Monday, June 25, 2018

Is PokerStars Rigged? Here Are the Facts

Is PokerStars Rigged?
People still ask me all the time if PokerStars is rigged. Or if online poker in general is rigged.

And I have never written an article about it before because I think this just legitimizes what to me seems like a pretty ridiculous question.

But I know that the emails and the comments about online poker being rigged won't stop. And therefore hopefully this article will solve the Great Debate once and for all!

Is online poker rigged? Are we being invaded by Russian bots? Are there mysterious ninjas hired to create another rigged river card just for you right before the final table?

I gotta be honest. I can't possibly answer all of these earth shattering questions in a tiny little blog post like this.

However, a little bit of common sense should tell us that of course there is some nefarious behaviour going on when anything important (such as money) is on the line.

Humans rig the stock market, they rig elections, they lie on their resumes and they cheat on their high school exams as well. Heck a decent chunk of them even end up cheating on the person that they swore their wedding vows to!

So in short, yes of course there are certain poker sites and individuals out there who are trying to rig the system in their favor when it comes to online poker. You would have to be incredibly naive not to realize this.

But is there widespread cheating going on across the entire industry, and specifically at the biggest online poker site in the world, PokerStars?

Probably not. Here are 5 reasons why.


1. PokerStars is a Money Making Machine


The first and most highly obvious reason why PokerStars is probably not rigged is because they are an absolute money making machine.

As I have said many times before on this blog the house is always by far the biggest winner in poker. And PokerStars takes this to an entirely new level.

They are estimated to be bringing in 500 million dollars in pure profit each year. And therefore god only knows how much they were hauling in 5-10 years ago when poker was really booming.

So common sense should once again beg the question: Why on earth would you possibly want to screw that up?

When you are already making absurd amounts of money and dominating the entire industry what possible incentive could you have to want to rig something?

PokerStars is one of the most successful and profitable brands the industry has ever seen. And no matter what you think of their new ownership, they continue to crush it in every possible way from a business point of view.

So there is simply no plausible motive here.

In fact they have every reason in the world NOT to rig it and just keep playing a winning hand over and over again.


2. You Can Simply Go Check it For Yourself


The second most important reason why PokerStars is probably not rigged is kind of a biggie as well. And that is that you can actually just go and check it for yourself!

PokerStars is one of the few poker sites out there who are very open about what they do. They will in fact actually send you every single hand history that you have ever played on their site.

I know this because I did it myself once. I requested close to 8 million hands that I had played on PokerStars from them. Within 24 hours I had the links to download them all.

This means that I could then go stick those 8 million hands in a tracking program like PokerTracker and run extensive analysis and tests looking for statistical anomalies.

This is one of the biggest reasons why I am not a big fan of a recent trend in online poker towards anonymous poker sites and/or those who do not provide hand histories.

"Open source" poker sites like PokerStars are much better for the industry in my opinion because they allow us to essentially police the games for ourselves.


3. There is No Actual Evidence that PokerStars is Rigged


So given the fact that we can actually run our own tests and search for statical anomalies over massive sample sizes you would think that all the people who are so certain that PokerStars is rigged would have overwhelming evidence to support their claims.

Nope, nada, none.

There has never been one conclusive study that I have ever seen, based on a statistically relevant sample size, which actually proves that there is any rigging going on at PokerStars.

Their standard arguments instead usually go something like this:

"OMG...My AA got cracked 3 times in a row by some stupid fish!!!...I told you JOKERSTARS is rigged, rigged rigged!!!"

The main problem with these "arguments" is that they fail to account for even the most basic variance in poker and they are completely lacking in a statistically significant sample size.

A sample size of 3 hands is completely meaningless in poker. And so is a sample size of 300 hands, 3,000 hands or even 30,000 hands.

You need to be working with millions and millions of hands in order to get to the point where you can mathematically rule out variance. Anyone who has actually played this many hands of poker knows exactly what I mean by this.

I have never seen a real legit study based on this many hands which conclusively proves that there are widespread statistical anomalies going on with the RNG on PokerStars.

Because if such a study like this actually did exist, believe me you would have heard about it by now. And it would be an absolute bombshell within the poker industry.


4. Human Bias and Defence Mechanism


The next reason why many people are convinced that online poker is rigged is because most people lose at this game. And that unfortunate little reality isn't likely to change any time soon.

Once the poker sites and the winning poker players take their cut there just isn't much left over for everybody else. In fact I would estimate (conservatively) that 70% of poker players lose over the long run.

And the other thing that we know about poker players is that virtually all of them think they are pretty good, or at least above average. Poker is kind of like driving, nobody will ever admit they are bad at it.

So this naturally leads to a situation where many losing poker players will look to either repress this reality or simply shift the blame to something else for their lack of success.

In fact, Sigmund Freud (the father of modern psychology), even created a name for this very common unconscious process. He called it a defence mechanism.

When you aren't winning at poker the easy solution is just to blame it all on your bad luck or convince yourself that the whole game is rigged against you.

This is an absolutely crucial reason why poker continues to be so profitable.

Losing poker players have an easy out. They can just continually convince themselves that their lack of success is due to some outside force beyond their control.

And therefore, they never even think to address the real reason why they keep losing, which is their own lack of skill and lack of tilt control among other things.

There is no other game on earth that I have ever seen that inspires such incredible levels of self delusion. And quite frankly, it is an absolutely beautiful thing.


5. Variance and the Speed of Online Poker


The final reason why many people swear that online poker is rigged is because they don't realize how the speed of the online game changes everything.

A lot of the people who claim that online poker is rigged come from a live poker background. Or they have played a statistically insignificant amount of hands online (less than 100k).

Therefore, they simply do not understand that the speed of online dealing (often 3 times as fast as a live game), coupled with the ability to multi-table, means that bad beats and coolers are simply bound to happen far more often than what they are used to.

This doesn't mean that anything is actually rigged. It just means that you are now experiencing the acceleration of a Ferrari instead of your old Toyota.

Yes it is going to feel weird at first. It won't even seem believable at times in fact.

And if you try your hand at something like Zoom Poker (which deals hands upwards of 10 times as fast as a live poker game), it might just blow your mind completely!

You really have to understand that online poker is a completely different experience from live poker. Yes it is the same game with the same rules, but all of the similarities end there.

The speed at which the online version of the game is dealt means that you are going to get to the long run far quicker than you are used to. This also means that you will see the true depths of statistical variance much more vividly.

And when you add in the ability to multi-table into the mix as well, you better buckle up. Because it is going to be downright crazy and quite simply not believable at times.


Final Thoughts


The debate about online poker being rigged or not will rage on no matter what I say here.

And I know a few people will probably even accuse me of being a "shill" for PokerStars even though anyone who reads this blog knows that I have actually been recommending that you DON'T PLAY there for many, many years now.

And that is not because I think there is any rigging going on at PokerStars. It is simply because there are many far easier poker sites (softer games) available to play at in my opinion.

But hopefully some of the points discussed in this article will help bring some sanity back to the discussion. Obviously online poker faces many challenges and the integrity of the games will always be questioned as well.

Humans like to cheat at stuff after all. The sky is blue as well!

But the idea that there is any widespread rigging going on at PokerStars in particular is pretty absurd in my opinion. I have won a lot of money on that site over the years by simply playing a solid fundamental strategy.

Furthermore, they have absolutely no reason whatsoever to risk their enormous cash cow. When you are already making money hand over fist the legit way, you have absolutely no incentive to ever screw that up.

Lastly, since PokerStars is one of the most open and transparent poker sites out there in my experience, you can simply just request the data and determine how rigged they are for yourself!

I want to know your thoughts though. Is PokerStars rigged or do you think it is safe to play there?

Is Pokerstars rigged?

39 comments:

  1. Great post Nathan. I really like reading your objective view. You're not forcing your agenda on anyone only laying down facts. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Thank you, I appreciate the kind words!

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    2. you say that no one ever admits to being bad at something .. wrong Nathan ... I admit to being absolutely dreadful at poker. I blame no one but myself ..never have quite mastered the hand analysis side ..when the pro's talk us through their thinking on any hand, i'm like .. huh? I think you need a particular kind of mind to play poker well.

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    3. I agree about Pokerstars,however I do think some of the smaller sites do use algorithms to control card distribution in order to speed up the games....the faster the games the more money the casino makes... well written,fair article Nathan! Thanks again.

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  2. Hi Nathan,
    I've been 'that man' who thinks all of this online gambling stuff MUST be rigged!

    I've played online Poker, I've tried online sports trading, sh*t, I've even played some online casino 'machines.'

    Through all of the above (with the exception of the totally random casino stuff) I've always come back to realising, that its the person who is playing that is the biggest issue in online gambling!

    If I had £1.00/$1.00 for every time I've 'lost the plot' and gone into tilt mode, then I'd be a lot better off financially, than I am now!

    Long story to short? - The machine really doesn't give a damn who is winning as, in the end, it will ALWAYS win! :-)

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    1. Thanks Cynic. I actually should have mentioned in this article that I have sworn it is all rigged against me countless times as well! lol. Always when I lose of course, not when I win :)

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  3. "There is no other game on earth that I have ever seen that inspires such incredible levels of self delusion. And quite frankly, it is an absolutely beautiful thing. "

    This statement you made is scary and hauntigly majestic at the same time :D

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  4. Hey Nathan, I really like your blog but saying that they don't need to rig it because they already make a lot of money is the funniest and stupidest argument I've ever heard. You play poker, you should know that greed grows the more money you make...
    Also you could never prove or disprove that they are rigging it, except if you're the developer of the software.

    I personally think that there is no online poker site that doesn't rig its games. I believe cashgame is rigged, tournaments are not rigged. Why? Because if you give players constantly two pair vs two pair, AA vs KK or 3 of a kind vs full house you force players to go both all-in, therefore generating rake. Its the easiest way to make bazillions instead of millions, because you just print money.

    It has happened to me so often that I get KK vs AA (in under 10k hands). Based on probability theory this should be impossible.

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  5. You're assuming that PS is widespread rigged, but isn' it possible tgat it's rigged for a separate class of players, when it really matters? As an example, the micro tables aren't rigged for the most part, but the high roller tables are to some extent. It can also be rigged on the rivers, when the pot is over xxxUSD. All this rigging can be done, it's fairly easy and it won' show up as an anomaly when you shove 8m hands in a software. All of this without including the PS owned bots. It's infantile to say they havr no reason to do it. They do. More money. Even Zuckerberg did it, and he had enough for 10 generations.

    I'n closing, I have to say that I don't believe it's THAT rigged, but to say it's not is stupid and you my friend might have had a lapse in judgment. Especially when your argument against it is "they make enough money".

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  6. I agree with this article. Poker Stars is (was) a solid company. However, I believe their is rampant bot problems on most other sites.

    Bots have improved greatly and are even taking on some of the best pros. These bots have made their ways into the mico-stakes. I believe the bot-sweet spot is 10nl and 25nl. Here they can play a lot of tables and hide from the best competition. It is very easy for bots to play on poker sites with weak security.


    JoeIngram1 has called out American Cardrooms.

    I personally believe that Party Poker has the same problem.


    Bots are the final "nail in the coffin" for online players.


    I hate to say it, but online poker is in a sad sad state.

    Even Poker Stars has sold-out and are turning into a high-raked gaming site.


    Is online poker rigged? Well, yeah, kinda… not by the exact definition. But, what is it called when you play against tough competition, bots and high rake with a low fish count? The decks not stacked, but your paddling up shit creek. Even if you make a profit sites go broke and governments seize your money.

    Can online poker survive...?

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  7. Rigged or not--how could you really prove it---you say why would they do it when it is a cash cow, 500M a year.

    Does Enron, Bre X, Bernie Madoff, Holliger and Volkswagon ring any bells???
    All billion dollar companies, regulated by the stock exchange and all where willing to cheat the general public......

    After playing about 10M hands on Poker Stars , I wouldn't bet the house that they are on the up and up ......

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  8. Having played for 18 yrs now I totally get what your saying. Your correct on everything you say even down to the many many players who think they are above average.
    Although my poker playing days over the last 4 yrs have been sessions of just 30 minutes every 3 months or so, I’m looking at getting back into longer sessions. But having looked at the smaller sites on offer these days living in the U.K. I don’t have a lot of choice but to play on Stars. Yes the level is better than softer sites but the traffic is poor at best. Party Poker is making a comeback, but still most of their tournaments are fast paced these days with just 5/6/7 min blinds. But you adapt, you have to. But in all my time playing in 18 yrs I’m yet to receive an email back from not just Stars but any poker site telling me players who have been caught cheating on my table, not once! That tells me everything I need to know.
    P.s I know class myself much lower in terms of poker ability, but I know 100% my BRM is in the top 1% of all poker players ever to play the game, and yes that is boasting.
    Great article for those less convinced.

    Plaza

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  10. I've always thought that if PokerStars (or FullTilt, or whatever) were in fact rigged they'd do a better job of it :)

    And no, I don't think PokerStars is rigged. You've identified the major reasons why not. The people I see complaining about it generally seem to fall into two categories: (1) folks who make stupid plays and then complain when they don't work, or (2) folks who simply don't recognize that "odds" are just that, and sometimes the long odds hit. FWIW, I don't like it either, but that's why God invented George Dickel whiskey

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  11. Well bloody hell everyone is so eloquent and quaint in their observations.

    I just think the article is fuggin brilliant bru! so i shared it to my poker club.. :D

    thats all..

    Happy Hunting!

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    1. Yup, as you can see by the comments here everybody has an opinion on this matter haha! Thanks for sharing my article and glad you enjoyed :)

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  12. There are some arguments that deep in an mtt there are gonna be setups like when you have 15bbs and dealt pocket jj or qq you are gonna run into kk or aa just to bust you and register to another mtt for the site to collect more entry fees.The question however,as to whom is gonna be dealt the best hand and why him,rises.Is it random?Is it just another type of gamblers fallacy?Is it crappy stories people make up just to justify their black luck?

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  13. I have another thought to share. Let's even imagine it's rigged. Then what? If a person makes his living from pokerstars, it doesn't matter for him. If a person loses there - then stop playing and it won't matter either. So basically this is a pointless question.

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  14. Great stuff Nathan, lost count of how many times I've read JOKERSTARS in my short career playing poker xD

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    1. "RIVERSTARS" is another classic lol. Thanks for reading Jorge :)

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  15. As I have said before on your blog I lost with quads three times in a row. That has always seemed to me quite a big statistical anomaly.

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    1. I must of played over 10 million hands in 18 yrs online and I have NEVER lost with quads and yes I play mostly on Stars. By the way have you seen that clip for the main event some yrs ago with the guy with quad aces only to beaten by a royal? 3 in a row I don’t believe that.

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  16. My issue with Pokerstars is more on how they have started treating their players. They are very open on how they will treat the noobs a lot better than the Regs, Case in point, they have changed the Chest reward system to have much higher targets and smaller Boosts for Regs versus noobs as they have stated in responses that after careful study this was best for the site and the ecosystem (their word) of the game.

    Named Pros have left for a reason and Pokerstars has become very greedy.



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  17. I just spent the weekend playing there. Definitely a favouritism for the biggest stacks in the hand. The number of perfect cards these bigger stacks hit on the river, to eliminate multiple players,for faster turnover, it exists. 100%. I just watched it happen all weekend long. They definitely put aces to the left of kings. Also,if you're tight, left of aggressor and wait for 99 to smash him,the player on your left will usually have better, or callable. But whatcstrikes me the most is the number of perfect river cards these bigger stacks always hit to break players and force them to rebuy or pay another tourney fee.nah,this site knows it has the perfect crime.

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  18. Further, if you're the small stack waiting for your dump hand,they feel you A6 suited or something,but as in my case yesterday,not only was the ace six not the best hand,but there were 4 hands that beat me. 77 on my left, kk on his left,AQ on his left,and the big stack had 44. As per usual,the big stacks horrific call after all this was rewarded with trip 4s,and eliminated 4 players in one shot. And yesterday,they completed a tournament with 75,000 players in under 10 hours. How is this possible? I don't care how fast they deal,that's a lot of big hands clashing all the time. Once again,audit these types of things,you WILL find I'm sure in poker terms a LARGE discrepancy.

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  19. Its not rigged against you.its rigged against everybody. How many thousands upon thousands of posts on the internet questioning the shuffle? Can you simply dismiss every last one of the as bad players? Negreanu has won 36 million playing live poker,but is a loser at poker stars. Must be his game.

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  20. It is not that I feel the site is rigged, but playing so many hands has led me to believe the software has a built-in flare for the dramatic. So to speak. For example, when a pair of aces hits the board you can almost be sure that another top pair will be held by another player. This of course causes a bingo type environment and skill seems removed. Can drama be written into software? I think so!

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  21. Poker Stars rigged or not---just about impossible to prove, 500M cash cow....

    Just remember Enron, Bre X, World Dot Com, Hollinger, Bernie Madoff, Volkswagon, all billion dollar companies regulated by the stock exchange and all trusted by the general public--no reason to cheat anyone ??????

    I've played about 10M hands on Poker Stars and there have been a lot of questionable hands...I wouldn't exactly go out of my way to say Poker Stars is on the up and up........

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  22. Great Stuff Nathan. I need to say at the outset that in my opinion online poker and especially at Pokerstars is NOT rigged. However I can't get out of my head a conversation a few years back with an online pro who was telling me about a contact he had within the industry who had told him some sites use 'Top Heavy Dealing ' which basically means that instead of a virtual 52 card deck the RNG is actually dealing from a standard all be it virtual 52 card deck + additional copies of the picture cards. The result being a far more dramatic and exciting unpredictable game designed to keep the action and therefore the interest and rake high. It's probably another load of "male parts "😁 but it is an interesting idea. But to reaffirm I DON'T think it is rigged. Mike

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    1. Thanks for reading Mike, glad you enjoyed!

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  23. Hi Nathan,
    I can agree with all of that. Long ago I read an article about how the shuffle servers work and provide decks to the tables. But there is one little think I can't get out of my head. Although I too think it makes no sense to favor a particular player or a region (I guess you have heard of East Europeans are favoerd, too), I wonder if it wouldn't be possible and even make sense to have a huge load of decks prepared and to filter out hands, thus increasing the number of so called action hands. Even a slight increase, that would be hard to track down, would create more big pots and therefor much more rake. After all we now know "more rake is better". (Yes, I know that refers to something else but I thought it's a nice fitting pun.) :-D

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  24. Can i ask smthing? More hands more bad beats bad no more wins? Why u get action and A high calls when u are not strong but they wont pay 2 bb when u have it? Why my last 6 KK run into AA? Why everyone has AA when u have AK
    Why str8s flushes 2 pair are like impossible to win
    Why in 50-50 situations no way u have 50% why they crack your hands so easy but its a miracle when that happens to u ? Why whenever there is the sweetest game ever there s no way to get yiur finger into the honey jaar? Why premium hands are cosmetics? And they arent premium at all? Why all the above happen all at once? With the same pace day in and out? All these all at once how is this luck ? What are the propabillity for all these to happen all at once every day? I have no words its ridiculous try any style of play and you lose the same it doesnt even make sense im an overall winner but i cant accept this `bad luck` there are players who win nonstop 10 and more buy ins a day while i lose whatever hand i make something is very off and they cant hide it the funny part is they dont care about hiding it they laugh in our faces shame on them

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  25. Why hasn’t anyone done a study on this. If the comments above say within a secret code or something to bring action, surely then it could be compared to a live study were a deck of cards deals out 9 player hands the burn and the flop turn and river cards then compare the results to hand histories and see if there are indeed any Discrepancies. How can this be done, easy with a robotic dealer. How many hands would be considered a good sample? A million maybe? But it can be done.

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  26. Another point seeing though we are talking about Stars, why did they feel the need to increase the rake. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a $10 with $1 rake was now $9.90 player pool and $1.10 rake. That’s just pure greed and no wonder they have trouble making the million GTD these days. I hate greed and always have including my local supermarket. Party Poker, it’s time for you to shine with your revamped software.

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  27. I actualy have a legitament argument for pokerstars to rig their games .... in my oppion they may have an algorithym where the undergog hand wins slighty more than it should in mtts.. basicaly giving bad players more of an edge and more reason to return(fun factor)... this could be accomplished very easy and would be next to impossible to prove .... by the way im not the only pro who feels this way

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  28. Reading this comment section gave me cancer.

    It just proves Nathan's point:

    "There is no other game on earth that I have ever seen that inspires such incredible levels of self delusion. And quite frankly, it is an absolutely beautiful thing. "

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    1. Haha well when I chose to write an article about "PokerStars rigged or not" I knew the response would be massive. Because it always is when this topic has come up elsewhere.

      I have decided not to respond to any of the comments (whether I agree or disagree) and just let everyone state their opinion, only removing posts for excessive personal attacks, spam etc.

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  29. Great article as always Sir.
    My theory comes from a completely different angle.
    Live casinos make millions, billions of dollars, taking a 1 to 2 percent edge. And, that may be because of being regulated by some gaming board. Who regulates online gaming? The question has always been - why would they risk taking an edge allowing bots or multi users? My question is - Why wouldn't they create an edge for themselves ( more rake for instance).

    My observations playing on Americas Cardroom isn't my pocket Aces gerring cracked. I have profited several 1000BB/100. My question is how often am I dealt pocket Aces. How often am I dealt any pocket pair? How often am I dealt the top 20% of my range?

    I believe this is where the web site is suspicious. I also believe that ACR (Americas Card Room) gives a statistical advantage to their newest accounts.

    I got curious and used Poker Tracker 4 to do some statistical research on my own hands.

    Here's what I found. My first 6 months on ACR I ran just above statistical average. I was dealt pocket Aces once every 215 hands. The statistical average is 1/250ish. During my 1st 6 months I was dealt any pocket pair 1/14 hands - the average is 1/17. I was also dealt 20% of my range 28% of the time.

    The following 18 months were staggering to me. I was dealt AA 1/265 hands. Any pocket pair 1/23 hands. Top 20% of my range I was dealt 13% of the time.

    Why such a drastic change from my 1st 6 months compared to my next 18 months (2 years of my time)

    My thoughts? After my 1st 3 months I made my 1st deposit.

    ACR is a business. Regulated or not? I don't know. But as a business they want more deposits. Without new deposits coming in, they go out of business.

    My stats above may not seem drastic at first. But we are all poker players. WE are all about the math. If I play 1000 hands and dealt my 1 pocket pair every 22 something hands, I will see 45.5 pocket pairs. If a new account is getting a pocket pair every 13 hands the will be dealt almost 77 pairs. That puts me at a statistical disadvantage. My pairs still held up the percentages they should have and I still brought in 350BB/100. I just don't get them as often. So I adjusted my game.

    Great article. I would love to hear or read about any feedback. Feel free to share. The more input just increases my sample size!

    The above stats were taken form playing 358,000 hands over 2 years.

    I still play on ACR attempting a bankroll challenge in MTTs. This week I played maybe 15 freerolls (500+ runners in each) and cashed 2 times.

    Happy gaming everyone.
    Gamer for life,
    CPTMYK713

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  30. TLDR
    who controls the controller?

    In a real game, the deck is a physical entity. The deck, after being mixed up by the dealer, will have a definite, unique and invariable order for all the course of the hand (unless the game is not rigged). All players can check that the order of the cards in the deck is not changed during the hand.
    The cards that will come out on the board are already defined because the order is immutable, they are hidden at sight, but those will be discovered.
    When the deck is immutable, has the sense to calculate the odds, the law of large numbers tells us that in the long run, the occurrence of a certain event approaches the average probability of that event.

    In online poker the deck is a resource that no player has visual access to, no one can guarantee players that the deck is pre-ordered, as in the real world, and that it would remain unchanged during the course of the hand; speculating, I could say that the software could generate different cards for a flop depending on the players that are active in the hand, their probability of collusion, their history, their bankroll, their current stack, who knows?
    With a real deck, the order is one, the guarantee is the physical deck, the cards that will come out on the board will always be those, regardless of the action in the hand, or what else.

    Another topic is the use made of the numbers produced by the random generators, even using as input the data transmitted by the planet best generator, I could generate in output something totally not random, but statistically correct, how can I tell what the software is doing if the code is closed?

    Although the deck of each hand was uniquely generated and controlled by one entity/protocol/software, the question remains, and as said by the Latin rhetorician Giovenale: "quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" who controls the controller?
    The new blockchain based technologies may perhaps offer new expectations in terms of decentralization, security, privacy. As well as the rake-free, impossible in the current major poker rooms.

    A compliment to Nathan for the excellent food for thought;)

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