Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Looking Back at the OP on UB

Yesterday I listened to episode 7 of the poker podcast Life With Face Cards, featuring an interview with poker player David Paredes.

I hadn’t heard the show before -- it just debuted in April -- but I enjoyed listening, with the host David Podgurski giving his guest lots of room to discuss in detail various topics while also keeping the interview moving forward. (I hope I’m spelling Podgurski’s name correctly.) Past guests have included Dan Cates, Jay Rosenkrantz, and Dani Stern.

It helped that Paredes proved an interesting guest. I remember first covering Paredes in a tournament back in early 2010 when he final tabled the NAPT Main Event at the Venetian, finishing fifth. I’ve seen him now and then at other tourneys since, I believe most recently at the one at the Sands Bethlehem last winter.

The show reminds us all that Paredes was in fact right in the middle of things way back in January 2008 when the initial discoveries regarding cheating on Ultimate Bet first surfaced.

It was during the fall of the previous year that Paredes, a.k.a. “dplnyc21” on Two Plus Two, had compared notes with Mike “trambopoline” Fosco regarding some unusual losses both had experienced on UB when playing against the player “NioNio” from July-Sept. 2007. They noted both the player’s insanely high win rate -- more than 60BB/100 hands -- and the fact that the player was playing more than 65% of hands (well over twice that of a typical, successful NLHE player).

Using PokerTracker, the pair were able to identify other unusual patterns in the relatively small sample size of 3,000 hands or so, and decided to take their findings and concerns to the High Stakes PL/NL forum on Two Plus Two.

A little after midnight on January 8, 2008, Fosco started a thread with the title “Suspected super user on UB: NioNio” with a long post starting with a brief summary of NioNio’s unusual stats followed by about 25 hand histories.

We now know this was just the beginning, with the NioNio account being one of dozens employed by the many who used the so-called “AuditMonster” program to cheat opponents on the site. Many more threads would appear after this one, as would a more careful marshaling of evidence by numerous others to compile a more substantial (and convincing) case regarding the cheating.

It was exactly two months later on March 8, 2008 that Ultimate Bet issued its “Interim Statement” acknowledging that a cheating “scheme” had been perpetrated on the site. Of course, the recent revelation of that audio recording secretly made by primary cheater Russ Hamilton of a meeting involving himself, Greg Pierson, Dan Friedberg, and Sandy Millar, we now know definitively that the statement and other machinations by Ultimate Bet going forward were part of a new scheme to cover up as much as possible so as to minimize player refunds and enable the site to continue operating. (That first three-hour recording came a few weeks after the first 2+2 thread appeared; the second two-hour recording was from July 2008.)

And with the benefit of hindsight we also know the latter scheme in fact worked, with the subsequent signing of more sponsored pros including Joe Sebok, the continued support of spokespersons Annie Duke (until a few days ago an aggressive champion of UB, old and new) and Phil Hellmuth (a.k.a. “Completely Oblivious”). The site stumbled for a while, but recovered and in fact thrived right up until April 2011 and Black Friday, with its Full Tilt Poker-like failure to segregate player funds resulting in the loss of about $55 million worth of funds by those who continued to play on the site.

Speaking of hindsight, reading through that original “Suspected super user on UB: NioNio” thread is kind of fascinating. It begins and ends on 1/8/08, and I think might have actually been locked or even temporarily deleted amid criticisms that the accusations presented by trambopoline and dplnyc21 were without merit.

It’s interesting to see the overwhelmingly negative response to the pair’s findings. A few chimed in to agree that they, too, had played with NioNio and were suspicious, with others also saying that Fosco’s findings provided reasonable cause for suspicion and warranted further investigation. But most of those posting express serious doubts in response to the OP.

Isaac “Ike” Haxton is the most skeptical of that latter group, saying he “bet this guy is just a lucky fish” and that from what had been presented “there is no evidence this guy is anything other than a lucksack.” After speculating further regarding some of the hands that were posted, Haxton even goes on to say “you could make a much stronger case that i'm a superuser.”

(Haxton, incidentally, would go on to build a $300K bankroll on the “new UB” and Absolute only to see that money evaporate on Black Friday. I know he was trying to sell those funds off at 20 cents on the dollar about six weeks later, but I’m not sure what came of that.)

To be fair, the small sample size and selection of hands presented wasn’t nearly enough to build a convincing case, thus it is completely understandable to see posters on that day regarding the idea as belonging to the large category of “online-poker-is-rigged” arguments instinctively made by players following losing sessions or a preponderance of bad beats.

That is to say, I’m not suggesting any sort of criticism regarding those who initially doubted Paredes and Fosco -- after all, if we think back, they were voicing what was really a majority view at the time.

It is amazing, really, to think about the climate of trust in which online poker operated during those years. Trust which we now know was in several cases misplaced, but then had little or no hesitation to give.

The great majority were convinced the games had to be on the up-and-up, even after the Absolute Poker scandal had surfaced in the fall of 2007. And no site would ever be so kill-the-golden-goose reckless as to cheat its own customers, right?

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