Friday, February 01, 2008

Online Poker Cheating Bots and Collusion Cheats

Online Poker Cheating

This article was written by someone supporting PokerStars as the safest online poker site. Obviously we have since learned that PokerStars is not the safest online poker room, but I thought this article was still insightful, and, much of what it says seems to support the findings in my 2006 book "Dirty Poker."

In my personal opinion, cheating is going to happen in online poker. Whether the cheating will actually by carried out by the actual poker site, is pretty hard to believe. An online poker site like Party Poker may have some problems, but I'm sure even they know that rigging the deck would be the absolute worst thing they could do to shoot themselves in the foot. There already exist a number of poker programs out there like Poker Tracker that are able to monitor hand histories on the poker sites with an incredible amount of detail. I'm sure some sophisticated players who have the capability have written their own poker tools for that matter.

What these programs can do, is create databases of games that occur on the poker site, which can then be statistically run through to look for inconsistencies. Although most players would never play enough to make a case for statistical deviance, professional players would definitely notice strange deviations in deck shuffles, draws and and other details with their trackers.

For instance, to hit a flush draw with two of your suit on the flop, the probability is about 35% from the flop to the river. In essence, the chance of the board having three to a suit fall is around 35%. Through tracking software, one can easily notice over 10,000 hands (what a professional probably plays in a month) any deviations in flushes. If flushes are falling 36% of the time, that's probably just a random blip. 37% and that's a big blip. If we get near 40% then there's definitely something to be looked into. Seeing how a pro player would have a database easily reaching into the hundreds of thousands of hands, they would definitely be able to judge the randomness of the deck (if they were technically able to run reports against their own data).

But so far, I haven't heard any reports of any bad deck dealing that has solid fact backing. That's not to say that there isn't, but the chances are unlikely.
Players Cheat with Bots and Collusion

The type of cheating that does go on falls into two categories of active cheating and passive cheating. Active cheating works just like it does in real life, where players work in teams to raise other players out of the pot or juice the pot for each other. This play manages to maximize value bets because both players are as far as money goes, playing as one. Fortunately, this style of play can usually be detected by the trained eye, although reporting this action usually will not result in anything. The poker sites usually have automated software that tries to interpret if you are engaged in this type of betting. I would imagine it tries to find if you are raising weak hands when you normally don't or if you constantly do better when playing with a certain player, etc. People are caught using these methods, just so you know.

Passive cheating is generally harder to catch and is also known as collusion. This is when players share their cards with one another to help them make better choices when it comes to odds. For the most part, this cheating is normally not very beneficial to the cheaters to begin with except in few situations where the information may actually help. With more than 2 players in on it however, it may become a problem with 4 players are all sharing information. This is difficult to catch because in this scenario, cheaters will fold their hand when they realize another one of theirs has a stronger hand. Since you can't see mucked cards online, it's impossible to know if people are folding monsters. However, the poker site may or may not be able to detect this type of play. For instance, if a flop showed A/K/2 and cheater #1 held KK while cheater #2 held AK, if cheater #2 folded to a bet from cheater #1, there should (one would hope) be some warning bells raised from the server end.

Lastly, there have been inquiries about the possibility of cheat software or ways to view your opponent's cards. Obviously these inquiries are usually made by players who want to cheat instead of the worried players. Coming from a computer background, I have a good knowledge of how most software applications are written and how server software operates. My assumption would be that Party Poker only sends to your computer data about the board and your hand. Only at showdown does it actually send data about other players to your computer. Sending the data for each player would be a completely insane approach in terms of security- and any good programmer would know not to write a server in this fashion. You can say your computer is on a "need to know basis" when it comes to poker data. Because of this, there is no feasible way to cheat because you are only limited to the amount of data you have on your computer. There is also close to a zero percent chance of being able to send data to online poker servers that would have you magically win a hand or get cards of your choosing. It would take deliberate coding on the part of the online sites to have this happen- and again, it would not be in their best interests (or so we hope).
Final Thoughts on Online Poker Cheating

So, should you worry about cheating? Probably not as much as you might think. At the higher limits, there may be more chance of passive and even active cheating, but by that point, you should know that if you're losing at a table- it's time to go. Don't fret too much over what you cannot control.

Again, if you still absolutely think that whatever site you are going to is cheating you out of your money, do yourself a favor and leave that site! I still recommend PokerStars if you insist on playing at the site with the most integrity.