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Is Online Poker Rigged?

There seems to be a constant debate on many blogs, sites and forums about the fairness of online poker. There are those who are convinced that online poker is rigged, that RNGs (Random Number Generators used for the shuffle algorithms) are fundamentally flawed, and that cheating and collusion is rife. On the other side of the argument you have those who insist that online poker is fair, and that those who complain are just bad players looking for an excuse.

So who is right? Is online poker really a fair game, and what impact does that have on us as players? Well, as so often when dealing with poker issues, the answer is not entirely black and white so let’s take a look at both sides of the argument so we can see the whole picture.

Random Number Generators

Speak with any programmer or computer scientist and they will tell you that computers simply cannot generate truly random numbers. So the argument goes that any software used to shuffle a deck of cards cannot be truly random. The question is, does this make a difference to the fairness of the game.

Well the fact is, that the RNGs used by the major poker sites are well programmed and refined. They have been constantly upgraded and improved over the years, and statistical analysis of hand histories show that the distribution of hands in online poker reflect the true statistical odds over a massive sample size (PokerStars alone has dealt over 50 billion hands to date!)

So does the fact that online shuffles are not truly random (from a scientific view) make any difference to the game? Well no, clearly if the range of hands showing up match the odds of those hands showing up over a massive sample size then the RNGs are doing their job just fine. Does that mean the software is not exploitable? Well probably not. A talented and dedicated individual could potentially use software to make predictions of deals and gain an edge, but then there are cheats in casinos too – that doesn’t mean that casino games are rigged!

Collusion

One of the things you’ll hear again and again about the possibility of online poker being unsafe is the possibility of collusion. The argument goes that collusion online is very easy, and difficult to detect since players could easily share hand histories, view each other’s screens, or chat on the phone while playing. Once again there is no denying that collusion in online games is possible, and in fact there have been a number of cases where players have been caught colluding and have been banned from certain sites.

Once again however, the fact that collusion is possible doesn’t mean that it’s something to worry about (not unless your a programmer for a poker site anyway!)

The fact is that while collusion is possible both online and offline, it’s actually easier to detect online. Software can very easily and accurately track which players are winning which hands against each other. All of the major sites use software to check for collusion, and it’s actually relatively easy to tell when two or more players are colluding, even if all they are doing is soft playing (not betting into each other).

The poker rooms will do everything they can to eliminate cheating

I’ve heard the argument in the past that some of the poker rooms might actually be involved in cheating themselves, but this argument simply doesn’t stand up to analysis. Online poker can be lucrative for a winning player, but is much more lucrative for the sites. Sites like Full Tilt Poker for example are multi-billion dollar companies, and they make their money from taking a rake – it doesn’t matter who wins or loses on their site, they always profit. So it makes sense for them to do everything within their power to keep people playing, and they know that people will only play if they trust the site.

If the major poker sites lost the confidence of their players, they would lose market share and eventually go bust. So it’s within their interest to ensure that security and fairness are top priorities, and they invest millions in developing their software, and policing the games. Add to that the huge amount of regulation and auditing in the industry, and you can see that there really is no chance that the major sites would be involved in cheating/rigging, or allowing their systems to be cheated – it just wouldn’t make business sense for them.

Conclusion

I just want to finish up by making a rather bold statement, and one that sounds illogical but is quite true – it really doesn’t matter if other players manage to cheat or not!

OK let me explain… If you are a solid player, winning on average say 5 BB per 100 at your usual stake, do you care if some other players are managing to cheat? Of course not. Let’s say you’re playing $0.50/1.00 6-max and playing 4 tables. That means you’re making around $20 an hour. Now you’re making that whether someone else is somehow managing to cheat the system or not, so what difference does it make to you? Can you do anything to stop them? No, you have to leave that up to the poker sites so don’t waste your time worrying about it – spend your time working on your own game so you can move up in stakes and start making $40 an hour!

“From a player’s perspective, it doesn’t matter if there is cheating or not!”

Similarly, if you’re a losing player dumping $50 a month while trying to learn the game, it really doesn’t matter if anyone else is cheating. One way or another you’re going to have to improve your game if you want to start winning, so that’s all you should be worrying about. Read some books, watch some videos, and practice, and leave any thoughts of rigging or cheating to the geeks working behind the scenes at the poker sites!


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1 Comment to Is Online Poker Rigged?

  1. Raymond's Gravatar Raymond
    October 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Great article that clearly makes the case that online cheating happens, but isn’t likely to adversely affect a competent player.


 
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