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Is Online Poker Rigged ?:

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Is Online Poker Rigged or not ?

Is Online Poker Rigged ? (Part 1)

While many poker players display some kind of blind trust toward online poker rooms, many others are more skeptical and wonder if, by chance, it could be possible that maybe the game could be at least partly rigged in some way...

We are going to have a wide look at this topic and will try to answer that very question: In the end, is online poker rigged or not ?

Let's put an end to some popular beliefs :

Not all people wondering about rigging are "fishes".
Many "break even" players or even winning, experienced players wonder too.

Several winning players, after too many surprising bad beats or too many bad beats happening in specific circumstances, end up wondering if what's happening to us is only a matter of randomness...

Are they right ? Let's try to find out!

Why would poker rooms rig their games ?

This is, of course, the first question one should ask : why? Is there a reasonable motive?

And the answer to that question is a clear yes, of course!

However, there is one thing that some people tend to believe and that can be proved wrong: no, poker rooms are not taking all the money from casual poker players to give it to professionnal players. A room would gain nothing from such a rig.

There is, however, another motive.

Let's imagine two poker players, that we are going to call Flush and Straight. These two players just subscribed to a poker room such as PartyPoker or PokerStars. Both cashed in $100 USD.

Now let's imagine these two players decide to play heads-up, with $10 SNG, including a rake at $1.

That means both player "bet" $10 and both lose $1, which'll be the room's share. In the end, the winner will get back his own $9 left by the room, plus the $9 of the other player. Which makes a total winning of $18.

This is a ficticious example, but this'll help you understand better how poker rooms win money.

First Hypothesis

In this hypothesis, Flush wins every tournament, and Straight loses all of them.

In this case, after 10 tournaments, Straight is broke, Flush won $80 (which means he can cashout $180 in total), and the room won $20 thanks to the rake.

Straight will most likely stop playing after losing so much in so little time, and Flush may cashout.

Alternative Hypothesis

Now what if Flush and Straight each win a tournament, one after the other? They take turn winning at each tournament. Let's find out what happens. In this example, we'll say Flush wins first, then Straight.

How will their bankroll go? How much will the room win thanks to the rake?

Beginning : Straight 100$ / Flush 100$ / Rake 0$
Tournament 1 : Straight 108$ / Flush 90$ / Rake 2$
Tournament 2 : Straight 98$ / Flush 98$ / Rake 4$
Tournament 3 : Straight 106$ / Flush 88$ / Rake 6$
Tournament 4 : Straight 96$ / Flush 96$ / Rake 8$
Tournament 5 : Straight 104$ / Flush 86$ / Rake 10$
...
Tournament 20 : Straight 80$ / Flush 80$ / Rake 40$

After 20 tournaments, the room already won $40. Twice as much as in the first hypothesis.
Little by little, slowly, both players account are emptying, while the room account is growing.

Now what happens if both player keep playing?

Well, the following happens :
...
Tournament 78 : Straight 22$ / Flush 22$ / rake 56$
Tournament 79 : Straight 30$ / Flush 12$ / rake 58$
Tournament 80 : Straight 20$ / Flush 20$ / rake 60$
Tournament 81 : Straight 28$ / Flush 10$ / rake 62$
Tournament 82 : Straight 18$ / Flush 18$ / rake 64$
Tournament 83 : Straight 26$ / Flush 08$ / rake 66$

Here we are... after 83 tournaments, Flush can't play anymore (he doesn't have $10 to bet anymore), Straight has lost almost all of his bankroll, and the room won $66, more than thrice as much as in the first hypothesis. Now this is what I call profitability! Even more so as Flush, feeling he's not THAT bad at poker, may very well try to get his money back by cashing in again, and Straight may very well want to continue as well, he also feels he's good enough at poker to continue playing. This means even more profit for the room.

So what does it mean ?

It means that for a poker room, who wins and who loses is an important thing. It doesn't go without consequence for the room profitability. If the room wants to maximize its profits, the best would be that all players are strictly at the same level and are strictly winning and losing in the same proportions.

It would be the room's best interest, as far as money-making is concerned, to "smoothen" players level, so that the money won't go too quickly from one pocket to the other. The room's interest is that the money goes around a lot, and slowly disappear in the rake.

Of course, what works for two players works the same way for 10, 20 or even 50K players. I chose a simple example so that you'll understand immediately, but the number of players doesn't matter.

What you have to keep in mind is that each time the money goes from one player to the other, the room keeps a small part. Thus, the room wants the money to go from one player to the other alot. So that it can take its share each time, until it took (almost) everything.

This doesn't prove anything. This is not a proof that player actually smoothen the level of players. But it proves that room would have a reasonable economic motive to do so, by lending a helping hand to losing players, and minimizing the winnings for good players.

Rigging Poker : howto and hypothesis

Now that we know that rooms have a motive, we want to know if rooms actually can do it, with the following impediment:

Rigging must remain as unseen and transparent to the player as possible, or at least impossible to prove.

It goes without saying: every poker room needs to be trusted so that players will cash in. If they want to rig their games, it must remain a secret.

Unfavorable hands

Thus, we can safely give up one hypothesis :

There is no way a poker room would give you detrimental starting hands to make you lose.

Why ? Because it'd be too easy to witness! Many poker software record every starting hand for a player and allow to compare it to common statistics.

For example, there is a 5,9% probability of getting a pocket pair preflop. If, with a tool such as PokerTracker or PokerStrategy Elephant, many players record dozens of thousands of starting hands and witness they have been distributed pocket pair only 2% of the time, anybody will immediately see there is a problem, and the room would soon be in big trouble.

Rooms might possibly try to slightly alter probabilities, for example giving you a frequency of 5,8% (instead of 5,9%) so that it'd be possible to think this is the result of randomness and statistical noise... but the result would be too small, not worth the hassle for a room.

There has never been any scandal about starting hands, and there is a reason for this: No room would dare using such a dangerous rigging method.

Actually, there is ONE hypothesis in which starting hands distribution frequency would be rigged while remaining unseen : This can happen if the room choses to give someone an upswing directly followed by a downswing.
We could imagine a player who makes his first deposit and is given particularly good starting hands for the 500 first hands, then particularly bad hands for the following 500. Doing so, the poker room makes long term mean that is statistically correct.

This is interesting and we'll get back to this later on, when we will talk about cash-in upswings (and cashout downswings). The idea is that one can get a player addicted to poker and make him believe poker can be profitable for him, by making sure his first few plays are winning. Then, one can make him lose all the money he had won, which is necessary to make a long term mean that corresponds to the statistics.

This possibility of a cashin upswing followed by a downswing is the only one in which we can imagine a room rigging the starting hands. This is a marginal case, which only affects the player in the beginning of his career, and which doesn't prevent long term distributions to be statistically accurate, which is necessary to avoid the rigging to be mathematically proved (which would kill the room instantly).

There is, however, a case in which rigging can be much harder to prove.

Unfavorable draws

There is one thing the room can do: try to act on the number of bad beats a player undergoes.

Let's take another example : Admit the room wants to have Flush winning and Straight losing.

As we saw earlier, we can't really do so by giving unfair starting hands... and Straight just got AA, while Flush got 57o. Of course, Straight just went all-in.

In a perfect world (for the room), Flush would fold. But poker is full of bad players (and we don't want bad players to lose everything too fast, do we?). So, what do we do?

Actually, it's easy : one only needs to draw 468 at the flop. Flush gets a straight and Straight, with only an Ace Pair, loses everything, even though he was favorite! Mission complete!

This is a smart one, because it's very hard to prove such bad beats are not the sad result of true randomness.

For example, the absolute probability of winning against 9 villains with AA preflop is of 31,38%. This probability gets higher with fewer vilains, up to 84,93% against one ennemy.

So, if a player witnesses a big difference between these statistics and what he actually got, can he conclude that the room is rigged?

Nope, he can't!

He can't because the final result depends on many parameters: how one plays preflop, after the flop, after the turn, after the river, how many players folded, and so on...

This even brings a typical objection by people who believe rooms are being honest, while acknowledging there are "too many bad beats". Their objections is that "there are too many bad beats because there are too many weak players."

Indeed, after the flop, a player with absolutely nothing in hand should be folding. If he has 45o and the flop is AKJ, any sensible player would fold. But many players in online poker will keep on betting or calling even in such situations.

The consequence is that there is a higher probability that bad players will follow you to after the flop, the turn, and even after the river... and there is a slight probability that they'll get 2 and 3, thus making a Straight (A2345), with your Three-of-a-kind Ace being worth nothing.

While the probability of losing to a straight with AA is very low, it gets higher as bad players follow you and suck you out.

And because you don't know who had which starting hands - apart from the winner and yourself, you can't really guess whether the room tried to rig the draws or not.

Practically, after the river and with 3-4 bad players, it gets easy for the room to pretend the many bad beats you undergo aren't the result of some draw rigging, but the result of players donkbetting.

TL;DR

Problem is simple: With AA, you win in 85% of cases against a single player (you are statistically winning), but only in 31% of cases against 9 players (you are statistically losing).

How does one win with AA in clean poker ? One wins because everyone with unfavorable hands fold after you raised. You fight against 1-2 players and are statiscally winning.

When playing online, too many players won't fold, and you're always fighting 8-9 people... you are statistically losing.

Thus, poker rooms can use this fact to rig a game :

- How comes I'm losing half of the time with AA? asks the skeptical one.
- Because bad players follow you and put you in a statistically losing situation, answers the room.

And the fact is that you can't prove them wrong! This explanation is plausible. But that doesn't mean it is true.

There is also a possibility that the players against you are actually skilled and the room is trying to make some other people than you win. But you can't prove it.

Random Room

William Hill is another member of the iPoker network, one of the largest (if not the largest) worldwide online poker network.
But also one we often hear about from players suspecting rigging.

Although those claims of rigging are not backed by true evidence, many players feel the same way about it and we'd advice you to be very...