Back in February, I had a very interesting experience while playing on PokerStars: I identified a case of collusion between two players!  At the conclusion of the incident, I exchanged the following messages with PokerStars Support:

CanuckMonkey: I was wondering if I could have your permission to quote portions of your reply in a future blog entry at my PokerSchoolOnline blog.

PokerStars: I can confirm that you may quote the information sent to you about this case.

Today, I will share the whole story with you, my good readers!

NOTE: All names and identifying details have been changed to protect the guilty. Also, I have changed all uses of my real name to use my screen name, but PokerStars used my real name in all communications (which I liked--a very personal touch, since my initial report came from the client and I did not use my real name at the end of that message, so they would have had to get it from the account information).

Here is the initial message I sent to PokerStars Support.  I used the "Contact Support / Upload Documents…" menu item in the "Help" menu in the PokerStars Lobby, and selected the category "Poker" and the Sub-Category "Card Room Policy". (There are a lot of sub-categories, so I wasn't sure which to use!)

I hope this is the right category for this, sorry if not.

Playing at a 0.01/0.02 NLHE ring game on table [Table Name Removed] around 16:00 ET Saturday Feb 16, two [Nationality Removed] players with almost identical names are playing at the same table-- "[SameNameX]" and "[SameName##]".  I haven't seen anything that would indicate collusion, just thought it was suspicious enough to be worth mentioning to support.

I then received this reply:

Hello [CanuckMonkey],

Thank you for your report.

The integrity of our games is of utmost importance to PokerStars, and we employ a large team of Poker Specialists who investigate all collusion reports received from our players.

We have forwarded your email to a Poker Specialist for review. They will undertake an extensive investigation into any relationship and past play between these players. Please allow them some time to research this issue as it may take several days if the case is particularly complex.

You will receive a response with the results of our investigation as soon as possible.

Please let us know if we can assist you further, and thanks for playing at PokerStars!


Daniel V.
PokerStars Support Team

I expected that would be the end of it; after all, I had based my report on a similarity of names and nothing more.  A week later, however, I received this message:

Hello [CanuckMonkey],

First allow me to apologize for the delay in responding to your report. This particular case was quite involved and more time than usual was required for the review.

We have concluded that the play of '[SameName##]' and '[SameNameX]' violated the integrity of our games.  It is not uncommon to find that players are not aware of the seriousness of such action in cash game play.  The overall review, which included requests for explanations from the players and consideration of all account information, led us to conclude that their action was not malicious.  Therefore they will be allowed to continue playing on the site.  That said, we did take action to see that they do not play at the same cash game table in the future, or in the same Sit & Go Tournaments for that matter.

In addition, we have 'rolled back' hands in which they won money unfairly and redistributed the funds to the players who were cheated.

Overall, you lost $1.98 to these players at the table that you might not have ordinarily lost if they had been playing fairly. I have credited this amount to your account, so that you will not have been financially disadvantaged by playing at the same table as them.

The integrity of the games at PokerStars is of paramount importance to us and we will not abide unfair play in our games.  We work hard to police our games to assure our players of a fair, secure place to play. In the rare cases where collusion has actually occurred, we make sure that any players affected are compensated appropriately. Your vigilance in noticing the situation and reporting your concerns are very much appreciated, please do not hesitate to report any future suspicious instances to us.

Thank you for your continued play here on PokerStars.  Please do not hesitate to let us know any time we can be of help.

PokerStars Game Integrity Team

So here are some of my thoughts on the whole situation:

1) I think that PokerStars handled the situation very reasonably.  Those who were wronged by the collusion were refunded their lost money, and those who colluded were investigated and dealt with, not by a harsh removal from the site, but by an enforced limitation on how they could play in future.

2) I was pleasantly surprised to have my money returned to me. I checked the history of the hands in my Hold'em Manager 2 database, and the $1.98 that was refunded to me represented all of the money I lost in ANY hand I played against EITHER of these two opponents, including a small blind I posted in a hand where one of the colluding players had already left the table! (Warning: not a praticularly interesting hand. Villain_4 was one of the colluders; the other had been in the seat to my right before leaving the table.) I thought this was very thorough and generous.

3) PokerStars Support was very encouraging, making it very clear that they appreciated my effort in reporting the situation and would ask me to do so again in future.  It is especially noteworthy that this encouraging response was present right from their first reply to me--when I had sent in a report based on similar names and nothing more, and PokerStars had not even started their review yet.

4) While the PokerStars Support staff apologized for the delay in handling the matter, I thought that a one week turnaround time for investigating and resolving a collusion inquiry was very reasonable.

I hope that by sharing this experience with my readers, you will be encouraged to submit reports if you ever encounter something suspicious. PokerStars Support staff are friendly and will very likely treat you well if you submit a report, so don't hesitate if something seems amiss!

In closing, I would like to give a shoutout to the PokerStars Support staff who worked on my case and gave me permission to share the story: Daniel V, Pierre A, Melania, and especially Brett, who apparently handled the investigation. You guys rock!

So there it is: a nice little story with a happy ending to wrap up the year. I wish you all the best, both on and off the tables, in 2014!

Until next time, good luck at the tables!

-- CanuckMonkey