Cheating in poker is as old as the game itself. Cash games and tournaments have become bigger and better with huge amounts of money to be won, creating a perfect hunting ground for scammers and cheaters. Not all players try to win money in a fair game, and some have discovered pretty successful ways to scam poker players.
The Billy the Egyptian scandal
In 2018, police were called to the Alea Casino in Glasgow by several angry poker players who accused an individual by the moniker Billy the Egyptian of using a tiny camera to read an electronically marked deck of cards. The Egyptian, a known player, was in cahoots with a croupier scamming other players at his table.
For this scheme to work, the croupier needs to place the deck on the table on its own for a short period of time. The precise details of the scam are unknown, but one possibility involving collusion of the croupier and a player is a deck of electronically marked cards which sends signals to a tiny mobile phone camera. It then sends a signal to the second mobile device which feeds an earpiece. The device can tell which cards are at the top of the deck when it's placed on the table, and they can also predict which one of the players at the table will have the strongest hands based on the information transmitted.
No arrests were made in this case, but if this story sounds somewhat familiar, that's because it resembles the more recent Mike Postle cheating scandal. Postle was accused of having access to players' hole card information by somehow exploiting the RFID technology in the cards used to stream the game in real-time.
In 2019, high-stakes pro Peter Jepson was found guilty of cheating at online poker by a Copenhagen city court. Jepson installed malware on other players' computers from 2008 to 2014, allowing him to gain access to their hole cards. Jepson would run the scam against other high-stakes regulars, usually at high-profile European Poker Tour stops. During the trial, there were three witnesses who testified that they were involved in the scam. The two men and a woman that testified admitted that they were involved in installing the software that Peter Jepson used. Along with jail time and a seven-figure fine, the government confiscated almost $3.9 million from Jepson, roughly the amount that he won from his opponents using an unfair advantage.
The Douche Calm scam
Playing under the alias Douche Calm, Darren Woods perpetrated an online poker scheme from 2007 to 2012, where he would use a VPN service to create multiple accounts on gambling sites and manipulate them. Woods used his status in the poker community to his advantage. He was first exposed in September of 2011 by Farewell, a fellow Two Plus Two player who was contacted by Darren, an 888 sponsored player, and given a rakeback deal. Woods was also regarded as a skilled poker player who mostly competes in high stakes fixed limit hold'em games. He was good enough to supply tutorial videos to many poker sites. Darren Woods was found guilty of essentially rigging online poker games by using a number of different identities to play on several accounts at once.
Men “The Master” Nguyen
Men Nguyen’s accomplishments as a tournament poker player are hard to overlook, but the numerous cheating accusations that followed him wherever he went are equally hard to overlook. According to Justin Bonomo, in the early 2000s at the Commerce Casino in L.A., Men and a few of his horses were in their hotel room when the fire alarm went off. When the casino investigated the fire, they found tournament chips in the room. Part of the cheating allegations, particularly the team play allegations, stem from Men's youth stable of Vietnamese horses.
In 2011, a cheating scandal rocked the world of online poker when it was revealed that the popular site Absolute Poker had been rigged for years. It all started when a player with the username "Potripper" won a tournament with some questionable plays. Suspicious, other players began to investigate and found that "Potripper" was able to see their hole cards during the game. It turned out that the site's security had been breached and a former employee had installed a "superuser" account that allowed him to see all of the players' cards. This employee and several others involved in the scheme were eventually caught and prosecuted, but the damage had already been done to the reputation of online poker.
Stu Ungar scandal
Another famous case of cheating in poker involved the legendary Stu Ungar. In the 1980s, Ungar was known as one of the best poker players in the world and he won the World Series of Poker three times. However, he also had a serious drug problem and was constantly in debt to the mob. To make ends meet, Ungar began to cheat in high-stakes cash games by using marked cards. He would scratch the back of the cards with his fingernail to create tiny scratches that he could see through a special contact lens. This allowed him to know what cards his opponents had and he would make his decisions accordingly. Although he was eventually caught and banned from many casinos, Ungar's cheating helped to fuel his addiction and ultimately led to his untimely death.
Eastern european signaling scandal
In 2014, a group of Eastern European poker players were caught cheating at a tournament in France. The players had installed tiny cameras on their wrists that could read the markings on the cards as they were dealt. They then used a signaling system to communicate the information to each other, allowing them to know what cards were coming next. The group was eventually caught when one of the cameras malfunctioned and a technician was called in to fix it. When he discovered the device, he alerted the tournament organizers who called the police. The players were arrested and prosecuted, but the incident highlighted the ongoing problem of cheating in the poker world.
Another cheating scandal that rocked the poker world was the "Poker Ring" scandal of 2013. This involved a group of New York-based players who had colluded to cheat in high-stakes cash games at some of the city's most exclusive private clubs. The group had a system in place where one player would distract the dealer while another player would swap out the deck of cards with a marked deck. They would then use signals to communicate what cards they had, allowing them to take down huge pots. The group was eventually caught and prosecuted, but the incident led to increased scrutiny of private poker clubs and their security measures.
Finally, one of the most infamous cases of cheating in poker involved the Ultimate Bet scandal of 2007. It was discovered that several high-profile players, including Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke, had been involved in a scheme where insiders at the site were able to see their opponents' hole cards. The scheme was facilitated by a software glitch that allowed certain accounts to see all of the cards in a particular hand. The insiders then passed this information on to the players, allowing them to make decisions based on perfect information. The scandal led to widespread outrage and several lawsuits, but it also highlighted the ongoing problem of cheating in the poker world.
In conclusion, cheating in poker is a problem that has plagued the game since its inception.