The Dark Side of Poker: Cheats and Scams

5 years ago
poker cheats and scams
29 Oct

What would Halloween be without scary stories of monsters and ghouls and things that go bump in the night? Boring, right, and just so poker fans don’t miss out on the yearly fright-fest, here are a few of the most frightening ways things can go wrong for you in the big, scary world of poker….

Let’s begin with a Halloween poker scare story that would put paranoia and fear into the heart of anyone unfortunate enough to fall victim – Collusion.


According to, “In very basic terms, poker collusion is when two or more people sitting at a poker table are working together to win more money from other players.”

An example might be secretly signalling to their ‘partner in crime’ what cards they hold; or sometimes ‘teaming up’ with raises and re-raises to push everyone else out of a hand.

When it comes to online play, such collusion can be very difficult to spot and/or prove. In ‘real-life’ poker, there is more chance of spotting the signs that 2 or more of your table-mates are, in fact, cheating you out of your bankroll!

Horror story please

In the 2009 Partouche Poker Tour Main Event final table, Jean-Paul Pasqualini and Cedric Rossi were accused of using hand signals to collude and an 8-minute video, compiled by the French poker-playing author Nordine Bouya, was produced to show exactly how they were supposedly doing it.

Basically, it was claimed that the players had devised a code of signals which involved touching various parts of their bodies to signal their holding. An example being, if one of them held an ace, they would touch the top of their head; two hands on their head would indicate pocket aces!

The success of their alleged cheating was evident, as the ever-interesting poker writer Haley Hintze reported:

Pasqualini eventually collected about $1,430,000 for the win, with Rossi in second for about $870,000.”

This wasn’t the only such problem which the PPT had faced. One year later Ali Tekintamgac, who was also suspected of cheating earlier the same year at the EPT Tallinn stop, “enlisted the help of bloggers/reporters to stand behind his opponents and inform him of their cards via hand signals. As a result, Tekintamgac was disqualified from the final table and his chips were removed from play,“ according to a report at the time.

How scared should I be?

This is probably the biggest ‘threat’ you will face in poker, or at least the most common form of cheating you’ll encounter. Almost every poker player has come across some form of collusion in their career, and although varying in degree it always leaves a sour taste in the mouth and usually a hole in the pocket to go with it.

Online sites and gambling rooms generally have no truck with such things, but occasionally things are over-looked in favour of ‘local’ players and or ‘regs’.

How do I avoid it?

Firstly, make sure you know what is/isn’t acceptable when playing in a casino/online event/whatever. Some card-rooms have slightly different rules than others on what constitutes ‘collusion’, and they will also have different penalties in place for dealing with those caught at it.

Reporting suspected collusion is the first step, but avoid at all costs the following approach: Iraj Parvizi launched a lawsuit accusing 2 high-profile pros of colluding over a number of years in cash games.

Whether true or not, the biggest body-blow to Parvizi was the following statement: “an anonymous high roller in the game has claimed Parvizi is a "terrible" player and "no one would need to cheat" to beat him!

So, make pretty sure what you’re seeing is collusion and not just your own frightfully bad play before making accusations!

Alternatively, simply make everyone at the table wear ‘Scream’ masks and capes – hard to collude when you’re all scared half to death about who the real killer is!


Multi-accounting is “when one person controls many accounts, playing in the same game from multiple computers. With the advantage the cheat gets from using multiple accounts, he can simply choose from the best starting hand dealt to all the accounts, not to mention using various other collusion techniques available,” according to

Horror story please

British poker pro Darren Woods won more than $430,000 and a WSOP bracelet in live events, but it was his online identity fraud which landed the 29-year old in jail this January after he “played as several different gamblers at the same time and also racked up lucrative commission payments.”

Although multi-accounting is not necessarily illegal according to the laws of many countries, it isn’t allowed by online poker sites and, as in Woods’ high-profile case, identity fraud can be the main threat to the cheaters.

Quite how long the fraudster had been doing this is uncertain, but he was hit not only with a 15 month jail sentence, but also an order to pay back £1million otherwise his sentence would have 6 years added!

The prosecutor explained that Woods was “able to defeat the sophisticated methods employed by those companies to prevent multiple accounting and collusion.”

Campbell went on to explain that:

Woods opened multiple accounts, using the identities of real people to gain commissions at online poker sites that he otherwise would have no claim to.”

Apparently Woods would appear on high stakes cash games with another anonymous player – who would have a different name each time - getting big action from the ‘fishy’ mystery-player. This would attract other high-stakes players, who then became victims of Woods and his “colluding cohort”.

When enough hand histories were investigated, it was discovered that ‘Woods plus one’ would “shove large stacks, even when both had nominal holdings, encouraging the victim to fold.”

How scared should I be?

Quite scared, particularly as several big-name pros tried to defend the method – or variations on it – claiming that it was difficult for them to get ‘takers’ for high-stakes games if they had to use their own ‘real name’ accounts.

Poker sites do a lot to prevent such things happening, but some tricksters will always find a way around things eventually.

How do I avoid it?

“Not everyone is trying to cheat you,“ claim, stating, “in fact the vast majority are ethical, moral and fair poker players just like you. Take prudent precautions as you would in other areas of your life to avoid being cheated. Prudence, not paranoia, is required.“ Along with the precautions poker sites have in place, this is basically your only defence.

Otherwise, try hanging a string of garlic around your neck!


"Ghosting" is where another player (or players) offers their opinion to you while you are playing a hand. They may be offering their opinion over the phone, over the computer or they may even be sitting right beside you.” according to

Horror story please

Back in 2007 a huge story broke. The ‘Bluff Magazine’ editor at the time was Chris Vaughn, and he was running deep in the $1 Million Guaranteed on Full Tilt – so deep in fact that he scooped the 1st prize.

Then the stories started to emerge – it wasn’t Chris 'BluffMagCV' Vaughn who had played the latter stages of the event at all - he had passed the playing on to Sorel Mizzi, an aggressive young star of the game.

What’s the problem you might ask? Well, as PokerNews later explained in an in-depth interview with those involved, it was “quickly recognized that a star player taking over one of these accounts was gaining a significant edge over his remaining players, who would have no idea that a new tough player, perhaps with a radically different style, had suddenly assumed a seat at the table.”

The week after his Full Tilt success, he did the same in the PokerStars Sunday Million under his online name there of ‘SlippyJacks’. It was only later revealed that in fact he had ‘sold’ his FullTilt account to Mizzi when he reached the last 20 or so players, and who knows who actually played the PokerStars event?

The general – and basically correct at the time – view was that such things happened everyday online, but this was the first confirmed case involving a big name in a big event and led to much stricter controls.

How scared should I be?

A bit! There is really no telling who is sitting at the shoulder of your opponents online whispering the correct plays and giving advice, or if several of them are playing together at the same time at your table or in your tournament (see collusion). Players have actually been jailed for ‘fraud’ offences connected to this!

How do I avoid it?

Ghosting is basically a violation of the “one player, one hand” rule and if you suspect that someone is breaking this rule you should contact your poker site about your suspicions. Poker sites have fraud and collusion departments which should try to determine when it might be an anomaly, isolated incident or an egregious pattern.‘

Poker forums and chat-rooms are among the best, and the worst, places to take suspicions. Trolling is inevitable, but you may be able to find others willing and able to help you understand and take investigations further if need be.

As a last-gasp defence, a crucifix against the cheater‘s forehead might do the trick!

Viewing Hole Cards

poker cheats

This is the simplest and most deadly form of cheating in poker – somebody at the table can see everyone else’s cards! Known as ‘God-mode’, this is obviously the biggest advantage you could have in poker, allowing you to base your decisions on almost perfect information: fold, raise, bet – if you know your opponent’s cards it makes poker much more fun!

Horror story please

There are a few, the most famous (or infamous) being the Ultimate Bet scandal of the mid-to-late-noughties where one or more ‘super-user’ accounts allowed various people high-up in the sites to view the hole-cards of everyone at the table. A similar ‘God-mode’ scandal had erupted at Absolute Poker a few months previously.

Estimates of how much they cheated unsuspecting players out of vary, but it’s in the ‘many $millions’ category – and much higher than the few $million they eventually paid out in compensation. There are so many details and stories of this scandal available that it’s impossible to do justice to it here – but the skeletons continue to come out of the closet to this day.

A more recent (i.e. last month) version of it saw a software Trojan known as Odlanor being discovered. 'Odlanor' basically the exposes the hole cards of unsuspecting players by sending screenshots from their computers directly to cheaters, who then use the information to ‘outplay’ the unfortunate victims.

The malware is apparently installed secretly along with certain poker software programs including Poker Office, Tournament Shark and Poker Calculator Pro. The downloads are believed to have been from unofficial torrent sites, and have mainly affected Eastern European online players.

How scared should I be?

Well, I would have said ‘not very’ were it not for the Odlanor case; it had appeared as though the biggest sites would never allow a repeat of the UB/AP scandal above, but cyber-criminals outside of the sites themselves are a tenacious and greedy bunch who are never short of a sneaky plan or two.

How do I avoid it?

If your sites own top guys are doing it, then you’re in trouble! On a personal level, the easiest way is to have good security software on your computer and try not to use ‘torrent’ sites! If you do, keep away from 3rd-party poker software and/or have a separate drive for your poker playing – at least this way any ‘infection’ shouldn’t spread to other parts of your online life!

Last resort? Fend off the ‘God-mode’ users with a burning pentagram as your avatar!

Staking problems

poker scams

If this sounds like a situation where Dracula might be involved, you’re not far wrong! Basically, staking is when somebody other than the player puts up the money for somebody else to play, and receives a cut of any winnings.

When it goes wrong, however, it often bleeds the sponsor dry and leaves him with a nasty bite or 2 on his neck – the problem being that, once-bitten-twice-shy and the backer might withdraw completely from this often-necessary part of poker.

The one thing about staking is, it tends to be a fairly confidential business – but sometimes things, or players, get so out of hand that it becomes public – and that’s when the fright-night fun begins!

I've heard a lot of horror stories of backing with people scamming, stealing, punting tournaments on purpose. You have to definitely get the right people." Jason Mercier;

Horror story please

David “Chino” Rheem – for anyone who knows about his history, then the Halloween nightmares have probably already kicked in. For those who don’t, the young star of poker back at the turn of the noughties was one of the most sought-after poker pros, for all the wrong reasons.

He left a trail of debts behind him in almost every card-room and casino he walked into, and despite winning over $4.5 million his ability to avoid paying his debts was legendary, sparking separate 100+page threads on 2+2.

“Chino has an art of scamming people. He is very charming, and makes you feel really ****ty if you don't lend him money. He makes you feel really guilty, and convinces you 100% that he'll pay you back tomorrow...etc...” wrote KMPoker on the 2+2 thread catchily titled ‘Chino Rheem SCUM part two (more scams)’.

The thread was started by Bill Molson, a poker high-roller of Canadian beer company fame, who loaned Rheem $20k in a transfer which was accidentally doubled by PokerStars to $40k. Despite Rheem cashing for some $150 in the event, he still hadn’t repaid Molson a year later, prompting the Canadian to go public in the hope that others wouldn’t share the same fate.

Rheem was caught on camera being screamed at in a viral poker video in 2011, "You owe the whole ****ing city of Las Vegas money - you're a bitch,” which pretty much summed up what most people think about Rheem, and shows the down-side of poker-staking.

Of course, the upside is that if you have money to spare, and trust some good players enough to stake them, you can make a tidy profit with little or no effort on your own part – but the scare stories are all out there, including this recent one.

How scared should I be?

This darker-side of the poker world is unlikely to affect the vast majority of players, but just think about that time you loaned a ‘friend’ 50 bucks and are still waiting for it? It’s doubtful if anyone doesn’t have such a story. Just multiply this scenario a hundred-fold and you’re getting into the realms of big-money poker-staking, and the possible pitfalls it entails.

How do I avoid it?

OK, the trite answer is simply don’t stake anyone, friend, foe or other. However, as mentioned, it can be a profitable business and can help you yourself fund your tournament life-style if it’s a reciprocal kind of arrangement.

If you do stake someone, or multiple players, make sure there is a written and signed contract outlining every detail of the arrangement. If you do find yourself being bumped for the readies when your ‘horse’ comes in, you may have some recourse.

Alternatively, a silver bullet to the heart tends to prevent repeat performances by the ‘Chino Rheems’ of the poker dark-side.

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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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