10. Men Nguyen
Men “The Master” Ngyuen is one of those players who has always been able to end up in some sort of controversy or shady story.
Perhaps the earliest instance of his shadiness surfaced in 2008 when Justin Bonomo shared a story in his blog about Men’s alleged cheating at Foxwoods. As the story goes, Men was in a hotel room with players he personally staked and a fire alarm went off. Everyone was asked to leave and later a suitcase full of tournament chips was found in the room. Strangely, no Foxwoods official ever acknowledged that this incident indeed took place, but Men Ngyuen did receive a lifetime ban from Foxwoods, which, in an even more interesting twist, was overturned four years later. What really happened may never come to light, but this tale would not be only shady story Men would be involved in.
In the same blog post, Justin Bonomo presented a widely accepted theory that Men’s horses have been stealing chips off the table in smaller buy-in events and chip dumping/giving them to Ngyuen in high buy-in events.
Later on 2+2, many players posted stories of alleged cheating, chip dumping, etc. by Men and his horses. Daniel Negreanu also took to the forums to confirm that Men was indeed involved in cheating and chip dumping.
Most recently, Ngyuen’s name hit the headlines again with the Borgata Winter Poker Open fake chip scandal breaking out. On day two, a player brought a weird 5K chip to the attention of the floor. Officials immediately began investigating the situation, while players began noting that one of the players who was still in the tournament was Men Nguyen. Ngyuen did not last long though as he busted in 28th place and soon after his departure the tournament was cancelled.
Eventually the police got involved and arrested the real culprit – Christian Lusardi. At the same time, police found no evidence of Ngyuen being involved. Despite this, Men still managed to draw more heat upon himself when he went to collect his winnings. Ngyuen claimed that he bought in six times, while the records showed that he only bought in two times. Ngyuen’s story seemed even more suspicious when it turned out that the buy-in mismatch that he alleged was just enough for him to avoid filling out the W-2G tax form.
Despite everything, Men seems unfazed by any of the scandals as no solid evidence of his wrongdoing has ever come to light.
9. Annie Duke
Several different scandals ended up costing Annie a lot in terms of her reputation in the poker world.
Duke received her first serious blow when the AP/UB superuser scandal broke. Not only was Duke in hot water for associating herself with Ultimate Bet, but in voice recordings that later went public, owners of UB were discussing the scandal in detail, essentially proving the whole thing beyond a doubt, and Annie’s name was also mentioned. More importantly, it was mentioned alongside an account called, “AuditMonster,” which had the ability to see opponents’ hole cards with a 15 minute delay. The account was created to provide commentary on final tables in UB’s biggest tournaments and later Annie claimed that was the only thing the account was ever used for.
The eventual shut down of UB after Black Friday with millions of dollars in players’ accounts never being returned did not help Annie’s reputation either regardless of how she tried to distance herself from UB later on.
Duke’s next big blow came with the downfall of the Epic Poker League when she held the commissioner’s chair. The league went bust three-quarters of the way through its first year, earning only $37,052 and owing over $8 million. What was even more infuriating is that during that time Duke paid herself $299,784 for her time as commissioner of the league.
Eventually some argued that as commissioner, whether or not Duke was aware of all the day-to-day operations, she actively promoted the league as a trustworthy organization and that should be enough to hold her accountable in some way. Others, however, argue that she was likely not involved in daily financial operations and was focused solely on PR, so the financial failings cannot by directly attributed to her.
Whatever roles Annie played in the UB and EPL scandals, one thing is certain – she has made herself a very controversial figure within the poker community.
8. Chino Rheem
With more than $5 million in career tournament winnings, you would expect Chino to have his act together as a poker player, but Chino has other ideas about that.
In late 2011, stories about Chino Rheem borrowing money and never giving it back surfaced one by one, putting him in a very bad light. Will Molson was the first to tell his story about Rheem, who owed him $40,000. Molson intended to lend Rheem $20,000 at the 2010 European Poker Tour London, but accidentally transferred $40,000 to him on PokerStars and Rheem never paid him back. In that EPT, Rheem came in third in an event for $150,000 and still paid nothing back.
After that story took off, former November Niner, Joseph Cheong, also shared his story of dealing with Rheem. Cheong alleged that Rheem asked him to lend him $40K and offered pieces of Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi’s action at the WSOP. Cheong said that Mizrachi confirmed this, but Rheem still had no intention of paying anything back.
Others who came forward accusing Rheem of scamming include Tom Draw and Ben Lamb, who won a bet against Rheem at the WSOP. Ben Lamb was the only one to later report that he was fully repaid by Rheem while some other players received 10% of what they were owed.
During this time, Rheem was a regular at the casinos and some of the players who knew about his situation weren’t very happy that he was still allowed at the tables:
In October 2013, Rheem basically admitted all of his wrongdoings in an interview with PokerListings, stating that he “has done some things that he is not proud of” and that “he wants to get out of debt and then figure out what he wants to do with his life”.
At this point, Chino has still not paid back many of his debts in full so it remains to be seen whether Rheem will make good on his promise to get out of debt and salvage at least some of his reputation.
7. Ali Tekintamgac
Almost a year before Rheem’s scandals broke out, the poker world was experiencing another cheating scandal at the Partouche Poker Tour. The scandal was particularly sensitive to the live tournament scene as it involved not only players, but also the poker media that was covering the event.
In September 2010, the final table of the PPT was on a break, but just before the event was set to resume one of the final nine players, Ali Tekintamgac, was disqualified for cheating. Tekintamgac was the winner of WPT Barcelona and some time earlier fell under suspicion for cheating at EPT Tallinn. As it turned out, this time video footage showed that sideline bloggers and reporters were helping Tekintamgac by peeking at the hole cards of his opponents and using hand signals to inform Tekintamgac.
This scandal brought about concerns over live tournament security, especially the media’s access to the tournament floor.
In 2013, Tekintamgac’s luck finally ran out when he was arrested by German police on the charges of running an international poker cheater group. As the investigation later showed, Tekintamgac and his accomplices marked cards with markings that could only be seen through special contact lenses.
It’s pretty ironic that Ali Tekintamgac is the only European player to make this list and at the same time he is the only one to have actually been arrested. US players and the American justice system seem as lenient toward poker cheats as they are to Wall Street bankers.
6. Dutch Boyd
Probably better known to some as the guy who was “going to take over the poker world”, Boyds’ history actually includes a very ominous story from the early 2000s.
Many won’t remember this, but at the turn of the century Boyd opened one of the first online poker rooms called, “PokerSpot.” Before PokerSpot, only Planet Poker was offering online poker, but Poker Spot challenged its competitor with fresh competition and a bigger game variety.
About one year after its launch, PokerSpot’s two payment processors went bust, leaving PokerSpot in a $480,000 hole. When inquiries about missing withdrawals started pouring in, Boyd instructed his support team to lie to customers and assure them that everything was fine even though he knew that there was no way he could cover the missing funds.
Eventually PokerSpot shut down for good and players never got their money, making PokerSpot one of the first examples of bad business practices in online poker that eventually lead to failure, not to mention one of the first examples of no accountability in an unregulated market.
5. Max Ashkar
Max Ashkar was a high stakes player from Germany who played under the screen name, “mexx86.” Most players who met him described him in a positive light, however, it turns out that he was making friends within the high stakes poker player community for a reason.
After befriending high stakes pros, Ashkar got ahold of their laptops one way or another and installed a Trojan which allowed him to see his opponents’ hole cards. The total number of victims ranged in the dozens and it’s estimated that Ashkar won more than $2 million this way.
The story broke out during the EM Championship in Austria when two players accused Ashkar of fraud and made him admit it before taking him to the police. When Ashkar was handed over to the police, he denied all allegations and said that he only admitted to fraud because he was threatened.
4. Josh Fields
The man known to the poker world as, “JJProdigy,” was considered one of the best online tournament players in the early-to-mid 2000s. He is now better known as one of the top cheaters in poker.
The first allegation to hit Josh was back in 2007 when a player under the screen name “ABlackCar” won $140,000. It was well known that Josh played under the screen name “JJProdigy,” so questions began to arise when Josh began bragging about his $140,000 win. After making up stories about the other account belonging to his grandma and such, Josh eventually admitted to playing both accounts, which he actually did on a much larger scale and on a regular basis.
Despite everything, Josh never felt like stopping and continued multi-accounting until he was banned from all the major online rooms and all live events hosted by PokerStars. This has left him a complete outcast in the poker community.
3. Brian Townsend/Brian Hastings/Cole South
Perhaps the main character in this trio is Brian Townsend. Benefiting greatly from the poker boom, Townsend became one of the best-known online poker pros and eventually a coach at Cardrunners.
In 2008, Townsend was caught multi-accounting, a violation which he quickly admitted to and apologized for. Many players have been caught doing it once and after some time they have been able to move on and restore their reputation, like Justin Bonomo, while different stories include the tales of people like Josh Fields. Townsend never did multi-account again after he was initially caught, but he did end up in a very controversial story along with his buddies, Brian Hastings and Cole South.
In 2009, Victor “Isildur1” Blom was tearing up the high stakes cash games on Full Tilt Poker…until Brian Hastings came along and swept Isildur1 for $4.2 million over a single session, that is. A year later, Hasting inadvertently admitted that he, Townsend and South pulled together their hand histories on Isildur1 after which Townsend did extensive analysis which allowed them to gain an edge.
While all three broke Full Tilt’s T&C, no serious repercussions have ever caught up with any of them and none of the money they won through unethical means has been returned.
2. Russ Hamilton
It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that one of the poker community’s most despised players had been associated with the UB superuser scandal. In fact, Russ Hamilton was the superuser who roamed freely on UB from 2003 until 2007. Before that, Russ was better known for winning the 1994 WSOP Main Event.
Russ Hamilton was one of the people at UB behind the idea of creating a superuser account to “catch cheaters.“ Well, we all know how that turned out.
After the scandal broke, Hamilton became an outcast in the poker community. His WSOP champion‘s banner was taken down and he was uninvited to the WSOP Main Event Champions tournament where all past Main Event winners were invited to compete against each other.
Despite this, Hamilton was never charged with a crime and is still walking around as a free man.
While Russ may have denied any wrongdoing publicly, at one point a three-hour recording of UB’s top executives surfaced. On the recording, Russ basically admits to cheating as you can hear in this 10-minute cut out:
1. Howard Lederer
Better known as “The Professor” in the old days, for a long time Howard was a respected member of the poker community and one of Full Tilt Poker’s executives…until Black Friday came along, that is.
When Black Friday hit, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were banned from the US and all the players’ funds were frozen. While PokerStars was able to quickly fulfill all of its financial obligations for US players, Full Tilt Poker was stalling with its payouts. Just a few months later, things became very bleak for the players who had money on Full Tilt Poker when the site’s license got revoked.
As the aftermath of Black Friday engulfed the poker world, Howard was nowhere to be seen, but that did not stop the U.S. Department of Justice from filing a civil lawsuit against him a year later. The original amount sought from Howard was $42.5 million, but Lederer not only avoided prison time, he also negotiated a much smaller figure in the settlement. Eventually, he forfeited around $1.25 million, several pieces of real estate and a vehicle – a far cry from the hundreds of millions in player funds that were missing after Full Tilt Poker was shut down.
The fact that Howard Lederer, along with Full Tilt Poker’s co-founders, Ray Bitar and Rafe Furst, are free to walk on the streets after the damage they have caused to online poker and the game in general is perhaps the biggest injustice in modern poker history.