Is Online Poker Rigged? - Here Are the Facts [2018]

Is online poker rigged?
People often ask me if online poker is rigged or not.

And my answer is always the same: if it is rigged, then it is definitely rigged for me. Because I have made a lot of money playing this silly little card game on the internet!

In all seriousness though, this is big concern that many people have. In fact my recent "Is PokerStars Rigged" post continues to get more passionate (and sometimes completely crazy) comments every single day.

So here's the short of it:

Online poker on the whole is not rigged. The financial incentives for the poker sites to maintain the integrity of their games are just too important. However, there are some legitimate concerns about some of the smaller poker sites in particular. The bottom line though is that you are the customer and you hold all the power. If you think a certain poker site is rigged, then you should withdraw all your funds and absolutely refuse to play there.

However, this is a fairly simplistic answer. So let's dig into specifics in the case for and against online poker being rigged. I will also talk about issues like bots, collusion and superusers.

Alright, let's go!


Is Online Poker Rigged? What's the Deal!


So let's get right into it. Is online poker rigged or not? What the heck is the deal here? Why do I get so many bad beats?!

When people talk about online poker being rigged the most common complaints I hear are a mathematically improbable amount of "setups" (example: AA vs KK) and bad beats (example: you have AA, bad player with 74 offsuit hits two pair on the river).

People also often talk about a "big stack advantage" in poker tournaments as well. This means that they believe the poker site rigs it in order for the bigger stack to win more all-in preflop coinflips (example: AK vs 99).

The logic behind what exactly the poker sites gain by rigging these hands and allowing the big stack to win more flips is a little bit less clear. Especially since most of the people who complain that online poker is rigged play incredibly low stakes, like $10 games.

Some people however claim that there is widespread collusion, bots or "superusers" in many games. Now this is a bit of a separate issue because this sort of cheating (if true) is more likely to be perpetrated by the players themselves, not the poker sites.

However, let's put that to the side for a moment and discuss the case for and against online poker being rigged first.


The Case For Online Poker Being Rigged


So let's look at the facts for why online poker is rigged then shall we?

Well, unfortunately the facts for online poker being rigged are few and far between. The arguments in favor of online poker being rigged would be much better classified as "anecdotal" instead.

For instance, if you go read the comments on my recent "Is PokerStars Rigged" post you will find that nearly all of the people writing me long, angry, incoherent and expletive laced rants about PokerStars being rigged are always missing one important pesky little detail:

Evidence.


Instead their arguments usually go something like this instead:

"OMGGGZZZ, my pocket AA got cracked 3 times in a row, on the RIVER, every time STUPID JOKERSTARS, rigged, I will get my lawyer and sue POKERSTARS!!!, OMFG so mad right now, how can anyone play on this RIGGED poker site???"

Now, the problem with "arguments" for online poker being rigged like this is that while they certainly demonstrate a large amount of emotion, they just aren't supported with anything close to what we would typically deem as evidence.

And unfortunately, when making such seriously allegations and threatening lawsuits against a multi-billion dollar company you are probably going to need some of this!

The main problem here is that "my pocket AA got cracked 3 times in a row" just doesn't mean anything. Like at all.

In fact this is such a completely commonplace and mathematically likely occurrence in poker that it is trivial to even consider.

You would need a sample size of thousands of instances where your AA was getting beat too often in order to have a real and substantive argument here.

And luckily for all of those who believe that online poker is rigged, this is actually really, really easy for them to do.

You can just use a program like PokerTracker, import your poker hands, and then filter for all instances of AA to see your winning percentage.

Pocket Aces should win approximately 85% of the time versus a random hand.



So, if you had a sample size with thousands of instances of AA where you are only winning at 70%, 60% or less, then you would have a real and legitimate complaint!

However, I have never seen anyone who claims that online poker is rigged actually produce a statistically significant sample size like this. Instead they have sample sizes of 3 hands, 10 hands or 100 hands.

Incredibly small sample sizes like this would be quickly refuted by any amateur mathematician as well within the bounds of simple variance and standard deviation.

And for all those threatening lawsuits against the online poker sites this sort of "evidence" would also be quickly dismissed from any court of law as pure silliness.


The Case Against Online Poker Being Rigged


The evidence for online poker not being rigged is far, far stronger. And the reason why is because once again, you can just go check it for yourself!

Most poker sites these days will allow you to download your hand histories as you play. Hand histories are a small text document which includes every bit of information about a poker hand.


For Example:
  • Exact time the hand was played
  • All player's stack sizes
  • Who bet, folded, called etc.
  • Who was the winner of the hand
  • Who was the loser of the hand

And as mentioned before, we have highly sophisticated online poker tracking programs these days like PokerTracker and Hold’em Manager.

Using the pocket AA example again, you could simply go into either of these programs and filter for this hand only. Then you could see if your winning percentage differs dramatically from where it should be.

Furthermore, it wouldn’t even take that many hands to figure this out. In order to get a sample size of 1000 instances of pocket AA for instance, you would only need to play 220,000 hands of poker.

You get dealt pocket AA 1 out of every 220 hands. 220 x 1000 = 220,000.

Now this might sound like a lot, but for anyone who plays online poker seriously and multi-tables this is not really that many hands. Any serious poker player could easily do this in a couple months.

In fact, I have actually played this amount of poker hands in one single month several times throughout my poker career.



However, my suspicion is that many of the people complaining about their pocket AA being cracked too much have not even played this many hands in their entire lifetime!

After all, it is hard to play a lot of poker when you are too busy writing angry comments and threatening lawsuits in my blog comments and elsewhere.

Look, if you truly believe that your pocket AA is losing way too often then you owe it to yourself to at least do your homework first so that you know for sure.

Play a statistically significant sample of hands (i.e. 200K+), run it through a tracking program, and then post the evidence for all the world to see!

Opinions are great. Everybody has one. But what we need in order to solve the debate once and for all about online poker being rigged or not are facts. Clear verifiable evidence.

Unfortunately for all the people claiming that online poker is rigged, they never seem to have much of this. However, I know that I can look through my own database of millions of poker hands and prove them dead wrong in a second.


Poker Sites Have a Direct Financial Incentive NOT to Rig Online Poker


The other big problem for the online poker is rigged crowd is that the poker sites actually have a direct financial incentive to maintain the integrity of their games.

In other words, they have a clear motive NOT to rig online poker.

PokerStars for instance made $877 million dollars in revenue from poker in 2017. And that is actually a 4% increase over 2016 for all the people who think the popularity of online poker is trending downward.

What these numbers really prove though is the point that I have been making on this blog for many, many years now.


And That Is:

The poker sites themselves are the real big winners in poker and they always will be. They are the real "sharks," not the players.

If you disagree please tell me the name of a poker player who is making nearly a billion dollars a year. I would pay anything to get coaching from this guy!

So simple common sense and logic will tell us that when you are already crushing it beyond belief in business the last thing you want to do is change anything or risk your reputation.

No of course not. You just want to keep the gravy train rolling!

You really have to ask yourself what PokerStars for example has to gain by rigging the river in your $10 tournament. Nothing. But they have everything to lose.


You Are The Customer, You Have All the Power!


But hey believe me, I get it. Some people will never be convinced no matter what I or others say.

Even though there is absolutely no evidence to support their claims nor even a motive for many of the poker sites to rig anything, their minds are already made up.

And that's completely cool.

You can believe pink monkeys orbit the moon too and Tupac Shakur is alive and well living on an island in Malaysia with Jim Morrison.

At the end of the day though it doesn't matter what I believe or what you believe because the bottom line when you are playing poker (online or live) is that you are the customer.

And therefore, you have all the power.



So if you believe that a certain poker site is rigged against you then you should vote with your feet and simply withdraw all your funds and never play there again.

Something that I can never understand is how many people complain that a certain poker site is rigged (let’s just use PokerStars as an example again) and yet they continue to play there!

Why on earth would you continue to play at a poker site that you are convinced is rigged? This defies all logic and even just common sense.

There are literally hundreds of other online poker sites to choose from. And if you are convinced that all of online poker is rigged against you then you can just go play live as well!

Also, remember that when you withdraw your funds and go play somewhere else this is a huge loss for that poker site. They rely on the rake that you pay to keep creating those multi-million dollar profits.

So if you are convinced that an online poker site is rigged, hit them where it hurts, in the pocket book. Withdraw your money and never play there again.


What About Poker Bots, Collusion and SuperUsers?


Alright, let’s get into the much more serious discussion now of poker bots, collusion and superusers.

This is a legitimate concern because unlike poker sites rigging the river against your pocket aces, there is actually real evidence that this sort of cheating has occurred.

But the difference here is that the cheating is almost always done by the players themselves.

They are often the ones who are trying to run poker bots, collude with other people at the the table or find out somebody's hole cards (superuser).

In the past several years there have been allegations of bots in particular being used on nearly every major online poker site.

poker bots

And this isn't just speculation. There have been many high profile cases of poker sites publicly refunding players because their security teams uncovered gross rule violations.

Now while they rarely spell out the exact details of what type of actual cheating occurred (for pretty obvious reasons) it is clearly some sort of bot ring or collusion in many cases.

Now should you be concerned about playing against poker bots, colluders and so on? Absolutely. But here's the thing. You are battling against human nature here.

Whenever there are significant amounts of money on the line, a small amount of people are going to engage in shady practices or even outright cheating.

Remember that little global financial meltdown we had about 10 ago? Ya, enough said.

Look here's the thing. There is always going to be some form of cheating or angle shooting in poker no matter what games you play in. And it doesn't matter if you play live or online.

Does this mean that you should never play poker again? No of course not. You just need to be realistic and vigilant when playing poker.

I would also be a lot more concerned as a mid or high stakes poker player about this sort of cheating because of the much larger amounts of money in play.

However, less than 5% of the people reading this article right now actually play in these games. I know this because I asked 1,124 of you what stakes you play a few months ago!

But look here is the bottom line once again. You are the customer. If you feel that something isn't right, then send the poker site an email, and give them some specific names and details so they can investigate.

If you do not find their reply to be satisfactory, then withdraw all of your funds immediately and never play there again.


Final Thoughts


So should you trust online poker? Is online poker rigged?

Well, I think the glaring lack of any real evidence or even a motive for most of the major online poker sites to be rigging anything speaks volumes.

But as we all know some people will never be convinced.

And of course it is much easier to just say that something is rigged against you rather than to address the real core problem: Not being good enough to actually win at poker.

As for the much more serious and realistic issue of poker bots, colluding and superusers I think there is a reason to have some level of concern about this.

You should be vigilant about any poker games you are playing in and don't be afraid to report any suspicious behavior either.

All major online poker sites have a security team dedicated to maintaining the integrity of their games. It is their job to investigate your concerns!

But as I have said again and again throughout this article, at the end of the day you don't have to listen to me or anyone else. You are the customer and you hold all the power.

If you think there is something amiss with a certain online poker site (for any reason whatsoever) then my advice is to immediately withdraw all your funds and never play there again.

Lastly, if you want to know how I managed to quit my job, become an online poker pro, and travel the world over 10 years ago, make sure to pick up a copy of my free poker strategy guide.


Let me know in the comments below if you think online poker is rigged or not.

is online poker rigged?

24 comments:

  1. You are providing logical reasoning. But lots of people just prefer to think poker is rigged to find an excuse for their bad play. It's not logic. Moreover lots of people don't understand the concept of variance and distance at all. Especially if they play one table. They can be "unlucky" for years and years with their number of hands.

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    1. I agree. Also, poker is a very emotional game. It is easy to get caught up in that. I know I have countless times.

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  2. Oh - and one more funny thing. Somehow nobody complains that it's rigged when it's THEM who beats poker aces with a lucky river. Although it's absolutely the same situation, but no-one cries about it. It's only rigged when some John beats you. When you do it to John, it's fine! ;)))

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    1. Iam not sure if iam sending to you

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  3. Haha, i think it happens to all of us when we get a terrible bad beat, but after calm down you know its al mathematics and not rigged poker sites.. Great as always Nathan. Could u make an article about how to beat semi-loose aggressive and rocks player? Or there is one already? Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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    1. Thanks Agarroz!

      Yes, I have written articles about this before.

      How to beat loose/aggressive players:

      https://www.blackrain79.com/2016/09/play-against-aggressive-poker-players.html

      How to beat tight players/rocks:

      https://www.blackrain79.com/2017/09/how-to-beat-tight-poker-players.html

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  4. Why would a poker site be rigged when it makes millions of dollars ??? Whether they are or not is nearly impossible to prove. But, as usual in this world greed is the biggest reason with little regulation of poker sites that it could happen.

    All you have to do is look at the regulated stock exchange in America...Does Enron, Br-X, World.Com, Holliger, Bernie Madoff ring any bells of corruption ???
    What about Volkswagon, all billion dollars companies that chose to rip off the general public.....

    I have played millions of hands on Poker Stars and have seen more unbelievable things happen than I would want to believe is possible....

    Would I believe Poker Sites are on the up and up and far from doing something that is not ethical, I sure wouldn't bet the house on it.....

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    1. Absolutely right. I have played around 1.7 million hands on Stars and am sure it is rigged. However, I know enough about statistics to realise that I am nowhere near significance to actually prove it, so I continue to play and accumulate hands on micro stakes. Would I deposit a serious amount of money and play higher stakes? Absolutely no way ...

      Just want to counter one of Blackrain's main points, I.e. Why would Stars rig it?? Greed as you said: look at it this way, in cash games they don't rake unless the pot exceeds a certain amount. The more the pot is, the bigger their rake. You REALLYSTARS believe they will NOT rig for action .... It is human nature and it is also completely trivial programming. Furthermore, they know that it is extremely difficult to PROVE statistically on any one players hand history, and close to ZERO players will actually have the will to do it, and EVEN if one or two have actually got there, do you suppose they wouldn't buy their silence??? As for tournaments, the same software that runs the cash games runs the tourneys; these sorts of people are too greedy and lazy to go to additional effort and produce separate programmes! In this case, the benefit for Stars is that the tourney finishes quicker so they don't have the cost of hosting it, any "house players" or bots they have (can you say with certainty that they don't Blackrain's??) will make more cash, and us poor suckers who got knocked out may be tempted to buy Ito another tourney where we will be raped by stars once again - MY BAD, I should have said RAKED ....

      If they actually wanted to prove the game was fair it would be completely trivial to do - if they can't see how and are reading this, let me know and I will educate you. They just don't WANT to make it transparently fair because that would cut into their 887 million dollar profit ....

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    2. I cant prove you wrong,but as a mainly live player with thousand of hours at the casinos,I guarantee you that bad beats,setups and one outers are quite common in an unrigged live game as online.There have been weeks (9hours of play/day) that no matter what I have,I always get felted at the river.Live mtts as well,final table 3 handed,I have aces vs aces vs JJ.Jacks busted both of us turning a straight.Or Aces Vs Aces getting freerolled one 4 card flushed.Or whatever.
      Unless you are a team pokerstars pro,why would stars would benefit you or me against the average player next door?

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  5. Bit off topic here Nathan, but if you don't stop posting pictures of all the great views you get when playing poker where you do, I'm going to start posting pictures of me playing whilst overlooking the local Gasworks, or car wash, or - well, you get the message! ;-)

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    1. Haha. The biggest reason I use these pictures is because I can quickly embed them from my Instagram and no copyright issues because I took the pictures :)

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  6. Yup, I have to agree. The big sites have basically got a licence to print money - so why would they risk that in order to favour one NL2 player over another? Or to make a 1c/2c pot big enough to rake? It makes no sense. Like most people I have sometimes felt emotionally that my Aces were losing too often; but despite this my stats always showed that AA was providing about two-thirds of my profit!

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  7. I am just here for the nuh-uh-it's-rigged comments. Anonymous and Angry sturgeon have us off to a riveting start.

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    1. Haha if the comment section on my "Is PokerStars Rigged" post is anything to go by, check back here in a few weeks, it should be legendary!

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    2. Jason:
      You obviously don't believe a Poker site could be corrupt and cheat.
      Are they regulated by some gambling commission or rules set by a country in what they can or cannot do in the gambling world ??????

      For example why would these companies that were regulated cheat the general public for billions of dollars ????

      Volkswagon's net worth is about $275B and they didn't seem to worried to use software to manipulate their air emissions tests which is regulated in the car industry......

      What about Bernie Madoff---managed to convince his investors that he could never lose money in the stock market, even in 2008 when the market was crashing his funds were increasing till his investors started cashing out. Billions of dollars somehow disappeared ....

      What about Enron with their fancy accounting practices????
      A lot of value on the books but no real value in business operations--how many billions were lost there ????

      Or Bre-X, salting their values on their gold prospects which contained no gold at all---about 6 Billion disappeared there.

      Absolute poker, Ultimate poker, Full Tilt poker ring no warning bells to anyone anymore..... Play small and enjoy the time that you play but don't be so sure that everything is perfect and no corruption exists in the virtual world of poker on line .....

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    3. Bless your heart! Enjoy ranting on the internet.

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  8. The problem is that players dont know what to look for. Ironic that poker players look for tells. Poker players dont look for tells from the poker site - only tells from the players. Bottom line is that a poker site, any and every poker site, is a business. they make money, not from full tables, but from deposits. the more deposits being made, the more tables will be full. So, how do these poker sites get you to make deposits? Promotions, 100% match deposit, etc...Think for a moment. How do other businesses - big business - get new clients. Advertising. So why dont Online casinos do more advertising? Advertising cost money. What is the cheapest form of advertising? Word of mouth. If you run good, most likely you will tell your friends how easy it is... I have noticed, and done hand history studies on my own play, that I lose more blinds to certain accounts. At first I didnt know if I was playing bad or if all the players were just better than me. After looking and reviewing over 350,000 hands I found a pattern. I know, before you say it, 350,000 hands isnt a large enough sample size. For me, that last statement, is an easy out. So I dug deeper. I found that the players that I lost to the most all had one thing in common. They were all new accounts. 6 months old or newer. I dug deeper. I looked at my first 6 months hand history and compared them to the next 2 years worth of history. During my first 6 months of playing on ACR i got a pocket pair every once every 14.5 hands. The statistical average is once every 17 hands. From months 7 to months 30 I got a pocket pair once every 20 hands. The first 6 months I played on ACR I got my 20% starting range 23% of my hands. From months 7 to 30 on ACR i got my 20% starting range of hands (VPIP) only 17% of the time. I know. 2 or 3 percent isnt that big a deal. But poker is all about the math. Casinos in vegas make billions taking a 1 to 2% edge...and those casinos are regulated. Are online casinos regulated? I dont know. To me its a challenge and I will continue to play. However I will continue to play more aware of who I am getting envolved with every hand I choose to play. Good luck.

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    1. Id worry more about some notorius bot rings infesting ACR than cheating RNG.ACR is unregulated as far as I know,as with all poker sites that accept americans Thats why i only play on Stars,Party and 888.Also,theory of chance to be dealt a pair,is backed by an insane number of simulations,not by less than a million events.Just check how many hands equilab simates to produce hand vs range equity.

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    2. I got ya. My theory though is not just based on ACR stats. I have played over 2 million hands online at different poker sites. On the other poker sites I ran the same filters on all my hands. The statistics on those other other five poker sites were MUCH closer to the statistical average. only obve or under by half a percent.

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  9. Your article doesn't actually do a lot to dispel the view that online poker is rigged. In fact, if anything, it simply shows how difficult it would be for a recreational player to prove that the site was manipulating the RNG. It is very unlikely that a casual player would have the necessary number of hand histories to find anything meaningful, let alone the ability to analyse the data even if they did.
    Also, you draw a very dubious conclusion from your observation that PokerStars' profit has increased from year to year. Increased profits for PokerStars on a year to year basis does not prove that online poker isn't in decline Nathan. It simply means that PokerStars is earning more revenue. Every winning player I speak to says that their earnings from PokerStars has decreased over the last 5 years and this is only partly due to the increase in skill level of the average rec.
    If you were able to examine PokerStars revenue you would discover that more profits are coming from fewer players, and from areas other than online poker. This is a trend that will continue if PokerStars current business plan is carried through to conclusion. Their goal is to reduce the number of winning players that are taking money from the pool of recreational players and direct that money towards the bottom line of the PokerStars balance sheet. There are ways to do that that don't involve manipulation of the RNG.
    I think a balanced article should expose more of the unethical practices that have occurred by site operators and maybe take the time to explain some of the cognitive biases that inexperienced (and many experienced) players fall victim to rather than make fun of the players who are baffled and feel cheated by bad beats and normal variance.

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    1. Winninngs from stars have decreased due to higher rake, an excuse of a rakeback,the eliminatoon of supernova status and the fact that players are getting better or tighter on average.Accept that we dont live in 2008 anymore,and do what you have to do.

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    2. The issue is that it is NOT normal variance .... Yes, if we take a 50:50 flip we expect to lose on average half the time. We even expect we might lose a few times in a row. What I cannot believe is "normal variance" is my current run of underpair v AK flips: lost 27 in a row, won 1, lost 25 in a row, won 3, lost 19 in a row, won 1, lost 20 in a row, won 2. And I have had MUCH worse than that. What I have NEVER had is WIN 27 in a row, lose 1 etc. To "balance things out". No, THAT sh it never happens .... I mean come on Stars, the other one has bells on it

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    3. Jimmy that's what I'm saying. Blackrain suggests in the article that PokerStars' increased revenue means that online poker is not on a downward trend. However I'm saying the increased revenue is due to higher rake, the canning of the SNE program, the measures being taken to prevent bum hunting, and anything else they can do to divert the flow of money from winning players' accounts to PokerStars bottom line.
      PokerStars has recently been buying sports books and are investing in other ares of online gambling because they realise that future revenue from poker will be down.

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  10. Online poker is definitely not rigged. Have played 1000's of hands and found distribution of hands, wins, losses, bad beats, suck outs, etc very similar to live poker. However online is SO impersonal, the boredom factor is through the roof. So I won't play online. Much more of a game at the casino

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