Thanks in no small part to the internet, we live in a world awash with conspiracy theories. These are often aimed at governments, international conglomerates, big business and so on, and online poker hasn’t escaped the fear-mongers – namely the often comical claims that online poker is rigged. Check into an online poker forum or read the chat while you’re playing, and you’ll find Mr Angry – usually fresh from a bad beat or, equally possible, having seen his chips disappear through purely poor play – claiming that the site is rigged or, worse, that the whole of online poker is rigged!
For the vast majority of poker fans – or, indeed, anyone capable of coherent, rational thought – the notion that online poker providers should mess with and manipulate an excellent business plan that works for both the companies and their customers is comical. However, given that people continue to bring up the same questions, let’s take a closer look and provide the answers for the sake of clarity.
‘There are too many monster hands’
New online poker players whose experience is limited at most to playing occasional games with their friends might be more than surprised when first introduced to the much quicker online game to see so many big hands. The difference in volume between literally a few dozen hands every month or so at a friend’s kitchen table and the hundred per hour online is enormous, and it stands to reason that the instances of getting strong and monster hands are far higher online. Even a flush might seem a rare in a home game, but flushes and straights are barely noticeable to seasoned online players. If we take the difference one step further and consider someone playing three or four tables at the same time, then over the course of a typical session we can expect to see a host of monster hands appear. In fact, the longer we play, the more we tend not to be the slightest bit surprised even at hands such as quads. It’s all part of the expected distribution over time, and not in the least bit a cause for suspicion..
‘Some players always win’
With so many people playing online poker it follows that there will be extreme results at either end of the spectrum, from those unfortunate enough to see their bad luck manifest itself within a short time period, to those who find all their proverbial Christmases coming at once. It’s a fact of poker life and, over time, we all get to experience both the highs and lows of what Lady Luck has in store for us. Of course, chance being what it is, such things can happen at any time, but this simple mathematical fact can elude those players who feel they’ve been ‘too’ unlucky. What exacerbates the problem is that people’s reactions can be increasingly negative and suspicious (and irrational!) when the chips they keep losing end up added to the stack of the same opponents. But that’s variance! Just because we’re a 70% favourite to win a specific match-up, it doesn’t follow that over a batch of those 10 hands we’ll win seven times; we need to be prepared to see those numbers reversed – if we win only 30% in 10 hands, then that’s just how the cookie crumbles and not in any way indicative of the game being rigged. Nor should we be suspicious if we keep being on the wrong side of bad luck against the same opponent(s)…
Online poker rooms use RNGs (Random Number Generators) to guarantee random card distribution so that outcome of every single hand literally is a random event. RNG technology is incredibly sophisticated and impossible to manipulate, and to provide even further security there are stringent, equally advanced checks by the same regulators and licensors that monitor financial institutions.
Furthermore, for the poker provider it does not at all matter whether Player A, Player B, Player C or, indeed, who wins – the revenue from rake or fees remains the same. For example, let’s take a look at a Sit & Go Tournament that has 10 players, with each buying in for $10 plus a $1 fee. With $10 from everyone contributing to the pot, this leaves $100 in the prize pool. Importantly, the poker room receives its profit in the shape of the 10 $1 tournament fees BEFORE a card is dealt! Whoever goes on to win is totally irrelevant and has no link whatsoever to how the provider accumulates profit.
‘After a cashout you always lose’
This is a common statement – the claim is that we win at the virtual poker tables and make a withdrawal, but doing so mysteriously leads to running very badly, our daring to withdraw from our poker account to ‘real life’ being punished by bad beats and bad luck generally as soon as we return to the tables. It’s almost like the poker room wants that cashed out money to be put back as soon as possible…
Of course, this is total nonsense. The poker room clearly cannot link the piece of information that is the withdrawal with the cards that are subsequently dealt.
At a number of rooms (e.g. CoralPoker) it is common to have one main account that can be used for poker and other platforms, such as sports betting. Consequently, when a withdrawal is made from such an account it is simply that: a cashout that could be from any of the services the company provides, from Bingo to Casino – there’s no link to any particular platform, never mind one that has an impact on future results!
Most online poker rooms are part of a network. CoralPoker and Bet365, for example, are in iPoker. This is a crucial and pretty fundamental characteristic of online poker that those who claim poker is rigged because of the dreaded ‘cashout curse’ fail to take into consideration. Given that so many poker rooms are part of an overall group, it’s absolutely not the case that each single room is able to submit to the network the information about a cashout, so the network cannot therefore ‘punish’ someone who made the withdrawal by rigging results. Note also that other players would have to be artificially given ‘good’ results to even out the equation. Just because ‘variance’ is an ugly word in poker, it doesn’t follow that we should seek to ignore its existence and instead try to explain it (or our poor play) away by claiming that the game is manipulated or rigged.
(More information on variance can be found in our strategy section).
‘I lost with aces’
Here’s another classic ‘rigged’ story… Billy runs poorly for an hour or so and then gets dealt Aces. Not satisfied with perhaps winning only the Blinds, he refrains from betting and instead merely limps in order to not give the game away, and to entice more players into getting involved. Four opponents duly oblige, things start hotting up and, after being unwilling to let his Aces go, Billy risks all his chips and by the River has been overtaken by two players. Thus ends a horrible session. If you think Billy deserved to lose this last hand because he seriously misplayed Aces, then you’d be right, as he should have thrown in a standard raise pre-flop and not invited everyone and his proverbial dog to come along for the ride at a discount price. However, being a poor player, Billy doesn’t see it like that. As far as he’s concerned, he had Aces and therefore should have won the pot, and the player who limped in with trash and ‘got lucky’ at the end stole the chunk of chips that had Billy’s name written all over them. Billy’s blinkered, totally unjustified, hair-brained conclusion: Online poker is rigged.
‘I played well every day for two weeks and didn’t make a profit’
It’s a poker fact that luck plays more of a role in the short-term than in the long-term. The lower the volume of hands, the higher the impact of variance and the less we can rely on skill bringing the desired results. This is why – unlike chess, where luck is essentially non-existent – poker affords even new players the chance of success. Over time, of course, the better players rise to the top but, during a comparatively short time-frame anything can happen. Even if we have the perfect strategy and adhere to it with the greatest discipline, it does not at all automatically follow that we are going to consistently win. Thanks to variance, expert players have losing days after playing well. It’s an occupational hazard and one that we should accept happens from time to time. Once again, it’s poker. It’s life. It’s NOT indicative of online poker being rigged.
Let’s make this short and break the whole ‘poker is rigged’ fallacy down to two groups:
- When things go against you, claim that the game is rigged.
- Understand the game (and why things happen).
We can assure you that online poker is absolutely not – and never will be – rigged, in which case choose Option 2!