Just like any sport where money is involved, poker faces a number of its own challenges. For online poker, the most recent challenge has been the huge number of hackings taking place. While live poker is immune to the perils of the internet, it is by no means completely safe.
One thing that crosses the lines between live and online poker is cheating. Cheating comes in all shapes and sizes, so let’s take a look at the top ten ways people tried to get away with cheating at poker.
10. Card Marking
Perhaps the most widespread method of cheating in live poker, card marking has been the center of many cheating stories. Most recently, a Romanian poker player was arrested and found guilty of marking cards in some of the UK’s biggest cash games.
It was reported that 61-year-old Mihai Lacatos marked cards by putting a slight bend on them, which he could later use to his advantage. This is just one of many techniques that professional card markers can use. In fact, the bigger problem for many of them is finding big enough games where they can put their skills to use. Fortunately, this time the casino security staff was on top of things.
9. Invisible Card Marking
In 2011, Stefano Ampollini had a brilliant idea of how to cheat using card marking. Thanks to a set of infrared contact lenses and two casino employees, Ampollini was able to pull off one of the most impressive card marking schemes ever, which took place in France.
The casino employees marked a deck of cards with an invisible liquid, which could only be seen in infrared, and that’s what the contact lenses were for. In fact, the only reason Ampollini got caught is the same reason many cheaters do – stupid suspicious plays.
When Ampollini folded a monster hand, one of the players got suspicious and contacted the casino’s security. When security finally caught up with his cheating method, Ampollini was arrested and later sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of €100,000.
8. Accessing Opponents’ Hole Cards through Malware
Targeting brick and mortar casinos can be a very risky business for cheaters. Targeting specific opponents online, on the other hand, still comes with very little risk involved. One of the earliest examples of the successful use of malware to cheat opponents out of huge sums of money came in the mid 2000s.
At that point, Patrick Antonius and Johnny Lodden were the top online high stakes cash game players. One day a new player appeared on the scene, seemingly willing to play anyone. After playing with both Antonius and Lodden for some time, he asked them to get in touch through MSN Messenger. He then somehow managed to infect both of their PCs with malware that allowed him to see their hole cards while playing.
Between them, Lodden and Antonius lost close to $3 million before figuring out that something was not right. Lodden took the brunt of the losses, losing over $2 million. The most amazing part was that the hacker got away with it and no charges were ever brought against him.
7. Accessing Opponents’ Hole Cards through Pre-Installed Malware
Getting malware onto a PC, especially the PC of an online poker pro, is not an easy thing to do. However, sometimes cheaters can have malware pre-installed on new PCs and laptops. This is exactly what happened in a very recent high stakes cheating scandal, which took place in Denmark.
Copenhagen Police arrested a 32-year-old poker pro who allegedly sold cheap laptops to high stakes players with pre-installed malware. Due to Danish law, police have not released the name of the alleged cheater, but they did comment that the cheating scheme could have netted him tens of millions of dollars.
6. Accessing Opponents’ Hole Cards through Brute Force
When cheaters aren’t exactly computer savvy and can’t install malware on a player’s computer, another option is available – installing an actual camera in the home of the poker player.
The most famous instance of cheating this way was mentioned by Simpsons’ co-creator, Sam Simon, in an interview with the Las Vegas Review Journal. Simon did not mention any names, however, only saying that the player who was cheated was one of the best online poker players in history.
Apparently, someone broke into his house and installed a camera on the ceiling, which was aimed at the screen of his computer. Before the poker pro located the camera, he lost nearly $4 million to the cheater.
5. Cheating by Fake Bloggers
Sometimes players find unique ways of seeing their opponents’ hole cards. The most famous example of this type of creative ingenuity came about in 2010 when one of the players was disqualified from the Patrouche Poker Tour final table for cheating. The player in question was Ali Tekintamgac.
In the next few days, evidence started to emerge, including video showing Tekintamgac using fake sideline reporters who managed to glimpse his opponents’ hole cards and signal them to Tekintamgac. Tekintamgac was finally arrested in Germany on charges of running an international poker cheating group.
4. Online Collusion
By far the most popular form of online cheating is collusion. Fortunately, poker sites have a pretty good record when it comes to catching colluders, especially PokerStars. However, considering that PokerStars is by far the biggest poker site out there, it is probably fitting that the biggest collusion ring was also discovered there.
Back when PokerStars was still offering Double or Nothing sit & go’s, they were very popular among players. Colluders were caught regularly in these games, but nothing on the scale of the Chinese collusion ring that was operating at $50 and $100 DONs.
When the investigation was complete, PokerStars closed 38 accounts and paid out more than $2 million in compensations to affected players. This also led to PokerStars introducing a rule where players from ‘certain countries’ (a.k.a. China) were not allowed to sit at the same DON table together, though eventually this sit & go format was discontinued all together.
3. Superuser Cheating
The worst cases of online cheating occurred when the poker rooms themselves were complicit in the cheating. Obviously, Ultimate Bet and Russ Hamilton come to mind.
Before Full Tilt Poker became the go-to place for high stakes action, UltimateBet was the place to be if you were a high stakes cash game pro and the 1994 WSOP Main Event winner took full advantage of that. In fact, he used a superuser account to cheat high stakes players for almost 4 years before he was uncovered.
Despite all the evidence, no charges were ever brought against Russ Hamilton or the other people who were implicated in this scandal. Fortunately, nowadays online players have gotten very good at spotting these types of cheaters and it has been some time now since the last cheating scandal of this sort took place.
2. Counterfeit Chips
It’s hard to say how many times cheaters may have targeted live tournaments with counterfeit chips, but the most famous example of this occurred last year when the $2 Million Borgata Winter Poker Open officials discovered counterfeit chips with just 27 players left in the field.
Soon after the news broke, Christian Lusardi, who cashed in the tournament, was arrested on charges of bringing fake chips into the tournament. In fact, the investigation found that the tournament was so drastically impacted by the presence of extra chips in play that a total of 2,143 players were paid their buy-in of $560 back.
The biggest blow, undoubtedly, came to the last 27 players remaining. Each of them got $19,323 as a result of the cancelation of the tournament, which isn’t bad, but still not much compared to the top prizes that they were aiming for.
1. Altering Chips
Making counterfeit chips can be a real hassle. It can be way easier just to get some paint and stickers and make a genuine $1 chip into a $500 chip, as US Navy Vice-Admiral Timothy Giardina found out.
Being a regular at the Horseshoe Casino in Iowa, Giardina spent hundreds of hours at the poker tables leading up to June 2013, when security linked the fake chips back to him. Despite claiming that the chips were sold to him by an ‘unknown individual’ in the casino toilet, DNA evidence linking him to the chips was found below the stickers used to mask the chips.
Timothy Giardina was subsequently removed from his post, though not banned from military service completely.