In response to concerns regarding Cole Keenan’s coaching services, the use of an outdated database of Brandon Brown’s poker hands, and datamining, Zenith Poker offers this statement to address these issues and reaffirm its commitment to transparency, integrity, and ethical standards. We acknowledge the possession and limited use of the outdated database and understand the ethical implications. The statement provides background information on the coaching relationship, an explanation of how the database was used, a clarification on the development of counter-strategies, and an overview of the arbitration process. Zenith Poker is committed to providing high-quality coaching services while maintaining transparency and ethical practices, and we appreciate the opportunity to address these concerns within the poker community.
Zenith Poker recognizes the concerns raised by our clients and the broader public regarding Cole Keenan’s (Cole) coaching services, the use of Brandon Brown’s 5631 hand HUNL database from 25 February 2020 to 26 February 2021, and the issue of datamining. We have prepared this statement to address these concerns, while reaffirming our commitment to transparency, integrity, and ethical standards in our coaching services.
Cole initially sought coaching services from Thomas Pinnock (Thomas) on a personal basis, after being recommended by Joshua Lessner (Josh), a previous client of ours. Thomas and Cole had no prior personal dealings. Thomas had also coached Josh in his HUNL battle against Doug Polk on ACR. At the time of engaging Thomas, Cole was unaware of Thomas’s prior coaching relationship with Brandon, his opponent in the HUNL challenge.
Thomas began coaching Cole around 5 February 2023. Although Thomas is a co-owner of Zenith Poker, the coaching sessions were initially conducted privately, with Cole paying Thomas directly. Subsequently, on 11 March 2023, Marcus, another Zenith Poker coach, joined the coaching team, appearing in some of the recorded sessions. By this time, 3372 hands of the challenge had already been played, with Cole leading by about 23 buy-ins.
Before the HUNL challenge commenced, Cole proposed a rule against datamining, which Brandon declined. Consequently, no rule prohibited datamining, allowing players to potentially use databases within the poker website’s terms of service. Cole provided evidence to the Arbitration Panel, including a screenshot of a deleted message from Brandon, acknowledging this issue. It is understood and accepted that datamining was allowed during the challenge.
The Database and Its Usage
Thomas possessed an outdated database of Brandon’s poker hands, containing 5,631 HUNL hands from 25 February 2020 to 26 February 2021. This database had been given freely to Thomas by Brandon during a previous coaching contract. Contrary to some reports, the database did not comprise 11,000 hands.
Zenith Poker has no intention of releasing the database to the public, as that would be unethical. However, simultaneously, it is impossible for the general public to verify the competing versions of facts without access. Importantly, Cole never received or had access to this database, but it is accepted that Thomas did. No confidentiality or non-disclosure clauses were included in Thomas’s coaching contract with Brandon.
While the database was outdated, it served specific purposes during Cole’s coaching sessions, primarily for:
- Identifying Brandon’s standard Raise First In and 3-bet sizings to run preflop simulations.
- Selecting raise sizes that Brandon did not use to level the playing field for Cole.
It is essential to note that this information would have been obtained during the first session, regardless of Thomas’s access to the database. The advantage gained was in having the simulations prepared before the first session, addressing preflop sizes Brandon did not use. The initial coaching sessions primarily focused on preflop play, and the outdated database was not used to develop postflop strategies.
Zenith Poker ran its preflop simulations for Cole using non-standard sizings. Brandon’s preflop sizes were relatively standard (2.5bb RFI, 10bb or 11bb 3-bet), so the outcome would have been the same even if Thomas had not accessed the database. No unfair advantage was obtained, as Brandon used normal 2.5bb openings, and the intention was always to adopt multiple sizings, such as limping, raising to 2.1bb and raising to 2.7bb. The use of multiple and varying RFI sizes is a common teaching method employed by Thomas and is part of Zenith Poker’s curriculum, which includes a mix of different raise sizings (RFI, 3-bet, 4-bet, and 5-bet sizings). This coaching approach was also evident in the heads-up battle between Josh Lessner and Doug Polk.
Clarification on Counter-Strategy
In a video recorded by Thomas and submitted to the arbitrators, Marcus mentioned that Thomas had created the perfect counter-strategy against Brandon. This comment, made in the excitement of Cole’s successful performance, was impulsive and lighthearted. Marcus later clarified in the video that the counter-strategy primarily involved using alternative RFI and 3-bet sizes to avoid common sizings, an approach that would be effective against most players. The counter-strategy preflop did take into account Brandon’s database in the manner outlined above.
In reality, a postflop counter-strategy began to be developed based on a sample of 3,372 hands played between Cole and Brandon during the challenge as at 11 March 2023, not the outdated database’s old hands. By the time those 3372 hands were played, all of Brandon’s preflop sizings were known. Further, Thomas had prepared Brandon’s frequencies over that 3372 hand sample (including his defending frequency against each opening size and his 3-bet, 4-bet, and 5-bet frequencies).
The postflop exploits that were developed based on hands played in the challenge, which could not have come from the outdated database, were observed to be statistically significant. The postflop exploits were conveyed to Cole in a coaching session on 27 March 2023. They included:
- Brandon overfolds on bet-bet-bet lines vs a river overbet.
- His turn probe frequency as too low and given this decreased 3-bet frequency preflop as the challenge went on, it was profitable to open any two cards due to Brandon’s low turn probe frequency percent.
- He overfolds to turn delayed c-bets, leading to Cole being able to open any two cards from the Small-Blind profitably.
- Brandon overfolds in the check-check-check line.
- Brandon does not c-bet the turn enough in a 2-bet pot as the small blind. This opened a counterplay for Cole to start donk betting turns at higher frequencies.
- Brandon overfolds to river donk bets.
- Brandon overfolds to river block bets.
During the arbitration process, it should be noted that neither Cole nor Zenith Poker were provided with the evidence upon which Brandon based his claims. Consequently, they were not given the opportunity to comment on his position paper or any statements made by other players. This lack of opportunity extended to addressing the statistical evidence that the arbitration panel relied upon, some of which appears to have been prepared by Jeremiah Williams.
The data provided was unclear and challenging to decipher. We were able to obtain an extract but did not receive any accompanying notes or explanations. There were references to a “prior sample freq,” which could possibly imply that Brandon had engaged in datamining. However, it is unclear which specific sample this refers to or over what time frame and number of hands it covers.
It is worth noting that Cole’s game evolved during the challenge, as he adopted new preflop strategies, including limping and using 2.1bb and 2.7bb openings. These changes would have significantly impacted his ranges going into the flop. Furthermore, Cole received coaching from Thomas throughout the challenge, which also contributed to the evolution of his game.
The evidence provided to Cole does not conclusively prove that Cole’s frequencies were exploiting Brandon. To make such a determination, an analysis of Brandon’s leaks would be necessary to ascertain if Cole’s adjustments genuinely exploited them. The arbitration panel seemed to be strongly influenced by the evidence of exploitation at the start of the challenge. However, it is concerning if their decision was based on incomplete or unclear information. Given that neither Zenith Poker nor Cole had access to the evidence presented and were not allowed to comment, it remains uncertain what the arbitrators relied upon in reaching their decision.
Zenith Poker acknowledges the possession and limited use of Brandon’s outdated poker hands database during Cole’s coaching sessions and understands the concerns related to datamining. We do not consider this to be cheating, as datamining was allowed. Cole did not breach any contract, and neither did Thomas. The argument is that the use of the database was ethically wrong. We acknowledge this may be the case; however, Zenith Poker was, perhaps regrettably, under the assumption that the use of the database would fall within the concept of datamining and therefore would be allowed under the rules of the challenge.
We remain committed to providing high-quality coaching services while maintaining transparency and adhering to ethical standards in our practices. In the interest of transparency, Zenith Poker plans to provide all videos of coaching sessions with Cole to the general public, demonstrating that no exploitative counter-strategy was developed prior to the commencement of the match. The outdated database of 5,631 hands would not have been a good basis for creating an exploitative postflop counter-strategy, given that Brandon’s game would likely have improved since then and that it was a very small sample. The postflop exploits were not developed until a few thousand hands into the challenge and relied on hands actually played.
We hope this statement addresses the concerns surrounding Cole’s coaching services, the use of the outdated database, and the datamining issue, while providing clarification and demonstrating Zenith Poker’s commitment to transparency and ethical practices. Zenith Poker thanks the poker community for bringing these concerns to light and for providing us the chance to address them. We will strive to continue earning the trust and confidence of our clients, partners, and the broader poker community. Together, we can work to ensure the integrity and growth of the game we all love.