Monday, February 28, 2011

Just Conjecturin', Volume 29: Inside the Makar Email

It's been a busy couple of weeks dealing with the latest revelations emerging in the UltimateBet online cheating scandal, triggered by Travis Makar's cold-call into the Donkdown radio podcast over at Donkdown Poker. Makar and the DD staff have had several contacts since then, with Makar forwarding a somewhat redacted version of an e-mail he had obtained at some point, with the e-mail clearly showing how the "God Mode" cheating ability was set up and delivered to cheating participants. A DonkDown forum member ("dougmanct") quickly helped decipher an old version of the UB client software and uncovered a hidden resource entry which seems linked to the God Mode ability. That string was "SuperAllah7642". Although this entry was changed from time to time, it now seems as though we have an answer to where the nickname "God Mode" came from -- it was a programmer's inside joke.

But that's not the point of this Volume 29. Instead, let's take a look at the image of the e-mail that Makar forwarded to Bryan Micon, which Micon then posted in this thread:

You can click on that image to view a larger version.

Let's take a look at the blacked-out bits as we also absorb the meaning of the message, which confirms various allegations that updates to God Mode were sent out via e-mail whenever the client program itself was updated. Indeed, God Mode ability was hidden within the generally download-able version of the UB client software, which is probably less shocking than it might seem when one remembers that the tool's original purpose was as an internal auditing device -- complete with either a 30-second or two-minute delay (accounts differ) -- and a lot of people could have had cause to use it in its original form. The delay was later removed and the tool was converted to its notorious cheating purpose.

'Tis true: If anyone also had the right account name(s) and password(s), one could install and run God Mode from any computer where the UB client itself was already also installed.

About those blacked-out bits.... They are clearly the e-mail addresses and actual names associated with the God Mode cheating, all in addition to Russ Hamilton, according to Makar. We also see the tags "superuser1," "superuser2" and "Programmer," which Makar probably added in via MSPaint or similar when he blacked out the names.

Let's save the "Programmer" entry for a later date. (I don't know for sure who this is likely to be at this time, anyway.) But the other two superusers? That's a different story. And now is as good a time as any to move this investigation forward.

I have very strong reasons to believe that "superuser1" will turn out to be company founder Greg Pierson, and I will devote a very lengthy Volume 30 of this series to laying out the extensive circumstantial case that points to Pierson. It's a post I've delayed writing for quite some time, partly in hopes that a true smoking gun would emerge to buttress the many puzzle pieces I've already obtained. It's also a distasteful post, as it goes into motive for the entire UB cheating scandal getting started, something no outside investigator has yet adequately explained.

I suspect that the blacked-out filename will turn out to be something that can directly tied to Pierson as well, on the order of "G_Pierson.reg" or similar. I'm quite certain that at some point an unredacted version of the snapshot Makar sent to Micon will emerge, and we will all know for sure.

Makar and others among my sources have alleged that there were three or four primary cheaters, and if we add Pierson to Hamilton, that makes two. So what about the others, and that mysterious "superuser2"?

Here's where we can take a bit of a detour. I've mentioned before that I've been fortunate to receive credible info from a number of sources, more than a dozen at past count. I've received stuff from two or three anonymous tipsters as well, including the stuff about the brainwashdodo blackmail game that Paul Leggett was finally forced to acknowledge.

In the category of "Can I really give this any credibility?" came a brief e-mail exchange with another anonymous e-mailer, who shared his own hearsay with me a year ago. He wrote this, in part, in one of our e-mails. I should also add that this source did not come across as a kook, as a few other anonymous tipsters have, and I don't count those in my running totals. Still, anonymous tipsters are often like free advice; you get what you pay for.

But here's a snippet now worth revisiting:

"I have fairly reliable information that Mansour [Matloubi] cashed out his stake in UB for $60,000,000 well before the cheating scandal broke. I'll say just that I know a lot of the same people he does and have met him a few times - and was told this by a mutual friend."

We checked back and forth to determine exactly when he heard this, and the hearsay dated from July of 2008, precisely the same time frame when brainwashdodo was playing his semiprivate games, and also about the same time that the ownership entities behind some 56% of the outstanding Excapsa general stock were leaked as part of an internal power move.

However, there was a hitch, and it also brought up a nagging question I'd had about one of the stock numbers in those proxies, specifically Matloubi's. Those proxies showed him as an owner in July of 2008, but with only three million shares (about 1.5% of the total Excapsa stock), a number which then as now seemed abnormally low given Matloubi's prominence within the company. According to my sources, Matloubi was the day-to-day operational boss, the true "manager" of the online room.

So I went back to this unknown source who nonetheless seemed to be sharing a tale, suggesting that the $60 million cash out seemed too high given the generally accepted value of the company at the time, which was about $135 million. And the tipster agreed with that part of it, writing this:

"3 million shares out of 200,000,000 - so 1.5%. Looks like he dumped a large chunk of shares somewhere, he was one of the original founders. The 60mil figure may have been exaggerated, as 2nd and 3rd had numbers often are - though I guess that still leaves him as a minority owner of the site(s) at the time of the scandal.

"Just checked my emails and my friend said exactly this "Monsour sold off his stake a few years ago for $60 million" - and email was eerily in exactly July of 2008. 2004-2006 if he owned 30%+ it's not outside the realm of possibility that he got mid to high 8 figures. I wouldn't be superusing if I had that kind of money..."

Nor would I, but money does different things to different people. There were also a couple of other interesting swirls of smoke regarding Matloubi. One was the matter of Matloubi turning down an invite to the same 2009 WSOP Tournament of Champions freeroll that Russ Hamilton was essentially barred from appearing in, while Matloubi at the time was welcome to appear but chose not to, despite this being a televised freeroll with significant image value for its participants.

I was there, one of only two writers actively covering that event, and I asked about the Matloubi no-show. The reasons told to me for Matloubi's non-appearance seemed sketchy at the time, and they haven't improved in the duration. Also unexplained and occurring in the same timeframe was Matloubi leaving the United Kingdom and relocating to Thailand. There are a couple of other significant UB investors who are either from Thailand or have spent extended time there, but it was still something worth pondering... especially since this was in the same timeframe as the David Carruthers arrest and significant news explorations of the extradition pact between the US and UK, post-UIGEA, that seemed to open the door for UK citizens and residents to be seized and sent to the States.

There was not, however, an active smoking gun of evidence pointing at "Shah". Just a lot of smoke and haze, and now we have even more of it.

Let's go back to the blacked-out bits in the Makar e-mail. I've said before and I'll repeat it here that while Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth were prominent faces for the UB site, the evidence I've seen and the tales I've been told strongly indicate that neither Duke nor Hellmuth cheated. They didn't use God Mode, and that part of it seems clear. I bring this up because we can look at the blacked out name for "superuser2" and see that neither "Annie" nor "Phil" would fit in that spot, given the font (some form of Times Roman) and the approximate number of blacked-out letters. "Duke" is way too short and "Hellmuth" doesn't fit either, as one can easily see by this comparison of Makar's screengrab with some letters I've typed in using a slightly different version of Times Roman:

My version of Times Roman is slightly different, but "Hellmuth" clearly does not fit. "Greg" would be too short, but what about "Pierson"?

Nope, no good there, either. Now let's take a look at "Mansour" and remember again that my font version is just a hair different, as you can confirm by comparing the two instances of the lower-case "g". But this is scary close:

Beyond the size match, that could very well be an upper-case "M" peeking out from the start of the "superuser2" entry, and an "r" is one of the very few lower-case letters that could complete the name and still allow the proper leading and spacing for the following word, as it appears in Makar's e-mail. And a third point is that Makar's black-out of this name does not always go all the way up to the top of the presumed upper-case "M", and all the "short" letters in "Mansour" occur exactly where they would need to to make the black-out by Makar appear as it does. (Oddly enough, "Matloubi" is also a reasonable space-fit, but I think the middle tall "l" and concluding "i" cause issues.)

Yes, it's conjecture, not proof. It's also a bit of muckraking, and dear PRR hosts, just wait 'til Volume 30. I'm not nearly ready to indict Matloubi based on this stuff, but I will say that I had just about convinced myself that the UB cheating was masterminded by Hamilton and Pierson as the primary pair. I'm not sure as yet who could be the major fourth cheat, if there were indeed four, but I think I'm now willing to reconsider Matloubi as part of what might now seem a three-headed beast.

As always, time will tell. Motivations of those involved were destined to change over time, and the eventual revealing of the true story was always destined to happen, due to economic pressures if nothing else. I can't wait.


Anonymous said...

I have followed this entire series and would just like to say thank you for your diligent pursuit of this entire scandal. Someone needed to keep on it, because the scumbags need to be exposed, and you've done an amazing job. Keep it up!

Pretty disgusting people behind this whole thing...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Wow, serious MSPaint fail. Great work!

Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Subsequent references to "him" and "he" in email would further rule out A. Duke there, too.

Fascinating as always. And def. looking forward to that Vol. 30.

Bill said...

Are you sure that is the Philippines? Most websites claim he relocated from London to Bangkok. I know more than a few people who know him here (in Bangkok) and have offered to make an intro but I've never gotten around to it. I moved here in 2009 and I remember his name being brought up amongst poker players I know even before I moved here.

Haley said...

Good catch, Bill. Fixed. Late-night brain cramp to blame for that.

BB said...

Another great insight into this fascinating story.

I overlaid the same words on top of the screenshot in powerpoint and you can see "Mansour" fits almost perfectly. It was very difficiult to get an exact font match due to a slightly different kerning engine but I got as close as I could.

You can download the overlays here and try a few more suggestions (powerpoint needed):

You will also see that the it is very unlikely that "superuser1" begins with a g (greg) or a p (pierson) as both these letters have an descender which would be evident despite the redaction on the email.


Haley said...

I agree with regards to "g" or "p", But "G" and "P" are still in play. And the lack of tall letters in "ierson" also fits the thin black-out in the address up above. Rest assured this is far from the only circumstantial evidence pointing Pierson's way.

Haley said...

Note: One poster on a poker forum used a different process and noted that "Mansour" might be fractionally off, but the alternate spelling "Monsour" fits even better. Both spellings are in frequent use.

QuasiPro said...

More circumstantial evidence:

When the programmer says "then rename it to gm.txt or something like that," could "g" refer to Greg and the "m" refer to Mansour - since he's (allegedly) explaining how Greg can share his .reg file with Mansour?

I'm leaning toward believing Makar when he says that Russ isn't as guilty as we all think... but he's no angel. By everything I've read so far, I'm interpreting it as Russ was less involved in the actual cheating and more involved with the re-distribution of the ill-gotten gains for a cut (ie the money laundering), partially by getting as many of his friends as he could to create mule accounts (hence Makar's entire family involvement).

It was just easier to put Russ' face on the scandal after the leaked info on 2+2. I also believe that is basis of the discussion on those tapes that Makar allegedly has.

Anonymous said...

First of all, compliments on your blog in general and this series specifically.

I listened to the CardRunners interview last night and am about to whip on over to the DonkDown broadcast regarding it, but before I do I wanted to comment and get your reaction.

First of all, I'm a fan of CardRunners in terms of their instructional vids. But they absolutely and completely botched the Sebok interview. First of all, Sebok is a poker pro with very little inside information and absolutely no control of corporate matters. So he is really the wrong guy to to have to answer the tough questions, because he doesn't have any answers to give. That being said, they totally failed to hold his feet to the fire regarding why he failed is his pledge to get hand histories out to players or resolve anything else of any value to players.

He basically spent the entire interview whining that people don't believe what he says and puts the blame on Excapsa, and therefore he can't do anything. We feel so sorry for you, Joe. They handed you a turd and asked you to sling it for a few years til the stink wore off.

Hand histories. They're in Korea? They're tough to get from Korea? Oh, they're in Canada? They're really hard to get from Canada, too? Wow. Here's a thought. Why don't you move them to a location where you have direct access and control? Oh, right, right, I know. You can't answer that because you are just a media consultant. And the interviewers don't follow up on this line of questioning, either.

Look, lets say I own two cars. One I use to go back and forth to work every day. It's a good, reliable car and I park it in the carport out front. Okay. Now my second car is a little older, and I don't drive it very often, but just once in a while, so I park it in the garage, and only take it out when I need it. Okay, makes sense. Except the garage is on my own property and not in Korea! This is the information age, Joe. Data travels at the speed of light. There is no excuse not to have instant access to it. Move the data, convert it to a relational database, and publish it in its entirety. You want others to do that for you? There's no need. Put out there what you've got.

Now, I would have liked to see Joe answer questions about his conversation with Brad Booth. Brad said he lost $1.5mm to $2mm and received a refund of $250k. Joe, do you think that's fair? Joe, if you were Brad Booth, what would you do? Joe, what do you have to say to the Brad Booths out there?

Here's Joe's position as I understand it. Excapsa did bad things. We didn't do bad things, therefore we shouldn't have to pay for it. We already settled using money we got from Excapsa, and there is no more money to get from those bad guys, so there's nothing more we can do.

That's where you're wrong, Joe. UB can and should:

1) Publish the identity of the owners of Excapsa in full. Publish the full management tree as well. (Now do the same for Blanca so we can see the crossover.)

2) Provide a full history to all players so that they can determine the extent of their losses.

3) Apologize for another two years for not doing this in early 2009, when BO/Tokwiro first took over.

Haley said...

The CardRunners podcast is an exemplary example of crap fostered by people with good intentions but a lack of skill and critical judgment.

I was pressured to supply them with a couple of questions for Joe or Leggett, which they then proceeded to render useless by gutting them. The ability to get into an argument with a talking mouth such as Joe brings none of us any closer to real answers.

Podcasts are very rarely anything but a lot of bark and no bite. Add that one to the list.

Haley said...

By the way, I think the "gm" stands for God Mode, not Greg/Mansour, as asked in that earlier comment.

DCD said...

BWDD did say it was the 3 original owners,although in a more cryptic form.

Anonymous said...

What does it look like if you block out "Helmuth" instead of "Hellmuth"? If someone misspelled his name would it fit?

Haley said...

This letter didn't refer to Hellmuth. It was Mansour, 100% confirmed.