Moneymaker boom brought thousands into poker seemingly overnight, with few understanding the game and how it actually works.
On its face, poker looks like a simple game. You learn the basics, play a couple of poker hands, and seem to know it all, how hard it can actually be?
You get your chips in when you have it, wait for the “sucker” to make a mistake, and own their soul!
However, the reality is quite different. Poker is a complex game that requires a vast skillset to actually win at, even when playing against moderate or weak players.
The lack of understanding leads so many people to believe online poker is rigged. After all, the stuff that happens on PokerStars never happens in like poker, right? Wrong!
I set out to find out if online poker is rigged and whether there is any truth to such claims.
Is online poker rigged, or are you just not good enough at the game? Let’s look at some important aspects and topics and discuss them with an open mind.
Why Do We Think Online Poker Is Rigged?
So before we go into whether or not online poker is rigged, let’s talk about why anyone would think it is. There are several reasons, and most of them have to do with people losing money.
If you have been a part of the gambling world for some time, you will probably have noticed that people will talk about cheating in almost any game imaginable.
Slots and other computer-based games are constantly dubbed as rigged and an absolute scam.
What’s more, people will even complain the dealers are somehow cheating them at roulette or blackjack, which is close to impossible.
The reality is that people hate losing money but love the thrill that gambling gives them.
You never hear a person complain about a game being rigged when they are winning.
The reality is that gambling games are set up so that all players must lose money. Poker is not such, but some players still have to lose money in almost every poker game.
There are several main reasons, so many people believe online poker is rigged. For one, online poker is tougher as more good players play in the online arena, making it more likely you will lose if you sit down to play.
Additionally, more hands are played per hour at any online table than live, which leads to more scenarios of all sorts, including the so-called poker coolers and bad beats.
However, coolers and bad beats happen in live poker as well, and they go both ways, online and offline alike.
Some players get into more cooler situations because of bad hand selection and other factors, but that’s another thing to discuss in more detail.
But before we do that, let’s talk about the stats and whether online poker is truly rigged. Why are some players winning and others losing, and how can you tell if you are a winner or a loser?
Who are the Winners and Losers in Online Poker?
Live poker is an extremely slow game. In a single night of cash game play, you may get in some 250 hands over 8 hours of play, which online grinders often get in a single hour or less by multitabling.
For this reason, live players who transition into online poker are often surprised by the amount of variance they experience.
It may take you many nights of live play to experience the swings that happen in just a single session of online poker.
Swings can be brutal and hurt a lot if you are not well prepared for them.
However, the stats don’t lie. The players who study the game and play actual good poker without crazy VPIP poker stats end up winning across the stakes. Many professional players have booked multiple winning years in a row, proving this point.
On the other hand, it is the recreational or bad players who complain the most. The truth is that such players simply haven’t played a big enough sample to even talk about games being rigged.
What’s more, these players are often losing players who play fundamentally bad poker and have never really studied it.
If you do study poker and are trying to get better, one of the key things to remember is that you will experience some variance.
The best players in the world go on massive downswings from time to time, caused by both variance and poor play while losing.
To be a winner in online poker, you must learn to take the beats and play your A-game as often as possible to maximize your long-term win rate.
Is There Any Evidence?
Over the years, we have seen much “evidence” published online about online poker being rigged.
In almost every case, they are extremely small samples, such as three hands with pocket aces where a player lost.
However, every single database of hand histories out there actually suggests that online poker is not rigged.
Good or bad, players are winning the correct amount of times in all-in situations with all hands, compared to the all-in equities.
The more hands a database contains, the less chance there is for any statistical deviations. Large multi-million hand databases have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that major online poker sites are not rigged.
Whether you want to talk about flush cards coming on the turn or river or your draws constantly busting, neither is true.
Once you get enough hands under your belt, your equities will have come into their proper places.
So Why Does It Seem Rigged?
I have stated that online poker is not rigged, but you may still have your doubts. The question remains of why does it seem like it’s all one big scam so often?
The answer to this question is actually quite simple.
If you believe online poker is rigged, you probably suck at the game.
You either don’t understand variance or can’t play winning poker. In both cases, you are not a good poker player.
If you are getting mad about online poker scams when you lose big, you should also be thrilled it is rigged every time you win a tournament.
On average, you should lose one of two coin flips, so every time you win more than one coin flip in one tournament, you should question the site’s integrity.
Of course, this is not the truth, and math doesn’t work this way. Mathematical variance means that a player will often win many coin-flips in a row and lose many situations as a favorite in a row as well.
Being a great poker player means knowing that there are many times when you will lose despite playing the hand great and following sound Texas Holdem tips, so the decisions you make are the only thing to consider.
Whether you believe it or not, your variance will even out eventually. Just keep playing and improving, and remember that it’s all about the long run.
If you think 50 online tournaments is the long run, you are wrong! If you think 1.000 cash game hands is the long run, you are wrong!
Go back to the drawing board and learn the fundamentals of poker, as this will help you overcome variance and your own delusions.
So Is There No Cheating In Online Poker?
When I say online poker is not rigged, I am referring to the RNGs that generate the cards and determine which hands will be dealt out.
This does not mean there is no cheating in online poker.
In fact, over the years, there have been many cheating scandals in the world of live and online poker.
For live games, it is mostly related to collusion, signaling or marking cards, or even more advanced stuff like in Mike Postle cheating case. IN online games, these have been related to bots, super users, and people playing on other people’s accounts for the most part.
These online poker scams certainly don’t mean online poker is rigged.
Poker bots are very common in this day and age, but they are simply computer programs that play instead of real players.
The superuser scandals such as the one at Ultimate Bet saw certain users get access to other players’ hole cards. This kind of cheating is unacceptable, but once again has nothing to do with online poker being rigged.
Finally, at some higher stakes, well-known specialists have been known to use other players’ accounts to gain an edge.
This, too, does not mean that any poker sites are rigged.
An important point to make is that most players who complain about online poker being rigged play at quite low stakes. Even the cheaters who did exist never tried to pull anything at NL10, so if you are losing there, chances are you just aren’t very good.
When Should I Get Worried?
Regardless of all the NVG poker forum threads and Reddit posts out there, online poker simply isn’t rigged.
There is too much information and stats that prove this part of poker is fair.
However, you still want to be vigilant, so you may be asking, is there ever a time to be worried about a certain poker site being rigged?
The large poker sites you probably play at are extremely safe, but if you are playing on some small site or poker app, there may be a time to question things.
The time to do it is once you have played at least some thousands of hands or hundreds of poker tournaments, and the stats in your poker tracker are not adding up.
If there are significant statistical anomalies over a large sample of hands, you could bring it up on poker forums.
However, once the stats gurus tell you what’s what, just believe them, don’t take the average Joe’s opinion instead.
Finally, if you are not using a poker tracker of any kind to record your hands, you should not be talking about online poker being rigged.
There is simply no way to claim it off the top of your head.
The only way to bring the legitimacy of an online poker site’s RNG into question would be by using actual stats from hands played there, so if you don’t have them, I suggest you get them or stop complaining.
Concentrate On Your Plays, Not Your Results
There will always be some players who will claim that online poker is rigged, and that’s perfectly fine. Such players keep coming back for more and keep claiming it is rigged while usually playing terribly.
If you have had your doubts about online poker’s legitimacy, that’s also OK.
We are all just humans, and we often try to make sense of what we can’t understand by jumping to conclusions.
However, the evidence that supports online poker not being rigged is overwhelming.
Sites have no real reason to rig games and plenty of reason to keep them fair and safe for everyone.
So what can you do? You can play better poker!
This means sitting down, reading about poker, watching coaching videos, reviewing your sessions, and thinking about the game in a new way.
Think of poker as a mind-game and not as gambling. If you make the right play and lose a hand, don’t worry. As long as your play made sense, the money will end up coming back to you.
Finally, I suggest you manage your expectations and read up on win rates in poker. If you think you should win all the money on the table every time, I will just remind you that even Phil Ivey loses quite often, so don’t beat yourself up about losing a $20 pot and keep learning the game instead.
If you are on a rough run, take a break, maybe watch one of the best poker movies and go back to the tables only when you are ready to play at your best.