Detecting Cheating at Poker


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So how do you know when you’re being cheated? It’s hard to tell because players, particularly those at the lower limits, play so much more loosely than poker players at higher limits. You may not be able to tell whether you’ve been cheated in one instance, but the house can help you out.

Detecting Cheating
Detecting Cheating

Relying on the House to Police the Players

The big advantage that online card rooms have in relation to brick-and-mortar rooms is that the poker server records every hand on the site, which means that the site’s administrators have access to everyone’s hand histories, know when players were at tables with other players, and can tell whether players log on from related Internet addresses. Armed with that information, the sites can use data mining techniques to determine whether a player’s actions are suffi ciently out of the ordinary to suspect them of collusion.

The PokerStars policy statement on two or more players colluding is typical of the industry’s stand on the issue:

Collusion is a form of cheating in which two or more players signal their holdings or otherwise form a cheating partnership to the detriment of the other players at the same table.

While on one hand it is easier to pass information between colluding players in online poker than it is in brick & mortar rooms, it is much more diffi cult to avoid eventual detection as the cards for all players can be examined after the play.

No matter how sophisticated the collusion is, it must involve a play of a hand that would not be played that way without collusion. Our detection methods will catch unusual play patterns and warn the security personnel, who will then make a thorough manual investigation. We will also investigate all players’ reports about suspected collusion.

If any player is found to be participating in any form of collusion, his or her account may be permanently closed.

The key phrase in the second paragraph is, of course, “eventual detection.” You can’t tell anything from isolated incidents because a single occurrence of a phenomenon doesn’t create a machine- or human-detectable pattern. If a team consists of 10 or more players who always play the same limits, only sit at tables with one other team member, and don’t repeat who they sit with for a few days, the patterns are far harder to detect.

And just in case you were thinking about cheating, remember that if you get caught your account can be permanently closed. As in all the money stays with the online casino in Costa Rica. Or Antigua. Or the Dominican Republic.

Detecting Cheating on Your Own

After you’ve played at a site for a while, you’ll probably start running into the same players, particularly if you consistently play at the same time of day. Here are a few characteristics you can watch out for:

✦ Same players always at the same table

✦ Same players always in the hand together

✦ Extremely aggressive two-way betting followed by a fold at the end

✦ Always/never chatting

✦ Chatting seems overly formulaic

If in doubt, report the hand to the site’s administrators along with the names of the players you think might have been colluding. The sites take this sort of thing very seriously and will examine everyone’s down cards and betting patterns to see if anything is amiss.


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