It’s a bizarre irony that poker, with all its in-game deception and robbery, should rely so heavily on the morality of its players. But it’s also the reality.
Poker can only exist while people are sitting at the tables. So, the community works together to evict cheats, shame scandals, and preserve the game’s reputation. It’s a collective attempt to aid the longevity of poker by ensuring people feel safe enough to continue playing.
It’s a system that works too. Where else can you see huge loans tossed without a second thought or thousands of dollars left in a rack while someone goes to the bathroom?
But it’s not always as squeaky clean as it seems. Being branded a cheat can ruin your reputation and see you slapped with lifetime bans…
But some players are still willing to take the risk.
It’s often challenging to prove someone is cheating with anything short of a confession to make matters worse.
Poker is very subjective. So, it’s pretty easy to find a way to justify even the most questionable of plays.
Last month we discussed the recent Robby Lew cheating accusations, which you can read about in this magazine.
This time, we’ll look at other scandals that have tainted the poker world over the last couple of years.
Here they are in no particular order:
A couple of years ago, the STONES LIVE cash stream witnessed the birth of a god. Commentary teams marvelled and chat boxes swooned as they watched a guy named Mike Postle evolve from weak regular to poker behemoth - overnight!
Postle chewed up table after table for over a year on one of the most insane winning streaks you’ll ever see live on stream. He won hundreds of thousands of dollars at stakes as low as $1/$3.
From a strategic perspective, it was clear that Postle's pre-flop hand selection seemed pretty terrible. But he played so impeccably post-flop that it didn't seem to matter. Postle's bluffing, sizing and folding decisions were inspired.
He would win huge pots by making the most unorthodox plays at precisely the right time.
Something didn’t add up, but nobody seemed to care. Postle was a god.
Or at least that was the case until mid-2019 when one of the stream’s commentators, Veronica Brill, voiced suspicions that Postle was cheating. She backed up her claims with an 18-minute-long video of hands she believed were way too outlandish to be legitimate.
After Brill’s post, the poker community started to take note. Poker celebrities like Doug Polk and Joey Ingram waded through countless hours of live streams, taking a closer look.
Three things became clear very quickly:
- Postle was playing suspiciously perfect and dynamic, exploitative poker.
- He spent a lot of time looking at his phone, which he kept concealed on his lap.
- The scale of his upswing was a near statistical impossibility.
The logical conclusion was that Postle had found a way to watch the casino’s live stream in real-time, avoiding the 30-minute delay. So, he enjoyed live access to his opponents’ cards.
This fact explained his win rate, the frequency at which he checked his phone, and why it was hidden.
There was no concrete evidence, as is often the case with poker cheating accusations. But the poker community widely accepted the theory and alienated Postle.
A person or persons raised a $30m lawsuit against Postle in 2019, but it was dismissed in 2020. Postle filed a defamation lawsuit shortly after but was ditched by his lawyers. Make of that what you will.
You can find more on the Postle saga in this magazine.
#2 Foxen and Bicknell
It’s not only scumbags that cheat, and it’s not always intentional, either. This situation was the case at The Venetian in 2018. Kristen Bicknell and Alex Foxen were accused of collusion against Kahle Burns in the final three of a $5k MTT.
The accusations stemmed from the fact that the two were dating at the time and the unusual way several hands went down during 3-handed play. Spoiler alert: They ended up finishing first and second.
Most Simpsons fans would consider the potential of crushing Mr Burns ‘Eeeeexcellent’. But the question is, did Bicknell and Foxen do so ethically?
One of the most suspicious poker hands of the session sees Foxen with JJ on the button and Bicknell with AA in the big blind. With around 40 blinds each, you might ask the following –
- How didn’t this hand end up all-in preflop?
- How wasn’t Bicknell stacked on an innocuous 5c4hJsKs3c board?
- Or even how she managed to make such a huge, sub-optimal fold on the river?
Nonetheless, while it’s a suspicious string of events, it’s hardly a smoking gun. Burns was also a significant short-stack. So, the stack dynamics could undoubtedly explain any passiveness.
Avoiding a fellow big stack to outlast a short stack is widely considered a crucial part of good poker tournament strategy - whether the players know each other or not.
In addition to the passive play, Foxen commented on the river, offering to show Bicknell his hand if she folded. While this is classically a sign of someone trying to induce a fold, it’s again inconclusive. But it does seem more suspicious when paired with comments Bicknell makes elsewhere.
So how does the rest of the session weigh up?
On YouTube, Finding Equilibrium ran an in-depth investigation into how Bicknell and Foxen played three-handed. They found that Foxen and Bicknell were far more passive against each other than against their opponent.
The study revealed that the couple took just 18% of their bluffing opportunities against each other and 62% against Burns. These numbers further support the notion that they were soft playing.
This conclusion seems damning, but it’s also a small sample and ignores things like position, stack size, and card distribution. These factors could also have an impact on the numbers.
Are you beginning to see why it’s so hard to catch a cheat yet?
When we weigh all the evidence, it’s tough to deny that there are hints of potential soft play, whether intentional or not. Perhaps it’s not ‘collusion’, because that implies some kind of deliberate strategy or plan in place to cheat. They offered Burns a deal too, which supports a less nefarious finding.
If we see soft play in this hand, then it's more likely two people looking out for the person they love rather than anything malicious. As Donna Goddard said, 'When we love someone, we make it our business to protect them.'
Sure, it’s unethical, but it’s unrealistic to expect the Foxen’s relationship to have zero impact here, whether conscious or not. Being consistent at the table means considering everyone an enemy.
It would seem impossible to treat your partner as one when they are the exact opposite by definition,
- How do you disregard your partner’s feelings when your social and emotional bond means they have a direct impact on yours?
- Surely, you’d have to question how much you cared for your partner if you were indifferent to the prospect of eliminating them. It feels a little sociopathic.
And what about self-preservation? Let’s be realistic; nobody wants to be in the doghouse. Getting out would take a lot of tail-wagging if you bust your partner and deprive them of tens of thousands of dollars!
#3 Hustling at Hustler Casino
The next scandal is slightly self-induced and involves another live-streamed cash game. The incident took place earlier this year at the aptly named Hustler Casino. It’s a low-budget version of the Mike Postle drama from earlier.
Here we saw a player known as Skillsrocks deliberately looking at his opponent’s cards. He would then use this ill-gotten information to play perfectly against them.
The big difference between this and the Postle incident is that Skillsrocks was not technically cheating. While there’s an evident lack of moral compass at work, Barry Wallace should have done a far better job protecting his cards.
As Victor Ortiz discovered after that infamous Floyd Mayweather sucker punch, it’s your responsibility to protect yourself at all times. The same applies at the poker table.
- Nonetheless, Skillsrocks goes out of his way to catch a glimpse of his opponent’s cards.
- He also employs yoga-like neck stretching to find the right peeking angle.
- Skillsrocks deliberately times fake looks at his own cards with Barry checking his.
- He often neglects to stack his winnings to ensure he doesn’t miss a chance.
When someone goes to this much effort to gain an unfair advantage, most would consider it as cheating,
Skillsrocks has since publicly apologised for his behaviour and accepted the ban by Hustler Casino.
#4 The Dream Machine 1.0
If you’re a long-time listener of Joey Ingram’s poker podcast, you might have heard him joke about Ike Haxton‘s ‘dream machine’. This running joke claimed that Haxton was so good at poker because he used a supercomputer program, or ‘dream machine’, to play for him.
Though it was a funny idea, Haxton is a very highly-respected member of the poker community. Joey’s jest was clearly more a form of playful flattery than an accusation. Nobody believed a dream machine existed. After all, this was many years ago.
The only thing that came close was poker bot Libratus, which only existed on a 600-node, 28-core supercomputer in Pittsburgh.
Since then, there have been massive developments in poker software, with GTO solver use
being pretty standard these days. That said, any use of this software in real-time is strictly condemned as cheating. Poker clients are taking firm steps to combat the issue.
These measures include removing hand histories, shortening timebanks and monitoring player behaviour.
#5 The Dream Machine 2.0
According to a 2+2 thread, Fedor Kruse attempted to beat the system using his own ‘dream machine’ in 2020. It was a pretty simple concept:
Kruse would use a comprehensive and cleverly arranged database of pre-solved cash game spots. H would access this information in real time via a second computer.
This setup enabled him to get step-by-step GTO guidance, avoid detection protocols, and play perfectly online. He quickly moved from playing MTTs to the highest-stakes cash games on several sites.
Due to his rapid rise, the high-stakes community smelled a rat, and a group of German pros began to monitor Kruse. They identified that his play was not only outstanding but suspiciously complex.
He would use dynamic bet sizes and ‘consistently make very non-intuitive plays, which are all ‘solver approved’’. They raised their concerns with their poker client.
His flatmates were suspicious too, and they confronted Fedor. He had begun locking his room when grinding at the tables. They claim he admitted to using RTA (real-time assistance) and informed poker clients of the act. They attached copies of conversations where Fedor Kruse bragged about his ‘dream machine’.
Finally, they also evicted him from their shared poker apartment in disgust.
One major site has since banned Fedor, and the poker community has since shunned him. But he seems unfazed, playing at EPT Monte Carlo earlier this year.
Although much of the evidence is hearsay, it does seem pretty damning.
The way Kruse’s flatmates acted is a perfect example of how honour and integrity govern the poker world. When shown a viable way to cheat, they chose not to copy but to report it instead.
It’s essential to note that Kruse’s flatmates only acted after they had both a confession and clear, damning evidence. If you ever suspect a cheat, take the same approach. This method maximises the chances of catching the cheater and minimises the damage to innocent parties.
Unfortunately, people will always try to cheat and gain an unfair advantage.
The good news is that there’s a whole community working to catch them.
Until next time, good luck at the tables!