It has been a while since Viktor Blom lost more than $4 million in his online high-stakes poker “nosebleed” duel with Brian Hastings in December 2009. But this event still resounds, and not only because the record amount of money that was won/lost in a single session — a historical $500/$1000 Pot-Limit Omaha online battle! A lot of other issues related to this heads-up are still being discussed; including the problems of player’s ethics in terms of acceptable and unacceptable ways of playing high-stakes poker.
What Happened on December 8th, 2009
Even before Viktor Blom (aka Isildur1) started his duel with Brian Hastings, he had already created a crazy upswing and downswing story of online heads-up and multitabling. Competing against the best professionals in online poker, mysterious Swedish player Isildur1, whose identity was not disclosed to the public back then, lost and won millions, setting some all-time records. But his duel with Brian Hastings was a disaster: Isildur1 lost all that he had won in the previous sessions, and even more, went about $2 million into the red.
They played 2,858 hands of Pot Limit Omaha. The Swede lost $4.2 million, which is still the biggest loss in the history of online poker. However, later it turned out that Brian Hastings was “a kind of cheater:” he received advice from Cole South and Brian Townsend about the hands he played; and he bought a huge database of hand histories, which were previously played by Isildur1 and collected by Brian Townsend. In total, about 50’000 hands! The very fact that such a database had been collected was already a violation of the Terms of Service of Full Tilt Poker, let alone buying/selling such information in order to use it against a particular player…
How Did This Cheat Mode Influence the Game
Isildur1 had already played with Brian Hastings quite a bit, even before that duel. But he used to play a lot against the two other antiheroes of this story, Brian Townsend and Cole South. Later, Isildur1 admitted that the recent games against Townsend and South had left a clear impression that these two had gained an advantage over him — just as much as Brian Hastings would later have during the duel. As Isildur1 said, everything went wrong for him in this match, as if his opponent were crazy lucky; but later on, a discovery that there had been even more cheating explained the good “luck” of his opponent; at least partly!
The biggest pot of that day was $682,995, which was won by Hastings.
Brian Hastings 4♣7♦3♣6♣
Viktor Blom 10♠5♣A♦J♥
The pre-flop betting had inflated the pot to $18,000 only, and then we saw the flop of 4♦J♣5♠. Further betting and raising sessions on that flop brought it up to $114,000. The turn was 10♥ and Blom went all-in, hoping for his third pair. Brian Hastings called. The 7♠ on the river completed his straight and sent the pot to Hastings.
The luck was clearly on the side of Hastings on this particular hand. The two pair Isildur1 had flopped, which was usually a very strong hand at heads-up; but it didn’t work that time. After the turn, Isildur1 had 21 to 19 chances of winning, but the 7♠ on the river decided in Brian’s favor. Did cheating help him to get this particular pot? It is really difficult to say. It is only one out of the 2,858 hands his rival played in that session ended up turning into a bottomless pit for Isildur1.
It should also be noted that in 2009 Viktor Blom was in general not as good in Pot Limit Omaha as he was in No Limit Hold’em. Also, he was only 19 years old, and demonstrated a lack of self-discipline, perhaps overestimating his skills a little. But there is a little doubt that cheat mode his opponent(s) used was decisive. And as Hastings admitted, it was Townsend who must be given credit for this: he analyzed “tons of hands” and then constructed the ranges. Hasting also expressed his gratitude to Cole South for his contribution to his outstanding win.
Indeed, this kind of cheating must have had a huge impact, as there were actually three people playing against one, sharing their knowledge and constantly analyzing the database they had illegally collected; while all this time, their unfortunate opponent had no idea what they were doing. Given these circumstances, was Isildur1 supposed to get back at least some of the money he had lost this way?
Cole South denied his involvement in the hand histories exchange with Hastings and Townsend, as well as denying any part in developing a strategy against Isildur1 based on illegally collected hand history databases. However, he admitted that Townsend had bought some data from PokerTableRatings.com and subsequently used it for analysis.
Full Tilt “Red Pro” status was taken away from Brian Townsend for 30 days. In his blog, Townsend confirmed the purchase of 30,000 hand histories to add to the 20,000 histories he had already had. But he said he did not do anything else that was against the rules, and denied the fact that he had shared this database with his friends, insisting that he had only “discussed strategies” with them.
“Talking poker” is normal, and poker friends do quite often — that was his standpoint on this sensitive issue. But even if Townsend never sent his database to his friends, the matter surely does not end here: where is the line that separates “talking poker” from “cheating mode,” when you’re grouping 3 players against 1?