What Happened when PokerStars Servers Went Down - Was it a Hacking Attack?


Live Report on the PokerStars Server Failure

This is the sort of thing you see far more frequently with other poker sites - it doesn't usually happen to PokerStars.

PokerStars game servers go offline

PokerStars Servers Start Going Down

At some time just after 4:am ET on Tuesday 18th of November the PokerStars game servers started failing and players started getting 'sat out' of the games - cash, S&Gs, MTTs were all effected.

By about 4:40 am it appears so many players were sitting out that PokerStars shut down the game servers entirely.

During this time anyone who tried to restart their PokerStars software, or anyone who tried to log in for the first time since the problem began, received a message saying that the servers were offline for maintenance and that they would probably be back up within 30 minutes.

PokerStars Comes Back Online - Sort Of

At around 5 am ET the servers came back online, and although cash games resumed, all MTTs were frozen with a message in the chat window saying "Administrator: The tournament has been manually paused".

Official Announcement from PokerStars

Then at 5:37 am ET an official announcement from PokerStars was posted here on 2+2, saying that all MTTs that were running at the time of the problem will either be Rolled Forward or Rolled Back.

PokerStars MTTs Resume - And then Don't

PokerStars games manually paused

Suddenly at 6:14 am ET MTTs resumed, only to have them become paused by the Administrator again within 1 to 3 hands.

Anonymous PokerStars Hacking Rumors

Meanwhile during all this drama, rumors began circulating on poker forums that the PokerStars servers were under attack by hackers using the pseudonym "Anonymous". Although many people were claiming this rumor to be true, and that it was a response to the recent announcement by PokerStars that the rake would be going up, no one was able to provide any evidence other than to say it came from "underground sources" - they didn't specify whether PokerStars were actually being hacked or if they were being targeted by a DDOS Attack.

There is no confirmation of any PokerStars hacking rumor at the time I've written this.

Confusion Reins

Even after the official announcement had been posted on 2+2 about what was going to happen, which was in direct contradiction to what actually happened when the MTTs came back online briefly, the support staff were sending out the following emails which contradicted the 2+2 announcement:


Thank you for contacting PokerStars.

PokerStars has recently experienced some technical difficulties on the site. However, these issues have been resolved now and normal play has resumed.

We will be considering refunds for materially affected players. "Materially affected" means you missed a considerable number of hands and lost a significant portion of your chip stack due to blinds and antes. If you believe you were materially affected by this issue, please email us with the following subject line:

"REFUND: T#_________, $X+Y, User ID"

Where "________" is the Tournament ID, "X+Y" is the buy-in of the tournament, and "USERID" is your PokerStars User ID.

For example, "REFUND: T#123456780, $20 + 2, KidJoker"

For multiple tournament refund requests, please note additional tournaments in the text of your email. For example:

T#123456780, $20 + 2
T#123456781, $10 + 1,
T#123456782, $50 + 5

If you do not know the Tournament ID, you can find it in the PokerStars software using the playing audit feature. From the PokerStars Lobby screen, select:

'Requests -> Playing History Audit...'

Please also be aware that your refund request may take a few days to be processed.

We appreciate your patience and understanding.


Sam E
PokerStars Support Team

The procedure above should be unnecessary to get a refund according to the official announcement.

About the only thing that is quite clear is that there is a lot of confusion both within PokerStars and among the players themselves.

All New MTTs and Cash Games Now Working

You can now join MTTs and Cash Games on Pokerstars, however some SNGs are not yet working.

As for MTTs that were running before all these problems began, PokerStars have reiterated that the paused MTTs will either be Rolled Forward or Rolled Back after each one is manually reviewed.

It's currently 6:45 and players in the paused MTTs are still waiting to see what will happen.

Paused MTT Players Left Hanging

PokerStars tweet about their game servers going down

It's now after 7am ET and 2 hours after the tweet above, and PokerStars have still not addressed the issue of the paused MTTs. Given the long delay will mean some players will have left for work or gone to sleep, or otherwise are unable to continue, it's looking increasingly likely that all the frozen MTTs will be cancelled and either rolled back or forward.

It's Official - Paused MTTs Will Not Resume

PokerStars Chris on 2+2 has said, "No MTT paused as a result of our technical problems today will resume. All tournaments will be cancelled and rolled forward/back (evaluated on a case by case basis)."

He also confirmed that the paused games did briefly restart, "When the site went live again they automatically resumed and had to be manually paused. They won't be resumed now."

This will work out well for some, but it's bad news for people like me - I am sitting at 3 frozen MTTs in 4th, 4th, and 6th place.

I'll let you know more about what's happened when information comes to hand.

Players Will Be "Refunded"

MTT players in the frozen games are now seeing the following message in the chat box, "Administrator: This tournament will not be resuming, and it is safe to leave the table. Players will be refunded as soon as possible, although it could take up to 24 hours. PokerStars sincerely apologizes for the inconvenience."

It would have been nice for them to mention that at least an hour ago given that 'PokerStars Chris' had already said that would be the case.

I sincerely hope that by "refunded" they actually mean that funds will be allocated by not refunding players who had been knocked out before the problem began as this would be very unfair to players who were still in the game at the time.

I can see a reason why they would do this - some MTTs had guarantees and there will have been overlays, if they refund all players then they avoid paying out based on their guarantees - one of the tournies I was in had a 56% overlay.

It's now 8:48 am ET - I'll end my main coverage here for a while unless there are any major new developments.

Payouts Have Happened

Almost exactly 24 hours later I got the payouts from the 3 tables I was on - all were rolled forward.

While the guarantee wasn't included in the one which had an overlay, it appears they put some thought into it and based the payouts on stack sizes at a representative point in the game - not once some people were still connected and stealing blinds while others were locked out.

It must have been an enormous amount of work and I appreciate the way the staff have handled the payouts.

Now, all that's left to do is to find out what caused all this in the first place - I'll let you know if I find anything interesting.

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