Online poker has seen a major resurgence in the last several years, especially in the United States. With payment processing made much easier due to the growth of cryptocurrencies, some US-facing sites keep having surging levels of player traffic, which is leading to record-breaking guaranteed prize pools that seem to increase every month.
However, not everything is perfect in the online poker world as some players are constantly trying to gain an edge whether through online bots, using banned External Assistance Tools, or outright colluding with other players. While the top sites have done a great job combatting these issues, it is a continual battle where they can never let down their guard.
The purpose of this article is to help you determine which online poker sites have the highest integrity and which are the safest from a security standpoint.
What is an online poker bot?
The term Online Poker Bot gets thrown around a lot in the industry and for very good reason. They have been around practically as long as online poker itself, which is more than two decades. Yet online poker bots are extremely important to discuss. If allowed to run rampant, they can create an unfair advantage at the tables, which is the last thing that either poker players or poker operators want.
In a nutshell, an online poker bot is a computer program that has been purposefully designed to play the game against human opponents and create an advantage.
Please be aware that even the most advanced online poker bots can only see the same things as live players. That means they can’t see the cards in the deck or the cards that are in your hands.
The information that an online poker bot can see are things like the shown cards, bets, stacks, and pots. They then use this data to make decisions in real time that are preprogrammed by the software company.
Are online poker sites full of bots?
As we mentioned above, online poker bots are prevalent in the industry and catching them is a game of Cat and Mouse. Many poker sites do the cursory amount of work needed to temporarily remove bots like mouse movement detectors and statistical analysis.
However, the bots typically reinvent themselves and are back up and running in no time. Most poker sites have decided that it is not worth the time and money needed to more permanently remove bots.
However, there are some poker sites that draw a firm line in the sand against bots. One of them is Americas Cardroom, which is the flagship site of the Winning Poker Network. Their continuous battle against bots proves that it’s possible to curb them both in the short and long term.
Americas Cardroom first decided to put in the manpower truly needed to deal with bots. That meant increasing the size of both their dedicated Bot Team and Customer Assessment Team.
Next up was a software update. It included a new Google Captcha service in the poker client, forcing players to verify that they are human in a set amount of time. If players fail to do this, they have their account immediately suspended. To get reinstated, they must create a video session of them playing, which is then analyzed against their prior playing sessions to make sure they’re for real.
The next step is even greater as it targets some of the biggest commercial bot companies. Americas Cardroom now frequently changes the graphics table pixilation in their poker client. This renders the bots powerless since they can no longer see the cards, positions, stacks, and other essential information.
That means if these companies want their bots to keep working on Americas Cardroom, they are forced to do constant programming development. This is too big of an expense for most bot companies who have decided to stop targeting Americas Cardroom with their bots.
The final step was to employ a transparent and verifiable banned account policy. This means that when the bot (and corresponding account) gets banned, Americas Cardroom publishes all the details on their website and pays the affected players back. This gives players the confidence that the bot problem is being continually addressed and not just being done for show.
How is it legal to have bots on online poker?
The answer to this question is very simple. All online poker sites ban the use of online poker bots per their terms and conditions. Sites will sanction, and in most cases, permanently ban any account that is found to use a bot or collude with them.
Technically, using bots is not illegal in most jurisdictions. You will most likely never go to jail or even be charged with a crime if you attempt to use them.
Is online poker rigged?
Despite the presence of some bots, the vast majority of online poker sites are not rigged. However, players should never just take the word of the online poker site. That is where a random number generator (RNG) comes in.
The official definition of an RNG according to Wikipedia is as follows. “An RNG is a device that generates a sequence of numbers or symbols that cannot be reasonably predicted better than by a random chance.”
An RNG is used for things like casino slot machines, both online and land-based, guaranteeing that the customer is not playing on a rigged device. For online poker sites, an RNG ensures that each shuffle of the deck and every card dealt is fair and random. That means your odds are exactly the same as if you were playing live with a physical deck of cards.
Online poker sites have third-party companies test their RNGs to ensure that everything is working correctly and fair. The online poker site then gets issued an RNG certificate, which has to be continuously recertified as the years go by.
Most online poker sites do have an RNG certificate and the ones that don’t should be steered cleared from until they do.
How to spot cheaters
Online poker sites know that there is always a certain subset of players that will try to cheat, whether it is by using banned External Assistance Tools, colluding with other players, or other means.
The responsibility to spot cheaters is ultimately on the online poker site itself. Poker sites want to solve these problems as quickly as possible as it is bad for business, but sometimes they need help from the players.
Many online poker sites give players the tools needed to help spot cheaters and collusion. If a player learns how to spot these items on their own and communicates what they find with the online poker site, the process is much easier and productive for all involved.
Let’s start with defining an External Assistance Tool. This is a third-party tool, piece of software, or source material not developed by the online poker site itself that allows players to improve their poker performance.
Some External Assistance Tools are simply designed to help educate and improve players’ poker games. However, some are specifically designed to give players an unfair advantage at the tables. This is why sites allow the use of some External Assistance Tools and ban others. It is up to each player to read the terms and conditions of each poker site and make sure they are within compliance.
An External Assistance Tool that is banned at a lot of sites is Seating Scripts. A Seating Script allows players to hand-pick who they want to play against. In almost all cases, this will be the weaker players who are identified. The Seating Script then automatically detects when these weaker players have sat down at an online poker table and reserves a spot directly to the player’s left.
Some of the other banned External Assistance Tools at most sites are hole card sharing tools, and tools that offer real-time advice on how to act at the table. The latter are known as push-this-button bot or advisor.
Hand Histories and Heads Up Display (HUD) are two External Assistance Tools that can help players improve their play but also help spot a cheater and/or collusion.
Hand Histories are records of the action in an online poker hand. These are recorded by online poker sites and used by them to track player behavior, resolves disputes and more. Some sites make Hand Histories available to players. Through the help of commercially available products, players use Hand Histories to analyze and improve their play, plus make sure the cards are being fairly dealt.
A Heads Up Display is a computer app that collects and displays statistics about your poker opponents. It overlays your poker table with info about how each individual opponent has played in the past.
Online poker sites should allow Hand Histories and Heads Up Display as long as the data is limited to games the player has personally participated in and doesn’t include data from a current hand in play. Players should research which online poker sites allow these tools before deciding to sign-up.
Can you cheat in online poker?
One of the questions that many players ask is “can you cheat in online poker”? A select few research that topic on Google and other places with the intent of actually trying to cheat at the virtual tables. However, most players are asking that question because they simply want to make sure they are playing at a completely fair site where everything is above board.
One of the ways that online poker sites cut down on potential cheating is never allowing a change to a username once it is set up. That way, you always know who your opponent is, just like if you were sitting across from the person in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. This makes it easier for players to spot any cheating or colluding that might be happening.
By the same token, these usernames should always be shown during play, i.e. no anonymous tables. The concept of anonymous tables has been used in the past in online poker, and some of the bigger operators have tested out bringing them back recently. However, that lack of transparency makes the job harder when it comes to combatting cheating.
Some online sites increase transparency by making mucked hands available at showdown. This provides an ease to players, especially new ones, who could only previously see the information through Hand Histories. However, the real added benefit is that players can identify play that doesn’t make sense and spot potential collusion which can then be reported for further review.
Deciding whether to play at an online poker site is an important decision and the last thing any player should have to worry about is whether they are going against a bot, or the player next to them is cheating or colluding with others.
It’s important that you research which sites are actively combatting these issues and which are just paying lip service and hoping that the problem doesn’t get out of hand.
We already identified the Winning Poker Network (flagship site Americas Cardroom) as one location that is actually winning the war against online poker bots, but other sites are making strides as well.
Before making that first deposit (or subsequent ones), players can ask the Customer Service departments of these online sites what they are doing to combat poker bots and cheating in general. And if you don’t like what you hear, you can move on to the next site.
It’s also important to remember that players themselves can be a big part of the solution in making online poker sites safer. You might think that operators don’t want to hear from you if you see something suspicious at the tables, but the reality is the good ones really desire your input as they want to solve any problems as much as you do.
We hope you found this article useful as it is part of a series of how to play online poker safely and legally in the U.S. and worldwide.
Online Poker Security - FAQ
Online poker can be secure if you take the necessary precautions to protect your personal and financial information. Reputable online poker sites use advanced security measures to protect their players’ data, such as encryption technology to prevent unauthorized access to personal and financial information.
However, it is important to do your own research before choosing an online poker site. Look for sites that have been licensed and regulated by reputable authorities, such as the UK Gambling Commission or the Malta Gaming Authority. These authorities ensure that the site adheres to strict security standards and fair play policies.
It is also recommended to use strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and to never share your login information with anyone else. Additionally, be cautious of phishing scams and other forms of online fraud, and always verify the legitimacy of any emails or messages you receive from the site or other players.
Overall, while online poker can be secure, it is important to take appropriate measures to protect yourself and your information.
Like any form of gambling, online poker involves some degree of risk. The main risks associated with online poker are related to the potential for financial loss, addiction, and security concerns.
- Financial Risk: The risk of losing money is inherent in online poker, just as it is with any form of gambling. Players can lose money quickly, especially if they are not familiar with the game or are playing at stakes that are too high for their bankroll.
- Addiction: Online poker can be addictive, and some players may develop a problem with compulsive gambling. This can lead to financial and personal problems, as well as difficulties with mental health.
- Security: There is also a risk of security breaches or fraud when playing online poker. Hackers or fraudsters may attempt to steal personal or financial information from players, or manipulate the game to gain an unfair advantage.
To minimize these risks, it is important to only play at reputable online poker sites, to set limits on your time and spending, and to be aware of the signs of problem gambling. Additionally, it is important to protect your personal and financial information by using strong passwords and being cautious of phishing scams or other forms of online fraud.
It is rare for online poker sites to be rigged, as they are heavily regulated and audited to ensure fair play. However, if you have concerns about the fairness of a particular site, there are several signs you can look for to determine if the game is rigged:
- Consistently Losing: If you are consistently losing hands or experiencing bad beats that seem statistically unlikely, it could be a sign that the game is rigged.
- Unusual Patterns: If you notice unusual patterns in the gameplay, such as the same players always winning or always getting certain hands, it could be a sign of collusion or cheating.
- Lack of Transparency: If the site does not provide transparency in its algorithms or random number generators, it could be a red flag.
- Reputation: It is also important to consider the reputation of the site and the company behind it. Look for reviews from other players and check if the site has any history of unethical practices.
If you suspect that a particular online poker site is rigged, it is important to report your concerns to the site’s customer support or to the regulatory authority that oversees the site. They can investigate and ensure that the game is fair and that all players have an equal chance of winning.
Spotting bots in online poker can be difficult, as they are designed to mimic human behavior and make it harder to detect them. However, there are some signs that can help you identify if a player is a bot:
- Consistency: Bots tend to play with a consistent style and make the same decisions over and over again. If you notice a player making the same moves repeatedly, it could be a sign that they are a bot.
- Response Time: Bots typically respond very quickly to their opponents, as they are programmed to make decisions faster than humans. If a player consistently responds within a fraction of a second, it could be a sign that they are a bot.
- Lack of Chatting: Bots generally do not engage in chat conversations or interact with other players. If you notice a player who is not responding to chats or only using pre-programmed responses, it could be a sign that they are a bot.
- Unusual Patterns: Bots often have unusual betting patterns, such as consistently betting the same amount or betting in specific patterns. If you notice these patterns, it could be a sign that the player is a bot.
- Suspicious Account: Bots are often created with fake or anonymous accounts. If you notice a player with a suspicious account name, low ranking, or lack of personal information, it could be a sign that they are a bot.
If you suspect that a player is a bot, report your concerns to the online poker site’s customer support or to the regulatory authority that oversees the site. They can investigate and take action if necessary to ensure fair play.
Trackers are software tools used in online poker to collect and analyze data about your gameplay, as well as the gameplay of your opponents. These tools are designed to help you make more informed decisions at the table and improve your overall strategy.
Some of the features of poker trackers include:
- Hand History: Trackers can record and store every hand you play, allowing you to review your own gameplay and identify areas where you can improve.
- Player Statistics: Trackers can provide detailed statistics about your opponents, such as their win rate, aggression level, and tendencies. This information can help you make more informed decisions at the table and adjust your strategy accordingly.
- HUDs: Heads-up displays (HUDs) are a common feature of poker trackers, which display real-time statistics and information about your opponents during gameplay. This can help you make decisions based on the current situation at the table.
- Hand Analysis: Some trackers have built-in tools for hand analysis, allowing you to review and analyze specific hands to identify mistakes and improve your gameplay.
It is important to note that not all online poker sites allow the use of trackers or HUDs, so it is important to check the site’s terms and conditions before using them. Additionally, some players may consider the use of trackers to be unfair, as it can give players who use them an advantage over those who do not.
Cheating at online poker can be even more difficult to detect than in-person poker games, as players are not physically present with each other. However, there are some signs you can look for that may indicate that a player is cheating:
- Unusual Winning Streaks: If a player is consistently winning at an unusual rate, it could be a sign that they are using unfair methods, such as bots or collusion with other players.
- Suspicious Behavior: Look for behavior that is out of the ordinary, such as players who seem to make decisions too quickly or too slowly, or who take frequent breaks during gameplay. This could be a sign that they are using software or tools to cheat.
- Use of Bots: Bots are computer programs that are designed to play poker automatically. Look for players who make decisions very quickly and play with a consistent style, as this could indicate the use of a bot.
- Collusion: Players may work together to cheat by sharing information about their hands or transferring chips to each other. Look for players who are consistently betting against each other or always seem to be in the same hand.
- Suspicious Account Activity: Look for players with new or anonymous accounts, as these may be created solely for the purpose of cheating.
If you suspect that someone is cheating, it is important to report your concerns to the online poker site’s customer support or to the regulatory authority that oversees the site. They can investigate and take action if necessary to ensure fair play. Additionally, using software or tools that are not allowed by the online poker site can also be considered cheating, so be sure to review the site’s terms and conditions before using any software or tools.
It is difficult to say who the biggest cheat in poker is, as cheating has been a problem in the game for many years and there have been many high-profile cases of cheating throughout poker history.
Some notable cases of cheating in poker include:
- Russ Hamilton: Hamilton was a professional poker player who was involved in a cheating scandal on the Ultimate Bet online poker site. He was accused of using a “superuser” account to see his opponents’ hole cards and win millions of dollars in illegal profits.
- Phil Ivey: Ivey, a professional poker player, was involved in a high-profile edge-sorting case at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City. He and a partner were accused of using a technique called edge sorting to gain an unfair advantage in baccarat and win millions of dollars in illegal profits.
- Mike Postle: Postle, a regular player at the Stones Gambling Hall in California, was accused of cheating during livestreamed poker games. He was accused of using his phone to receive information about his opponents’ hole cards and make winning decisions.
- John Montague: Montague, also known as “Titanic Thompson,” was a legendary gambler and cheat who was known for his various scams and cons. He was involved in numerous poker cheating scandals throughout his career.
It is important to note that cheating in poker is not limited to these high-profile cases and can occur at any level of the game. The vast majority of poker players play the game with integrity and honesty, but it is important to remain vigilant and report any suspected cheating to the proper authorities.
Poker bots can be very difficult to beat, as they are designed to play a mathematically optimal strategy and can make decisions quickly and accurately. However, it is not impossible to beat a poker bot, particularly if the bot is not very advanced or if it is being used by a less-skilled player.
One way to beat a poker bot is to vary your play style and use unpredictable strategies. Bots are programmed to look for patterns in their opponents’ play and make decisions based on those patterns, so if you can avoid being predictable, you may be able to gain an advantage.
Another way to beat a poker bot is to play in games where the bot is not allowed. Many online poker sites have rules against the use of bots and other automated software, so playing on these sites can help ensure a fair game.
Ultimately, while beating a poker bot is possible, it requires skill, strategy, and a bit of luck. It is important to always play responsibly and within your limits, whether you are playing against bots or human opponents.
Yes, poker AI has been shown to beat top human professionals in some formats of the game. In recent years, there have been several high-profile matches between top poker professionals and AI bots, with the AI bots emerging as the winners in many cases.
For example, in 2019, a team of AI researchers from Carnegie Mellon University created an AI bot called Pluribus that defeated six top human professionals in a series of six-player no-limit Texas hold’em games. In 2017, another AI bot called Libratus defeated four top human professionals in a similar match.
These results show that AI bots can be very effective at playing poker and may have an advantage over even the best human players in certain formats of the game. However, it is important to note that poker AI is still a developing field, and there are many aspects of the game that are difficult for computers to master, such as bluffing, reading opponents, and adjusting to changing game dynamics.
Furthermore, while AI bots may be able to consistently beat human professionals in certain formats of the game, they may not necessarily be as effective in real-world poker games that involve more complex social and psychological elements. So while AI bots have made impressive strides in recent years, there is still much to learn about their capabilities and limitations in the game of poker.
No, online poker is not dominated by bots. While bots do exist in the online poker world, they are not as prevalent as some people may believe, and many online poker sites have strict measures in place to detect and prevent bot use.
The use of bots in online poker is generally prohibited by most online poker sites, and those caught using bots may face penalties such as having their accounts banned or their funds seized. Additionally, online poker sites use various tools and technologies to detect and prevent bot use, such as algorithms that analyze player behavior and patterns to identify suspicious activity.
While bots may be more prevalent in certain lower-stakes or less popular games, such as heads-up limit hold’em, they are generally less effective in more complex games and in games with more players.
Ultimately, while bots do exist in the online poker world, they are not as common or dominant as some may believe, and most reputable online poker sites take measures to ensure a fair and secure playing environment for all players.
Editor-in-Chief of the Big Blind, a prominent gambling industry publication, brings 30+ years of journalism experience to his role. His vision emphasizes clarity, accessibility, and responsible journalism, making the Big Blind a trusted source in the online gambling sector.