Todd Witteles uncovers workings of FTP-based fixed-limit 'poker bot' ring

online poker
Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: August 30, 2021 10:46 PDT

PokerFraudAlert forum owner Todd Witteles has seemingly unearthed a chapter of unknown online "poker bot" history, involving a large team of accused poker-bot accounts in high-stakes, heads-up fixed-limit hold'em online games during the mid- and late 2000s. Witteles' work, detailed in a new thread at PFA, explains the mystery behind multiple five-figure seizures by FTP involving multiple accounts.

Witteles, a fixed-limit hold'em WSOP bracelet winner himself, learned more of the story from one of the players whose funds were confiscated, Lary Kennedy. Kennedy, though, shared only pieces of the "botting" story. It took several more years for Witteles to learn more details, which he then summarized in several posts in his current PFA thread.

'Botting' ring did exist on multiple sites

Witteles's research revealed that a botting operation of sorts did exist on multiple sites during the years in question. The ring, according to Witteles, was created by Rob Reitzen, a veteran advantage gambler and a member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Reitzen became convinced that heads-up fixed-limit hold'em was solvable. He recruited an unidentified botmaker to work on the strategy aspects.

Reitzen's programmer didn't create a true "bot", however, meaning a software program that ran live and made every betting decision. Instead, the programmer created a series of 20 strategy charts covering virtually every situation. The charts were designed to fit over clock faces, and incorporated the position of each clock's second hand to randomize betting options. Reitzen may have borrowed the clock-face tactic from Andy Beal, who employed a similar strategy against "The Corporation," as detailed in Michael Craig's The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King.

Reitzen's next task was to recruit willing players. Kennedy became one of those players, she told Witteles back in 2009. But uncovering the larger story took another dozen years.

'Bothunter' Mike Thorpe crippled Reitzen's team

Things went swimmingly at first, with Reitzen's recruits grinding out steady profits on multiple sites. Then the UIGEA was passed in late 2006, and most of Reitzen's players were locked out of most of those sites. The major exception, according to Witteles, was Full Tilt Poker. FTP featured a robust fixed-limit hold'em cash-game community, and a few of Reitzen's best players congregated there.

However, their strategies were similar, and other fixed-limit hold'em pros soon noticed. One such player, Mike "MrGatorade" Thorpe, went on a bot-hunting mission, seeking to have all such accounts frozen and their bankrolls seized. Thorpe's efforts resulted in dozens of accounts being locked, including Kennedy's "pokergirl z" and "greggo777" accounts. Another Reitzen stable-member, Lisa Arnold, whose accounts included "BeatMe1" and "redgard1, also had those accounts seized.

Both Kennedy and Arnold took partial versions of their stories to the 2+2 forums, but the bans and seizures stayed. Kennedy even attempted to sue Full Tilt over the seizures on multiple occasions. In 2017, with Full Tilt itself just a memory, she sued the former owners of the site to recoup the tens of thousands seized from her accounts. To date, none of Kennedy's lawsuits have been successful.

Witteles' tale, though a lengthy read, confirms that poker bots infested fixed-limit heads-up online games for many years. The format itself is one of poker's simplest variants, and was therefore one of the first to be solved and exploited at an expert level. The PFA thread does a thorough job in explaining how that happened.

Featured image source: "Playing poker online: cards and chips on a laptop" by  verchmarco is licensed under  CC BY 2.0