In the spring of 2000 Russ Hamilton coached Wayne Newton to a “tie” in a heads-up No Limit Hold’em duel that became part of GQ reporter Elizabeth Gilbert’s published story, “Chicks with Decks”— later that year. James McManus, the author of the poker classicPositively Fifth Street adopted the title as the heading for his chapter on women in poker. The catchy title fit the gutsy ladies profiled in Positively Fifth Street and Liz, far better than it fit me, as her poker coach and Hamilton’s opposite in the heads-up match.
The unrehearsed real money $1,000 buy-in battle between Liz and Wayne turned hilariously bizarre in their final hand—under the bright lights of the “fabulously fading” Stardust Hotel. A posse of hotel security officers had surrounded the roped off area, separating Wayne from his fans, until a member of his entourage entered the arena to announce “Just one more hand,” Wayne’s show must go on! Russ was not so happy with Liz’ antics in the last deal.
Russ quietly calls out his opponent for compromising results
The crowd leapt to its collective feet learning that Liz had decided, on her own, to shove all of her chips into the center of the table. Russ nudged Wayne to call. Wayne then pushed all of his chips to the center of the table, too—co-mingling his bigger stack with Liz’s somewhat smaller one.
Liz and Wayne turned up their cards; each revealing a jack-seven off-suit. Almost in unison they jumped up, congratulating each other, both declaring a tie. The casino dutifully returned to each the original buy-in. Russ rolled his eyes at me and whispered disdainfully that Liz had engaged in foul play. I was still recovering from her all-in move against my advice.
A tie was an unfathomable outcome for any real poker player, and Liz acknowledged its folly in her story. But it was a humorous scene in her tale of our poker exploits across the country and personally hurtful to no one –except apparently the beefy poker champion.
Russ’ eyes reflected an obvious prick of his outside ego-free armor. Yes, Russ seemed genuinely indignant at the possibility he was cheated—if only of credit of coaching Newton to a win. Recalling this prior chain of events, when I heard that Hamilton had been definitively fingered as a mastermind of the Ultimate Bet cheating scandal, I shuddered at my apparent misread of the man.
The birth of Scott Bell’s documentry
Ultimate Beat, is a documentary created by businessman/poker player Scott Bell, a player and reportedly a victim of cheating in UB’s poker room. Bell paints a riveting picture of Hamilton as the mastermind, and his confederates as masterful actors in furthering the art of deceit at the UB site. But the documentary maker shines his laser beam equally on Greg Pierson, depicting him as the Company’s scruple-free senior manager who orchestrated efforts to make minimal player refunds – once the cheating operations were fully cracked.
Bell began his research for the documentary after his own small business went belly up and his poker bankroll had been decimated. His movie peels part of the onion down to the core and should fascinate any online poker player who knows too little about data –mining which is critical to investigate online cheating, effectivley. The Ultimate Beat story also serves as proof positive that unregulated gambling is inherently dangerous and that concrete consumer protection is vital; the poker community and casinos are in general accord on this point, be it state or federal regulation under discussion. .
Ultimate Beat: Raison d’Etre
The producers of Ultimate Beat have issued a press statement prior to the release of the film today, saying, “The story tracks an intersection of old school hustlers and technology during the ‘poker boom’. After successfully launching a popular site, a group of insiders used software access to defraud players over a period of years without detection. When discovered, they went to great lengths to cover-up the crimes in order to repay less than the amount stolen.”
The movie is less overtly focused on portraying Hamilton as a despicable scoundrel than on the escalating corruption and cover up efforts to avoid accountability of the site. Bell lays out a dizzying number of moving parts that contributed to the Company’s success in taking down rich and poor, pros and unknowns who frequented the UB site–for untold millions of dollars. Eventually the site coughed up approximately 20 million but the true numbers are rumored to have exceeded more than 50 million dollars stolen from players over the years.
Bell’s Prodigious Effort
Bell has quite obviously put in plenty of blood, sweat and tears in research and development of his project. By his own admission he has already profited from his labor —in a personal catharsis. And his work is a service to the poker industry, to the extent that he gets his facts accurately and completely—and therein lies the rub in this documentary. Bell cannot and does not tell the complete story; indeed he mentions that one of the leading sources in the film suggested, “The whole story will come out, “over the next year.
For the time being, Bell often allows the reader to fill in blanks and assess the implications of some of his less than fully fleshed out topics, sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse. Bell’s apparent frustration with targets who declined to cooperate did not disrupt his efforts to report on data available through others.
Dangers of Imperfect Information
I was first in touch with Bell a few months ago on behalf of a client, a well-known poker personality and a longtime friend. Eolis International was consulted concerning Bell’s reported suspicions as to transactions associated with this player’s account. Our client was concerned that while the suspicions were absolutely unwarranted in fact, Bell might tar him because of a lack of a full understanding of the transactions he was reviewing . Bell seemed perplexed and skeptical even after our client agreed to speak to him. But the target was forthcoming in their conversation (I was present) which ended with Bell also getting satisfaction that he was taken seriously. It showed in the way Bell presented the material concerning our client, suggesting he was probably a victim.
In contrast, Tom McEvoy, who declined to speak to Bell for the documentary was implicated in the movie as a rogue consultant, hired by Hamilton to prepare a whitewashed report supporting obvious cheaters as legitimate players, including Nio Nio who has since been identified as Hamilton. In the movie it is revealed that McEvoy’s report never saw the day of light which creates further question as to McEvoy’s role. In our conversation. Bell explained that McEvoy was not a subject of substantial interest to him.
Tom McEvoy is widely regarded in the poker world as a man of unflinching integrity. Yesterday In an exclusive interview Tom discussed his role and his report as the undisclosed “third party ” investigator brought in by Hamilton to review hand histories and to offer his view as to the legitimacy of two player accounts. Notably one of those accounts was in the name of Nio Nio, Bell got correctly that McEvoy was paid $50,000 for his assignment. McEvoy is unequivocal in stating that accepted the assignment and payment for it based on a request for an objective review of hand histories and a straight-up report as to his conclusions.
McEvoy Puts Facts in Place
McEvoy sent me a copy of the written report he provided to Hamilton, noting that he explained to Hamilton his findings after reviewing thousands of hand histories; the two players he evaluated had to have cheated. He goes on to explain that upon hearing a summary of the report, “Russ offered me a couple hundred thousand dollars of additional work if I could see my way to stating that NioNio and other accounts he was prepared to have me review, “appear to be entirely legitimate players.”
Finally, McEvoy makes clear that he rejected Hamilton’s second proposal flatly. He will be installed in the World Series of Poker Hall of Fame on November 3rd. Congratulations to him are pouring in from around the country. He has asked me to speak about him at a dinner in his honor; I consider it a privilege.
Remembering Russ in Better Days
Hamilton’s picture no longer hangs on the walls alongside the other WSOP champions, and so it should be. I prefer to remember Russ as the congenial host of the Russ Hamilton High Stakes Golf Invitational that is referenced in a flash across the screen in Bell’s movie. The tournament took place back in 2000, the same year Russ coached Wayne Newton in a heads up match with the now famous Elizabeth Gilbert–the author and screenplay writer of Eat Pray Love. Back then, Hamilton talked the talk about integrity in a poker game and chatted me up about loft plans for the best run online poker site.
The tournament and side festivities were a blast Russ wined and dined my guest Dick Atkins a documentary film maker contemplating a feature starring golf and poker while I hunkered down in the final night’s No Limit Hold’em Tournament. The poker tournament was more like a party than a tournament, but I was serious against every final tablist which included Hellmuth, Negreanu, and Flack among the bold faced-pros in attendance. It was a winner take all tourney and I became the proud winner—of a poker cruise—valued at $1800!
Of course the side bets were the real action that got attention. Hamilton and Hellmuth cheerfully made a side bet on me, and I joined them in betting on myself. I made more than a few more dollars on my side bet In Bell’s film a graphic duplicates Phil Hellmuth’s story of the Hamilton Invitational for CardPlayer with a headline Wendeen Wins. After seeing the film, I counted my blessings; I was not one of the players cheated. I never won at the site either. By an accident of fate I never made a bet on UB.
Media gets heads up on Ultimate4 Beat
Last weekend, several players and members of the media were invited to a sneak preview of the film. I accepted the invitaiton but was not able to attend. A work assignment came ahead of my poker travel plans. The Las Vegas screening came a bit before Bell finalized the piece for its public release. I am grateful to Scott Bell for allowing me a remote private screening yesterday and the opportunity of an interview, after it.