(Author’s note: This story has been modified from its initial version as new information continues to come to light.)
The 2022 World Series of Poker’s $1,000 NLH Ladies Championship offered an intriguing side story during Wednesday’s Day 1 action after a player was caught bringing chips into the event that were slightly different than the official WSOP chips that were in play. The player, who remains publicly unidentified, was seen by at least one other player removing chips from her pocket and placing them onto a table following a break in the event.
Floor personnel were notified, and an investigation by the staffers and security determined that she had indeed introduced chips at least two likely-altered chips that matched in colors but had slightly different markings and labels than the correct chips in use. The player was temporarily removed from the event, though she was eventually allowed to continue, despite comments from a well-placed official that the player had been disqualified and trespassed. (This update corrects inaccurate information previously supplied to Poker.org.)
The WSOP does not disclose the identities of players who are banned or trespassed for significant violations, but noted that several such bans quietly take place over the stretch of any year’s WSOP, for a wide variety of misbehaviors. One issue plaguing the 2022 WSOP has been the seeming inconsistency in how penalties have been assessed against players for for various infringements, as commented on publicly by several noted players.
False rumors abound
In this case, however, news of the episode spread like wildfire, both throughout several dozens of tables of players in the Ladies Championship and then quickly onto social media. The visibility of the incident led to rampant sharing of what had transpired, though as it turned out, almost all of the stories were second- or third-hand rumors and almost all of them were wrong in one or more ways, including a version shared with Poker.org by the aforementioned high-placed official. Ebony Kenney, sitting at a table in the middle of the room, described it as the “Telephone Game,” where the story changes with each retelling from one person to the next.
For instance, many of the rumors claimed that the player had removed some of all of her chips from the table at the start of the break and then brought them back into play when play resumed. This could have been partly true, but only in the sense that any chips removed and returned might have been cover for the bogus chips that were introduced perhaps 20 minutes later.
Another widely-spread rumor claimed that the player had pocketed chips from Tuesday night’s Ladies Warmup event, then introduced them into the Ladies Championship. This rumor was entirely false. The Ladies Warmup used an entirely different chip set, while a photo purporting to be the actual chips taken from the cheating player was posted on social media by another player who claimed to be at the same table when the transgression was discovered.
This writer participated in both the Warmup and Championship events and can confirm that the inserted chips did not come from the Warmup tourney, which used an entirely different color scheme. Similarly, this writer can confirm that the photo of the chips that has appeared on social media shows some chips that were indeed from the set used in the event. The photo is presumably, though not guaranteed, to be an accurate depiction of both the real and falsely-introduced chips taken from the player in question. Poker.org makes no claim as to identity of the trespassed player, or that other social-media photos purporting to show her are indeed the player who was banned.
Hybrid chip set in use, at least two chips likely doctored
The public is also unlikely to learn the true origin of the incorrect chips the player inserted into the event, but one possible explanation stands out from the rest. The false chips were identical in primary color to the correct chips being used, but they had slightly different markings in the chips’ outer rings, which is one of the security measures pressed into each clay chip during manufacture as an anti-counterfeit measure.
There is even a chance that the two seemingly wrong chips were actually authentic and issued in the Ladies tourney, but then the player’s banning itself becomes more difficult to explain. Another unofficial report relayed to Poker.org asserts that four tables in the Ladies event began play with the pyramid-design yellows in the stacks, as explained below, but they were quickly removed from the action.
A photo of the player’s chips that’s circulated widely on social media since yesterday, republished here, shows only two possibly illicit chips — the two yellow 1,000-denom chips on the right. Of some interest is that WSOP employed a hybrid set for this event. The correct 1,000-denom chips used the five-spoke outer design, while the 5,000- and 500-denom chips used the outer design with the little pyramids. Why the spoked 1000’s were used is an unanswered question.
Given that the two false chips also appear to display a slight mismatch in the color of the center label, one lesser explanation is that at least those two chips, and perhaps others, were pilfered from another WSOP tourney, then had new center labels affixed. More likely, though, is that the chips are authentic as shown and were simply stolen from another event, though the apparent label background coloring mismatch is at the very least a curiosity. The player’s own clumsiness in attempting to ring in the chips led to her being caught and her chips being examined. It took WSOP staff some time to unravel the situation, though it eventually resulted in the ban and trespass instead of a DQ or chip forfeiture, the more normal penalties.
The episode is far from the worst poker incident involving doctored chips at a major event. That notorious honor almost certainly remains attached to Christian Lusardi, the poker cheat who purchased hundred of blank chips and inserted them into a Borgata Winter Poker event in January of 2015. Lusardi ordered hundreds of blank chips from an Alibaba vendor, then spray-painted them to almost match the Borgata tourney chips in use. Lusardi also used center labels that didn’t quite match, though the real giveaway was that the silver paint on his fake chips literally began to flake off during his opening day’s play.
Borgata staff did not determine until the following day that his flight-leading stack was largely fake, and his fraud wasn’t fully proven until his attempt to dispose of more fake chips by flushing them down the toilet in a nearby hotel room clogged the room’s plumbing. The Borgata ended up canceling the Winter Poker Open event in its final stages and installed a controversial payout arrangement to the tourney’s remaining players. Lusardi later went to prison on charges related to movie pirating and eventually served more than two years of a five-year sentence.