Ever hear the complaint that online poker is rigged? I hear it all the time. A person calls your Pocket Aces all in preflop with A-K off-suit, and there are two hearts on the flop and two more on the turn and river. Online poker does it all the time! Or how about the guy that calls your short stack all in with 3-8, because he has a monster stack, and the flop is 4-5-6, with the river 7 ending your day? And let’s not forget the guy that shoved all in with his short stack late in a tournament, when I called with A-Q of diamonds. He revealed A-J offsuit, and I was feeling pretty good, since I was about a 70/30 favorite to win the hand. Then the flop was A-Q-7. Now I’m ecstatic, but of course the turn is a 10 and the river is a King, and he happily doubles up. I bring those three up because two happened to me in a live game on Tuesday night, while the other ended my Daily Double A tournament last night on FullTilt. I will leave it up to you to decide which happened where.
The point is; bad beats can happen anywhere. Statistically, there are no more bad beats playing online poker than there is playing live. All of the online sites use the same basic software that generates a random deck of cards. In the live world, we call this shuffling. Do you know how many different decks you can create by shuffling the cards in a standard 52-card deck? It is an astounding number.
In mathematical terms, you would cite this number as 8.1 X 1067.
To get to this number, all you have to do is multiply 52 x 51 x 50………..x1. It is that simple. And every online site out there has a computer database with every one of those deck possibilities in it. The random generator then selects any one of those decks and deals the cards. The possible hands, flop, turn and river are then dictated by how many people are at the table. Even when using a deck of cards arranged in exactly the same order, a table of 9 will see a completely different outcome than a table of 6, other than the fact that the first six people to receive a card will receive the same first card.
To ever better illustrate how large the number of possible arrangements of a deck of cards is, think about this. Every time you shuffle a deck of cards, they are in an arrangement that more than likely has never been seen before in your lifetime, and will never be seen again in your lifetime. In fact, you can multiply that lifetime by a thousand lifetimes, and the statement will still be correct. There are just that many possible shuffles.
Now, if there are that many possibilities, then it is not unreasonable to suggest that there are that many possible bad beats out there. If you want to test this theory, give everyone at the table two cards and don’t allow anyone to fold. Then put down the flop, turn and river. I think you will be surprised at the hands that win. Do this over and over again and it will astound you when you see how much junk turns out to be platinum.
So if this is the case, then why do premium cards tend to win in poker and junk tend to lose? The answer is simple. We call it “math”. The preflop bet changes everything. If you play a poker game where every person just shoves their money in preflop and you give the money to the person with the winning hand, then math would have no place in the game. Instead, we play a game where we bet money before we get any cards (small and big blind), and then bet even more money before we see the flop. Then after another betting round we see the turn, and then again after another betting round we see the river. And if that isn’t enough, we see yet another betting round after all the cards have been dealt.
All of this betting, with only partial information given as to the possibilities of the outcome, means that you are forced to try and figure out the mathematical possibilities of the two cards you are holding being the best at the table. When you start doing that, you change the game from mere gambling to a contest of skill.
So if we’ve reduced it down to skill, then why do we think we see more bad beats online? I’ll give you two possibilities, and I think both play a part.
- We see more hands online than we do in a live game, therefore we should also see more bad beats. Again, simple math. In a live game, we have shuffling, misdeals, table talk, long waits if nobody calls for the clock, high fives when there are big wins, etc. Online, you never have a misdeal, and there is a short period of time for each player to make a decision. Even if a player decides to type in comments before acting, he still has a set limit of time, and the hand will fold/check automatically if he doesn’t act. So if there is a bad beat once an hour in a live game, you will probably see a bad beat every 15 minutes in an online game.
- The other factor I see in online play is that the average online player takes more gambles. The chips aren’t there for him to actually touch. Instead there is just a number by his name. There are no physical tells for him to pick up on. There are hardly any factors for him to consider other than to fold, call or raise. This makes it all too easy for him to call your preflop raise with 3-7 of diamonds just to see if he can make a hand out of it. Then there is a 3 in the flop, and nothing higher than a 9 for the rest of the cards, and he thinks he might well be good. And that, in a nutshell, is the recipe for a bad beat.
This hand from last night on FullTilt should illustrate this second point. Late in the Daily Double, everyone folded around to me on the button, and I had Q-9 of Diamonds. Not exactly a stellar hand, but like a robot, I raised three times the big blind. That is exactly what the button should do in that situation even holding something as bad as 2-7 offsuit. The small blind folded, and the big blind raised. Do you know how much she raised? Exactly twice my bet. A minraise. Now, if you know me, you know that I’ll call a minraise with any two cards. When you give me 3:1 or better on my money, I know that most any two cards in the deck are legitimately priced in. So I called. The flop was 9-high, and like a good online donkey, I bet out big. The big blind then went all in, and again the pot was giving me 3.5:1 on my money for the call. So I did. And then she revealed K-K. Well played ma’am! Only the turn was a 9, and the river was a Queen. Ouch.
So was that an online bad beat? Or was it a product of someone with a premium starting hand trying to slow play and trap, and then made the mistake of pricing me in with every bet? I am pretty sure she went on into the night yelling about how terrible online play is. Most online players do. I will only argue that the exact same scenario happens in live games every day. All you have to do is hang out in the smoking area outside any Las Vegas poker room and you will hear the stories over and over again.
In a nutshell, I am trying to say that online poker play is every bit as legitimate (or illegitimate, depending on your point of view) as live play. Sure, there will always be the stories like the one in recent years where a master account at one online site was able to see the hole cards of everyone at the table and capitalize on it with big scores. It did happen, but the ending of the story is often overlooked. The problem was rectified, and everyone received their money back. On the other side of the coin, people are caught cheating in live games all the time too. Two players can signal to each other when they have premium hands. A player can slightly mark high value cards. Dealers can stack decks.
Do I recommend any particular site? No. FullTilt, Pokerstars, Bodog, Pitbull Poker….they all have good play and donkey players. Some might have better graphics, while others might handle financial transactions a little quicker. Where to play is your choice. In fact, the bigger names in poker have accounts at all of them. There is even a method to transfer funds from one site to another. All I am saying is that the legitimate sites can be trusted, and you shouldn’t worry when playing on them. I personally prefer live play in a casino, but I am not always in a position to get to a casino. If I am on vacation down with my family in Florida, I have a choice between some of the worst live poker rooms in the nation, or logging on to FullTilt and playing against players from around the world. The choice for me is easy.
On a completely different topic, I am proud to announce that this site has been picked up by my favorite poker eyewear site, Blue Shark Optics. I am honored that they have agreed to let this site be one of their affiliates, and I hope that you take the time to click on their link over on the left side of the page, and go see what they have to offer. Their products truly are state of the art for poker players, and I know you will be more than pleased with what they offer. I don’t normally try and be a salesman for anything, but I feel so strong about their eyewear, and hope you will too once you check them out.
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All things being equal, Jim is right. All things being equal. But what if all things aren’t equal? What if, for instance, four of the people at your table are talking to each other on instant messenger via aol or hotmail and colluding with each other. What if the owner/operator of the web site has integrated software that allows the site to give premium hands to particular players far more often than chance would dictate? What if the site you are playing on has members who just happen to have a financial interest in that site, who have “special” software that allows them to see your cards. What if? All of the things I’ve mentioned has happened in the past. Are they still happening? I don’t know.
I was talking with a casino manager the other day and I pointed out that I will not play at a blackjack table that uses a constant shuffler. When he asked me why I pointed out that, A. any mechanical device can be modified to achieve the outcome you desire, B. Someone, somewhere has modified an automatic shuffler to deliver the cards in a desired order, C. I can’t be sure that the shuffler at the table I’m playing hasn’t been so modified. Therefore, D. I won’t play at a table with a mechanical device determining the cards I get.
Now consider online poker. All of these sites are located in foreign countries. Those countries have greater or lesser oversight than we think or would desire. If it’s greater, wonderful for us. If it’s lesser? Wonderful for the site. Where it is lesser they can get away with far more than I outlined above. The answer? Legalize online poker in the U.S. Regulate, license and control it. Make sure the “random” shuffle Jim describes is, in actuality, happening. Where cheating is/was/does occur, impose stiff penalties and consequences. Now, am I condemning online poker and the sites currently popular? No. The old adage of “trust, but verify” holds true for online poker as well (or maybe more so) as it does for anything else. I can’t verify now. If these sites were located in the U.S., I could. That, for me, is the bottom line.
Gary R Reed
Colorado State Director
Poker Players Alliance
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