So, has anything happened in the poker world over the last week?

It seems as if the news in the poker world – both live and online – has been one consistent black eye after busted lip after broken finger over the past few days. As the weekend has rolled by, it has continued to be an embarrassment, with people who have more money than sense flinging accusations like the chimpanzees fling crap in the zoo. It leaves one wondering if the poker world – both live AND online – needs a housecleaning to get the “dirty players” out of the game.

If You’ve Been in a Cave…Here’s a Brief Rundown

It started earlier this week with the accusations from noted conspiracy theorist Alex Foxen. From out of nowhere, Foxen sprang up to accuse fellow “High Roller” Ali Imsirovic of various forms of “cheating” in online “high roller” games. Foxen stated that the PokerGO Player of the Year for 2021 (and the overall Player of the Year for both CardPlayer Magazine and the Global Poker Index) used “real time assistance” (RTA) software while playing online, among other transgressions.

Foxen did not stop with that accusation, however. He went on to air a hand between Imsirovic and Paul Phua at the recent Super High Roller Bowl Europe in Cyprus. Rather than demonstrating a concrete case of Imsirovic gaining an advantage by peeking at Phua’s holdings, it also could have just been a decent play from someone who is considered one of the top players in the game.

We cannot forget here that Foxen has some “’splaining” to do when it comes to his conduct on the felt. Foxen was accused of “soft playing” his then-girlfriend/now-wife Kristen Bicknell when the duo was at a major final table against Australian pro Kahle Burns in 2019. There were several suspicious circumstances in that case, which saw Burns knocked out in third and Foxen eventually win the event.

After Foxen’s accusations against Imsirovic, it has gone from bad to worse.

As the weekend began, reports began to come out regarding poker’s all-time money leader, Bryn Kenney, and his actions not only in the game but also in staking situations and online poker’s business side. In a podcast hosted by Doug Polk, a former member of the Kenney “poker arrangement,” Martin Zamani, blew the doors wide open on Kenney’s actions.

During the podcast, Zamani accused Kenney of running a “cult-like” online poker operation. This “operation,” according to Zamani, routinely cheated on sites like GGPoker, with team members dumping chips to other team members during big dollar events. If a player did not take part in the actions, then they were kept out of events as punishment, according to Zamani.

Zamani took it a bit further, however. His accusations made it sound as if Kenney is a “Svengali” type of leader, forcing his underlings to partake of his vegan lifestyle and immediately act when ordered by Kenney. If they did not function as Kenney believed they should, Zamani said the players were “reprimanded” (AKA prevented from playing) by Kenney.

Zamani admitted that he was using marijuana during the interview with Polk (and, if Polk wants credibility in airing things like this, he needs to keep his guests straight), so some might have written off his meanderings. But a Twitter thread from one of the few female players in the “High Roller” world seems to back up what Zamani is saying.

Lauren Roberts, who has a victory at the 2019 U. S. Poker Open as one of her poker credentials and is also a highly respected businessperson, alleged that Kenney often used a stable of players to violate the rules on GGPoker. In addition to the players, Roberts also alleged that usage of virtual private networks, or VPNs, ran rampant. The final straw for Roberts was when Kenney allegedly looked to get money out of her for his “proposed” online poker site.

Poker Doesn’t Have the Cleanest of Histories

The last few days have been a kick in the nuts to the poker world, both live and online, but let us be honest – poker doesn’t have the greatest of track records. From the days when card sharps prowled the riverboats and poker rooms of New Orleans and the Wild West, marked cards and “whipsaws” were common. If they could not cheat you on the tables, then they just robbed you after you left the game.

Even a scant 40-50 years ago, poker cheating ran rampant, with mechanics working the deck and “toe tapping” under the table (an old bridge trick, to be honest) would skin the rubes of their money. When online poker entered the game back in 1997, people said “oh, it’s crooked – it’s a computer game!” And they were not far off…

First, there were online poker rooms that sprouted up and just as quickly disappeared. Choice Poker, Eurolinx, Gamesgrid, Jet Set Poker…ah, we hardly knew ye. These sites were all gone WAY before the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act went into effect in 2006. But the rooms kept shutting down after that and, in many of those cases, they were done in by crooked dealings.

Full Tilt Poker shut down in 2011 after it became known they did not have the money on hand to support the player deposits, yet they paid their “Team Full Tilt” members huge piles of cash EACH MONTH. Both Absolute Poker and UltimateBet (and its attempt at rebranding, were scandalized by a “Superuser” situation where players used a programming maintenance tool to see their opponents’ hole cards and abscond with millions of dollars. Lock Poker, Swank Poker, Purple Lounge…all left the international online poker world without paying their customers what they had in their accounts.

Live cheating continues too – its just a bit more “high tech” now. Everyone recalls the Mike Postle situation (which has never come to a satisfactory conclusion), in which information was allegedly passed to Postle during live stream cash games. Sometimes the classics apply, as seen in the blatant “hole card peeking” that resulted in the banishment of a player from the broadcasts of Hustler Casino Live.

Time for Poker to Start Its OWN “Black Book”

With the amount of money that is in today’s game, there is a need to start hammering those who want to cheat the game. That can only be done through one manner – official banishment AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT of who the cheaters are. The days of innuendo and rumor do not do the trick – it is only through a full airing of the laundry that those who want to continue to cheat the game can be shown for what they are.

In Las Vegas, the Nevada Gaming Control Board has what is called the “Black Book.” It is a short volume, officially called the Nevada Gaming Control Board List of Excluded Persons, as it only consists of 37 persons at this moment. The people who are on this list have committed the ultimate sin of trying to cheat the casinos of Nevada; because of having their name in the “Black Book,” they are not allowed to enter a casino in the state, nor attend any event where wagering might be involved.

It is time that poker opens their very own version of “The Black Book.”

For far too long, online poker rooms have been reluctant to announce who they have banned from their operations. Whether it is because they fear a backlash from other customers, they feel that it is not “good for business” to disclose just how extensive the cheating is, or some other ridiculous reason, online poker rooms DO NOT disclose who cannot play on their sites. By entering these names into Poker’s “Black Book,” then EVERYONE would know those who have violated the integrity of the game.

Simple accusation is not enough, however. It would actually have to be PROVEN that there were transgressions committed. The online poker rooms know about these things and, if they are to be taken seriously, need to start managing them in a serious manner by NAMING NAMES. Then other online poker sites can exclude said players and cheaters are then known. The thing is, however, this does not stop it…it can only hope to slow it down.

There is plenty of issues in the live game, too, that require examination. The practice of “staking” needs to come to an end (both online and live) – “horses” end up in an indentured servitude if they cannot pay their backers in a timely fashion. We would also have to end the swapping of “shares” in the game – probably no other reason for chip dumping would occur than a player who sees someone going deep and can get a “share” of them. If these two things alone were eliminated, the game of poker would be cleaned up tremendously.

The NGCB does not put EVERY person who has counted cards or “accidentally” bent the corner of a card in baccarat. It only puts those in their “Black Book” who have been PROVEN to be cheats through investigation and in a court of law. It might be extraordinarily difficult to prove transgressions in online poker and live poker, but if the poker community started putting names in THEIR “Black Book,” it would certainly advance the cleanup of the game. The poker community would avoid multiple embarrassments that those who are supposedly “respected” in the poker world have wrought if the threat of banishment existed.

One Comment

  1. Sceptical says:

    I played online on a table with Zamani (not knowing who he was at the time) last year. In the first level of the tournament, he went all in minus a few chips, another player moved all in over the top, then Zamani folded, therefore not showing his cards and giving nearly all his chips to the other player. After quickly losing his remaining chips, he rebought and did the same thing again. After looking up who he was online and seeing he was a very successful pro, I just figured maybe this was some kind of strategy gone wrong that was too high level for me, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Now all this stuff has come out…

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