Cheating in Poker

Without question many people are reluctant to play on the Internet for fear of being cheated, either by the cardroom or (more likely) by other players. Barely a week goes by without some anonymous poster on one poker forum or another telling how he was ‘cheated’ online in some way or another. Invariably the thrust of their argument is something along the lines of ‘I’ve been playing for 20 years and I’ve never seen so many bad beats. I know I’m a good poker player, so if I’m losing then the game can’t possibly be on the level.’ Although on occasion these complaints do turn out to be perfectly valid, in the vast majority of cases the players involved are almost certainly victims of misfortune (or their own bad play) rather than cheating. Furthermore, since there are plenty of other players who claim that they do win at online poker sites without having to resort to cheating – are we to assume that they do so only because they are such brilliant players that they can overcome stacked decks and collusion teams? It is true that most players lose when they play poker at an online cardroom, but then again most players lose when they play poker in a brick and mortar cardroom as well (the mathematics of the rake practically guarantees that this be so).

In July 2002 published an excellent article by Andrew Glazer on this very subject, entitled ‘Ten Reasons Why You’re Not Getting Cheated Online’. His argument was not that cheating does not go on (indeed he stated that he was sure that in certain instances players had colluded with one another), but that there are alternative explanations for poker losses that players often ignore, preferring instead to blame someone else rather than themselves. Glazer offered the following possible explanations as to why players might experience (or appear to experience) worse results online than they do in a brick and mortar cardroom:
–    Players are forced to keep better records online. When you receive your monthly credit card bill it is pretty hard to fool yourself that you have had a winning month when you have actually lost, whereas live-action players who don’t keep accurate records may imagine that they are winning players even when they are not. As Glazer says, ‘Many players who think they are break-even players in live games are actually losers, and many players who think they are winning players are actually break-even or losing players.’ Thus some players may only be imagining that their results are worse online; better record-keeping would reveal that their live-action results are comparable.
–    Online play removes much of the skill involved in reading people from the game. Those players for whom tells and other people-reading skills are a vital element of their game will not be able to achieve such good results online. For such players Glazer eloquently suggests that ‘when you play online you have two arms and one leg tied behind your back.’
–    Many players don’t concentrate as hard when they play online as they would in a brick and mortar cardroom. By engaging in multi-tasking while you are playing online, perhaps watching TV, answering e-mails or surfing the Internet, you will not collect as much information about the other players as you would in a live game, and this will inevitably have a negative effect on your results.
–    Many more hands are played per hour online than in a live action game (perhaps giving the misleading impression that more bad beats are occurring). If you are already a losing player, then faster games will inevitably cause you to lose more every hour you play online (although this may partially be offset by the lower rake and the absence of tipping).
–    The nature of the online game sometimes encourages players to play more loosely than they normally would. The simple physical act of clicking on a mouse rather than counting out chips and placing them in the pot may cause players to enter and stay in more hands, often calling to the river with hands they would fold in a live-action game. Furthermore, there is no peer pressure to play ‘properly’: if you play an online hand badly and still somehow manage to win, you don’t have to endure any muttering or dirty looks from the other players, all tacitly censuring you for playing so poorly.
–    If the game is indeed looser than a normal brick and mortar game, then more players will stay to the river and more miracle, bad beats will arise as a result.
–    If the game is already looser than a normal game, then it may become even looser as additional players are sucked into every hand by the prospect of winning a large pot if they hit a big hand.
–    Players are more prone to going on tilt online. We have already discussed the phenomenon of cybertilt, whereby players are more likely to lose their composure and steam off their bankrolls when there is no-one watching them.
–    Players can run into more problems when they play two tables simultaneously. Again, we have already discussed this concept. It is harder for multi-table players to keep track of their opponents’ tendencies, while playing two or more tables at once can be particularly dangerous for players who have a tendency to go on tilt.
–    Players may play differently because they are paranoid that they are being cheated, making detrimental adjustments to their decisions merely because they fear the worst.