the “Cliff’s Notes” version on 2+2 hits on most of the story’s essentials. Let me additionally point you to a few other places where you can learn more about what exactly is going on:
  • A 10/17/07 article in the New York Times by Steven D. Levitt, probably the first report in the mainstream media regarding the scandal

  • A 10/17/07 blog post by Nat Arem, founder of the pokerdb.com, that does a terrific job explaining the connection between Potripper’s account and Scott Tom
  • the Pocket Fives podcast for this week (the 10/18/07 episode), in which Serge “Adantha” Ravitch and Michael Josem further explain the investigation

  • The announcement posted over on Pocket Fives (late 10/18/07) that Absolute Poker had admitted to them that cheating had occurred and that AP soon would be issuing a statement. (Word is the statement will come later today.)

  • Haley Hintze’s terrific synopsis of the entire brouhaha over at PokerNews

  • A website recently launched by Josem, called “Absolute Poker Cheats,” where he is compiling a lot of the relevant information connected to the case

  • four, mind-blowing YouTube videos replaying hands from the infamous $100K Guaranteed tourney won by Potripper
  • Incidentally, a number of folks deserve big time kudos for their investigative work here, particularly Arem, Josem, and Hintze. Talk about real shamuses. We are all sincerely indebted to them.

    Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

    It’s a sad, sad situation, all right. On the Pocket Fives podcast, co-host David Huber described the scandal as “the darkest moment in online poker since last year’s passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.” Guest Serge Ravitch said the scam may well have involved between $500,000 and $1 million being unfairly stolen from unwitting users at the tables.

    Since I play at low stakes, I’m reasonably certain no “super users” have tried to scam any of my virtual blue chips. However, I am anxious about the stability of Absolute Poker, generally speaking, which is one reason why I have decided to withdraw my funds.

    The other reason concerns the response of AP to the scandal. Which can be succinctly described in two words. Piss poor.

    The company allowed weeks to pass before making any sort of statement at all. Then on October 12th AP finally addressed the issue, but rather than email users or post the statement on their website, they communicated it as a post on Absolute spokesperson Mark Seif’s Bluff Magazine blog. As a feature of Seif’s blog, we learn what his “mood” is with every post. For this highly sober announcement, Seif was, apparently, “Chillin.” Sheesh. The whole idea of communicating to its users and the online poker community in this manner suggests a casual attitude entirely inappropriate here.

    (Incidentally, if anyone was wondering, my mood for this post is “Ragin’ Full On.”)

    In that 10/12 statement, Absolute spoke of taking the allegations very seriously, but denied any wrongdoing had occurred. They also questioned the validity of claims regarding Potripper’s “infinite river aggression” factor and denied the existence of any so-called “super user” account. Both of these “conclusions” have since been proven false (or at least highly suspect).

    Indeed, Absolute themselves appeared quickly to pull back from the obviously premature conclusions of their “extensive investigation.” On October 17th, Absolute issued another statement, again as a post on Seif’s blog. (Still “Chillin,” he was.) This time, AP said it was allowing a third-party auditor, Gaming Associates, to investigate the situation. The second statement did not deny any of the claims made in the earlier statement, but the very idea of bringing in an auditor certainly leads one to question the validity of the company’s earlier findings.

    We’ll see what Absolute says next, be it later today or in the near future. I’ll also be curious to see if AP ever decides to respond to this email I sent them a little over 24 hours ago:



    To be honest, I cannot imagine any response that would satisfy me enough to want to play on the site again. (If they ever do respond, that is.) Of course, as I click “publish post” it appears over 15,000 players still think Absolute is a fine place to play. Perhaps thanks to the UIGEA they’ve nowhere else to go.

    I’m glad I still do.

    EDIT (10/19/07, 8:15 EDT): I received my response from Absolute about an hour ago. You’ve probably already seen this elsewhere (no, they did not send the picture -- I added that):

    Absolute Poker has identified an internal security breach that compromised our systems . . . Dear Valued Customer,

    Thank you for contacting us.

    Absolute Poker has identified an internal security breach that compromised our systems for a limited period of time. The cause of the breach has been determined and completely resolved. In addition, all necessary resources, both internal and external, have been engaged to ensure that this does not happen again. Our investigation is not fully concluded, and we wish to thank the extended poker community for any and all assistance related to this matter.

    Game integrity has always been and continues to be of the utmost importance at Absolute Poker. The Management of Absolute Poker is appalled by these findings, and is committed to our players and to the integrity of our site and the online poker industry.

    All players affected by this security breach will be identified during the audit process that has been initiated and all funds, including interest, will be returned. Absolute Poker would like to apologize for the recent events and is committed to diligently working with outside security firms, auditing firms, the extended poker community and the Kahnawake Gaming Commission to ensure that the situation is entirely resolved.

    A comprehensive statement will be forthcoming shortly, providing more details of the findings.

    Absolute Poker Management


    So more to come. Oh, and there is this report, too, over on the MSNBC site that apparently demonstrates some anonymous insider attempting to absolve some of the higher-ups. A damn far cry from reassuring, whatever the intention.

    I’d suggest heading over to PokerNews and/or keep following the forums for the latest.

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