Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ZOMG Online Poker is Rigged and Filled with Cheaters

The last week hasn't exactly been a banner one for online poker security, as the final nail in the Absolute visible whole card/superuser brouhaha, as well as PokerStars voiding TheVoid's +$1 million cash in the WCOOP Main Event for running multiple accounts. I'd link to relevant threads at 2+2 and PocketFives but they're easy enough to find, if ye be so inclined.

As far as the Absolute situation, it was pretty clear to most experienced players with half a brain that something very fishy was going on, from both the hand histories from the victory in the $1K MTT and the hand histories from cash games of the accounts in question. Various convoluted, contrived explanations were floated as far as a way to explain it all away with no cheating involved, but as is often the Occam-y case, the simplest explanation is looking like the most accurate: a superuser account that can see hole cards exists (or existed) on Absolute.

On the PokerStars side of things, it's just another case of a player running multiple accounts in the same MTT, ala ZeeJustin. Nothing very exciting or sexy here. It's happened before, it'll happen again. It's very likely happening right now. The only real roadblock to running multiple accounts is one of risk tolerance more than logistics, as there's little the sites can do to truly combat it proactively, as they're largely reduced to reactive action once it's brought to light.

Which I think is the real issue here, and not so much the fact that cheating and collusion occur at online poker sites; how should sites react to embarassing, painful security breaches. While much of the forum furor about the absolute situation seems to be focused on getting the word out about the "scandal" itself, I think that's a little misguided, and does none of us any good. You can argue that new customers should be warned away from sites where cheating and collusion might occur, but that's not exactly practical. Cheating and collusion of some sort occurs on every online poker site, each and every day, to greater and lesser extents. There are simply too many shiny carrots dangling in front of people for it not to occur, especially when the only repercussions are that your accounts are closed and money seized.

That doesn't let sites off the hook, though, just because some degree of tomfoolery is inevitable. I think PokerStars is setting a great example as to how to deal with such things, which is to publicly acknowledge a potential issue exists, investigate the issue, and take public action, based on the results of the investigation. As an online player, that's all I ask for and expect. I'd never expect PokerStars to proactively block all attempts at running multiple accounts, or somehow prevent all attempts at collusion from ever being successful. It's just not practical nor achievable. Ever. So all I ask is that they hire smart people who understand the underlying issues, can recognize the importance of available evidence, and take public action when an outcome is reached.

Contrast that with the complete clusterfuck that is the current situation at Absolute. When all the brouhaha erupted, they put out a public statement shortly thereafter saying they were aware of the issues and that they'd thoroughly investigated the situation, all was well, and that nothing wonky had gone on whatsoever, even going so far as to add that it'd be impossible for anyone to see hole cards anyway since their client doesn't even parse/record that data for all players at the table. Case closed, in Absolute's eyes, and despite many people asking for more details and information, posing more questions, it looked like the case was closed.

Until some brainiac support staff at Absolute accidentally replied to a hand history request with ALL of the hand histories from the table in question in the suspicious tournament win, with hole card data for all players (as well as IP addresses, email addresses, etc.). Which not only shot a huge gaping hole in Absolute's initial claims that they never even record such data, but pretty much sealed the case as far as hole cards being available to the suspicious account, and pretty much confirmed that a superuser account does in fact exist, as it logged onto the suspicious accounts table and observed. More poking around seems to suggest that based on the IP address of those involved with shenaigans, it may be a current/former Absolute employee behind the suspicious accounts.

Assuming all that is true (and it's still just supposition now, to be fair, but supposition with a lot of evidence behind it), what should Absolute's reaction be? So far they seem to be taking the hunker down, proclaim all is well, hope that it eventually blows over approach. Which is understandable, as it takes a pretty big leap of faith to admit that your security has been breached to the point that hole card data was visible, clinging to the notion that players won't exit en masse, even if you claim that the problem has been resolved and will never happen again.

Painful as that is, though, I think that's what Absolute has to do, if the claims are true. It's not like their RNG was cracked, and, in a backwards fashion, it's actually a less serious security breach if it's an inside job, or if the superuser account was a remnant of the days of yore when the client was being coded and someone wanted to test things out. It's not pretty to admit such stuff, but it's at least logical, as far as the basic facts, and once addressed it shouldn't (in theory) ever be an issue again in the future.

Will Absolute fess up and come clean? I dunno. Signs seem to be pointing to "no", but who knows. If PokerStars suffered exactly the same crisis, would they deal with it head-on, publicly admitting the problem, the results of their investigation, and what they're doing to fix it? Again, who knows, but I think the answer would be "yes", and I doubt they'd suffer dramatically from it on the business side of things.

Much bloviating aside, all most online players want is to know that potential issues are investigated thoroughly, by smart folks, who aren't afraid to admit publicly that something hinky went down. I don't want or need a magic security blanket from online poker sites that protects me from any and all potential wrongdoing; I just want the reassurance that issues will be dealt with when they arise.

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