Prof. Nilsson

Cardsharp and speaker

Online poker

The two biggest threats in online poker are collusion and poker bots.

A little knowledge is definitely a dangerous thing if you’re trying to protect yourself against poker cheating. New methods and technologies appear all the time.

The classical methods are numerous. False shuffles, holding out (switching cards), coolers (replacing the entire deck), peeking at cards, using marked cards, and stealing money out of the pot are the most common. The standard text in the field is Poker Protection by Steve Forte.

This article is mainly about online poker.


Collusion, illegal cooperation, is the big elephant in the room; something that few poker-organizers want to talk about.

Playing in league with other players is cheating. It gives a huge advantage, and many strategies are possible. Collu­sion can be found both in online poker and live poker, and in either case may be difficult to detect and protect against.

Even if you do not signal any cards, but only share the money, the possibilities are many: soft­play means to save money for your partner by not betting or raising when you normally would, in whipsawing you force a player out of the game by repeated raises, dumping means to deliberately lose.

Secret signals can give you an even greater advantage and be next to impossible to detect. The possibilities are many – and a few bits of information is all that is needed.

Even for computers it’s a challenge to guard against collusion – it’s difficult to design algorithms that detect illegal cooperation and tricky to know how well they work.

If you play poker seriously, at a table or on the web, you should carefully consider the risk of collusion. Arnold Snyder’s Poker Tournament Cheating and “Semi-Cheating” and the chapter on collusion in Steve Forte’s Poker Protection are both required reading.

Poker bots

If collusion is the big elephant, the poker bot is a mountain gorilla. Usually it’s the player who takes help from a computer program, but some poker rooms have used robots to help fill up the tables.

You often hear that robots can only beat beginners and that experts don’t need to worry. I suspect that the best poker bots can beat most human players.

Poker Bots Invade Online Gambling (New York Times, 2011-03-13) provides a good picture of what is possible to achieve with a poker bot, and the programs are constantly getting better.

There are different opinions about when and how it’s legit­imate use robots. Most people think that it’s unac­ceptable for a poker room itself to use robots or for players to use software that communi­cates directly with the poker client.

Different poker rooms have different rules and different levels of tolerance in dealing with poker bots. As a player you rarely have full insight. What can they really detect and what do they do about it?