Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thank God? Or Thank God Mode?

I mentioned yesterday a few of the various “dramas” happening in poker these days. The last one appearing in my list -- the one regarding all of the renewed attention on the still largely-unresolved UltimateBet insider-cheating scandal -- is surely the most riveting of the bunch.

Interest in the scandals was revived over the last week by the surprise appearance of Travis Makar -- Russ Hamilton’s former “right-hand man” -- on the DonkDown podcast last Wednesday (the 2/16/11 episode). You might recall how back in August 2010, the Entities at Wicked Chops gave a bit of space to discussing Makar in their post “The UltimateBet Super-User Cheating Scandal, Part II.”

As the Entities describe, Makar had a few connections with Russ Hamilton and UB, as did members of his family (also linked to so-called “super-user” accounts). From his interview on DonkDown last week, it sounded like Makar was primarily a computer techie -- he owned a shop -- who was called in from time to time by Hamilton and other UB folks to service their computers. He also became involved with helping Hamilton and UB in other ways, too, such as by helping increase and maintain traffic by playing on the site and getting friends and family to open accounts.

As a result, Makar learned a great deal about the whole “super-user” scheme that was established at UltimateBet and from which many people -- Hamilton among them -- profited immensely over the course of (at least) four-plus years.

Makar called the DonkDown “Cold Call Show” last week after he found out his name had been brought up on a previous show in connection to the disgraced 1994 WSOP Main Event champion. The hosts, having gotten hold of Hamilton’s cell phone number, had prank-called him, pretending to be an attorney (“Alvin Finklestein”) and telling Hamilton that his former helper Makar was now in need of help from him.

Makar’s motivation for calling appears primarily to have been to try to clear his own name of wrongdoing connected to the scandal, as well as perhaps to address other related topics. An entire transcript of Makar’s conversation with Bryan Micon and Todd “DanDruff” Witteles has been posted over in the DonkDown forums.

In the wake of Makar’s appearance last week have come some equally interesting posts on various blogs and forums, including a couple of new entries by Haley Hintze in her “Just Conjecturin’” series covering both the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet scandals. Hintze also appeared on this week’s episode of the “Cold Call Show” which aired last night and can be found here.

Donk Down RadioAlso a guest on last night’s show was “Yukon” Brad Booth, a primary victim of the cheating at UB, who shared details of his experience and the devastating effect it has had on his life. And Makar called in again, too, to continue the conversation from the week before as well as to follow up on his meeting in person with Micon earlier this week.

At that meeting with Micon, Makar shared more information about the scandal and the efforts of some to cover up details. Micon summarizes their meeting here.

Again, a lot more of interest here, including the whole exchange from 2008 between current UltimateBet COO Paul Leggett and Zoltan “brainwashdodo” Rozsa who once worked in customer service for Absolute Poker. Details of the interaction between those two (including emails) can be found on DonkDown and in Haley’s last couple of “Just Conjecturin’” posts (Vol. 27 and Vol. 28). And Leggett has responded as well -- sort of -- regarding such on his UB blog here.

One item that Micon and Makar discussed in their meeting earlier this week was the method employed by the cheaters. I’d heard various descriptions of how it worked before -- and how it compared to what was used for the cheating that happened on Absolute Poker, too -- but hadn’t previously picked up on the fact that what was used was essentially just a special version of the UB software. In other words, it sounds like it was a fairly simple procedure to load the sucker onto your computer and with the needed login/username access everyone’s hole cards as you played.

Micon relates what Makar told him thusly: “The cheating program itself was much like the old UB client. If you had the program, you needed a special login and password and it would display any table you opened with all the hands face up. The program was referred to as ‘god mode’ and was frequently emailed to superusers after a UB update came down, sometimes with lol names such as ‘’....”

Makar showed Micon three emails (with senders/recipients blacked out) to which the program had been attached. Makar is apparently in possession of quite a lot of material -- including hand histories (both doctored and undoctored, he says) -- which shed further light on what happened and who was responsible.

There’s a lot associated with this highly-complicated story that provokes astonishment, to be sure, but I was amazed once again to read about the “god mode” program getting emailed around this way. So incredibly casual, it seems, especially when one considers how much money was stolen, not to mention the degree to which many lives were affected and continue to be affected today (as Booth’s example vividly illustrates).

Such were the thoughts running through my head as I opened up this week’s issue of Card Player to see this advertisement for the “new” UB:

I mentioned seeing the ad on Twitter last night, to which @uscjusto cleverly replied: “Thank God mode for Poker.”

Whatever your beliefs -- about God, online poker, what have you -- I think we can agree UB works in mysterious ways.

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