May 11, 2013

Annie Duke: Ultimate Shill, Penultimate Cheat?
UPDATED with Annie Duke Comments

As the Ultimate Bet scandal recordings continue to stir up the poker community, one intriguing, polarizing name has popped to the surface—Annie Duke. As mentioned in my prior post on the Ultimate Bet recordings, on the main three-hour recording, Russ Hamilton calmly states, ""Annie Duke used it [God-mode cheating software] on a fifteen minute delay quite a few times." On a second, somewhat shorter recording also released yesterday, poker media guru Kevin "Kevmath" Mathers reports that Hamilton stated Duke used the God-mode cheating software on a five minute delay. Certainly Duke has been accused of improperly looking at opponents' hole cards in live play (albeit by her nemesis, Daniel Negreanu), but this accusation of online cheating was completely new.

Creating further intrigue is a post by TwoPlusTwo member "dougmanct" (who has "Centurion" status at the site) which casts doubt on whether the "God-mode" cheating software could operate on a time delay:

"Just want to point out, as the researcher who collected UB client software and decompiled/examined it at great length to understand the specific cheating mechanism, I can tell you it never appeared to function on a "time delay"; i.e. revealing hole card data only after a certain period of time had elapsed. The cheat code appeared to reveal opponent's hole cards in real time as a hand was being played. I suppose one could have recorded a table using the cheat client and made the recording available to someone on a delay, but that seems like quite a bit of effort and at the very least, someone doing so would be quite aware the ability to cheat existed and chose not to come forward/be complicit in keeping the cheat ability secret for their own gain."

The official Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC) report regarding the Ultimate Bet cheating scandal likewise seems to suggest that the "God-mode" cheating software only operated on a real-time basis:

INITIAL INVESTIGATION

….

After several weeks of Commission investigation of the source code, a method was detected by which specific users could gain access to “hole” card data in real time. Once the cheating method was identified, the Commission’s agents confirmed through the audit process that:

1. The illicit software allowed only two accounts—AuditMonster1 and AuditMonster2—to access hole card information;

2. These two accounts were able to access hole cards via the normal poker client;

3. The “stealth observer” function was located in the normal code base where the normal card messages were sent to the poker client;
and

4. The illicit software was disabled on UB servers on February 2, 2008.

The Commission also confirmed that when Tokwiro acquired UB, it was only provided with source code history dating back to November 29, 2005. The source code history of the Ultimate Bet poker software showed that the illicit code was not modified after November 29, 2005. Attempts to obtain source code historical records from prior to November 29, 2005 from the original developers were unsuccessful.

ANATOMY OF THE CHEATING

The following is an overview of the methodologies used to perpetrate the cheating incidences, based on the information the Commission obtained during the course of its investigations:

....

3. To perpetrate the cheating, one or more individuals logged into the UB client software using an account that accessed the illicit software. The name of the account was “AuditMonster2.” An additional account (“AuditMonster1”) had the same privileges, but there is no evidence this account was ever used;

4. The “AuditMonster2” account was used to view hole cards, but was never used to play in a game. Rather, the responsible individual(s) gathered hole card information using this account, and then employed a variety of other accounts to use the hole card information to cheat other players in actual money games;
and

5. The user names of the player accounts maintained by the responsible individual(s)—see the list below—were changed repeatedly over the course of the cheating scheme in an apparent attempt to avoid detection.

Based on the information available, it seems unlikely Annie Duke ever used the "God-mode" cheating software as alleged by Hamilton. First, because Hamilton knew he was recording these conversations, any of his statements on the tape that are not damaging to Hamilton himself ("admissions against interest" in legalese) must be viewed with some skepticism. Second, unless Hamilton and Duke were in on the scam together, it seems unlikely Hamilton would give Duke access to one of the only two "AuditMonster" accounts that could support real-time cheating, nor that he would risk letting her know of the scam. Third, there is no evidence to date of Duke displaying any of the hallmarks of this type of scam: improbable cash game results, large player-to-player transfers, or large cashouts.

One other possible way to reconcile the real-time operation of the "AuditMonster2" account and Hamilton's comments about Duke using it on a time delay would be to surmise that there was a similar program used to monitor play in near-real-time for legitimate audit and security purposes. If such a program existed, an unscrupulous player might use it to gain access to hole card information to which they were not otherwise entitled, which undoubtedly would give them an improper edge over their opponents, and would be the type of cheating that should disqualify a player from online poker sites, much like multi-accounting, ghosting, chip dumping, and collusion have disqualified other players. If Duke did use such software to gain an improper advantage, she certainly deserves to be banned from poker. At this point, however, we have only the word of an admitted thief and scam artist as evidence of Duke's cheating. Without some kind of independent corroborating evidence, Hamilton's accusation, while scandalous, is still merely innuendo.

UPDATE (5/11/2013: 8:15 CDT): A screenshot of Annie Duke's Twitter responses to the hole card viewing accusations was posted on TwoPlusTwo. Essentially, Duke claims she only had access to hole cards while doing broadcasts of a limited number of online tournaments. While this would be a legitimate use of such a technology, it doesn't square with Hamilton's statements which implied Duke used the God-Mode software during her own play. Also, if Duke knew God-Mode software was available even for such limited purposes, why did she seem to pass it off in interviews and testimony (see below) as an improper "breach" of the software by a rogue employee? Much like Hamilton's comments, Duke's comments are obviously self-serving and should be viewed skeptically absent corroborating evidence.

UPDATE (5/14/2013; 8:47 AM CDT):  Martin "Short-Stacked Shamus" Harris has posted at Fushdraw.com an excellent analysis of two significant areas of concern with Duke's statements. First. the real-time viewing of hole cards by poker commentators was not commonplace until recently. Second, Duke's boyfriend (who had little poker experience) won an Ultimate Bet tournament—and $266,000—while Duke provided commentary. As with most things connected with Ultimate Bet, there are a lot of implausible stories and statements, but they are difficult to either corroborate or debunk.

UPDATE (5/18/2013; 10:42 PM CDT):  Annie Duke has released a lengthy statement denying any involvement in the Ultimate Bet scandal, and further asserting she has never used or been made aware of any "God mode" or other software that would allow her to see player hole cards in real-time or on a delay. Duke's statement was accompanied by brief statements by John Vorhaus (Duke's co-commentator on Ultimate Bet tournament broadcasts) and Joanne Primm (UB Pro Relations Manager and tournament broadcast organizer) who corroborate key points of Duke's statement. Again, we have no independent evidence to corroborate or debunk Duke's claims, but Duke certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt when her accuser is an admitted thief, liar, and scam artist like Russ Hamilton.

* * * * *

A more troubling issue for Annie Duke does arise from the recent Ultimate Bet recordings. It is unquestionable that Ultimate Bet management was looking to cover up the scandal as quickly and quietly as possible, and with the least cost. The problem is, this crisis management strategy required Ultimate Bet's management not only to lie to its customers, but also to attempt to find a way to minimize the amount it refunded to those of its customers who were victims of the cheating scam. Enter Annie Duke, Ultimate Bet sponsored pro and public spokesperson.

Following the scandal, and mere months after Ultimate Bet executives were conspiring with Russ Hamilton to control the public narrative and minimize their financial exposure, Annie Duke gave an interview in which she asserted that "new management" had handled the situation fairly:

"Everybody's horrified that it happened - including me. I just want to get that out of the way. There are no excuses for what happened. It's ugly, it's ridiculous and it's incredibly upsetting. With that being said, I think there's a large portion of people out there who got their money back which I think is amazing. I had one player call me up who's an old time player playing for a really long time and who said to me, "Annie in all the years that I've been playing and all the times that I've been cheated this is the first time I've ever gotten my money back." I think that there's recognizing there are things that have happened. This was not the site cheating anybody, this was individuals cheating people. It's really horrible that it happened but the site did good by it and made sure that everybody go their money back and let's move on because the site is secure."

~Annie Duke, Dec. 25, 2008 in a Gambling 911 interview

Also, as you may recall, back in July 2010, Duke testified before Congress on behalf of the Poker Players' Alliance (PPA) in support of the then-pending online poker bill (HR2267) sponsored by then-Representative Barney Frank. Duke's written testimony, which she also read into the record, whitewashed the scandal, asserting that the "God mode" cheating scam was the work of one person (Russ Hamilton), and that "new management" had refunded all stolen money to the victims of the scam:

"For me, the most critical component of regulation is player protections. As some of you know, I play at a site called Ultimate Bet. Under previous management, an associate of the website developed a breach in the software that allowed for players to be cheated out of a great deal of money. I agreed to continue to endorse the site only after I was sure that new management had addressed the problems, took voluntary steps to refund the cheated players and ensured tighter control over their site security. Nonetheless, an important benefit of regulation would be to ensure, through source code-based testing and outcome-based testing, that the games are fair and those players cannot be defrauded by the sites and that players cannot cheat others at the table. Further, under a U.S. regulated system players would have legal recourse should they feel they are harmed and regulators would be able to penalize licensed companies that breach the regulatory standards. Today, the best non-U.S. licensing regimes already do this, but, U.S. players deserve the protections and assurances of their own government."

In response to follow up questions from the committee members, Annie Duke repeated her claim that UltimateBet's new management had fully refunded the players who were victims of the "God mode" cheating scam. Below is video and a transcript of Annie Duke's sworn testimony in response to a question from Rep. Bachus (Rep. Bachus's question begins at the 3:23 mark, with Annie Duke's response beginning around the 3:51 mark):



“I’m affiliated with UltimateBet.net, which is a free play site. But they do offer games on .com, yes. … It was $22 million. The site self-regulated and refunded all the money to its customers. I would prefer to have something like HR2267 [the Barney Frank online poker bill] so that the government could oversee that regulation. I think that the customers of that site were lucky that they were playing on a site under new management that behaved in an honest way and refunded them. But the individual—and it was one individual—that perpetrated the crime and breached the software has not been prosecuted because, unfortunately, there is no jurisdiction to do so.”

Based on the recent Ultimate Bet recordings, it seems safe to say that Ultimate Bet's management neither "self-regulated" nor "behaved in an honest way". Simply listening to the ten-minute segment of one of the meetings shows Ultimate Bet management conspiring to concoct a plausible cover story, complete with Travis Makar and/or an unnamed rogue former employee as a possible fall guy, to sell to the KGC and the public. They even had the chutzpah to suggest perhaps Russ Hamilton himself should be painted as a victim of the scam. Further, rather than attempting to determine and repay actual losses for all cheating victims (which probably exceed the $22 million paid and are effectively impossible to calculate), Ultimate Bet management was intent on refunding as little money as possible, including asking the primary figure in the scam to think of ways to convince victims to waive their claims. Based on John Mehaffey's summary of other parts of the recordings, Ultimate Bet's management clearly was focused on minimizing its liability, even if doing so came at the expense of the victims.

If Annie Duke was unaware of the scope and nature of the cheating scam and Ultimate Bet management's response to it, then she quite likely believed that new management was cleaning house and taking care of the victims. But—and this is a critical caveat—it is extremely troubling that Duke's testimony emphasizes Ultimate Bet's "rogue operator" story, pinning all the blame on Russ Hamilton acting alone when Ultimate Bet's management had worked with Hamilton to concoct that precise official cover story. It's also quite rich for Duke to bemoan the fact Hamilton would never be prosecuted, considering Ultimate Bet executives had tried (unsuccessfully) to work with Hamilton to concoct a story that would let him avoid taking responsibility with the KGC. Perhaps Duke was naive and Ultimate Bet's management convinced Duke their official story was correct. Perhaps Duke was suspicious but didn't want to bite the hand that fed her. Perhaps Duke knew the story wasn't entirely accurate, but viewed it as public relations spin. Without more evidence, we simply cannot draw any conclusions.

Regardless of what Annie knew and when, she certainly earned her keep as an official Ultimate Bet shill. Ultimate Bet not only weathered the scandal, it was strong enough financially to merge with Absolute Poker into the Cereus network, which was then sold to Blanca Games in August 2010, probably putting some money in the pockets of the executives who saw nothing wrong with working with Russ Hamilton to minimize the recovery for Hamilton's victims. Duke stayed on board with Ultimate Bet until she jumped ship in December 2010, just a few months ahead of the demise and liquidation of the company in the wake of Black Friday. Annie Duke's loyalty to Ultimate Bet and her excellent sense of timing make her one of only a few poker pros—along with Phil Hellmuth and Russ Hamilton—who can say they made big money at Ultimate Bet.

2 comments:

  1. I was reading a collection of quotes and for some indeterminate reason, I felt the need to stop by. (excuse the cut/paste bad formatting, please)

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to
    sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.
    Anatole France

    The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were
    not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence.
    H. L. Mencken

    Law is a bottomless pit; it is a cormorant, a harpy that devours
    everything. Jonathan Swift

    I learned law so well, the day I graduated I sued the college, won the case, and got my tuition back. Fred Allen

    Every law is an infraction of liberty. Jeremy Bentham

    Lawsuit, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a
    sausage. Ambrose Bierce

    I was never ruined but twice: once when I lost a lawsuit, and once
    when I won one. Voltaire

    Lawyer, n. One skilled in the circumvention of the law.
    Ambrose Bierce

    Lawyer: one who protects us against robbery by taking away the
    temptation. H. L. Mencken

    Lawyers are the only persons in whom ignorance of the law is not
    punished. Jeremy Bentham

    If law school is so hard to get through... how come there are so many lawyers? Calvin Trillin

    Lawyers, I suppose, were children once. Charles Lamb

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  2. There's one born every minute, and online poker is dodgy. The 2+2 forums belittle complaints of online fraud as bad loosers. Yet Neo Neo etc. Annie Duke and other scams, plus math samples of small suited connectors whooping Airlines just don't lie, and I tripled up (but I can throw away a set).
    I've played poker since Yardley. I ran a rent rake 7 stud and draw game in 1969 and a Manilla table for the Mob (and they WERE honest !!!) in the 70's, and the texture of online games, for what ever reason i.e. Frat house collusion, God mode and Forte scams, is as dodgy as a nun with a HK45. When I played online it was for donkeys that have not played much and have no idea of statistics and texture. It was mainly a fine grift; very subtle manipulation but the samples don't lie and neither does 50 years experience. There is a guy on youtube who is a winner too, that has made movies with his hand histories and explains it beautifully; and very very funnily;a blow by blow account of the bullshit going on.
    Online poker is bent.
    Now tear into me if you like fellas, you just might find an idiot, 2+2 can scream all day its your donkey taste buds but shit will still taste bad.

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