WSOP Investigates Valeriu Coca Cheating Allegations in $10K Heads-Up Event
WSOP floor staff and security are scouring available evidence in the aftermath of allegations by several prominent players that one of the fifth-place finishers cheated in the 2015 WSOP’s Event #10, the $10,000 Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em tourney. The allegations are focused on one of the fifth-place finishers in the event, Moldovan player Valeriu Coca. Note that the allegations against Coca have not been confirmed, despite the group’s complaints and evidence of similar antics in European events played by Coca that has subsequently emerged.
Several of Coca’s early-round victims in the head-to-head, bracket-style format not only brought their concerns to the attention of WSOP staff, they also took their accusations to social media and at least one prominent poker-discussion forum as well.
The first public, formal accusation against Coca was made by his second-round foe, Connor Drinan, some 24 hours after the two played. Posted Drinan, at 2+2, in part:
Hey 2+2, it’s Connor. We (the players that were beaten by this Valeriu Coca guy in the $10k HU) were trying to keep things quiet until we gave the WSOP adequate time to investigate the situation and come up with a solution, but since there are a lot of rumors circulating and a lot of people know bits and pieces already, I might as well clear things up.
Pratyush Buddiga was the first to lose to him. He is my good friend but seemed pretty tilted so I didn’t ask details until I found out he was my next opponent. I asked for reads and whatnot and he basically told me he was really slow and passive in the beginning and then picked up the pace as the match went on as far as speed of play and aggression. He thought he was stalling in the beginning to give himself a better shot to win at a higher blind level. He said he would stall by rechecking his cards at a bunch of different angles when it was clear he made up his mind to fold already.
He did the same thing in my match. For the first 10 hands or so, he folded to most of my button opens and either limped or folded the button (doing the same obnoxious card checking tactics). I was thinking “man this guy is going to be a breeze.” From that point on I won very few pots the rest of the match. Every time I had a good starting hand he folded. If I had a bad one he raised or re-raised. If I whiffed a flop he attacked my c-bets. If I whiffed and went for a delayed cbet, he blasted turn into me every time. If I hit and bet, he folded. Hit and checked, he checked ect ect ect.
Added Drinan, “It was probably the most frustrating match of my life… .” Drinan and Buddiga then compared notes with two other players who Coca defeated later in the day, Aaron Mermelstein and the mercurial Matt “adzizzy” Marafioti, who offered similar tales. As Drinan relayed, Mermelstein and Marafioti both shared similar, “‘Yeah i felt totally owned, couldn’t win a pot, thing he was doing with his cards was really weird, ect’-type responses.”
Pratysh Buddiga, the first of five players to fall in succession to Coca, soon posted his own verification of Drinan’s tale. Wrote Buddiga, “I can confirm everything Connor said. I wasn’t sure if I had just been owned by somebody who had a sick game plan coming in or not but as the stories started coalescing, it became pretty clear something fishy was going on.”
Buddiga added, “To be honest, if Connor and I weren’t such good friends it’s pretty likely he would’ve gotten away with it, with each of us (Matt, Aaron, Connor, Byron [Kaversham], and me) wondering to ourselves just exactly what the heck happened.” Kaversham fell in round 5 to Coca, despite having been warned to protect his cards from Coca’s view, who the group suspected of marking the deck in as yeat-undetermined way.
Aaron Mermelstein also popped into the thread to verify the general tale, while highlighting several hands from his own matchup against Coca that he found unusual. Marafioti has previously excused himself from social-media participation after controversial exchanges on other topics.
The joint accusations gathered steam, according to Drinan, when a writer on a Czech poker site contacted him with similar information regarding Coca, who according to published reports was bounced from several European casinos for similar card-marking offenses.
Czech writer Martin Kuchařík, back in April, had written a piece exposing Coca titled (translated), “Who is Valeriu Coca? Convicted fraudster from Prague casino.” According to Kuchařík, Coca was bounced from several eastern European poker venues after being caught subtly bending the aces and kings in decks at his table.
Wrote Kuchařík, again translated via Google, “Coca [cheated] by bending the corners of a specific cards – aces and kings, or 8 cards in the deck. He had such a perfect view of who their opponents held or did not hold the cards written down, which [he] deftly used. If that someone found himself in the hand and the flop was, for example, AK-3 on an opponent who is not holding any of the marked cards, [Coca] pressured [by making an] overbet or [all-in push], depending on the situation.”
Kuchařík went on to detail how Coca was still participating in major European events such as the EPT despite being bounced from several casinos for such practices. Kuchařík also posted in the 2+2 thread where Drinan, Mermelstein and Buddiga appeared to confirm hsi story, while offering additional details.
Despite a significant amount of smoke, however, and confirmation from WSOP brass that the allegations were and are being investigated, no hard confirmation has yet been made. It appears unlikely that small bends or nicks made to select cards, as was mentioned in the Czech piece, could have been the method used here — if cheating did in fact occur. Online speculation has focused on the possible use of UV dyes which could be lightly daubed on card backs in certain locations to specify certain cards’ values. Some black-market online sites notably sell such dyes — along with special glasses or filtered contact lenses, to see the otherwise invisible dyes — as specific “card cheating” aids.
Coca was wearing sunglasses throughout his early matches, which technically could have been used to conceal the use of such special contact lenses, if such a system and “aid” was being employed.
The WSOP confirmed that an investigation into the event and into Coca’s play was ongoing. It is believed, but remains unconfirmed, that Coca’s fifth-place cash of $54,545 has been frozen by the WSOP pending the results of the investigation. Coca was eventually defeated on Day 2 of the event by Keith Lehr. (Lehr, oddly enough, was embroiled in his own card-cheating accusations a decade ago, including claims made by the late, legendary poker-conspiracy theorist Russ Georgiev.)
Early results of the WSOP’s investigation, however, did not turn up cards from some of Coca’s matches that were marked in an easily noticeable way. Tweeted the WSOP’s Seth Palansky, in a pair of replies to an inquiry from Bluff’s Kevin “KevMath” Mathers:
@Kevmath We take these types of allegations very seriously & an investigation began immediately upon learning them. It is ongoing. (1/2)
— Seth Palansky (@SethPalansky) June 4, 2015
@Kevmath 2/2 Preliminary testing of cards show no markings or use of any foreign solution. Further tests will be done to confirm initial.
— Seth Palansky (@SethPalansky) June 4, 2015
However, it is not known if WSOP floor staff was able to identify and locate decks used in Coca’s Day 1 matches, or only those from Day 2, when he beat Kaversham before losing to Lehr. The WSOP’s head tournament director, Jack Effel, has also confirmed that the investigation into Coca was ongoing. Tweeted Effel on his @WSOPtd account:
We are aware, monitoring very closely w/all resources @ our disposal. Those include surveillance/security,forensic examination of cards, etc — Jack Effel (@WSOPTD) June 4, 2015
2/2 We take integrity very seriously, as evidenced by our lifetime bans, and would enjoy nothing more than catching a cheater in our midst. — Jack Effel (@WSOPTD) June 4, 2015
Coca himself has not issued a statement in connection with the allegations, which FlushDraw reiterates, remain only allegations at this time in connection with the WSOP event.
Updates: Speaking through an interpreter to Pokernews at the WSOP, Coca has denied the allegations. Coca also denied the Czech-casino allegations, claiming instead that he was booted for being an “advantage roulette” player — though no known advantage system in roulette appears to be legitimate. Coca has also never taken direct action against the casino executive nor the Czech poker writer cited above, which would seem to be the logical way to dispute such statements as in the Czech piece referenced above. Coca also claimed that he has already been paid the over-$54,000 in winnings from the disputed heads-up event.
Meanwhile. WSOP officials continue to investigate. Prelimary reports summarized by WSOP execs Seth Palansky and Jack Effel state that no firm evidence of cheating has been found, though some of the decks used in the match have been sent off for what Effel described as a “forensic” examination.