Are Criminals Increasingly Targeting High Stakes Poker Players?

hacker-300x200The 2+2 poker forum has been abuzz with the story that Jens “Jeans” Kyllonen –and what seems to be a growing list of other players–had his hotel room broken into and his laptop tampered with, and while this is an outrageous crime and has serious implications for the safety and security of poker players at major events, it also begs the larger question of why does this kind of stuff repeatedly keep happening to poker players?

The simple answer is of course quite… I guess the appropriate word would be, simple: There is a lot of money at stake, and poker players are high-value targets.

But, there are plenty of other “high-value” targets in other industries who don’t seem to have the same target on their backs as poker players, so there must be more to it than “follow the money,” although I would posit that this is the #1 reason scammers and thieves are initially drawn to them. In this column I’ll try to map out some of the reasons poker players are increasingly being targeted and why criminals are finding them to be easy marks.

*I’m not saying crime against poker players is endemic, but it has been seemingly on the rise in recent years and should be a cause of concern.

I Beat High-Stakes Games So I’m Smarter Than You

You see this attitude all the time on the poker forums, where people equate general intelligence with the level of poker someone can beat –a recent example was Daniel Cates brush-off of a serious accusation because, to paraphrase Cates, “he didn’t know who the poster was, or if they were a member of the high-stakes poker community,” ergo, they were an idiot and their comments were not worth considering.

Unfortunately, I think this mentality is very widespread and has become increasingly pervasive among young high-stakes players. As a former teenager and twenty-something –who is now in my mid/late thirties– I understand how silly some of the statements/ideas/rationale of my youth must have sounded, and it wasn’t until I hit my thirties that I realized there was quite a bit that I didn’t know about life and the world. I can only imagine how strong my convictions would have been had I been as successful as some of these high-stake poker players.

I don’t want to go so far as calling it a superiority complex, but some poker players could definitely use a slice of humble pie followed by a tall glass of humility.

This mentality leads them to think that they are smarter than everyone else, and nobody will get the drop on them –how could they? They beat the nosebleeds for “Mirrions!”

Well, truth be told, it doesn’t matter how smart you are if you are out of your element, and unless you are a criminal yourself you’re likely way behind the curve on protecting yourself from them. Cons are constantly evolving and the only way to protect yourself is through vigilance and caution.

Take Security for Granted

This latest saga in the world of high-stakes poker is a clear indication that there is something incredibly broken with security in high-stakes poker and that it is not being taken seriously by enough players.

Poker players need to stop thinking solely in terms of their on-the-table-skill and start paying attention to their entire “company” — because being a successful poker player is quite a lot like running a successful business operation.

For example, it doesn’t matter if you make the best roast beef sandwich in the world if you have it priced too-high or too low, or if you hire thieving employees. So by the same token, it doesn’t matter if you are the best poker player in the world if you can’t protect what you win.

In the old days players were forced to protect themselves –not just from cheats but sometimes from robbers with guns. While this hasn’t been the case for decades, it wasn’t that long ago (pre-internet) that players who spent their formative years as gamblers or spent time in that subculture were groomed to be streetwise. They were all either victimized or mentored to be “street-smart” and learned early on in their careers how to spot a con and protect themselves.

In the modern poker world players no longer grow up in a world full of con-men. They are –for the most part—protected by the Internet, and lead a very sheltered existence. So, what happens when they do encounter these unsavory types? The Naiveté can be absolutely astounding as a quick Google search of “Poker+Hacking” or “Poker+Scam” will show. So many times I’ve come across stories of people sending thousands of dollars to complete unknowns, or simply not realizing their surroundings and getting robbed, beaten, and so on.

This is besides the regular level of scamming and scandals that takes place every day that goes relatively unnoticed; from stakes gone bad, to “I’m selling my FPP’s” scams. There isn’t a day that the forums aren’t hit with threads detailing petty scams.

If you’re in the mood for a massive reality slap, go back to the Super-User scandals and look at how naive the entire community was to the possibility of insider cheating. Accuse a site of cheating pre 2006 and you’d be laughed off the forum because Internet players couldn’t see insider cheating as “+EV” while more grizzled players were well aware that +EV is only one reason people lie, cheat, and steal.

Anonymity Has Its Advantages

This next point goes along with the previous header of security.

Getting your face on TV may have won you a sponsorship deal, or gained you 20,000 Twitter followers, but it also made you recognizable to every criminal from pickpockets to organized crime syndicates.

Take the Jens Kyllonen situation detailed in the opening: How hard is it for someone to recognize him at the hotel (or any other high-profile poker player) and see what room they are staying in?

It’s not as if it’s a trade secret that poker players tend to carry more cash than the average person, and that they tend to be young (with varying levels of naiveté), travelling to far-flung destinations alone or in a small group, and with some notable exceptions don’t generally have a strong, intimidating, air about them. They also tend to tweet or blog their entire lives making it pretty easy to keep tabs on them if one wanted to.

Stop Seeking “Poker Justice”

Every time I see someone on a forum tell someone else who has been the victim of an honest to goodness crime something like, “lol, what can the police do! You got hacked playing poker, the police won’t care,” it drives me absolutely bananas.

An example of this was the recent debacle between Vladimir Geshkenbein and his backers where people were actually arguing that Geshkenbein was within his rights to void the contract (agreed to publicly with a written record online) whenever he wanted to for any reason, and his penalty would be a hit to his reputation.

While I realize nobody is going to take him to court for a couple hundred, or even a couple thousand dollars; what if he had won the Main Event and a backer had not agreed to his “buyout” offer? This person would be well within their rights to sue him, even if the majority of posters on NVG think poker stakes are not “real” contracts.

This notion that there is real world justice, and then there is poker justice is asinine. Until we as a community stop trying to live by some eccentric version of a “poker code” we are going to continually find ourselves victimized. It’s as if poker players are turning themselves into illegal immigrants in a foreign land with no recourse to go to the authorities if they are victimized. This is not Hell’s Kitchen at the turn of the 20th century. POKER IS NOT ILLEGAL! If you have been the victim of a crime go to the police if it is warranted, or talk to a lawyer.


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