Poker is a game of edges. The top professionals earned their big-name status and corresponding bankrolls by gaining edges on their opponents. Pros gain edges by reading opponents, studying game theory, or picking the right games at the right time. There are many ways to get an edge on your opponents and crush the competition, including, sadly, poker cheating. Unfortunately, there are plenty of unsavory characters who look to gain their edge illegitimately, which has thus led to poker cheating scandals.
Like any community, the poker world has its fair share of morally unscrupulous people. In a game where the goal is to win money, it is no surprise some cheaters and scammers will enter the arena. Due to this, there have been many poker cheating scandals that have come to light over the game’s long history.
Since the game began, scammers started to learn how to cheat at poker by manipulating decks or peeking at hole cards. As technology advanced so did the cheating methods. New technology gave players the ability to signal each other electronically, either using their phone or a poker cheating device. Online poker presented a copious amount of cheating opportunities for those looking to make a dishonest dollar without casino cameras pointed at them.
Here are the top 10 poker cheating scandals explained:
1. Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker Superusers
The Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker scandals are the largest and most egregious poker cheating scandals to ever come to light. Absolute Poker was a small site created by a few fraternity brothers at the University of Montana. After some early success, they moved the company to Costa Rica and merged with the larger and more technically advanced Ultimate Bet where operations continued under the latter’s name.
In 2007 players on Two Plus Two and similar poker forums started reporting a suspicious account “POTRIPPER”. Players noticed this account was seemingly winning every hand at showdown and never making incorrect calls. Many became suspicious and accused the player of using some poker cheating device to become a superuser. A superuser is someone who can see everyone’s hole cards at the table.
Further investigation by the site and the Kahnawake Gaming Commission found that 117 usernames associated with 23 accounts were superusing. Almost all of these accounts were transactionally linked to poker pro Russell Hamilton, who served as a consultant for the site and is believed to be the main perpetrator of the scam.
It appears the controversy spread much wider than Hamilton, a former WSOP Main Event winner, as investigations found up to 30 other individuals may have been involved. In the end, the site was fined $1.5 million and had to return $22 million to the players impacted by the cheating scandal, making it the largest cheating operation in poker history.
2. Mike Postle Knowing Hole Cards on Stream
While the scale of this poker cheating scandal isn’t very large, the media attention garnered in the poker world makes this one of the most notable poker scandals ever. Mike Postle was a regular on the popular Stones Live poker stream, a streamed cash game from the Bay Area casino Stones Gambling Hall. Viewers started noticing the Postle rarely called a river bet when he was beat and fired some ridiculous bluffs.
The attention his strange play received led to popular poker content creators Joey Ingram and Doug Polk putting out hours of content reviewing his hands. The review alleged he may be receiving texts about his opponent’s hole cards or using some poker cheating device as he regularly would look at his lap/under the table during hands. The most likely case was a show producer whom he was close with sent him information on his opponent’s hands during play.
With so much attention on the case, Postle sued several creators for defamation. This was thrown out and those individuals countersued. After some lengthy trials, no convictions or civil liabilities were found. The cheating was not proven in a court of law so no money had to be returned and the poker world has been forced to move on without any real closure.
3. Jose “Girah” Macedo Colluding Against Pros
In 2010, the latest of a long list of poker phenom’s hit the online card rooms. Jose “Girah” Macedo was a young Portuguese pro who was tearing up online high-stakes cash games. He burst onto the scene and gained recognition from top pros like Daniel “Jungleman” Cates. His results, over $1.6 million profit online, were discussed on poker forums everywhere hailing him as the next prodigy.
However, some members of his Skype study group experienced something worrying. Macedo would tell them he knew about a huge fish with the username “sauron1989” and would have his professional friends play against them. Macedo would insist on sweating the pro over Skype and these pros were losing a lot.
Some quick investigation showed that Macedo and sauron1989 would log off Skype at the same time. After being confronted by his study group Macedo admitted to sharing hand information with the “fishy” player so they could beat the professionals. Being an admitted poker cheater, Macedo faded out of the poker world for good.
4. Peter Jepsen Malware
Peter Jepsen was a Danish high stakes poker player active in the 2000s and 2010s. He was better known by his screen name Zupp, with which he played against some of the world’s best poker players. He briefly held the world record for the largest online pot after winning a $499,000 pot off Tom Dwan in an online cash game. Despite some early success, Jepsen decided to cheat to gain an edge over the elite poker players of the world.
Jepsen ran a long-term scam from 2008-2014 where he would install malware on poker players’ computers which would allow him to see their hole cards. While at high-profile live events like EPT or WSOP, Jepsen himself or a team member would break into a high roller’s hotel room or swipe their laptop and install the malware then put it back.
Jepsen would then seek out games where the pro was playing and use the malware to see their hole cards. Jason Koon was one of many who fell victim to the scam. Danish authorities received complaints of the poker cheating scandal and an arrest was made. Jepsen was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison as well as ordered to pay a £3.5 million fine.
5. Robbi Jade Lew & Garrett Adelstein Potential Hole Card Leak
Many poker fans tune into the Hustler Casino Live stream to watch big names dragging huge pots. A Los Angeles favorite, poker pro Garrett Adelstein, has been a regular on Live at the Bike and Hustler Casino Live for the past few years. In September 2022 Robbi Jade Lew and Garrett played a massive hand on Hustler Casino Live.
Robbi had J4 off suit with the jack of clubs and Garrett had 87 of clubs on a TT93 two-club board. The turn saw Garrett bet, Robbi min-raise, and Garrett go all-in for Robbi’s remaining $100,000. With no pair and no draw, Robbi would have to fold…but she didn’t. Robbi made the call with jack-high and won both runouts, scooping a $270,000 pot.
Garrett almost immediately accused her of cheating. Many poker players agreed she must have had information about his hand to make this call. With jack-high and no draw, she is losing to all of his value and most of his bluffs like the ace, king, or queen-high flush draw. Other fans thought Garrett was being a sore loser who got soul-read. Hustler and poker content creators led investigations that showed an employee of Hustler took $20,000 in chips from Robbi during a reload and she never said anything.
It has been speculated that the employee was giving Robbi hole card information and he decided to take his cut from her reload chips as there was talk of her giving the money back to Garrett. Robbi did end up giving the money back but no cheating was ever proven. To this day Garrett will not play on Hustler Casino Live out of fear of cheating.
6. Ali Imsirovic Poker Cheating Allegations
In 2022 Ali Imsirovic, a well-known high-stakes poker pro, was called out by Alex Foxen and other nosebleed players for several poker cheating methods. Accusations included multi-accounting online, rubbernecking (looking at neighbor’s hole cards) during live tournaments, chip dumping to or from partners, and the use of solvers online for real-time assistance (RTA).
While there wasn’t a lot of concrete evidence, Foxen did share video tweets of Imsirovic looking at Paul Phua’s hole cards in a live game and making an unorthodox bluff attempt which would only be possible if he saw his opponent’s holdings. GG Poker, the popular online site for high-stakes players, banned Imsirovic and Jake Schindler soon after the accusations came out. In 2023 Imsirovic admitted to multi-accounting but denied the other allegations. It is likely Imsirovic did more than multi-accounting online but we’ll likely never know for sure.
7. Black Friday
This may not be a poker cheating scandal in the traditional sense, but Black Friday deserves a spot on this list. No cheating devices were used and there is no player cheating scandal to explain here. However, the poker community as a whole was cheated out of the best thing to ever happen to poker: regulated online poker in the U.S.
When Full Tilt and PokerStars were operating in the U.S. poker players could turn $100 into millions. The entire world could play on the same sites and the amount of money flowing into the poker world was astounding.
When the U.S. government passed legislation banning online poker they seized control of the US poker sites, locking up everyone’s money and destroying a massive industry. Online poker has never recovered and will never get back to what it was as long as it remains banned. While some players were able to get their funds out eventually, many others were not so lucky. An egregious amount of money was removed from the poker ecosystem on Black Friday and we are still feeling the effects of that today.
8. Christian Lusardi using Fake Borgata Tournament Chips
The 2014 Borgata Winter Poker Open was a large tournament held, you guessed it, at the Borgata in Atlantic City. Over 4,000 poker players entered the tournament boasting a healthy $2 Million guaranteed prize pool. Among those players was Christian Lusardi who came to the event with more than just poker skills. Lusardi showed up with fake tournament chips to add to his stack throughout play.
After Day 1 Lusardi was the massive chip leader, no doubt due to the extra chips being smuggled onto the table. Tournament staff tallied the chips in play and noticed they had too many, which prompted an investigation. In a panic, Lusardi tried to get rid of the hundreds of fake chips in his room by flushing them down the toilet.
Luckily for the Borgata security team (and unluckily for maintenance) this clogged the plumbing and led right back to Lusardi who had already moved hotels. An arrest was made and Lusardi was sentenced to five years in prison for this crime and others (turns out he wasn’t a stranger to breaking the law).
9. Allegations Against Bryn Kenney and his Horses
Another recent alleged poker cheating scandal was that of Bryn Kenney’s stable. The term horse is used to describe someone who is being staked and usually coached by another poker player. If a player is staking and coaching/mentoring multiple players that can be called their stable. Many notable poker pros will build stables as a way to make additional income.
Poker pro Martin Zamani, one of Kenney’s former horses, accused the high roller of forcing his protege to collude with each other during tournaments on GG Poker, use RTA on final tables, and allow other players to “ghost” their account (having someone else play under your account).
There were also some accusations of Kenney signing up rich recreational players, telling other pros they are a fish so they sit against them, then have Kenney or someone else ghost the “fish” account to take advantage of unsuspecting pros. While these accusations haven’t been fully proven, an eyewitness account and other professionals noting strange things, it’s fair to say Kenney most likely executed this poker cheating scandal.
10. Mark Teltscher Multi-Accounting WCOOP
The World Championship of Online Poker, or WCOOP for short, is a coveted tournament series put on by PokerStars. One of the largest poker tournament series each year, it boasts big fields and even bigger prize pools. The 2007 WCOOP main event had just under 3,000 entries with a first prize of over $1.3 million. That trophy was won by the account “TheVoid” which was registered to Natalie Teltscher. However, PokerStars was skeptical as Natalie’s brother is an English poker pro Mark Teltscher.
After an investigation, it was found that Mark was playing under multiple accounts registered to friends and family. This practice is called multi-accounting and it gives an unfair advantage to someone who could dump chips to their other account or fire multiple bullets in a freezeout. It’s unclear exactly what Mark did with these multiple accounts but it is clear he broke the terms of service. Pokerstars stripped “TheVoid” of the title, took the prize money, and moved everyone else up one spot distributing the seized funds accordingly.
Poker Cheating Scandals: Final Thoughts
Unfortunately for the poker world, there will always be poker cheaters and scammers trying to gain an unfair edge. Luckily, as technology increases our ability to recognize and police poker cheating scandals is increasing. Many are calling for a unified governing body for poker to hand out punishments. Without that body, players can be banned from a site for cheating and just move funds to another site or show up to a live tournament circuit. While this may be hard to police, the poker world may need a commission like major sports have to help keep players safe from poker cheating.