Response to Hamilton References Puts Duke on the Defense
The release on Friday by Travis Makar of secret recordings made by his former boss, Russ Hamilton, a major early investor in UltimateBet and primary culprit in the years-long insider cheating scandal at the site, has revived considerable interest in the scandal while also unearthing numerous details regarding many individuals associated with UB. Among the many threads being pursued thus far are those involving two of poker’s most recognizable and divisive figures, Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke, both of whom are mentioned on the recordings.
The association of both Hellmuth and Duke with UB was lengthy and significant, with both serving as more than simply sponsored players or spokespersons for the site. Hellmuth was a part-owner of UB as well as iovation, while Duke became a frequent defender of the site following the scandal, giving numerous interviews in support of UB from mid-2008 through 2010 as the site’s most vocal and prominent pro. Both Hellmuth and Duke severed ties with the “new UB” on the same day, December 30, 2010.
Yesterday Haley Hintze reported on a statement issued by Hellmuth via his agent Brian Balsbaugh (sent to Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers for dissemination to the poker community) in which the “Poker Brat” responds to the recordings in particular and the scandal in general. As Hintze notes, the statement represents a much-belated response by Hellmuth who largely avoided addressing the cheating or its aftermath during his final three years with the site.
In his statement, Hellmuth refers to the first-released recording featuring Hamilton, UB founder Greg Pierson, and attorneys Daniel Friedberg and Sanford “Sandy” Millar, in particular to the exchange in which Friedberg notes the need to prevent Hellmuth from learning details of the cheating or be allowed to represent UltimateBet in any fashion when it comes to addressing the public regarding it.
“Phil is the absolute worst possible person on the planet to ever be even remotely close to this,” says Friedberg, adding that “he can be controlled” when it comes to managing the cover story.
Hellmuth’s statement yesterday notes how hearing the discussants “actively deciding to keep me in the dark disgusts and infuriates me.” As Hintze notes, the recording and Hellmuth’s response both fit with other corroborating evidence that “the cheaters and liars at UB constructed a bubble around Hellmuth” with regard to both the scandal and subsequent cover-up efforts.
Meanwhile, Duke’s name also surfaces on both of the recordings released by Makar. However, unlike Hellmuth who is spoken of as largely ignorant (and able to be kept as such), in Duke’s case the references point to her awareness of at least one detail of the story — i.e., the existence of a software tool that enabled the viewing of hole cards, also known as the “Auditmonster.”
Early in the first recording the Auditmonster program is mentioned, with subsequent discussion concerning the extent of 2+2 forum posters’ discoveries regarding the cheating as well as details of Hamilton’s use of the program.
From there the conversation evolves into a kind of brainstorming between the group to concoct a suitable cover story to handle the emerging situation, as well as initial estimates of how little of the ill-gotten funds might have to be refunded in order to satisfy the public enough to enable the site to continue (and, indeed, to prosper).
At that point Hamilton introduces his assistant Makar’s name into the discussion (“my guy”), suggesting how “Travis is willing to say… that he did this himself.” Friedberg then puts that plan into more concrete language.
“I think for the public it [the story] just has to be ‘former consultant to the company took advantage of a server flaw by hacking into the client,'” says Friedberg.
In other words, the story would resemble the one which Absolute Poker had not too long before put forth regarding its own scandal having been perpetrated by a single rogue employee variously called a “high-ranking trusted consultant” or “literally a geek trying to prove to senior management” their security could be compromised. (A story which, as has subsequently been shown, likewise covered over much of the complicated truth.)
Hamilton then responds to Friedberg’s verbalized draft of the cover story with an additional detail.
“What you could also say was that the tool was originally set for a 15-minute delay… [and] he hacked it to a real time. It was originally… ‘cos Annie Duke used it on a 15-minute delay. Quite a few times.”
The context of Duke’s use of the program is unclear, as Hamilton offers no other explanation for it. It appears his bringing up Duke’s use of the program (with a delay) is intended to introduce a detail that would help increase the believability of a story about Makar having “hacked” the program by changing it to work in real time rather than on a delay.
On the second-released recording made by Hamilton at another meeting, discussion of the Auditmonster is brought up once again, during which Friedberg (somewhat incredibly) says “I do forgive you, Russ” for his having cheated with the program. “I don’t blame you,” he adds, “because that tool that was given to you… basically no one would be able to not do what you did.”
It’s difficult to tell thanks to the imperfect audio, but Hamilton sounds as though he is expressing thanks in response. In any case, Friedberg moves on to try to sort out further an explanation for the existence of the hole-card viewing program as well as how that explanation could be made public.
“Initially the thing was justified as an audit tool,” says Friedberg. It is at that point Hamilton makes another reference to Duke and her access to the program.
“Annie Duke even had a copy of it with a five-minute delay,” says Hamilton.
Both references to Duke by Hamilton are ambiguous, with no further details of her alleged use of the AuditMonster program provided. The second reference that she “had a copy of it” implies the software to have been personally owned by Duke and perhaps used at her own discretion, although again the conversation continues without further reference to Duke.
It should additionally be noted that Hamilton is the only person on the recordings expressing anything about Duke’s knowledge or possession of the software. Furthermore, Hamilton is also the only one present with knowledge that the meetings were being recorded, and thus any of his contributions to the discussions must be considered accordingly.
Despite the ambiguity of these references, many on 2+2, Twitter, and elsewhere have reacted with a great deal of conjecture about possible uses of the program by Duke. On Saturday afternoon, Duke responded to such speculations by delivering three tweets in quick succession on her Twitter account which has been mostly dormant over recent months:
@AnnieDuke: This delayed viewing was made this public during those broadcasts and is standard practice for WSOP commentators for live events also. 5:44 PM – 11 May 13
@AnnieDuke: Sad a few folks making accusations and assumptions without fully appreciating this. 5:45 PM – 11 May 13
Duke’s terse response alludes to her having provided online audio commentary for tournaments at UltimateBet. Some remember how she and others did provide such commentary during the UltimateBet Online Championships (UBOC) the site regularly hosted. And for those with long memories, the allusion also recalled one other tournament for which Duke provided such commentary way back in January 2006, a $1 million guaranteed no-limit hold’em tourney with a $500 buy-in that drew 2,774 players and generated a prize pool of $1.387 million.
That tournament remained in some memories thanks to the fact that Joe Reitman, then Duke’s boyfriend, won the tournament and $266K first prize. At the time, Phil Hellmuth described the event in detail on his personal blog in a post titled “A Busy Day for Annie Duke.”
There Hellmuth provides a full account of the tournament, including references to Duke’s commentary, Reitman’s previous lack of poker experience, and Duke’s having staked him for 50% in the event. Such recollections predictably only further fueled the fire of speculation regarding the nature of the AuditMonster program and Duke’s knowledge and/or use of it.
It is difficult to confirm Duke’s claim that her “delayed viewing” of hole cards during her audio commentaries on UB tournaments was made public at the time. Indeed, even finding accounts of the tournaments themselves requires considerable digging, as the detailed reporting on online tournaments wasn’t nearly as prevalent six or seven years ago. However, her comparing the use of such a program for reporting on online tournaments to the viewing of hole cards — with a delay — for live events is more than a little misleading.
It is true that recent coverage of live events including the WSOP has frequently featured commentary aided by knowledge of hole cards. However, it wasn’t until January 2011 at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure where commentators were able to see hole cards and the tournament was broadcast on a one-hour delay that the practice became at all common. Since then such has indeed become “standard practice” with coverage of final tables on the World Poker Tour, the European Poker Tour, and at the World Series of Poker. While variations to how the coverage is handled exist, all tend to involve some sort of delay between the playing of hands and those hands being shown to the public (with hole cards).
However, when looking back to 2010 and before — i.e., the period of Duke’s association with UB — viewing of hole cards (on a delay or otherwise) was not “standard practice” in real time broadcasts of live tournaments. More pertinently, such has never been standard practice when it comes to live commentary of online tournaments. (Indeed, I cannot think of a single instance.)
Duke’s reference to the earlier audio commentaries on UB tournaments also recalls that Hellmuth participated in such broadcasts as well, frequently providing commentary for UBOC events. Such would suggest Hellmuth presumably also had the same delayed access to hole-card information Duke references in her tweet.
While it seems unlikely we’ll be hearing anything more from Hellmuth regarding the recordings (barring further developments), it is possible Duke may well come out with a fuller response to Hamilton’s statements than what she’s provided thus far over Twitter. If she does, one would expect further clarification from her regarding her knowledge and/or use of the hole-card viewing program.