partypoker has admitted that a small group of people successfully colluded in their high stakes multi-table tournaments after rumours emerged on the 2+2 poker forum.
It’s Halloween; ghosts are hanging from trees, temporary tombstones jut out next to the roses, and one house nearby has two propane tanks ready to create hell on earth. The kids will love it. Our only concern will be their safety.
But isn’t this our primary concern at all times?
Whether we’re trick or treating late at night, playing sports, or logging on to Amazon to buy an electronic proofreader; safety and security are preeminent in our thoughts.
And it’s the same when we choose an online poker site. We want to have fun, experience easy to handle and aesthetically pleasing graphics, humungous pools of fish, gargantuan prizes, excellent customer services, and a safe and secure environment.
If you want to be the best in the business you need to tick all of these boxes otherwise, people pick up their pitchforks and torches, and Halloween becomes a witch hunt.
The Witch Hunt
At some time in late 2016, a group of people working for partypoker sat in a room, flies buzzing around the cupcakes, preparing to brainstorm how they could regain the crown stolen by PokerStars after the introduction of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) 2006.
A decade had flown by, and the gap between PokerStars and partypoker was cavernous.
Out of that Post-It Note session came a few ideas.
1. Create partypoker LIVE, hybridise online and live play, and create enormous tournaments that play out in some of the best live locations in the world, creating massive prize pools, and seven-figure scores galore. The brand would be called MILLIONS and for a good reason.
2. Hire John Duthie.
3. Hire Mike Sexton.
4. Hire some of the best ambassadors in strategic locations.
5. Hire Fedor Holz.
6. Become the High Stakes location of choice for online action.
So far the plan is working.
But the poker industry is a fickle thing.
partypoker know what it feels like to wear the crown, but they also understand what can happen if you fall asleep on the job.
On the 21 October, FarseerFinland created a 2+2 thread entitled Huge Collusion Ring in High Stakes MTTs at Partypoker.
You can read the thread here.
The poster plays on partypoker under the pseudonym DukeOfSuffolk where he’s been grinding high stakes leaderboards for 18 months. The Duke has played poker for 13-years.
On the 18th Oct, the poster was playing a final table in a Turbo High Roller, where he says that in 48 hands, none of his six opponents was all-in and called. After he busts, the tournament ends in less than three minutes. After some research, the poster found that six of the seven players started playing in May 2017, primarily $109+ tournaments.
“I have rarely seen clear collusion / soft play incidents before this.” Wrote FarseerFinland
Later that day, the poster advises partypoker’s security team about his suspicions and passes on the six names.
Two days later, the poster pays close attention to the High Stakes action and finds another eight names he believes require further scrutiny.
All of these players have been playing since May 2017, and since August 2017 mainly playing $109 buy-in Heavyweight Clubber II games.
The poster informs partypoker security and receives a positive response. partypoker suspended the accounts, and a full investigation was taking place.
“I wish that this would all be a bad dream and I would wake up.” The poster wrote.
As it turns out, it wasn’t a bad dream.
The View From The MD
It’s not the first time a poker player has unearthed a cheating scandal on an online poker room. It won’t be the last. But we need to seriously question how effective online poker room security is if they are not catching these clowns before the players notice there is something amiss.
We live in a world where Elon Musk believes the growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will result in World War III; where a Facebook algorithm knows your lover more intimately than you, and we can’t develop an algorithm that catches cheats quicker than a single grinder.
“A group of accounts were found to be playing in teams in order to collude against other players,” partypoker Managing Director, Tom Waters, confirmed to me earlier today.
“We always welcome proactive feedback from our players as it often helps us to identify issues faster,” Waters continued. “BOT and collusion detection techniques can require a large number of hands in order to accurately analyse the information and identify rogue accounts. Therefore sometimes players are able to identify suspicious activity faster, depending on what they have experienced at the tables. We have sophisticated fraud control mechanisms in place that are continually being updated to counter new and more advanced fraudulent techniques.”
The most important thing to do when something like this has happened is to find the leak in your security system and plug it. But partypoker don’t believe there is a leak despite admitting that a group of players have been caught breaking the Terms of Conditions (TOC).
“I do not feel that there is a gap to be plugged,” Waters confirmed.
Although the partypoker security system is not getting an upgrade, they are taking some positive actions, as Waters confirmed:
“We have set up a new email address, email@example.com, where players can send their suspicions directly to an expert team who will review the case immediately. We have also formed a player panel of elite online players who will review hand histories in difficult cases and make a fair and impartial decision.”
What happens after DukeofSuffolk passes over his list of suspicious names? How do the cogs whizz and whirr?
“It depends on the case, every case is different. In this case, the security department reviewed the initial complaint from the player and began a full investigation to 1) Verify that collusion was taking place and 2) That ensure all accounts involved were successfully identified and blocked.” Said Waters before continuing.
“It’s also important to note that 99% of collusion accusations are proved to be false. A lot of people get suspicious based on the emotion of losing pots, running under EV in general and against specific players. It is important that our security team is as informed as possible to be able to quickly identify if it is indeed collusion or not. We cannot simply close every account that is emailed to us as being suspicious of collusion.”
In the wake of this particular scandal, some of the suspected accounts remained open despite the security team advising DukeofSuffolk that they were all suspended. It prompted speculation that partypoker were not taking the allegations seriously enough. Waters admitted this might have happened and once the mistake was realised they shut down the accounts.
The title of the 2+2 thread used the word ‘huge’ when describing the collusion ring. Waters was unwilling to put a number on it preferring to say the number of accounts involved in the incident was small and if this is true, then DukeofSuffolk got very lucky or partypoker should hire him on the spot.
So what happens next?
partypoker has identified a collusion ring and been brave enough to admit their security breach. Undoubtedly, the next steps would be for partypoker to share the identities of the cheaters with the poker community so they can be on guard when playing against them live or online. Then, share this information with the other online and live organisations so global bans can be introduced to act as a deterrent. Advise the police to arrest them. Then all the money lost by players competing with these cheats would be returned.
I am so naive.
On sharing their identities with other online poker rooms to prevent a repeat incident.
“Although, in concept, this is a good idea, in reality, it’s very difficult due to the Data Protection Act amongst other issues,” noted Waters.
On the legal issue:
“We cannot comment on legal matters, although all players will be permanently banned from playing on our site.”
partypoker will return some of the money, but it’s going to be difficult to recoup every single penny given the assumption that the collusion ring would have been withdrawing funds since May 2017.
“All seized funds will be redistributed to the affected players.”
And the final word from the boss.
“We are already working closely with a number of players for certain matters. Over the coming months we will be rolling out some highly advanced detection techniques that we are building with the help of some of our players.”
In any other industry, this incident would have a terrible effect on the bottom line, and more importantly, a dent in their integrity.
Nope, this little bump in the road won’t affect partypoker’s ascent to the top, and the inevitable punch-up with PokerStars. We exist in a business where someone can steal millions of dollars from his peers, and still be viewed as a future leader in our industry; where online poker rooms steal from players and those same players continue to play on the same site, and one of the stars of poker’s biggest scandal can win the World Series of Poker Player of the Year award and have his face painted on a giant banner for everyone he fucked over to sit and stare at.
It’s more frightening than anything I will see when out trick or treating tonight.