PokerStars Returns $35k to Victim of High-Stakes Hacking

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This past Sunday, high-stakes online poker player Douglas Polk, otherwise known by his PokerStars and 2+2 forums username WCGRider, recounted a harrowing tale of deception, theft and retribution.

In a post on 2+2, Polk explained that his computer was recently compromised, allowing remote viewing of Polk’s hole cards during play.

That exploit – confirmed by PokerStars – allowed the unknown cheater to win some $35k from Polk.

PokerStars has refunded all but a few hundred dollars of the losses.

And Polk has identified a person he believes could be behind the scam.

How Douglas “WCGRider” Polk was Cheated Out of $35,000

The key points of Polk’s post are summarized below.

Polk meets Joshua Tyler

  • Joshua Tyler was introduced to Douglas by Daniel “Jungleman12” Cates. Cates is considered a controversial figure by some, primarily due to his connections to the infamous Girah Scandal. Cates does not appear to play anything but an incidental role in the events that follow.
  • Tyler stayed at Polk’s Las Vegas house on two separate occasions: the first around February of 2013 and the second in late March of 2013.
  • Immediately after Tyler’s first visit, Polk’s roommates began losing to unknown opponents under what they considered to be suspicious circumstances. Polk did not “feel very worried, oftentimes players go on large downswings and being that I hadn’t played poker in awhile, I hadn’t seen anything suspicious yet myself.”
  • Tyler’s second visit in March preceded a trip by Polk to Japan. Polk claims that “several bizarre situations occurred” during Tyler’s second stay, such as Tyler purposely staying in the house when Polk was out and entering Polk’s office.

Polk becomes victim of holecard hacking

  • While in Tokyo, Japan, Polk was playing on Stars when a “fish” (in Polk’s words) with the username Forbidden536 sat in with Polk at $5/$10 NL. And while Polk generally plays much higher than $5/$10, Forbidden536’s Sharkscope profile revealed that he was a micro-stakes Sit & Go grinder with limited ability. In other words, easy pickings.
  • After winning over $3,000, Forbidden536 used subtle manipulation tactics to coerce WCGRider into raising the stakes to $25/$50, and then to $50/$100. Despite his maniacal style of play, Forbidden536 knew exactly when to raise and when to fold. Folk cited a hand where he rivered Broadway, only to not get paid off by his hyper-aggressive opponent.
  • Fearing that his opponent could see his hole cards, Polk contacted PokerStars. At first the PokerStars representative told Polk not to get his hopes up, as “no foul play is found in the majority of cases.”

Given a large enough sample size, there is absolutely no way a known micro-stakes fish would be able to dominate one of the world’s best heads-up players at his own game. But that’s exactly what Forbidden536 did.

To confirm Polk’s aptitude for the game, I searched for his results in high-stakes cash games. They’re extremely favorable.

PokerStars confirms Polk’s suspicions, seizes & refunds $34,397.10

  • But a couple of weeks later Polk received an email indicating that his opponent could indeed see his hole cards, but the breach was not “a result of a hole in PokerStars’ security.”
  • The PokerStars email read in part: “We have determined that ‘Forbidden536’ violated the Terms of Service for using their PokerStars account during their play with you. We have reviewed the play with both player’s hole cards exposed. We are sure beyond any reasonable doubt that ‘Forbidden536’ was able to see your hole cards whilst they were playing against you.”
  • PokerStars refunded Polk the amount of $34,397.10, the remaining balance of the Forbidden536 account. To be clear, this amount was seized from the Forbidden536 account and returned to Polk; PokerStars did not pay this amount out of pocket. If no funds had remained in the account, Polk likely would have been out of luck.

Again, PokerStars stressed – and Polk appears to accept – that the security lapse was on Polk’s end and not an issue with the security at PokerStars.

Polk suspected a similar problem with his Full Tilt account after losing $11k to an unknown with similar play patterns, but Full Tilt security told Polk that “no foul play was found.”

Tyler only implicated by Polk

It’s important to note that Polk himself characterizes Tyler only as “one of the most likely suspects” and stops short of definitively stating that Tyler is to blame.

No third party has corroborated these assertions and no charges have been brought against Tyler.

Lingering Questions

Did Daniel Cates have any role in the scandal?

Nothing in Polk’s post – or anywhere else – offers any support for the theory that Cates had any involvement in the scandal.

Although Cates introduced Tyler to Polk, Tyler had befriended several other high stakes pros, Antonio Esfandiari included. It’s quite likely that Cates merely took a liking to Tyler and thought Polk would enjoy his company. Polk also indicated in the post that he and Cates had been friends since 2009.

Cates has made several posts in the TwoPlusTwo thread disavowing any connection to the matter save the initial introduction, saying in one: “I didnt vouch for Josh, i never said he was nice, certainly didnt say he was trustworthy, or any such thing. Doug could have decided not to invite him over or whatever, especially after the fees car incident. I had no influence whatsoever on this decision.”

Who is Joshua Tyler?

Not too much is known about Mr. Tyler outside of the anecdotes in the TwoPlusTwo thread. His name was previously connected with a controversy involving  Sam Trickett.

- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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