It’s been a whirlwind of late in the ultra-high-stakes poker world, where the allegations of cheating both live and online have been thick and woolly and the bad blood has quickly risen to the surface. There’s no deeper a bucket of said bad blood than between one of the world’s most accomplished players, Bryn Kenney, and one of his online horses, Martin Zamani, after Zamani publicly accused Kenney of several forms of online poker cheating at multiple sites, though most notably at GGPoker, where Kenney once served as a brand ambassador, and at partypoker.
Zamani’s accusations against Kenney have been deep, serious, and at certain times, outright bizarre, stretching into areas beyond the poker happenings itself. With regard to the poker, Zamani accused Kenney of running a large stable — of which Zamani himself was one member — and then using various members of that stable in many of the ways in which online poker players cheat, from collusion and ghosting to multi-accounting and much more. It also appears to involve a veritable shitload of illicit VPN-ing from the States onto international sites that officially don’t accept American players, but no one involved is talking much about that part of it.
The accusations have veered into the sensational as well. In one notable instance, Zamani described an extended episode of events involving a well-off older woman from Texas, Lauren Roberts, who Kenney befriended and seemingly taught some of poker’s finer points. But that’s not the story. Zamani described how Kenney arranged for Roberts to play online, purportedly on GGPoker, only to then sic his stable of horses (including Zamani) onto her, to take advantage of Roberts’ weaker game.
Roberts herself confirmed some of the details of the episode, and also posted on Twitter an exchange between she and Kenney where Kenney solicited investment into a rival site which he planned to create, to rival — as he claimed — GGPoker. This appears to have taken place as Kenney’s lucrative relationship with GGPoker came crashing down, and that’s a whole ‘nuther rabbit hole which this still-expanding rabbit hole has yet to explore. Here’s what Roberts posted on that matter:
A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks, and there’s a lot more ahead to be sure.
Zamani a less-than-ideal character witness, but allegations ring true
One of the problems with the whole scandal as it’s unfolding is that the “star witness,” so to speak, is Zamani, a player widely alleged to be almost perpetually under the influence of one substance or another. When Zamani appeared on Doug Polk’s podcast to first discuss the allegations that he’d posted on Twitter, he appeared, well, high as a kite, and admitted it a day or two later.
Oddly enough, I’d seen Zamani just a few weeks earlier, at a large poker tournament in Texas, and at the time, he appeared to me to be, well, high as a kite on that occasion, too. Add in the fact that Zamani has at least once instance of criminal conduct in his past, and as part of his accusations against Kenney, Sergi Reixach, and others, he admitted to a whole lot of cheating behavior himself. It makes him a lousy character witness.
The flip side of it all is that the poker world isn’t a court of law, and it always judges on the basis of the preponderance of evidence, rather than the absolute proof some people might wish was its standard. The evidence that Zamani has provided to date, largely in the form of text messages, has largely been backed up by others or been independent shown to be true. No specific allegation that is debunkable has, to the best of my knowledge, been thus debunked. That speaks to the preponderance aspect, and it’s one-sided against Kenney and the others Zamani has accused to date.
Just a day or two after Zamani made his Doug Polk podcast appearance, Reixach, a well-known Spanish pro, issued a statement in which he acknowledged the most specific instances of cheating (collusion and ghosting) as alleged by Zamani. Reixach also began what’s been the drumbeat of Kenney and his horses to date, and that’s to attack Zamani’s character.
Reixach even claimed that Zamani made “death threats” against him, though the text message Reixach posted showed Zamani typing, “Hope u die.” That’s really not a death threat, per se; it’s a death wish, a childish taunt. It does show, however, the depth of the enmity between Zamani and Reixach.
Kenney interview disappoints
Then came Kenney’s response to Zamani’s initial allegations, though during the interim, Reixach acknowledged the majority of the cheating that he and Zamani had participated in together. So would Kenney, officially the world’s leading all-time tournament earnings leader, acknowledge any wrongdoing?
Of course not. I’m in the way of knowing that Kenney had multiple options through which to make a statement or appear for the interview, or even to offer no comment at all… which perhaps wouldn’t have been his worst option. Instead, though, he chose to be interviewed by PokerNews’ Sarah Herring, and by Herring only. Herring is best known as one of PN’s video interviewers, and she’s very good in that role. She’s also a good friend of Kenney’s, and Kenney exploited that friendship to translate what could have been a chance for someone to really press Kenney on the allegations into an opportunity for him to filibuster all the questions that were softly, at times apologetically, tossed his way.
I’d had enough of it 15 minutes in, couldn’t watch it any longer, and had to step away. It was a tough spot for Herring to be sure, but as she admitted in a follow-up PN podcast, she’s a producer of content, not a news reporter. Add that to her friendship with Kenney, and it’s easy to see and say that she was the wrong person to do the interview. On the flip side, Kenney was never going to do an interview with anyone who would ask — and more importantly, keep pressing him — on the serious allegations.
For the record, I watched a few snippets from later in the interview as well, and in no way do I personally believe much of anything Kenney said. He translated every question into a verbal treatise on why he’s a great human being and quite possibly God’s gift to poker, all while bemoaning all the evil things that were being done to him. They hadn’t even gotten into the allegations specifically when Herring asked Kenney why he believed Zamani was doing this to him, as if Kenney was automatically being wronged. Such rot, to ask that question at that juncture.
Herring later defended her early questions as allowing Kenney to relax and warm up to the situation. It’s as if he was dealing with the stage fright a life-changing win might cause, like she was interviewing a poker newbie. But this wasn’t that at all; Kenney is very intelligent and camera-savvy. All she did was cede control of the interview to Kenney from the outset, and as a serious exercise, it was over before it began.
Zamani releases additional text exchanges
Kenney did take advantage of the situation to sling some personal mud back at Zamani, and for sure, Zamani is no one’s hero. Situations like this normally break into view when multiple bad people end up screwing each other over so many times that one of them finally goes broke or goes public oro otherwise tries to change the calculus. That’s what happened here.
It was no surprise to see Kenney use his energy to slam Zamani while talking his way around any admission to Zamani’s allegations. Yet the PN interview so angered Zamani that he sent an extensive trove of text messages to PN, which resulted in a follow-up piece by PN editors Chad Holloway and Jon Sofen. The lengthy follow-up feature really shows only a tiny percentage of the messages Zamani sent, but they appear to be authentic — PN verified them independently — and they very much show Kenney to be a liar, to relatively few observers’ shock.
Still, many many questions remain. Kenney is likely to be a poker pariah for decades, and if talk of a global blacklist ever turns into anything concrete, he’s likely to face future difficulties in plying his chosen trade. There’s also the whole GGPoker side of the situation. GG is officially “no comment” on the entire Kenney episode, though there’s certainly more story to be told.
Prior to the fall of 2020, Kenney was also one of GGPoker’s brand ambassadors, yet there was an abrupt parting of the ways. Whether Kenney was cheating others on GGPoker while also representing the site would make him a massive villain if true, yet Kenney, while dodging the allegations directly, insists that he wasn’t fired by GGPoker.
Yet Kenney may have also had an unusual affiliate deal with GGPoker, and that his “agency”, as described in chatter by Matt Berkey, Ben Wilinofsky and others, may have owed GGPoker $24 million when they parted ways. I don’t know if those allegations are true, but they are out there, and they’ll certainly be a part of the ongoing story.
Featured image source: GGPoker