Valeriu Coca, the Moldovan poker player at the center of alleged WSOP cheating scandal over the summer, has been cleared of wrongdoing by a joint investigation conducted by WSOP officials and the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Coca finished in fifth place in the $10k heads-up event at the beginning of June, knocking out several high-profile players on the way, many of whom were amazed by his apparently unnerving ability to read their play.
One of those players, Connor Drinian, said he felt he had been “super-used” by the unknown Moldovan.
In a statement released on its website this week, the WSOP declined to go into the details of the investigation, but it was clear that neither it nor the gaming regulator had found any evidence to incriminate Coca, who will now collect his $54,545 winnings.
“Once issues were brought to our attention, we immediately commenced an investigation and worked cooperatively with the Nevada Gaming Control Board,” said the WSOP statement. “The investigation that was performed has now been completed by all parties. At this time, the matter is considered closed and the 5th-place finisher in Event #10 will now have his funds released for payment.”
Coca beat Matt Marafioti, Pratyush Buddiga, Aaron Mermelstein, Drinian, and Byron Kaverman in the tournament, before ultimately losing out to Keith Lehr.
Each one of these players privately found his behavior, and his unerring ability to read their hands, suspicious, but it was only when they discussed the matter collectively that foul play was suspected.
“It’s really like he kind of read my soul,” Buddiga told PokerListings soon after the event. “Whenever I had a big hand, he would fold. Whenever there was a big card on the board, I felt like he really knew how to outplay me.”
“Thinking back, some of the mannerisms he had and some of the things he was doing just felt different.” Mermelstein said. “Like the way he would look through the glasses and he would do weird things with the cards.”
Coca’s unusual glasses helped fuel speculation that he was somehow tampering with the cards, using the glasses, perhaps, to pick-up ultraviolet marks or to magnify the deck through special lenses so he could see crimps in the cards.
It is not known whether the investigation had access to the glasses for analysis.
Meanwhile, a Czech poker player associate contacted Drinian, before he had voiced his suspicions publicly, to allege that Coca had been caught marking cards in Prague and was banned from many card rooms there.
Czech poker website pokerzive.cz has published an article two months earlier to this effect.
The WSOP took the players’ complaints seriously, but an immediate investigation yielded nothing and the larger investigation, during which the deck was presumably analyzed forensically, failed to find any evidence of cheating.