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The latest poker cheating scandal: Bryn Kenney, high stakes collusion, and frog poison

The all-time leader in tournament poker earnings has had massive cheating allegations levied against him. Here’s the blow-by-blow of the biggest cheating scandal since the end of Full Tilt Poker. Also there’s shamans with frog poison.

Poker player Bryn Kenney plays at the European Poker Tour 2011 in the Casino Gran Madrid on May 7, 2011 in Torrelodones, Spain. Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

If you haven’t been watching poker since it left ESPN, get a mug because the tea has been served piping hot in the last two weeks. We’ll do our best to sort through it all here.

The outing of cheaters has been a big topic in the poker community over the last couple weeks as many players that were banned from the online site GGPoker were outed. That included some of the biggest names such as Ali Imsirovic — who just won two high roller tournaments at the Aria in Las Vegas last week. He was accused by fellow pro Alex Foxen of multiple instances of cheating both online and in live tournaments.

That led to a few tweets from a player named Martin Zamani, who was part of the stable of Bryn Kenney, the No. 1 all-time winner in poker tournament history with over $57 million in career earnings.

Zamani went on the Doug Polk podcast to discuss his allegations in more detail, while taking countless rips from a vape pen and offering to eat an entire bag of mushrooms. It’s an interview that needs to be seen to be believed, and we’ll get to the part about frog poison and eye acid later.

If you’re less poker-inclined, a “stable” is just what it sounds like: Upcoming players compete with someone else putting the money up, and the profits are split to help spread out the risk and inevitable variance that comes with both cash games and tournaments. Players backed by the same person or syndicate are considered part of the same stable.

What is being alleged is that Kenney’s players on GG Poker, for which he acted as an agent and received a portion of the “rake” players pay to enter a tournament, violated the terms of service in multiple ways that are also highly unethical. Players in the stable shared their hole cards with each other while playing in the same high-stakes tournaments. Recruited “soft” players (“whales” or “VIPs” that are wealthy outside of poker, but not great players) were colluded against and cheated because the stable was working together instead of independently during hands.

And then when stable players would get deep in a tournament, a more experienced and better player would take control of the account and finish the event, often using “real time assistance” software that is not allowed.

Real time assistance, or “RTA” for short, makes online poker basically impossible to defeat because the perfect mathematical decision is given to a player while they’re in a hand. It’s the equivalent of having a chess computer sitting next to you while you play, except in chess the computer always wins.

Because poker is still gambling and the turn of a card can change everything, the computer won’t win every time. But it will win more than it loses as while poker is a game of imperfect information (you probably know the range of your opponents hole cards, but you don’t know exactly what they are holding), eventually the machine defeats the man over any kind of large sample size.

One of those “VIP” players is Lauren Roberts, who was close to Kenney personally but now has levied allegations against him as well.

If the allegations are true, and there’s been very little pushback from anyone so far, it seems that if you’re playing high stakes poker online there’s a very good chance you’re competing against computers as much as people.

Kenney chose to defend himself via a live interview with his friend Sarah Herring at PokerNews, but his response seems to have been rejected almost out of hand by most fans and players as disingenuous. Herring wasn’t exactly Mike Wallace in his 60 Minutes prime with her questions, and she admitted before starting that was unlikely to happen.

It wasn’t the best time for Kenney to try and run a bluff, though poker theory says that’s what you should do when you’re at the bottom of your range. But he’s been called down by basically everyone, and it’s unlikely we see Kenney, a former major piece of the rise of GGPoker, as the face of anything in the game anytime soon.

A pretty good summary of how most poker players feel about the entire mess, as well as high stakes cheating in general, is here via the Solve For Why daily podcast. S4Y provides poker training as well as some coverage of the industry in general, and their new podcast format has greatly benefitted from all of this controversy hitting the game at the same time.

Yes, now we’ll get to the frog poison and eye acid.

Besides advocating for things like Yoga and veganism to his stable, Zamani claims Kenney instructed him to visit a shaman, who then asked him to have frog poison poured in his arm in a ritual known as Kambo. When Zamani refused, she compromised that he could have acid poured in his eyes instead.

If an hour of a stoner prattling on about TeamViewer and VPN’s and how much he hated his roommates is too much, we get it. But don’t miss this clip from the interview where Zamani discusses his interaction with the shaman. It’s so much more entertaining than Chris Moneymaker bluffing Sammy Farha in 2003.

Kenney acknowledged some of it being true in his PokerNews interview here, and it seems as if Zamani has no reason to lie. So yes, it’s possible No. 1 all-time earner in tournament poker looks more like an aspiring cult leader than a financial backer.

And much like the next hand, the next piece of poker gossip or scandal is usually just moments away. So grab some chips and a chair, we might be here for awhile.