Poker World Shocked By Number of High Stakes Cheating Allegations

1 year ago
Poker World Shocked By Number of High Stakes Cheating Allegations
03 May

The last two weeks have been a terrible time for the image of the high-stakes poker community. Multiple accusations of cheating have tarnished the image of several players, dragging the game into the gutter.

Even with several high-profile cheating scandals tainting the game over the years, we have still never seen such an explosion of cases as witnessed this month.

What started as a simple tweet pointing out an incidence of peeking at another player’s cards, has turned into something which risks tarnishing the online game for a long time to come. The slew of accusations might not yet be over, too. There could be a lot more to come.

The integrity of online poker is crucial for the long-term health of the ecosystem. No trust means that potential new players will see taking up the game as a bad risk and shy away, ultimately damaging the future of poker.

Things were tough enough 20 years ago when players were still unsure about how safe their money was in the fledgling industry. Now, all this talk of collusion and real-time assistance threatens to undo much of the trust made over the last decade.

Ali Imsirovic was the first target. Alex Foxen tweeted that he is “known as a cheater to almost all in the high roller community, however without much ironclad proof, most stay silent.”

It is already known that the Bosnian-American is banned from GGPoker but this blatant rubbernecking had Foxen struggling to keep quiet. Even given Imsirovic’s reputation, this transgression would still likely have blown over quick enough, but now everyone has started to speak out.

Alex Foxen did his utmost to stress that the high-stakes community is generally honourable but instances, such as we've heard about recently, need to be called out publicly more often.

“The high stakes community is, for the most part, extremely honourable and a group of people I consider myself lucky to associate with. This nonsense should not be tolerated and needs to be called out more often.”

Doug Polk and Greg Merson Chat About the Scandal

Doug Polk is always quick to post a video about any big story in the poker industry and he didn’t make an exception here. Joined by 2012 WSOP main event winner Greg Merson, Polk dived straight in and explored what had happened, with very little coming in defence of Imsirovic.

We actually learned about suspicions of Imsirovic engaging in some kind of unethical play during his battle with Polk in preparation for the Daniel Negreanu grudge match, but none of the nitty-gritty was made public.

Justin Bonomo Has His Say

Up until now, all the talk was about the behaviour of Ali Imsirovic, but then Justin Bonomo had his say and the scandal exploded into something more sinister, threatening the reputation of other big names in the game.

He started off by pointing out that despite Alex Foxen being under a cloud for his own suspected transgression, he should be left alone to do his thing and spread his message for the good of the game.

“Foxen’s worldview is very different from mine, and I strongly disagree with some things he’s done and said But I have respect for people who knowingly risk putting themselves through shit storms, seeking no personal gain, for the good of the community. No, if someone has made mistakes in the past, that does not make them a hypocrite for doing the right thing, right now Pick any other time to call Foxen out, but let him do his thing today. It’s an important message and we don’t want to impede it.”
There were four different parts to Bonomo’s statement, the first being that GGPoker’s banning of 40 different accounts was mostly related to the use of pre-flop charts and real-time assistance.

He then points out that Ali Imsirovic was only the second-worst offender with somebody whose name starts with “JA” being by far the worst. He later pointed out that this was not Jason Koon, leaving Jake Schindler as the only suspect.

He then says that he lost over $1 million playing in these games and it feels bad. Probably more to do with actually being cheated than the loss of money given his stellar career record.

No evidence was provided, in fact, Bonomo says he hasn’t seen it but he does trust the source who claims it is irrefutable.

Kahle Burns Refuses to Leave Alex Foxen Alone

Justin Bonomo might have wanted Alex Foxen left alone to speak out but Aussie high-stakes pro Kahle Burns had other ideas. After all, if everything was being pushed out into the open then why should anyone be immune.

In this case, however, the story is well-known enough and has been analysed to death without any firm conclusion, but here we go again just for the sake of completeness.

The case in question took place at the MSPT Venetian in 2018 where Foxen and Kristen Bicknell, now Foxen’s wife, were three-handed against Kahle Burns. The accusation is that the then lovebirds soft-played each other with the aim of working together to bust out Burns.

It has taken Kahle Burns four years to speak out against what he still perceives as an injustice, and clearly all this recent talk of cheating has brought up some suppressed emotions from that day.

He mentions that it’s obvious now that he should have taken the deal offered to him.

“I'm aware I'm probably a naive moron for not taking a deal and it's an awkward situation for them that not many people will ever be able to relate to. My logic at the time was I would be protected by the Livestream. If they do anything funny they will forever tarnish their reps.”
Arbitration was suggested as a way to clear the air but nothing came of it. Burns actually again offers Foxen and Bicknell the chance to do this under the guidance of a team of highly respected pros.

There was never any indication that the poker community agreed one way or the other in this matter. As Burns points out, every hand streamed live with holecards revealed should offer enough protection under the watchful eye of poker’s elite players, but we have absolutely no idea what kind of dynamic is going on between Foxen and Bicknell and how that might encourage them to deviate from standard lines.

Neither Foxen nor Bicknell has responded as of yet, preferring to keep the matter in the past, as it probably should be at this stage.

Bryn Kenney Accused of Multiple Cheating Allegations

All of the above is enough scandal to last poker for plenty of years, but absolutely nobody expected the next headline to fly all over poker media so soon afterwards.

Bryn Kenney, the number one player on the all-time money winners list for live tournaments, was outed by Martin Zamani for multiple instances of cheating and unethical behaviour. In a strongly-worded tweet, followed up by a video interview with Doug Polk, Bryn Kenney became the latest high-profile character in the poker world to have his ethics examined under the microscope.

The details of this story are unlike any ever seen in poker before. Cheating is one thing but tales of horses being sent to a shaman to undergo rituals with frog poison are as bizarre as it gets.

Zamani was quick to give details of what he says he experienced while playing as a member of Bryn Kenney's stable.

“There was a specific time me and his horse were on a same table in a 10K plo 6 max on party and he played both accounts. Any type of arguing with Bryn would be faced with gaslighting that I’m not open minded and he’s trying to help us. That’s why he sent me to a shaman. A shaman he had never met before trying to get her to inject frog poison in me known as Kombo. She also told me she was a murder,a warlord, and a liar. Demands I do this drug. Couldn’t tell if it was bit or not. Apparently BK had never met her. Tried to use me as test pig”
Ghosting, multi-accounting, forced collusion, and being forced to play smaller stakes when not following Kenney’s lifestyle were all thrown out into the open. There was even an accusation that Kenney could see everybody’s screen while they were playing but, again, no evidence was given.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic, though, because some players who have worked with Bryn Kenney in the past spoke up about their own experiences which differed greatly in character from what Martin Zamani described.

Zamani ended his Twitter rant by writing that Kenney deleted their entire Telegram chat history, but not before he made a screen recording. He then threatened to release the chat log if Kenney denied the accusations.

Upon hearing that Doug Polk and Martin Zamani were set to stream an interview, Bryn Kenney threatened Polk with legal action if any falsehoods were broadcast. Polk tweeted that this threat had been made but the show would be live in 10 minutes anyway.

Lauren Roberts Steps Forward

Lauren Roberts, another member of Bryn Kenney’s stable, also stepped forward to give her own version of events as an aside to what Zamani said in the video.

It was a story of the pair getting on well and yet other players in the stable were sent to play against her as she was viewed as a weaker player. Roberts was also being hounded for being in heavy makeup to the tune of $2.2 million withy Kenney saying he made her back $1.5 million, no doubt from playing on her account.

“I’ve been in finance/poker a long time, I’m not stupid. That’s how I knew he played my account (besides “coaching” me while i played) bc one day he told me I “won” a tournament and magically our number went down. But I also witnessed ghosting, collusion with other accounts too.”
Screwing over an apparent friend while multi-accounting on her account is quite some level of behaviour, if true.

PokerNews Interviews Bryn Kenney

In an attempt to get all of the facts on the table and to offer Bryn Kenney a chance to explain himself to the poker community, Sarah Herring, of PokerNews, conducted the interview which, even though helpful, was seen as too soft for the seriousness of the accusations.

To be fair, Herring, was honest enough to tell that she has been friends with Kenney for 10 years but this just left many saying that somebody else should have been drafted in to replace her.

But Kenney also made it clear that he was only prepared to speak to Herring else the interview would not take place at all.

As for the interview content, Kenney spent time denying that he had ever used real-time assistance even though this is one charge that was never laid at his door. He added that he has no interest in staking players who are not playing themselves.

Thomas Keeling summed up the questioning and replies about what happened with Lauren Roberts perfectly.

As for what exactly their relationship is, we are still none the wiser after Kenney’s nonsensical reply.

“Lauren can’t say that I had any piece of her at any point...I had no financial doing anything... The thing is, Lauren never actually paid the money that she lost, she still owes me a huge amount of money...”

Make of that what you will.

Does Bryn Kenney Owe GGPoker $24 Million?

The seriousness of all of the accusations made during April has taken the spotlight off of another juicy titbit that has mostly gone unnoticed. It has been alleged that Bryn Kenney owes GGPoker $24 million from his agency debts, although the story is from back in 2019-2020.

Ben Wilinofsky tweeted that due to high-stakes games on GGPoker running on credit a lot of the time he might still be in the hole for this. He added that a Full Tilt Poker-style collapse is always possible if a big creditor doesn’t come up with the goods, though given the rapid rise of the site recently this is almost certainly not likely three years on.

Sergi Reixach Responds

Next up to make their case clear was high-stakes pro Sergi Reixach. He took a lot of heat from Martin Zamani and sent a prepared statement to to set out exactly what his position is.

He started off by showing just what kind of a relationship he has with Martin Zamani with a Skype conversation screenshot, and it wasn’t pretty.

“First of all, I think it’s important to show the current state of the relationship between Martin and me, so attached is a screenshot of some of my texts with him that show the anger and violent threats he made to me. I feel he blames me for everything wrong in his life, and his level of hate toward me has reached a point where I have been receiving death threats from him for the last few months.”

Reixach continues by denying that he has ever ghosted any players from the Bryn Kenney stable, and nor has he used real-time assistance during play. He added that any examination of his hand histories would show just how from from GTO his play really is.

“During the interview, he also accused me of [assisting] his play with the “RTA system device,” as if I had some kind of dream machine for MTTs. That’s not true. I asked GGPoker several times for my hand histories to prove that my game is far from GTO (game-theory optimal) but they didn’t let me have my hands. This will connect to the second accusation he threw at me.”
One admission that Reixach did make was his banning from GGPoker for using pre-flop hand charts. He didn’t say explicitly that he used them on that particular site but pointed out that every professional has used them at some point in their careers.

In fact, Reixach adds, pre-flop charts are almost useless in high-stakes games as the adjustment to metagame factors is far more important.

“As an example, a few years ago, the support team of one of the biggest sites confirmed that having thousands of static preflop charts was allowed for use in-game. Also, I would like to remark that at the high-stakes level, the use of preflop charts is almost irrelevant and only serves as an initial guide, as in every spot you must deviate from chip-EV solutions due to ICM and future game considerations, which I massively do all the time.”
Finally, Reixach felt the need to stick up for his fellow Spaniards. Martin Zamani alleged that a group of Spanish players were in collusion in the GGPoker $5k-$25k tournaments but offered no evidence to support the accusation.

Reixach explains that GGPoker would have conducted an extensive investigation at the time and no other notable Spaniard was banned from the site. PokerStars definitely did conduct its own investigation over suspected collusion in the SNG 6-Max turbos and hypers and nobody was banned.

Reixach ends his statement with the following:

“In hindsight, I know I made some mistakes and should act differently. But it is more than clear that Martin is throwing false accusations at me.”

Will a Poker Blacklist Happen?

Not long ago, Jason Koon set tongues wagging over the suggestion of a poker blacklist to ban players who are caught cheating online from playing in major live events. This is clearly aimed at the high-stakes community where all the controversy is stemming from.

High-stakes tournament players would definitely think twice about unethical play if they would be excluded from the likes of the World Series of Poker and the European Poker Tour.

Chance Kornuth brought up this idea again last week, pushing the idea in the hope that festival organisers will listen to the idea and possibly band together to make some kind of an agreement.

He adds that the problem poker has right now is that sites take action unilaterally and never publicly name the perpetrators. Agreement between major sites to blacklist offenders and make public the player’s details would change everything.

Kornuth called on GGPoker to start this change, with its brand ambassador Jason Koon, who was actually brought in to serve a role in game integrity, taking the lead. That said for this idea to work the main players in online poker, GGPoker, PokerStars, and partypoker, must work together.

Final Thoughts

This compilation of all the latest news on the high-stakes cheating scandal plaguing the community might only be the beginning. For sure there is more to come out but we have no idea how much or when the news will hit social media.

Bit it definitely does look like some change is about to be demanded by the players who play at the highest level. This really does look like a case of enough is enough.

In the coming weeks we will report on any new information that comes to light as it comes in.

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Mark from London in the UK is a professional cash game player, and part time journalist. A massive chess fan and perpetual traveller.Read more


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