Sometimes the person with the most chips is the best player, sometimes they’re just cheating
Is there honour among thieves? There is supposed to be. It’s an old adage and one perfectly suited for poker, a game that not only encourages less than honest behaviour as part of its mantra and exalts those who are the very best at it. Terms like ‘bluffing’ and ‘check-raising’ are pure poker parlance and, used well in timely situations, can be strategic juggernauts in deceiving an opponent. They are key attributes in any card game. Players spend many hours trying to incorporate new and effective techniques into their game, whether it be through body language or verbal cues, designed to mislead rivals and maximize persona profit. No repertoire is complete without it. If it were golf, you would want that club in your bag. It’s a skill.
In the world of professional gambling your reputation is everything. As the motto of the popular television series Survivor suggests, the idea of poker is to ‘Outwit, Outplay and Outlast.’ It’s okay to ‘get one over’ on the player across from you but you should be doing so fairly and within the parameters of the game. The problem? When there are large sums of money at stake, temptation can play tricks on people, luring some to cross the line.
Bluffing is simply part of the game, check-raising too. They are both allowed and anticipated; patrons at the table fully understand that when they walk into the casino. They expect to be beguiled and misled. They expect opponents to act weak when they are strong and vice versa. It’s the art of war. What they don’t expect is to be cheated.
With that in mind, the game is in a state of turbulence right now. In the past week, online sites like Axios and Gambling 911 have produced headlines like, “Poker World Rocked by Cheating Scandal” and “Poker Pro Embroiled in Scandal.” A whirlwind of allegations, rumours and suspicion have surrounded long-time cash game player Mike Postle. His weekly live poker stream, ’Stones Live’, is streamed on a half-hour delay on Youtube and Twitch and is hosted by Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights, California. Postle, who has been plying his trade for some 16 years, makes regular appearances on the show and is one of its star characters. He likes to give action, doesn’t mind mixing it up with less than stellar holdings and seems to have fun with his mountain of chips. He’s quite loose with them. Too loose? Well, in the vortex of public opinion, the answer is yes. The scrutiny has been swift, harsh and relentless. It has cast shadows of doubt on his remarkable run of success and consistency of late.
What if you could see everybody’s cards? Would you be outwitting your opponents or defrauding them? The allegation is that Postle somehow had real-time access to the live stream’s hole cards, possibly through his mobile phone or other electronic devices and might have had the help of one or more casino employees. Talk about an edge. The ability to see what everybody is holding? These are just allegations at this point and people are innocent until proven guilty. But, the evidence seems to be overwhelming. Social media’s been abuzz with people all over the world weighing in. Poker podcasters like Joey Ingram and Doug Polk have referred to this undeniable advantage as ’God Mode,’ as if he was some sort of poker deity with omniscient powers and infinite awareness. Over the past few months, his play has been deemed too good. His decisions have been spot on, always, and it’s put some well-known pros on high alert. Guys like Jonathan Little and Matt Berkey have been scouring the tapes, analyzing hundreds of hours of footage and posting their findings. When all of that work is combined, it’s damning.
Now, another twist. Less than 10 days after the story broke, Postle, an employee of Stones Gambling Hall and the casino itself, have been hit with a $10 million lawsuit seeking restitution for the victims: his opponents. As it reads in a publicly posted court document, the case represents, “the largest known cheating scandal in the history of broadcast poker.” The suit names 25 plaintiffs and details nine counts, including racketeering, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and libel. Turbulent times indeed.
Mike Postle isn’t the only player in history of poker to have his name and honour questioned, if not destroyed. The term ‘God Mode’ was first introduced during the infamous UltimateBet scandal, when former world champion Russ Hamilton bilked opponents out of millions using a so-called ‘super-user’ account. Hamilton won the 1994 World Series of Poker main event, beating Hugh Vincent heads-up, and would later go on to serve as a gaming industry expert.
Hamilton was hired on by UltimateBet as a consultant and was tasked with promoting and attracting fellow big-name pros to the site, which at that time was an industry giant, and so he did. World Series Of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner Annie Duke, of The Apprentice fame, and 1989 world champion Phil Hellmuth, who holds the record for most WSOP bracelets (15), were just two of poker’s household names brought in and sponsored by UltimateBet. When Hamilton left the company, it seems he took the ‘super-user’ account with him and began benefiting to the tune of millions. His luxury and advantage was that he knew what cards the others were bringing to battle, their rank and suit, and the fight was anything but fair. It was a slaughter. Russ Hamilton was in ‘God Mode!”
In the summer of ’94, Russ Hamilton was on top of the world. He had just taken down the game’s marquis event and claimed poker’s richest prize, $1 million in cash along with his body weight in gold. It was a legendary accomplishment. To this day, a larger-than-life sized banner of Hamilton can be found hanging at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where the World Series is staged each year. Fast-forward 14 years, to October, 2008, and the same Russ Hamilton was being featured in a report on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The show delved into his fraud and called it the, “biggest scandal in the history of online gambling.”
In his book, “Check-Raising the Devil”, four-time WSOP champion Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow went on-the-record as saying he was one of the unlucky souls to be scammed. No pittance either. Matusow claims he was taken for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2.5 million while playing Hamilton heads-up. For its part, UltimateBet has since refunded players an estimated $22 million.
Anything to Win?
Do you recognize the name Robert Turner? He began playing poker in the 1970’s and is widely credited for inventing the poker variant Omaha, which is a hugely popular game. It’s especially popular in the pot-limit form around the world. He won the 1986 Grand Prix of Poker and captured a seven-card stud WSOP bracelet in 1993. He has also cashed in the world championship main event on numerous occasions. He placed 10th in 1991, 36th in 1992 and then 13th in 1993. The following year, 1994, the year of Russ Hamilton, Turner reached the final table. He busted in 6th place and was quite proud of it. Yes, he was there, at the final table, when Hamilton won it all. Did he suspect any shenanigans? He did but only in hindsight.
Remember, this was long before Hamilton’s trouble began at UltimateBet and more than two decades before the now emerging live-stream scandal at Stones Gambling Hall involving Mike Postle. The motive to cheat though remains constant over time, it’s always the same – greed. In a recent interview on High Roller Radio, Turner was asked about Russ Hamilton and UltimateBet and to reflect on the world championship final table they shared on that summer’s day a long time ago:
At that time, we didn’t have hole card cameras, so the camera crew was standing behind you. I think Russ was part of the production crew, or at least very close with them, and I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute, did his best friends just look at my hand and everybody else’s hand?’ I think back on it now and Russ was talking to the production runner, he was talking to the cameramen and they were laughing and joking. Was the cameraman telling Russ my hand? I don’t know. You just wonder, was everything okay?”
It makes you wonder a few things doesn’t it? Like how many shady characters in poker’s past have played, cheated and gotten away with it? And, who else is in ‘God Mode?’