How Not to Cheat

Let’s say you discover an old lamp and rub it, and out comes a genie offering to grant you a wish. You are greedy and devious, so you wish for the ability, whenever you play online poker, to see all the cards that the other players are holding. The genie grants your wish.

What would you do next?

If you were a total idiot, you would do exactly what some cheaters on the Web site Absolute Poker appear to have done recently. Playing at the very highest stakes games, they allegedly played every hand as if they knew every card that the other players had. They folded hands at the end that no normal player would fold, and they raised with hands that were winners but would seem like losers if you didn’t know the opponents’ cards. They won money at a rate that was about 100 times faster than a good player could reasonably expect to win.

Their play was so anomalous that, within a few days, they were discovered.

What did they do next? Apparently, they played some more, now playing worse than anyone has ever played in the history of poker — in other words, trying to lose some of the money back so things didn’t look so suspicious. One hand history shows that the players called a bet at the end when their two hole cards were 2-3 and had not paired the board … there literally was no hand that they could beat!

I don’t know whether these cheating allegations are true, because all the information I am getting is third-hand. The poker players I’ve talked to all believe it to be true. Regardless, I bet these guys wish they had it to do over. If they had just been smart about it, they could have milked this gig forever, winning at reasonable rates. For the stakes they were playing, they could have gotten very rich, and their scheme would have been nearly undetectable.

(Note that I say nearly undetectable, because while that poker site probably never would have detected them, I am working with a different online poker site to develop a set of tools for catching cheaters. Even if these guys were careful, we would catch them.)

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

What about people who are psychic? Setting aside, for the moment, if they actually exist (I think they do, but to what extent, is the question that is relevant here), if such people can win at online poker through psychically knowing the cards, is this still cheating?


I really don't understand the fascination that is stroung enough to get it televised with celebrities.
What's your take on the poker craze? How did it get so popular? Why?
And above all - why the hell is poker covered in the sports pages?


If using a genie is cheating, being a psychic has to be cheating as well!


In this case, it's players that cheat. But in online poker, isn't it pretty likely that there are some operators that cheat?

This would seem extraordinarily easy. The operations themselves are often located in offshore countries with little supervision. The players don't see each other. If the site weren't greedy, they could make a lot of additional money using automated strategies and the type of internal superaccounts Absolute Poker evidently has.


Even if they played intelligently, they likely wouldn't have gotten away with it "forever"- many poker sites change their software very frequently to keep ahead in the cat and mouse act.


I think it depends on the psychic Rita, and the type of game being played. Is it cheating to use a talent you have? If you're a great bluffer, is that cheating? If you know statistics crazy-well and can deduce the cards held by the people around you is that cheating?

I suppose the answer is yes, but I think the question is not really about cheating, but about fairness. At what point does the game become unfair? If the psychic is playing against other psychics?

A professional card shark vs a bunch of amateurs? Gambling is gambling because you know you might lose. If I have a talent that lets me win, so long as I use it ethically (i.e. not driving people to bankruptcy for personal reasons etc), I don't think that's a problem.

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

#3, the difference is that someone who is psychic is born that way (with, perhaps, some deliberate enhancement of their gifts, but that's a long way from invoking the aid of a genie)!

Also, psychic ability is not ever 100% accurate. Even with a very gifted psychic, his or her ability to know the cards would be probably a good deal less accurate than the scam pulled by those foolish and greedy poker players.


Sounds like insider trading.


Hmmm, unfair games on an unregulated offshore unaccountable poker site....who'd have thought it. On a related note - can anyone answer this question: "If you are running a poker site that's based in the middle of nowhere and that is completely unregulated would you take the opportunity to alot make more money for zero extra risk?"

I can't imagine any of the poker operator's saying "No actually, I would not be interested in that at all". That is why I believe there is, at this stage, software balancing in every single site's software, completely undetectable without sampling a massive amount of pokertracker stats from dozens of players to show that overall, people are not winning as much as they should be.

Basically all a site as to do is add in less than 100 lines of code that make's the worst hand improve more than it should and automatically that will lead to the fish loosing less (because they are the players who will be all in with the worst hand most often or drawing without the correct odds) and the winners winning less, thus keeping the fish in the game for longer paying multiple times more rake than they would've if they had've gone bust sooner like they should've. This isn't a 'oh my god my set got beat by runner runner flush - it must be rigged' theory, this is something that could/(is) making the sites a ton of extra money. I can't see why they wouldn't implement it. I would if I was in charge.

Maybe now that the current cheating issue has made people open their eyes to the fact that poker site's might not have 100% integrity this issue might get looked at.


D. Smith

The fact that you don't see any people getting rich from being psychic is good evidence that it doesn't work. (That, and the fact that there is an enormous amount of evidence that psychic abilities are unfounded).


Honestly, I think poker came back with the Mel Gibson movie "Maverick". He was so mesmerizing in that role, that I think it got people to become interested in poker again!


This reminds me of an old Roald Dahl short story -- The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Henry Sugar trains himself (via yoga!) to see through the backs of playing cards and makes millions in casinos. He is very careful not to win too much, though, and he never visits the same casino more than once every year or something.

If only online poker cheats paid more attention to quality young adult literature, they'd be a lot more successful.


Hi, I came here from 2+2 forums, the poker forum which uncovered the Absolute scandal.

I think the jury is out on whether these guys were huge idiots or not. One of them, "doubledrag", appears to have won something like half a million dollars during the time that he was cheating. He dumped at least 2-300K of that to another player "romnaldo", who was presumably a stooge of his who then cashed the money out. Absolute are stonewalling so hard that so far they've refused to acknowledge that even chip-dumping took place, even though we have hands that are as blatant as it gets (starting the hand with 10K, raising $9,950 of it, folding to the $50 reraise... that sort of thing). We don't know whether they have locked the accounts of the suspect players or not, there have been conflicting reports from different AP representatives.

Sure, you say, but they could have made more than a few hundred K if they'd stayed under the radar. Maybe, but we have really no idea of what the nature of the exploit was they were using. It might have been transitory - a bug in Absolute's new software, for instance, which could disappear any moment if it were discovered. Under those circumstances, hitting it as hard and fast as possible could easily be the logical thing to do.



I don't know that these guys weren't rational. If there was a bug in the software that allowed them to see the cards, I think it's pretty reasonable, to run the table and grab as much cash as possible. They would probably expect that the bug would not last long, so they might as well take advantage of while it lasts. Assuming for the moment that they didn't hack the software to allow this somehow, the most likely way for this to happen is for the site to have accidentally applied administrator or "God-mode" permissions to the user. The fact that such a mode is available at all would imply that perhaps the site has low integrity.

In fact, couldn't this user's actions in fact have been the most ethical response? By playing perfectly, the user exposed the site quickly and in a way that would cause maximum exposure. Sure, a couple of people got burned, but the site will probably reimburse them to save face. Isn't it possible that everyone wins here, save for a potentially underhanded website?


Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

#10, psychic ability is just another way of saying: intuition. People use their intuitions every day, and some have very developed ones, at that. In terms of poker, however, it might be very rare that a player could predict the cards with above-average accuracy. Rare does not mean impossible, however.


Also, #9: Any rigging of a poker site which favours losing players heavily enough to make any real difference to the site's take in rake must also be large enough to be detected in PokerTracker databases. There are plenty of people with hundreds of thousands of hands in their databases. Queries on those databases which compare your results with mathematical expectation are not hard to do. There are free programs that do them. Tests across huge numbers of hands have been done. Everything has always been statistically as it should be.

Mihai Bucica

As you probably know there 's almost no regulation about how poker sites RNG are implemented
There are people(including me) saying that online poker sites are trying to curb the flow of money from bad players to good players in order to boost their profits (more rake).

There are no REAL independent auditors to their systems.

Its not about counting how many times you get AA/KK or how many times you flop a set with a poker pair.This was already verified and its easy to check that using Poker Tracker for example.It is also pretty hard to find a "spot" where to apply statistics because poker is a game of incomplete information.

However there is an interesting spot where math can be applied. It is the moment when 2 players are 'ALL IN'.
Then we know their hole cards,the flop cards and their equities.

Lets say I have hands H(1),H(2),....H(n) where you are against one opponent and one of you two (or both) moves ALL IN(preflop/flop/turn) and the other one calls.
Lets name your equities E(1),E(2)....E(n) when an ALL IN situation occurs before the river.
Let's define a function that returns the size of the pot when you WIN and 0 when you loose.
R(i)={ 0, if you loose
POTSIZE(i)/2, if we have a split
POTSIZE(i), if you are the winner

My actual winnings from these 'all ins' will be:
R = sum(R(i)) , i=1,N

My expected(theoretical) total winnings will be:
E = sum( E(i)*POTSIZE(i) ) , i=1,N

My theory is that a large majority of winning players ( e.g >80%) will have R50k hands)

In other words winning players are outdrawn more than it should in order to curb the flow of money from bad players to good players and keep the money recirculating in order to generate more rake.

Right now the program is written in C++ and connecting to PT databases with ODBC.

If things sounds interesting to you let me know.


ils vont...

If a genie granted me any wish come true it certainly wouldn't have anything to do with online poker or gambling in general, but if that was it for some reason, I would write an email to you and ask you what you think I should do.


If only these guys saw Next.

Michael Pistone

When are we going to see you in the World Series of Poker, wearing the Freakonomics T-Shirt and Hat?