A poker feud nearly a decade and a half old, and with its roots in one of poker’s darkest episodes, reemerged into public view in recent days on the popular 2+2 forums. However, the controversial thread, started by 2+2’s former primary owner, Mason Malmuth, was quickly locked by 2+2’s new owners and administrators in an indication of 2+2’s new direction and approved conduct, one that may contrast sharply with Malmuth’s years at the site’s helm.
Malmuth and co-owner David Sklansky sold poker’s largest English-language forum in July to what was reported as a Russian investment group. The new owners announced the purchase of 2+2 while also promising some changes in how the forum was moderated. Malmuth also continued to post frequently on the site, including future plans regarding sales of 2+2 books, which have been one of the business’s largest continuing revenue streams.
One of Malmuth’s recent posts recently jarred the new owners’ plans for more openness. A thread Malmuth created on August 19, titled “Why Was Witteles Banned Four Times,” generated such intense criticism from other 2+2 posters that the thread was locked within 24 hours of its creation. The thread not only derailed itself in its attempts to castigate its target, former bracelet winner Todd Witteles, it also reopened deeply buried discussions connected to one of poker’s darkest episodes, the 2008 suicide of Brandi Hawbaker.
Thread ties back to Hawbaker suicide, alleged Sklansky threat
Malmuth’s continuing ire toward Witteles comes from Witteles’ work nearly 15 years ago on a “free speech” poker forum called NeverWinPoker. The forum’s original owners, Bryan Micon and Dustin “neverwin” Wolff, allowed users to skewer the censorious Malmuth, Sklansky, and 2+2 in any and every way possible, including posting altered and x-rated images of Malmuth and Sklansky. Those images and the publishing of other material damaging to Sklansky further enraged Malmuth, who tried various means to have the site shut down or have the offensive images removed. Witteles was at first a forum moderator, then later became a co-owner himself of an altered version of the NWP site called DonkDownPoker, and he received most of Malmuth’s rage.
That became the background for the tragic Hawbaker episode. The young Californian burst into the spotlight in 2007 with a couple of small cashes in Vegas tournaments. Her poker skills were unpolished, however, and she was approached by Sklansky to back her poker action and perhaps other matters as well.
Hawbaker brought the matter to NWP via a friend of Micon’s and Wolff’s, pro player Brandon Gerson. The passed-on info included Sklansky emails confirming his preferences for women much younger than himself, along with his propositions toward Hawbaker. The matter quickly turned acidic. In one email, later summarized in this NSFW PFA thread by Witteles, Sklansky allegedly told Hawbaker that she’d be “better off dead.” Just a few weeks later, Hawbaker — who had a troubled past — killed herself. She was just 26.
Malmuth reopened discussion of Sklansky’s proclivities
In reopening the very aged and dark can of worms, Malmuth tacitly confirmed some of Sklansky’s youthful preferences. That included a separate Sklansky relationship with a then-underaged girl.
Posting in the now-locked Witteles thread, Malmuth wrote, “All of us, including David, thought that she was older than she said she was. I agree that David should have done a better job of determining how old she actually was.” That and other statements triggered the complaints from other 2+2 posters that led the new owners to lock the thread, though it had not been fully deleted as of press time.
The thread’s mere existence was itself a surprise. For many years, all previous discussion of the unfortunate Sklansky-Hawbaker situation had been quickly deleted from 2+2, and in some cases the posters were banned as well. Malmuth’s ire toward Witteles also lingered behind Malmuth’s attempts to expand that censorship unto other sites, albeit unsuccessfully. Malmuth’s own decision to reopen the topic years later, but only by and for his own purposes, may have triggered the new owners’ decision to lock the thread. In doing so they’ve denied Malmuth, now the forum’s former owner, to continue operating under his own special rules.
Featured image source: “Conflict 3” by Flavio~ is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/