After two major cheating controversies over the last two weeks, many poker players were left asking not only what can be done to punish cheaters, but also keep them out of the game.
It seems a cheating scandal emerges every few years and the latest involves high-stakes pros Ali Imsirovic and Bryn Kenney. Those allegations have included online multi-accounting and the use of RTA (real-time assistance) software.
Imsirovic hasn’t responded to the allegations, but Kenney has denied accusations made by a member of his poker stable, Martin Zamani.
But as events in these controversies unfolded, many players are looking at the bigger picture. How to stop cheating in the live and online realms?
Poker ‘blacklist’ not an easy solution
Allegations against Imsirovic first surfaced last week from poker pro Alex Foxen. He couched his allegations against the poker pro after reading a recent blog post from partypoker head of game integrity Juha Pasanen.
Poker black-list can't come soon enough.
Ali is banned from GG for Multi-accounting and RTA. I have witnessed numerous chip dumps to horses, and many suspicious changes in play from people known to be his horses when deep in online MTTs.
— Alex Foxen (@WAFoxen) April 18, 2022
In his post, Pasanen focused on the possibility of creating an online poker blacklist. The list could be recognized by several platforms as a way to stop those who consistently work to defraud other players of a fair poker environment.
“While the idea is theoretically good, there will be a significant number of practical challenges on the way to making this a reality,” he wrote.
Some of those challenges include getting a universal set of rules in place recognized by all operators. Another hurdle is meeting individual countries’ and jurisdictions’ regulations.
When it comes to software usage, some sites differ in what is allowed per the terms of service. Ironing that out could be a struggle, Pasanen notes.
“To start with, we’d need to define exactly what constitutes RTA use or bum-hunting before we could even think about moving forward,” he says. “Not only would this have to be aligned with regulators, but we’d need to get the different poker sites involved and aligned as well.”
With so many differing operators, that could certainly be difficult.
Furthermore, some argue worries of cheating, RTA, and collusion may only be legitimate concerns at the higher stakes. If true, that would exclude many recreational players from having to worry too much about getting defrauded.
Currently, online poker sites err on the side of privacy when it comes to privacy. Some players, including poker pro and coach Chance Kornuth, argue that it’s time that environment changed.
When a poker site decides conclusively someone is cheating, they ban them, keep their identity a secret, and disperse the money as they see fit. The current system that’s in place is inadequate and unacceptable. We need a Poker Blacklist.
— Chance Kornuth (@ChancesCards) April 21, 2022
Concerns about attempts to solve the problem
Some players and those in the industry, including Pasanen, are concerned a “blacklist” system might be abused. Player disputes may devolve into cheating allegations. He says a third-party system might need to address these issues.
Additionally, would there be a road to redemption for players accused of smaller infections? Also, how long would bans be in place?
Todd Witteles, who runs PokerFraudAlert.com argues those issues make these types of cheating lists unworkable.
“I think a blacklist, while a noble endeavor, is too hard to implement,” he told USPoker. “How long ago would it cover? What constitutes ‘proof”? Who decides? What about scammers who rip off fellow players but don’t cheat at cards?”
As an example, Witteles points to Justin Bonomo. He was banned from PokerStars and partypoker in 2006 when he was caught multi-accounting. Bonomo worked toward redemption among poker players.
As Witteles notes, he’s now “been honest in poker ever since. Should he be banned? Clearly not.”
Is there anything that works?
There seems to be no easy solution. Those looking for a government or law enforcement solution may be looking in the wrong place.
Veronica Brill, who first brought cheating allegations against Mike Postle in 2018, said there seemed to be little interest or ability to sort out the issue when she spoke to authorities.
Brill noted on Twitter recently the struggles in getting law enforcement to understand what went into the alleged cheating scheme.
“Postle cheated on a live stream in a casino and nothing happened,” she posted. “The DOJ (Department of Justice) came to my house with a paper notepad and a pencil. They are in no way capable of investigating high tech poker cheating, let alone using web scraping or data to understand online cheating.”
Witteles believes it’s up to operators and poker rooms to make their own decisions. This leaves these companies in a difficult position, but he believes taking a stand could be better for poker.
“I think certain poker rooms and venues should just use their own judgment on who to allow and who to ban,” he says. “For example, if the WSOP (World Series of Poker) banned certain known cheaters and simply said they’re not welcome, I wouldn’t cry for those people. But I think an actual blacklist just isn’t feasible.”
Whether a solution is found or not, many believe at least exposing those who cheat other players is a must. That goes for poker pro and coach Matt Berkey, who says naming those accused at least lets other players know.
Hard disagree. We should double down on outing the bad actors, shine a BRIGHTER light on nefarious behavior & amplify those willing to come forward. We have the rest of poker's existence to remind ppl it's not all corruption, but for now we it's time to deal w/our issues head on https://t.co/2dyrejFHaF
— Matt Berkey (@berkey11) April 23, 2022
Kenney denies allegations in interview
For his part, Kenney continues denying all allegations of multi-accounting, ghosting, and cheating in general. He has posted on Twitter last week denying Zamani’s accusations.
Kenney sat for an interview with PokerNews this week. He also denied Zamani’s allegations of collusion.
“I never said, ‘Do what’s best for the team,’” he said in the interview. “Everyone is playing for themselves and their winning and losses are going to affect them. There’s definitely no layer that you’re expected to or supposed to do anything other than play your best game and then it’s up to that person to do whatever that means for them.”
Forcing players to visit a shaman or engage in hallucinogenic drugs was also not part of stable, he said. Kenney did admit to seeing a shaman-type person himself.
Regarding Zamani’s allegations that Kenney could see his screen while he was playing online, Kenney also denied that as well.
“It’s absolutely crazy,” he said in the interview. “It’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard in my life and has absolutely zero truth to it.”
Lauren Roberts, a former member of his stable, has supported some of Zamani’s accusations regarding multi-accounting. She alleges Kenney or someone in his stable played on her account.
Zamani also released screenshots of conversations with Kenney’s stable coach, Sergi Reixach. The chat messages seem to indicate Kenney could see players’ screens.
We're discussing a lot about the @BrynKenney interview & a lot of it revolves around him throwing @srxakgirona under the bus. @martin_zamani just shared these screenshots, seem quite contradictory to Bryn's statements. You be the judge… https://t.co/vK5mTrBYUX pic.twitter.com/llMINtI4Pu
— Matt Berkey (@berkey11) April 27, 2022
With accusations flying on both sides, USPoker will continue following the story in the weeks to come.