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Is online poker rigged?

There are many people claiming that online poker is rigged. Since this is a very strong accusation against the online poker industry and interests all online poker players, I’ve decided to write an article regarding this subject. I’ll try to answer the most common questions regarding this issue and also state my own point of view.
What do people mean when they are saying online poker is rigged?
They are assuming that the cards are not dealt on a 100% random basis. They state that the cards are dealt according to a very sophisticated algorithm instead of a fair random number generator.
Why would the poker rooms rig the game?
The adepts of the “rigged theory” usually have two types of arguments regarding the reason why poker rooms would do that:
- In order to increase the pot size, the players will often receive good pocket cards. This will stimulate them to rise and the pot will be bigger, resulting in higher rake. These kinds of statements usually originate from players who lose with QQ against KK and other similar situations.
- Weaker players are luckier than better players. They often get saving cards on flop and river, and a weak play turns into a big win for them. This happens because it is in the poker room’s interest to keep players at the tables. If a weak player keeps losing, he will quit playing. However, a good player who made many cashouts will still play even if he loses a little.  These arguments come from people who won in the past and experience a bad period. If they have some bad beats on the river against lucky straights or flushes, they think it is because of their cashouts.
Are these arguments solid enough?
Let’s analyze these two situations and see if the “rigged theory” adepts are right or wrong.
The first one says poker rooms want to stimulate players to put their money in the pot in order to create large pots (with higher rake). This is why they create situations like three players holding high pocket pairs. With such hand, and a crazy flop, it’s almost guaranteed that the pot will get big.
I think it is enough to play online poker for a few hours and you’ll realize this argument is ridiculous. How many times have you seen this kind of situations? Very few times… How many times have you seen everybody folding to the first bet? Lots of times… This means most of the times people don’t hold crazy pocket pairs, but pure trash. If the poker room would rig the cards to create higher pots, it would be stupid to generate extreme situations, when it could simply deliver decent cards to many people (not monster cards). There is another thing to be considered when analyzing this theory. At higher stakes, the rake is capped at a fixed value (usually $3). If the rake is 5%, it is enough to have an $80 pot to reach the maximum rake. Why would the poker room need to create crazy situations and have huge pots, when an $80 pots gives the same rake as a $1,000 pot. It makes no sense.
But when it happens to be you the one who lost all-in with KK against AA, it’s hard to admit that it was only bad luck.
The second reason why the poker rooms would rig the game is to help weaker players win too. This way there would be more players at the tables, generating higher rake. While this argument may sound solid, it is enough to know the reality of online poker to understand it is pure speculation. There are many people who are earning a living playing online. They constantly win more than they lose, because they are skilled players (some of them are poker pros). How would this be possible if the cards would be rigged to help weaker player beat the sharks? If the “cashouts theory” would be true (people who make cashouts will receive weaker cards and will be unlucky) these people would not be able to win on a regular basis. However, it is well known that they do.
It is very easy to say cards are rigged when you experience a losing streak. Maybe you just had bad luck, or you played bad. Good players always try to find their mistakes and improve their game, instead of trying to find someone to blame for their lack of success.
Some things to be considered before accusing online poker of being rigged
- Many poker professionals play online, to win some extra cash. Don’t you think that these players would realize if the game was rigged? Would they still be playing in a rigged environment? I don’t think so. Gus Hansen (one of the best poker players in the world) declared that he lost one million dollars during two months of playing online. Do you think he accused online poker to be rigged? No. He knew he had just been unlucky and didn’t play well enough. This is why he continued playing and recovered his loss in only one week.
- Unlucky bad beats usually happen to better than average players. Luck will always help the weaker players. If a better player wins, it usually wins with no luck involved. If you hold a better hand and raise, and your newbie opponent calls you, there are only two possibilities: you will win because you played better, or you will lose because he got lucky on the turn/river. Weak players will count on luck in many more situations than good players. This is why they will have more lucky wins.
- Unusual situations are much easier to remember than normal ones. Why are the Murphy’s Laws so well known? It is obvious that they are not scientific things, but still seem so real. This is because when something frustrating and unusual happens you will always notice it. However, when all things happen as they should you don’t notice, because it’s just normal.
- Many players say that they get much more bad beats online than in brick and mortar casinos. Although it may seem weird, it is very normal. There are two reasons for this. The players who go to play in a real casino are people who know poker. Online are many fishes that play for fun, and because of their weak play they can create situations when luck is their last hope. And sometimes luck helps them. The second reason this situation appears is because of the speed of online play compared to real poker. You play many more hands/hour online than in a real casino. The more you play the more sensational hands you’ll see.
Poker Networks, the ultimate proof that online poker is not rigged
Many important poker rooms are part of poker networks. What is a poker network? It is a shared database of players from different poker rooms who play at the same tables. The poker client is developed by the network administrator, and customized by the poker rooms. This way, poker players from different poker rooms will play against each other. These networks have developed because it is very hard to create a poker room with many players, and if there is not enough action at the tables, people won’t join a poker room. But being part of a network is very convenient for a new poker room. All it has to do is to recruit players, who will be able to play at any stakes against many opponents just from the beginning. The poker rooms will earn their profits from the rake generated by their players. So, if a poker room has good players who win on a regular basis it will gain more money. This is why it is in the interest of the poker room to have winning players. Some poker rooms invested money in training their players, offering poker books or providing detailed courses to help their players learn poker. It is obvious that this poker rooms will not accept to have their players cheated, because if their players are cheated, they are cheated too.
The most important poker networks are iPoker Network (Bet365 Poker, Bet Fred Poker) and Merge Gaming (Carbon Poker). Carbon Poker is open to US players as well.
My opinion regarding this issue
I must admit that sometimes I suspected online poker to be rigged too. After some frustrating hands and bad experiences (that happened after some cashouts) I thought about this possibility. However, after reading other people’s opinions and experiences, and playing more poker myself, I understood that the “rigged poker” theory is only a result of the frustration that unlucky or weak players may have. Play more and play better, and you will come to the same conclusion.
Author: Abscident
© Gambler Awards, 2008
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