WSOP 2015: Controversy in WSOP $10k HU

I was speaking with a friend earlier this week, wondering how the poker world would react to a scandal like the one engulfing FIFA at the moment. Poker is, for the most part, scandal-free. Then I wake up to a 2+2 thread entitled: Allegations of Cheating in WSOP 10k HU”. The thread featured tweets from both Drinan and fellow pro Jason Mo, in which both players suggested foul-play during matches in the WSOP $10k HU event.  Further down the thread Drinan himself as well as Pratyush Buddiga offered their version of events.

Valeriu Coca in action during the FPS Main Event in Monte Carlo

The player suspected of cheating is a Moldovan player called Valeriu Coca. His Hendon Page shows numerous cashes in Cyprus, as well as a couple of FPS cashes in Monte Carlo earlier this year, including in the FPS Monaco Main Event, where he was chip-leader on Day 1A.

There is very little detail about hands and his matches due to the abysmal live coverage of the World Series this year, but here are the players that Coca was up against in the HU Championship:

Round 1 (143): Coca bt. Matt Marafioti

Round 2 (128): Coca bt. Pratyush Buddiga

Round 3 (64): Coca bt. Aaron Mermelstein

Round 4 (32): Coca bt. Connor Drinan

Round 5 (16): Coca bt. Byron Kaverman (Kaverman wins $26,490)

Round 6 (8): Charles Lehr bt. Coca (Coca wins $54,545)

According to Drinan before his match against Coca he had asked his close friend, and former opponent of Coca, Pratyush Buddiga for any “reads and whatnot.” According to Buddiga, Coca was “really slow and passive in the beginning,” before picking up the pace in terms of speed of play and aggression.

“[Buddiga] thought [Coca] was stalling in the beginning to give himself a better shot to win at a higher blind level. [Buddiga] said [Coca] would stall by rechecking his cards at a bunch of different angles when it was clear he made up his mind to fold already”

With this information in mind, Drinan went into his match against Coca in the round of 32, which was effectively the money bubble. He goes into more detail about situations in his post but the bottom line is that according to Drinan “”It was probably the most frustrating match of my life and I’ve played a ton of HU” and that after busting Drinan “Immediately messaged Prat saying [he] felt like something major was off with the match.”

For a player as experienced as Drinan to feel compelled to question the legitimacy of a match must surely mean the WSOP will have to investigate.

Initially Drinan said that he, along with other players beaten by Coca were “…trying to keep things quiet until we gave the WSOP adequate time to investigate the situation and come up with a solution,” but now that the poker public were aware of things, he said that he would clear things up.

After he busted Drinan messaged two of the other players Valeriu Coca beat; Matt Marafioti and Aaron Mermelstein and according to Drinan they confirmed that they “felt totally owned; couldn’t win a pot” and that the “thing he was doing with his cards was really weird.”

So how did he do it? Details are limited obviously but Drinan offered up some sort of suggestion: “Our speculation is that he was using some sort of invisible ink in combination with special sunglasses.”

Oh, did I forget to mention that Valeriu Coca has been banned from all major Prague poker rooms for cheating before? My apologies. This website (in Czech) details how Coca would bend the corners of specific cards, namely aces and kings, and then use that information to his advantage. If he couldn’t see the cards, he asked how many chips his opponent had, thus forcing the player to raise his arms. According to Prague Casino Ambassador Tony Felfel, Coca’s system was “not so advanced” and therefore made it very difficult to detect. Felfel estimated that in a month Coca made CZK 250-300,000 using this scam.

With that in mind I draw your attention to another thing Drinan said in his post: “It didn’t make sense that a guy grinding 300 euro MTTs in Eastern Europe, who has never played WSOP before, would come here for the $10k HU and be such a beast.”

“Damn, left my sunglasses in the Aston…”

Drinan said that “Our speculation is that he was using some sort of invisible ink in combination with special sunglasses.” It all sounds like something out of a Bond movie. One comment on the 2+2 thread even went as far as suggesting that he was using special contact lenses.

The plot thickens. Who knows what actually happened in the Rio? I’m sure we will find out eventually, but as for final words, I’ll leave them to Drinan:

“We haven’t heard much from WSOP since the match, but what little I have heard I would rather keep to myself for now, and allow WSOP time to finish the investigation and make their own statement.”

17.27 CET on 04/06/2015: – Official statement released by Seth Palansky for Caesars Interactive Entertainment, Inc 

“We take these types of allegations very seriously & an investigation began immediately upon learning them. It is ongoing. Preliminary testing of cards show no markings or use of any foreign solution. Further tests will be done to confirm initial.”

19.21 CET on 04/06/2015: – Official statement released by Jack Effel, World Series of Poker Tournament Director

“We are aware, monitoring very closely with all resources at our disposal. Those include surveillance/security, forensic examination of cards, etc. We take integrity very seriously, as evidenced by our lifetime bans, and would enjoy nothing more than catching a cheater in our midst.”