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Bots, Cheating, and Online Poker

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Recently, a long-time member of the Las Vegas poker community posted a question in several public forums about cheating. He saw a Google ad on my site for an organization selling some “Cheating” software for poker.

I saw those ads too, and I submitted them immediately to Google so that they wouldn’t display. Google selects the ads to display, but I can veto them manually, and I vetoed the cheating ones. Normally I have a laissez faire attitude toward ads, figuring that my readers are smart enough to know what might be worth buying (poker equipment, books, and other stuff) and what’s a dud. But I won’t have “Cheat at Poker” spashed across my site, whether the guy is selling snake oil or not.

The post then asks what cheating methods might be used online, and what he should be concerned about. I don’t want to alarm people, but I think it’s a valid question, so I figured I’d talk a bit about it. There are two major classes of cheating threats: attacks on the basic integrity of the game, and team play.

Attacks on the Integrity of the Game

I’m talking about stuff like the cards being “rigged,” about some players being able to see others’ hands, and about people being able to crack the random number generator (RNG).

To be hit by one of these things requires either incompetent software design, deliberate misuse by someone on the inside, or spyware.

At the 30,000 foot level, here’s how a poker program “should” work. It should use a hardware RNG to ensure true randomness rather than pseudo-randomness. Computers often generate “random” numbers by taking a fixed seed (like the current time) and running it through a very unpredictable function. This makes the output seem random, but if you know the original seed number, you can just run the function again and predict what the “random” number will be.

Hardware RNG is truly random. An example is a radioactive source and a Geiger counter. You can’t predict when the next atom will decay, when the Geiger counter will next “blip.” No one can. It’s a law of nature. You can use the random blips of a Geiger counter to generate truly random, unpredictable numbers.

Poker software should generate your hole cards with hardware RNG. Then it should send them to you through an encrypted channel. It would work similarly to the encryption on the web. Here’s how it might work. Your computer selects a secret key (i.e., password) at random (or, rather, psuedo-random). It encrypts it using the poker site’s public key and sends it to the site (read more about public key cryptography). The site decrypts the key and then sends you a confirmation that you both have the same key. Then the site communicates your cards to you using your agreed upon secret key.

If done correctly, no one “listening in” can know what your cards are. It’s a secret between you and the poker site. That’s how a poker site should work, and it’s relatively basic stuff for any competent developer. But not all developers are competent, and they could do it wrong. The site could be cheap and scrimp on the hardware RNG, thus relying on psuedo-random numbers. Since those numbers can be predicted, one could “crack” the code and figure out what all the cards are.

The site could also mis-implement the encryption algorithm and introduce a vulnerability there. Fortunately, online poker sites seem to be settling on a few online poker software packages rather than developing new ones for each little site. The major packages shouldn’t have these problems. I’d expect them only from a homebrew piece of software at a little site.

As I said, your cards are a secret between you and the poker site. Or rather, between your computer and the poker site’s computer. Those are the two points of attack. If someone at the poker site who has access to the server code wanted to look at cards, they could, without question, do so. There’s no way around that.

More immediately concerning (at least to the extent that it’s actually something you can control), however, is spyware. Your computer knows your secret key and your cards. If you accidently download and install a spyware package designed to sniff out your cards, you’re toast. It would sit in the background, and you’d have no immediate tip-off to its existence. It would read either your secret key or your actual decrypted cards and transmit them to a server run by the spyware developer. Then he could see your cards every time you play.

Writing such spyware without “cooperation” from the poker client is far from trivial, however, as Windows has built-in protections to prevent a random program from accessing the memory of another. In other words, I couldn’t write a program that just looks at the memory used to store your cards because that memory belongs to a different program. Windows would say, “Nope, you can’t read that.” [Ed. Actually, it’s really not all that hard to write spyware that grabs your cards. An easy example is a screen scraper that watches what’s on your monitor and forwards that information to a 3rd party. Thanks to MFM in the comments for catching my brainfart.]

But if there’s a vulnerability in the poker client, then they spyware could “sneak in” and become part of the poker client. At that point, it could read and transmit freely. The client has to be written very rigorously to avoid exposing such a vulnerability. Here’s a quick example. Say the client is divided into different modules: one part converses over the Internet, one part displays cards on screen, and one part encodes and decodes things. The spyware might be able to hack the part that displays cards and inject code that reads and transmit your cards to the cheaters. To defeat that, the person who wrote the client code would have to check at load time that the card displaying module is untainted. In other words, before it loads ANYTHING, it has to make sure no one changed it.

Most poker client software actually probably does that. But there are probably literally thousands of similar checks and verifications the poker client has to make throughout the code to make sure that no evil code sneaks in, and humans being humans, usually a few get missed.

Again, I’m not trying to be alarmist. It’s not easy to write such a piece of spyware. But in computer security, where there’s a will, there’s a way. There’s money to be made, and you can be 100% certain people are working on hacks like this as you read this. Someone will find a hack, get people to install it, and use it for a while to steal money. Eventually the poker site will find out, and the developer will fix the crack. But in the meantime, bad stuff has happened.

That’s about it for the integrity of the game. To be honest, I think it’s a relatively low risk for most people. Frankly, it’s a lot easier for spyware just to grab your password through a keylogger, log in as you, and take your money that way. Be very careful about what you install on your computer, and be on the lookout for drive-by downloads. And don’t play at shady sites. The shadier the site, the more likely someone working for it will see the easy money they can grab and grab it.

Team Play

Team play is a more imminent threat. Obviously, colluding is trivial. Talk to someone else while you play. It’s a skill, though… two idiots who can’t play poker aren’t a threat. But two excellent players who have mastered colluding will be damn near unbeatable.

Identifying collusion is tricky. There’s ways sites can do it, but a lot of the evidence is circumstantial, and it requires human eyes to make the final call. Whenever you have a network-scale problem and a human-scale solution, stuff will slip through the cracks. Especially when the problem users are largely anonymous and can just change IP’s, bank accounts, and usernames and start again.

Furthermore, cardrooms have a long-term incentive to squelch cheating (because it fleeces the regular players and eventually they’ll stop playing), but a short-term incentive to cover it up (because a cheating scandal will chase players away long before they get frustrated and quit on their own). Whenever your first incentive is to cover something up, you have a dangerous situation. It’s not an indictment of cardrooms, it’s just the way it is.

To me, the most direct threat to online poker is colluding bots. By themselves, bots are a major threat to online poker. Bot software is now available to the public at a very affordable price. (Please don’t flame me for the link. Enough people already know about and use these bots that the damage is done, so to speak. If you don’t believe me, look at the forums at that site and see how active they already are. I’m very much trying to educate the regular player about what they are up against.)

The reason bots are a threat is because it’s not too hard to code a bot that will beat the small games, both limit and no limit. Small games are the lifeblood of the poker economy and the $100 losses at $2-$4 are ultimately what feed the $1,000-$2,000 games at the top – pyramid style. In a normal small stakes game, incompetent players fill most of the seats, and the few good players “shear the sheep,” as it were, taking their cut, but leaving most of the money floating around.

Bots, however, have the capability to be in hundreds of games simultaneously. Eventually they will “skin the sheep.” They will continue to expand and fill seats until someone stops them, or until it’s no longer profitable. If the bots are making no money, then it means the cardroom is getting its rake, the good players are getting a tiny bit, and the bad players are getting slaughtered. They’ll quit. And without their money, the whole online poker pyramid will collapse.

Bots are quite literally the cancer of online poker. They will multiply until they have killed their victim or until someone contains them. The bot software I linked above allows users to create their own AI and plug it into the bot framework. Hundreds of great poker minds are working right now to develop better AIs. If you want insight into their brains, again, read those forums.

More threatening still is colluding bots. Bots can communicate with other bots and share hole cards. Say someone writes a colluding bot and sits it in three seats of a game. The bots share hole cards with each other and instantly adjust their strategies based on the extra knowledge. A well-coded bot of this type would be extremely formidable even to strong players.

If poker sites want to survive and keep their pot-o-gold running into the next decade, they need to tackle the bot problem head on (apply directly to the forehead). They have adopted some counter-measures. For instance, Party Poker and PokerStars (and possibly others) use a technology called captchas (you’ve no doubt seen them on numerous websites now) to thwart bots. A captcha is just an image with distorted lettering on it. It’s trivial for humans to see through the distortion and type in the lettering, but it’s a tough problem for computers. The site challenges you with a captcha, and you have to type it in to keep playing. Bots won’t be able to do this reliably enough to avoid detection.

But captchas don’t work at all if a person is sitting there watching the bot. Say someone has three computers with a colluding bot on each computer. They tell the bots to play, and they monitor the action to look out for captchas. It’s a solution for the nickel-and-dime botting at the very bottom, but as soon as there’s meaningful money involved, people will sit there just to type in captchas. Or hire people to do that. Lots of people would be happy to earn $8/hour to sit there and type in captchas.

It’s a tough nut to crack, but sites will eventually have to attack the problem very aggressively if they want to keep their businesses going. And ultimately, the deck is stacked against the cardrooms. There’s no iron-clad solution. Bots can run remotely so the bot software is entirely undetectable on the client machine. Poker clients would have to ban the use of all sorts of macroing and other automated input programs to stop it, but the “bleeding edge” botters will always be one step ahead.

In fact, the botters could reduce their footprint on the client machine to nearly zero. They could run the bot on a separate computer. The bot could simply suggest plays (informed with the hole cards of other bots) on that computer, and a hired person could execute the plays in real time on the client machine. The hired player could respond to chat, enter captchas, and otherwise appear like a completely normal player. This could be done in workshop-style offices on a large scale in places like Eastern Europe where kids can be hired very cheaply. The only recourse the cardrooms would have is the labor-intensive collusion detection available to them. If the botters collude “smartly,” (i.e., they don’t collude every hand, but “mix it up” to use poker terms), they could escape detection for quite a while. Lest you think this is far-fetched, such workshops already exist in China to play online computer games and sell virtual property.

Unfortunately, as I gaze into my crystal ball, I fear colluding bots may make online poker in 2010 just a shell of what it is today. As someone who makes his living off the vibrancy of honest poker, that thought scares me a lot. But just because I want the problem to go away doesn’t mean it will. You, every honest poker player, should know what the threats are and exactly what you might be up against when you play online poker.

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84 Responses to “Bots, Cheating, and Online Poker”

JJS
@ Sun Dec 10, 2006 04:53:09 PM
1

Boy that bot forum sure is not a nice place! Someone asked for help with something, then someone else told him to “open a command window and type ‘deltree c: /y'”, a command which would have wiped his hard drive. When the guy came back and said “deltree is not recognized” by the system, he was laughed at and called stupid.

Calling someone stupid because they don’t know DOS commands? Not to mention the fact that they would have wiped the poor guy’s system if it had worked! I remember pulling that sort of silly crap when I was 13…

MFM
@ Sun Dec 10, 2006 04:53:10 PM
2

“Windows has built-in protections to prevent a random program from accessing the memory of another. In other words, I couldn’t write a program that just looks at the memory used to store your cards because that memory belongs to a different program. Windows would say, “Nope, you can’t read that.”

You might be wrong here, else there would be no need for programs such s “Snoop Free” or “Process Guard”. That fact that Windows does NOT prevent one program from reading/writing elsewhere is the basis for the security vulnerabilities we see news about every day.

The Party Poker dataminer programs for instance read the memory of the Party Poker client for hand history data. There is an open source version of one of these programs on 2+2.

Ed Miller
@ Sun Dec 10, 2006 05:00:32 PM
3

MFM,

You’re right, of course, that it’s easier to make spyware that transmits your cards than I intimated. For instance, the spyware could just screenscrape the cards and ship them off. All-in-all, you’re in a bad way if someone manages to install software on your comp that spies on your online poker sessions.

Joe Bloomstone
@ Sun Dec 10, 2006 05:18:43 PM
4

Best to dedicate one computer to just poker. It’s not too expensive to setup a machine for this purpose. Few hundred dollars tops.

Put this box behind a nice firewall / router and just don’t surf on it. You end up with your OS and poker, that’s it.

If there ever is a question, spin the factory CDs, let the thing do it’s updates, then re-grab your poker stuff.

Ed Miller
@ Sun Dec 10, 2006 05:19:49 PM
5

Joe,

I think that’s excellent advice.

Bruno76
@ Sun Dec 10, 2006 07:50:10 PM
6

As long as you can nix google adds, you might wish to opt out of Poker Bots Scam. Check out the bot link and compare it to the Home Page which talks about taking online surveys for money. Look similar? Scroll down to where it talks about how much John made.

‘Nuff said?

Alex Annese
@ Mon Dec 11, 2006 02:44:51 AM
7

I will not discuss this further, but I want to let you all know it’s out there and possible. This was done by a friend of mine who is a computer expert. I was watching the table and saw with my own eyes. He does not hack poker sites for money (he has enough of it), he does it to see if it’s possible. Whether you believe me or not, this screen shot is not doctored/photoshoped.

http://torgo.spleens.net/log_poker.jpg

[Ed: This appears to be fake.]

Stewie_Griff
@ Mon Dec 11, 2006 04:04:19 AM
8

Hi,

sounds scary. can you please elaborate a little more about what you mean by “shell” of what it is today….

is it gonna be like every site i log onto has tons of bots???

the 2010 date sounds pessimistic..

I guess i am asking for you to elaborate further on your perspective of online poker in 2010 if things were to go awry as you suggested…

tx.

very interesting article though…

PeterL
@ Mon Dec 11, 2006 04:55:32 AM
9

Personally I think at the moment bots are a good thing for decent players.

You ask why?

Basically a bot needs 2 things

1. a Brain
2. Something to perform the action.

The action performing part is the part that most online poker rooms ban and monitor for.

while as the brain part is the part that does the real work.
see an earlier thread asking about odds calculators.

These brains are not banned but positively encouraged by most poker sites as they are even given away free by many affiliates as long as you open an account with a poker room.

Now what does a brain do.

it looks at the cards and works out what your chances of winning are and acts accordingly or in the case of some allows you to decide what advice it will give in certain situations.
Now remember many players are playing using these calculators but not employing a bot. Some have an edge others do not as they ignore the brai and let there emotions rule.

I personally think these are great as they give bad advice and can be spotted a mile away by use of poker tracker and PAHUD, on the site I play on I look for bots and take all there money.

You ask how- well bot runners are bad poker players else they wouldnt be using bots they know the rules they know the odds they just havent got the patience or the tempriment to apply them so they opt for the bot.

now what does this mean- “weak tight”

the first thing you will notice about bots is they only exist at micro limits because noone has the nerve to run a bot for a lot of money, hey dont make enough. the second thing is they are usually at limit tables as this is where they work best.

now what does this give you

a table full of
1. Peopele who are loose passive (real players)
2. bots (weak tight)

so how do you deal with this.

BET

why (the bots fold like paper when they encounter real aggression with anything but the best hand) and even though there stats state beware he has good cards do not worry.
Fold to a reraise because there brain is saying they have won but bet them off the pot whenever you can.

Next the loose passive pay you off.

This may sound to simple but I have mede 9bb/100 playing just this way for about 50,000 hands it took me a while to realise why I was doing so well as my stats are about 35-40 vpip but I have the best of it. My opponents are weak tight (bots) or loose passive (people) while as I play “sl ag” slightly loose aggressive.

I lose and I win but I win a lot more thanks to the bots and the loose passives.

How to spot a bot.

they work of many profiles

but basically look for the following

1. vpip (10-24%)
2. will not say ty when you say nh
3. will ignore you when you say (“are you a bot”)

yes it is that simple.

now if like me you play at a pokerrroom skin you can colour code your opponents.

I actively seek bots and mark them yellow.

I use red for real people who play well and green for loose passives.

I use a green with aplus sign for maniacs

I know this all seems too simple but poker is simple.

Look for weaknesses and exploit

BOTS ARE WEAK

so the only way to get rid of them is kick there butts and hopefully the above tells you how.

now will they get better

yes they will but they will always have weaknesses we just figure out what they are and exploit.

Ed Miller
@ Mon Dec 11, 2006 01:39:49 PM
10

Stewie_Griff,

This is what I mean. You can add poker bots a lot faster than you can recruit new human players. And you can add poker bots largely indefinitely.

For instance, say I write a bot, have it play for a few days, and realize that it’s winning. After I congratulate myself, I say, “Well, if it’s winning at one table, it’ll win twice as much playing at two tables.”

So I set the bot to play two tables, and it wins twice as much. Then I say, “Well, let’s go to ten tables!”

The money starts pouring in. I open a second account and put the bot on ten tables there. Then a third.

Then I recruit a buddy to open a few accounts and run the bot also. If no one’s stopped me by now, then I have a highly profitable business opportunity on my hands. So what do I do?

If I’m some people, I pack my bags and move to a small, poker-friendly country formerly part of Yugoslavia (nods to the tin foil hat crew). I rent some office space in the suburbs, I buy some $200 computers, and I hire some 18-year-old kids to play some poker. Or, rather, to run some bots.

More people like me do this also. More and more bots keep coming online until one of two things happens:

1. The cardroom does something about it.
2. It’s not profitable anymore.

I talked above about what the cardrooms can do to stop botting, and in many ways, it’s limited. Or rather, stopping the bots, the real bots written by really smart people not the ones run by 16-year-old copy-cats, is a complex technological exercise worthy of highly gifted intellectuals with backgrounds in statistics, cryptanalysis, etc. If you’re an egghead that’s inclined to try to develop software that successfully thwarts bots, you, my friend, will probably be worth 100 million (or more) in a few years. I believe Steven Levitt is working on it. Maybe he’ll be the one to cash in. :)

Failing effective countermeasures, though, bots will multiply until they aren’t profitable anymore. When will that be? It’s when bots occupy 4, 5, or 6 seats of every 6-max table. Bots that developed and multiplied in the first place because they beat regular, average Joe human players. If an average Joe human player sits with 5 bots (who are all possibly colluding with one another), he’ll lose. FAST. And he’ll quit.

That’s why bots are the cancer of online poker. They’ll multiply until they squeeze off the life-blood of the poker economy, new players with some dough and a dream of playing for a living. Unless someone stops botters, I really think it’s just a matter of time until new players give up on the game, and the bots are left to play amongst themselves. It’s happened to several other games (e.g., backgammon). It can and will happen to poker also.

Ed Miller
@ Mon Dec 11, 2006 01:58:06 PM
11

PeterL,

I agree with you… in fact I remember agreeing with you in an article a month ago.

But don’t assume bots will remain so unsophisticated. You can make a lot of money building bots that collude (for instance, just play a simple “best hand” game) at low levels. The actual playing code doesn’t even have to be that good if the colluding bots are 3 of the 6 seats at the table. Botting is only a couple of years old, and over time it will evolve from largely individuals with a hobby into organized businesses designed to squeeze profit out of the games. The “bots” you’re describing will get hammered by the pro botters just like the regular players.

Make no mistake, colluding bots have the potential to beat the biggest games on the internet. Best hand is pretty devastating.

MrMoo
@ Mon Dec 11, 2006 02:05:54 PM
12

Ed,

The Poki forums are another good place to see where advancements in poker AI is headed. While I’ve never viewed the WinHoldem forums, I’ve always felt that those capable of writing a good bot would just write their own rather than using a prebuilt program.

-Jason

Ed Miller
@ Mon Dec 11, 2006 02:11:37 PM
13

Jason,

I haven’t used WinHoldem, but their webpage says that it includes stuff like screenscrapers and so forth, and you can just extend the AI module with your own code. I imagine a lot of people go that route… use the WinHoldem (or some other) framework and build on top of that.

Grinder
@ Mon Dec 11, 2006 03:39:25 PM
14

Very interesting to hear someone that uses a brain talk about bots.

I’ve always felt that until true AI is achievable poker was safe and that once we really HAD true AI poker would be the last of our woories.

I also beieve bots are not THAT bright but as you say (well, you did actually say it), one is only a mosquito, 1000 is a problem.

I have to think that poker rooms are actively working on the problems, they certainly have the money.

Ed Miller
@ Mon Dec 11, 2006 04:41:10 PM
15

“I’ve always felt that until true AI is achievable poker was safe and that once we really HAD true AI poker would be the last of our woories.”

The bar is a lot lower than that. Relatively simplistic bots can beat small no limit games and small sit-n-gos. For a small no limit game, you play a short stack strategy where you buy in short, leave the table if you get too deep, and push top pair hard.

For sit-n-gos, you play cautiously at first and then start push-botting when the stacks get shallow.

I’m not talking about HAL9000 does poker. I’m talking about gimmicky strategies that will, en masse, choke the small games.

Not to say that people won’t be building stronger AIs also. Just that you don’t need something brilliant to start doing real damage with numbers.

“I have to think that poker rooms are actively working on the problems, they certainly have the money.”

I wouldn’t bet on it. Captchas and system scans will only thwart the hobbyists. If smart people start botting on large scale, it’s going to take someone equally smart on the other end to detect and stop it. My guess is that Internet cardroom execs won’t see the threat, and they’ll assume band-aids like captchas and system scans will be sufficient.

I worked for Microsoft’s search engine in 2001, and I saw first-hand how incompetent and self-assured companies with boatloads of money can be. It wasn’t the coders who were incompetent, it was the people calling the shots. I was a squeaky wheel, so to speak, and it ended up essentially costing me my job. (I wasn’t fired for speaking my mind, but I was flatly ignored by management, and I was repeated denied a move to a different group. I wasn’t about to go down with the ship, so I quit.) Five years later, Microsoft has an embarrassing cash-sink of a search engine.

I really hope I’m wrong about all this. That’s why I’m talking about it… because the more I (and others) talk about the problem, the more likely people “up there” will really take it on, and the more likely I am to actually end up being wrong about it. If we pretend botting isn’t a threat, then one day we’ll wake up and see cardrooms populated with 90% bots. In that world, no one wins.

Art Talberg
@ Tue Dec 12, 2006 01:52:51 AM
16

Joe B.,

Wil Wheaton advocates playing online on an os like linux. http://entertainment.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=06/01/25/188230

The chances of running into spyware and viruses aren’t nearly as great and would be an alternative to running two different computers. And its free.

theman236
@ Tue Dec 12, 2006 01:36:51 PM
17

Has anyone written a MTT Bot yet. I was wondering how often you would find Bots in the tournament fields?

Ed Miller
@ Tue Dec 12, 2006 01:48:02 PM
18

I imagine one could write a reasonably successful MTT bot, but I think sit-n-gos are the softer target. A bot’s strength would be “push-botting,” or correctly figuring out what hands to move in with preflop. I’d say push-botting is a more significant skill in sit-n-gos than in MTT’s, so SNG’s would play better to a bot’s strengths.

Bots are generally going to have the hardest time when the stacks are deep.

@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 04:16:14 AM
19

[…] Ed Miller wrote an excellent article called Bots, Cheating and Online Poker that I encourage you to read. It’s the growing existance of bots that I want to touch on specifically, though. The reason bots are a threat is because it’s not too hard to code a bot that will beat the small games, both limit and no limit. Small games are the lifeblood of the poker economy and the $100 losses at $2-$4 are ultimately what feed the $1,000-$2,000 games at the top – pyramid style. In a normal small stakes game, incompetent players fill most of the seats, and the few good players “shear the sheep,” as it were, taking their cut, but leaving most of the money floating around. […]

pokerlover
@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 06:03:07 PM
20

The key thing an online site can do is to be ruthless when catching any user that uses a bot. Confiscating all funds will be a deterrent, and may well make using bots unprofitable.

Ed Miller
@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 06:35:51 PM
21

pokerlover,

Confiscating funds is good and all, but there are two problems with it:

1. Most of the bots will be in the smallish games. They’ll only need maybe $1k in their accounts to keep playing. They just withdraw every few days and keep the account small so there’s not much to confiscate.

2. Confiscating funds is potentially a HUGE PR DISASTER that cardrooms cannot take lightly. If they run around confiscating funds of alleged “bots,” people won’t trust them with deposits. The botters will launch a massive propaganda campaign against the confiscations.

Picture dozens of posts on your favorite forum: “Poker Room XYZ just confiscated my bankroll! It said I was a bot. LOL. Do I look like a frickin bot to you? I’ve been playing at that site for X years and now that I have some decent money in my account, they decide to poof it. I’m never playing there again!”

Proving that someone is a bot is impossible. You can only strongly suspect that they’re a bot, and put a confidence level on it. (I.e., I’m 99% sure that these results must be due to cheating rather than running good.) Propaganda doesn’t like nuance. Which side would you like to defend?

* Our predictive algorithm strongly suspects that, over a sufficient sample size, this player is likely to be cheating to a confidence of 3 standard deviations.

Or

* OMFG! They took my money! They say I’m cheating, but they can’t prove it. They’re gonna take your money too… just wait and see.

Sniper
@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 07:22:04 PM
22

Two things…

1. You should note that some Poker Sites are tracking players that access the site that you linked. Your readers should be aware.

2. AI suggesting actions to take, with those actions being taken by a human rather than thru automation, is actually approved by the poker sites. Take a look at the Stars software list, as an example.

ps… Get in touch with me if you want to meet up for drinks in NY.

pokerlover
@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 07:25:50 PM
23

Players who consistently win a few thousands in small games will be suspicious. Plus beating the rake in these games is not easy.

As to posting on forums complaining about site confiscating, most forum readers are not sympatetic to posters who are complaining that they were accused as being cheaters. They will be asked to post emails from support which are not going to be very favourable to them. I assume here that we are talking about serious reputable sites. Just go to 2+2 and see how such complaints are treated.

99% proof will be good enough. Sites that make billions of dollars can hire the brightest programmers and best poker experts that will analyse the play for patterns (and remember these sites have a huge number of hands played by humans to compare) and will be able to separate a bot play from the human play.

Ed Miller
@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 07:58:42 PM
24

“Just go to 2+2 and see how such complaints are treated.”

I’m not talking about 2+2. The whiners won’t get a sympathetic audience there… but they will get a sympathetic audience in other places. 2+2 is popular, but I’d be surprised if even 20% of the online players read it (having pulled that number out of my ass).

“Sites that make billions of dollars can hire the brightest programmers and best poker experts that will analyse the play for patterns (and remember these sites have a huge number of hands played by humans to compare) and will be able to separate a bot play from the human play.”

I agree 100%. Sites that make billions of dollars CAN hire the brightest programmers. But sites that make billions of dollars also CAN hire lobbyists to fight to keep online poker legal… and apparently they don’t. The experience of the UIGEA has led me to believe that many of these companies are run by myopic management… people who were in the right place at the right time in 2003 and otherwise have relatively little going for them.

I hope the managements read this and get mad. I WANT to be wrong about them. I WANT them to take botting seriously and start hiring these “brightest programmers” TODAY. Because once large-scale botting operations really get up and running – and history tells me that it’s basically inevitable that they will – the cardrooms will have only a few months to react to save their player base. Once it becomes clear to the average Joe that every table has colluding bots, people will stop playing and many won’t ever come back. And even if it never becomes clear, Joe will lose and lose and lose and then quit and never come back.

Jake (The Snake)
@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 09:22:40 PM
25

Bravo Ed for writing about this. I have been talking about this for years and it truly amazes me how people are willing to turn a deaf ear to the problem. I truly believe that this will eventually kill online poker, much as it has with playing online chess for money.

Do you believe there is anything the average player can do besides reporting suspected bots? I have thought about this plenty, and I can’t come up with anything.

pokerlover
@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 09:34:09 PM
26

“But sites that make billions of dollars also CAN hire lobbyists to fight to keep online poker legal… and apparently they don’t.”

How do you know that? Winning against a powerful combination of house speaker and senate majority leader is not an easy task.

I do agree that sites have to step up their fight against bots, and hope that the best sites are doing it or will do it very soon. It is indeed the gravest danger there is for online poker.

Ed Miller
@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 10:06:44 PM
27

Jake,

No, I don’t really think there’s much an average player can do beyond normal precautions (e.g., being wary of collusion and quitting the game if something seems “off”). Unfortunately, it will be nearly impossible for you to notice something “off” if colluders (bots or not) are simply playing best hand preflop. It’ll just seem like a tight game. And if you’re playing six tables, forget it, you’ll never notice.

It’s going to be tough to convince a lot of people that this threat is real until the number of games begins to really fall off dramatically. The mass of bots I’m envisioning wouldn’t even necessarily play that well… just well enough. People will say, “Meh, bots, schmots. They all suck!” Which may be true… except enough people will suck more that the bots will win, and eventually they’ll end up with the money because bots are the ultimate multi-tablers.

Poker is over the hill boom-wise, IMO, but it’s still attracting new players pretty well. Fast forward two years, and you have fewer people interested and more bots. That’s when it’s going to really hit.

The microlimiters will complain first. “OMG I can’t win anymore. What’s going on?” Or they’ll complain about masses of short-stacking or some other gimmick strategy. Then the $15-$30 players will start complaining that the games are drying up and getting much tougher. And the really big games may disappear altogether.

If online poker were my main source of income right now, I’d be bracing for a very major pay cut over the next few years.

Matt Ruff
@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 10:18:09 PM
28

Ed,

You note that some games are “softer targets” than others. Would one possible counter-strategy be to design new poker variants that are hard to program bots for, but that human beings can still play and enjoy?

Mixed games are an obvious example of what I’m talking about: seems like it’d be much tougher to code a winning HORSE bot than a short-stack no-limit bot. And with a computer dealer it would be easy to take that to yet another level, and have a mixed game with twenty or thirty variants in random rotation, or even one that generated new variants on the fly.

Ed Miller
@ Thu Dec 14, 2006 10:41:05 PM
29

Matt,

Well, you need regular people to play the games, so they have to be simple and fun. If the games are too complex for a bot, they may be too complex for a lot of people also.

It’s one thing to play dealer’s choice in a home game where there’s no rake and no one knows what they’re doing. It’s another entirely to play HORSE in an online cardroom with a rake and professional players. I think a lot of people would feel overwhelmed.

I’m not saying people wouldn’t play it. They obviously would. But it wouldn’t have the enormous, almost universal appeal that no-limit hold ‘em has had the last couple of years. HORSE, I think, will always be a niche game for poker enthusiasts, not something casual players want to play.

You could modify the existing games a bit to thwart the bots. For instance, you could raise the minimum buy-ins on the no limit games to 100BB, and I think that would set some bots back. But it would force medium and deep stack play which has other consequences.

Another thing they could do is slow down the sit-and-go structures a bit to force people to play more with deeper stacks. But that change would have other negative consequences for the cardrooms, so it’s not a no-brainer by any means. And slowing the structure might just give colluding bots more time to work their magic.

In my mind, though, the best solution, and the only one that can hope to work long-term, is developing effective software to sort through the terabytes of data and figure out statistically who’s cheating and who’s not. The cardrooms can set up little obstacles (like captchas, IP restrictions, etc.) to make botting on a massive scale inconvenient. Then, if they monitor their games well enough, they can contain the bots to a level where they can co-exist with the human players. There’s no way they can get rid of all the bots, but they don’t have to. They just need to prevent the bots from taking over.

davebreal
@ Sat Dec 16, 2006 11:24:12 AM
30

Ed – is it safe to say 90% of poker bots can be found at small stakes hold ‘em?

I strictly play PLO8 online, and haven’t heard of bots playing any other poker variants yet.

Ed Miller
@ Sat Dec 16, 2006 11:46:16 AM
31

dave,

I’d expect most bots to play hold ‘em, yes. And furthermore, I’d expect PLO8 to be one of the last games they tried to conquer. It would be a doozy for bots, I think.

@ Sun Dec 17, 2006 10:24:07 PM
32

[…] Anyway, let’s leave the self-aggrandizement behind and continue with my fine linkage. The aforementioned Ed Miller wrote a damn interesting post entitled Bots, Cheating, and Online Poker that I encourage everyone to read. […]

68Mustang
@ Mon Dec 18, 2006 11:48:32 AM
33

Could this be a step towards a solution. Ban all multi-tabling. Allow accounts to only play 1 ring table and one Tournament at a time.

This would discourage the multitabling bots some what. Of course it would piss off the real players.. but they’ve got to do something until technology safegaurds catch up.

Ed Miller
@ Mon Dec 18, 2006 12:08:48 PM
34

68Mustang,

Banning multitabling would certainly make botting a lot less attractive. Though I think many of the cardrooms would see a ~50% nosedive in revenue if they did it. No idea what the actual number would be, but it would be very significant.

skip
@ Mon Dec 18, 2006 11:01:02 PM
35

This is for anyone who was intrigued by the five aces linked to above. I searched for “gamblninfla” and she was quite surprised to see herself as a witness to the extraordinary event. Not doctored/photoshoped???

Lord Geznikor
@ Tue Dec 19, 2006 09:38:42 AM
36

You can request specific hand numbers and tourney numbers from Stars. I haven’t done that, but it would be another way to check the veracity of that photo.

Jimmy the Fish
@ Tue Dec 19, 2006 10:00:04 PM
37

The “five aces” screenshot is a fake. There was a 2+2 thread in June discussing it; the thread includes a response from PokerStars that contains, among other things, the actual hand histories.

Linky

Ash Houser
@ Wed Dec 20, 2006 04:28:03 AM
38

Hey Ed, very well written article I really enjoyed it.

I don’t see this situation as being so doom and gloom.

I have a few problems with your reasoning that I need clarified:

What is the difference between a bot taking the fish money and a good player taking the fish money?
How do we know all the money flows from lower limits to higher limits?

Here’s how the pyramid could work: Fish works at real life job, takes portion of weekly paycheck moves it into poker. Experiences some variance, gets off on that thrill, like every other bad gambler, eventually goes bust. Next week comes and they add more money. Maybe the win a little and build a mountain for themselves over the next few weeks / months however eventually they go broke again and reload.
How do we even know the pyramid exists? Why can’t it just be bad players buying it at each level? And good players taking money from them. So a bunch of people with low paying jobs buy in and lose money according to how much they have. People with more money, or more risk tolerance/addiction losing it at high levels.

Where do they lose all this money to?
The lose some to rake, they lose some to the good players and they will lose some to the bots.

Is it better for the fish to lose to good players or to bots?

Well depends, do the low limit good players take money off the sites and remove them from the pyramid of circulation? Or are they simply always going to take shots at higher stakes? I would think that some of the good players at every level take money off of the sites. If you are 3-6 NL player relying on this pyramid to push money up to you what is the difference if a human college kid pro is taking money off the site or a bot is?

Now you can say that there will be this army of bots that descends like a plague of locusts, however as PeterL said, most of the good players should like the bots, since they are so predictable. Eventually AI will get to the point where bots threaten the good players as well. No one seems to think that is likely to happen by 2010 though.

So the good players should be able to extract money from these bots and actually would like to see them proliferate (until AI surpasses the average good player).

Now is everyone who uses a bot immediately taking the money off the site? If they are doing that well then that is leaking money out of the system. The poker site won’t like that and can watch for that activity and should and could discourage that, flag it as suspicious.

So really what has to happen is for the bots to beat the good players, and AI isn’t there yet however it could be someday, so that has to scare some people. Poker is harder to solve than chess but it is not impossible.

I was never involved with gambling on chess so I am not sure how the scene worked, However I don’t think that the example Jake (The Snake) gave with bots killing chess is applicable because if bad player plays chess against a bot he will always lose. There’s no variance, there’s no thrill, He just loses. It’s not fun. Further, it’s very obvious that he is getting destroyed over and over.

In poker bad players can still suck out, they can still go on streaks. Especially in limit, the game where bots are going to have the easiest time, they are still going to go on massive long term upswings thanks to limits large variance. They will still be able to convince themselves that they are good players.

Further detecting collusion should not be that hard. If I am poker site I have a very large amount of data I collect on all of my users. They can scan a lot of information off the computers of the users (like web history for those sites) and insert them into a Bayesian filter and come up with a pretty accurate idea if this user is using bots. Further they can monitor play behavior, login times, check each player against every other individual opponent versus against the average behavior against all others.
It would not be hard for them to infiltrate the bot sites if they are being shared on the Internet and discover the bot site methods, look at the bot code and find ways to counter it.
They could pay an army of kids $10/hr in Western Europe to constant search out and try to infiltrate these sites, and pay the kids who do infiltrate and eradicate rewards of several thousand dollars. They could offer bribes to the kids already getting paid $8/hr in Eastern Europe to turn on their greedy AI loving overlords for a few thousand dollars to turn.

Technically overcoming the example of running the bot on another machine could be to run a packet sniffer on all traffic entering the machine and scan for packets coming from a bot on another machine, or monitor the ports they are known to tunnel data through. Look for the exe that has to run on the local machine to input the data into the poker program and/or scrap it off the screen and send it to the other one.

An army of bots implies, literally, an army. And well an army of people writing customized software for several different poker sites and then sharing those programs on the Internet should be detectable and infiltratable.

Finally the poker sites have a lot more leverage at combating abuse than other interests on the Internet because they can directly punish the bot runners. Imagine how much file-sharing would be going on if the RIAA or MPAA could delete your media library (an analogy to a bankroll on a poker site) at will.

If the poker sites are going to lose all their players because of this you would have to think at least one of them would invest the resources upto the maximum they have to doing something to keep themselves alive. Who knows they could evolve and start sharing information on cheaters the way brick and mortars in Vegas do.

The thing I dislike the more than the bots is the idea of poker programs being able to access all of my personal information, I think that running poker on a VMWare install may not be a bad idea to keep the sites from being able to see my personal info. Imagine giving the casinos the right to pore over every bit of information you have about yourself on your machine.

Montana Mike
@ Wed Dec 20, 2006 05:31:58 AM
39

Good Article!

As fast as one part of the world is learned, another is being discovered.

Just call me Kathy!

Montana Mike

jesse
@ Wed Jan 24, 2007 08:19:11 PM
40

i play alot of poker in person and on internet heard of all of this a while ago and im worried about it.had a firend tell me about a guy he knows that makes money with on-line poker while he is not home.don’t see how possible but said he got in trouble and that they found out he was also cheating at online poker and also while playing on line got called down by which i thought were good players that i know cash in tournaments.in hands they would never get into but end up getting beat and saying how did this happen.and most of the time its before flop like they know there cards are going to hit.

Eric
@ Wed Jan 31, 2007 07:54:18 AM
41

Believe it or not. Bots and cheating are destroying the poker-economy, like they do in MMORPG games. It’s a big threat and if the community and casino’s ignore it, it would eventually destroy the online-casino’s. No question about that. So if you like playing online….

jason
@ Sun Feb 18, 2007 06:43:17 AM
42

exellent article

Rob
@ Wed Feb 21, 2007 01:58:11 PM
43

I didn’t read through all these so it may have been mentioned already, but isn’t a solution to the bot problem to just ban winning players much like a casino site would? I’m sure there are plenty of losers and people who see poker as gambling to keep the sites going.

Jeff
@ Wed Feb 21, 2007 02:45:55 PM
44

If I was going to write a bot to play online poker, then I’d focus on a strategy that’s relatively simple to program. Let’s face it, playing good poker is tough and it’s even tougher to write a bot to play good poker.

The scary thing is the short-stack strategy in GSIH would be easy to program. The only tough parts would be interfacing into the online client to pick up the hole cards, read the action and simulate keypressing.

It may not be the optimal way to play poker, but there’s little doubt in my mind that such a bot would make reasonably good money, particularly multi-tabling 2-4 or 3-6NL. I’ve certainly made good money with it.

In some ways I’m surprised the winholdem folks haven’t stumbled upon this. Or maybe they have and they’re just keeping it quiet.

Jeff

45

[…] players must not only overcome this perception problem but they must also overcome the problem of cheating if they’re going to overcome the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement […]

Les
@ Fri Mar 23, 2007 09:51:45 PM
46

I appreciate your concerns about this, but some of the stuff in your article wouldn’t particularly worry me. The “cheat at poker” ads you talk about are for a “system” where you install a spybot on your friend’s computers (you would actually need to be in front of their computers to do it) and the sites that claim to sell RNG predictors are just scams, pure and simple. Their software doesn’t work.

However, fixed limit bots like WinHoldem (which is difficult, if not impossible, for most normal players to use successfully) and the (much easier to operate) poker bot from [Link Removed] are a different story. The collusion add-on in WinHoldem is particularly sneaky and any form of collusion should be discouraged by the poker rooms, but the ease-of-use of the latter makes it possible for anyone at all to play a very high level of fixed limit poker with virtually no previous experience of the game.

Is that a scary thought? Perhaps, but perhaps not.

Online poker is a different game to the offline sport we’ve been accustomed to for however many decades, or even centuries, and it might be time to pay attention to the technology that’s available to us now and either grasp it, or die.

Personally I use two tools – the one from [Link Removed] and another very good odds calculator – and I use one to fold all my bad hands for me automatically, which enables me to play multiple tables with ease and then I play out my best hands myself.

Is this sneaky, or am I merely streamlining my game by making the most of the technology of today? I’d prefer to think it’s the latter :)

Carl Varrone
@ Sat Mar 24, 2007 07:10:51 AM
47

I just published a book named “What no one else is saying about online poker” which addresses all the obstacles faced when playing online. I would love to send you a copy for your review.

Pawel
@ Wed Apr 04, 2007 08:30:03 PM
48

Hi Ed!
I must say you scared me to death! I’ve run couple of times on some discussions on bots and ‘online poker rigged’ types of posts when I was searching for poker rooms reviews, and it was really amusing to read those posts. And by the time I thought bots just don’t have a chance, and on all the sites terms&conditions there are statements that using bots is prohibited and that they do track for it.
So I felt safe.
Anyway, I think that tracking these kinds of software should be relatively easy and that the poker sites are more concerned about it then about the legal issues, as the world is wide and they believe they’ll have customers (not to mention they are a little bit wrong – good example is Doyles Room)
By the way, you mentioned avoiding playing on shady sites. Can you give some kind of example?
I’m asking for that because there are many people who insist that sites like Pacific Poker are shady because the software is a bit crappy etc. so I am getting a little confused where playing is safe and where it is not.

trickyt
@ Sun May 06, 2007 09:14:05 AM
49

Rigged Cards?
I play 9 and 10 hand games. I find it quite rare that a modest raise of say 3 or 4 big blinds can get everyone to fold. There are alsways one or two whose cards are good enough to pay up to see the flop. However, on a number of occaisions when I have AA or KK in the hole pre-flop, I have seen all 8 or 9 players fold to a 3 or 4 BB raise. I am sure that I have no spy-ware. However I get the impression that other players know what I have.

Another observation, on many hands, – maybe one in 20, the winning players have to split the pot because they have identical cards.

Last a question: Do other players seem to get the following hole cards dis-proportionally often compared to the laws of chance?

7 2 off-suit
A 5
A 2

Let me know…

Pawel
@ Sun May 06, 2007 12:07:59 PM
50

Hi!
Seems you have a bad streak, so there is nothing special that you get all table to fold to your modest preflop raise – if you haven’t played a hand for last three rounds and then you come out raising and your players are a little observant (or have some poker tracker or so).
You may also want to play in more loose games then you do play now.
Pawel

NS
@ Mon Jun 11, 2007 02:38:08 PM
51

Just the 7/2

trickyt
@ Sat Jun 16, 2007 07:23:29 AM
52

I have now read a book about Poker Cheating and it turns out that the biggest danger on-line (on an honest site), is collusion.

With collusion, one or several players compare their hole cards and then decide how to play.

For example if one of the colluding players has the nuts, all the colluding players can engage in series of minimum raises keeping other players in the pot who would have folded to a bigger raise.

Another tactic is the double raise. Two colluding players raise and re-raise which is usually enough to scare off anyone who is on a draw as they will assume that one of the players has at least a pair.

Lastly, by having knowledge of each other’s hole cards, the colluding players can know which hands it is impossible for you to have. Thus if two of the colluding players had a Queen pre-flop, (they folded because the chance of hitting another Queen is low), and then two Queens come on the Flop, the remaining colluding players can be sure you do not have a Queen. This means they can call/raise any bluff you make, (i.e. where you pretend to have hit trips), and they themselves can bluss you because you will fear they have hit trips.

In poker there are 2’598’960 possible 5 card hands.

Type of poker hand
# of five card combinations in type

Straight flush 10×4 = 40

four of a kind = 624 (13 possible 4 of a kind combined with 48 possibilites for the 5th card)

full house = 3744

Flush = 5108

Straight 10×45 – 40 = 10200

three of a kind = 54912

two pair = 123552

one pair = 1098240

no pair – straight and flushes = 1302540

TOTAL = 2598960

Now if you eliminate certain cards from the pack – becuase you have seen them in the hands of the people you are colluding with, the number of remaining possible hands is significantly reduced.

For example, if the table is showing Ah, Ks, 8c, 7c 3d, the best possible hand would be three Aces and the next best hand would be three kings and so on. If you have Ad 6h in the hole (Top pair), and there are two opposing players in the pot your chances of winning with the top pair are 71% (I got this from Poker Odds 2.52). If on the other hand there were 4 other colluding players, whose hole cards you have seen, the odds of your opponents winning might be very different. For example, if you have seen 8 other hole cards, of which A, K, K, 8, 8, 8, 7, 3, then you know the odds have shifted in your favour to 87%. On the other hand if the eight hole cards you saw were not paired with anything on the board, your odds drop to 60%.

Depending on what you have and what cards you can eliminate (because you have seen the cards of your co-colluders) the odds in your favour can be much worse or much better than predicted by pure statistics.

For example, suppose you have 6d 5d and the board is showing 6,7,8,9,A rainbow. There are 3 other players in the pot. The chances of you having the best hand are only 34%. On the other hand, if you have seen 4 tens in the cards of your colluders, – who folded pre-flop, then you know you have the nuts!! You can play your game differently and have an advantage.

How do online players collude? By phone, by Skype, by MSN, by other chat, by using multiple computers, by using computer bots in multiple locations or simply by sitting together in the same cyber cafe.

Imagine the advantage a colluder would have if playing 9 hands against you.

Borat
@ Tue Aug 21, 2007 10:31:34 AM
53

“in places like Eastern Europe where kids can be hired very cheaply”

You like?

sheldon porter
@ Wed Sep 19, 2007 01:22:23 AM
54

hi my name is sheldon i clicked on this becuase i saw the picture of poker stars and saw the 5 aces iw as woulnderign if that was real or what is up with it email at hockey_man_12345_4@hotmail.com
thanks

Kevin
@ Tue Sep 25, 2007 01:59:27 AM
55

i have seen a picture of a live game i was in screenshotted buy another player showing the hole cards of everyone at the table even me
it all started when
my poker brain had him drawing dead 2% to my floped straight when he called bottom pair to my all in pulled a fh on the turn and river

he knew all our cards and the next cards to come , and prolly the next hand

witch leaves me only my saturday game at my snooker hall ;/
im just glad i play with sighnup bonuses and not my own cash

Kevin
@ Tue Sep 25, 2007 05:28:28 AM
56

i talked to him more and found out hes useing this
http://www.pokerrng.com/site/video/intro.php

nuff said penny dropped yet ?

@ Tue Sep 25, 2007 09:50:45 PM
57

[…] is a very good article about the subject here Link to article I would be more concerned with collusion among players on the […]

Salmac
@ Sat Oct 27, 2007 01:59:56 PM
58

What about regularly asking players to type the text seen in the pop up box etc….

testtube
@ Sun Nov 11, 2007 06:17:34 AM
59

Could you be anything other than a mug to donate your hard-earned money to bundles of theives who use a number of known techniques to abuse an operation such as internet poker sites, which incidently, should have been banned long ago. What do you all do? Deposit your money, join a game and hope that the game you are playing is legitimate? You really need to wake up. Gambling games where players sit down equally equipped, only gain an edge with a skill advantage. Often that edge can be miniscule, so no-one can afford to have it cancelled by cheats. All of this collusion, screen shots, exploitation of betting, fraudulent administration involvement should equate to a red flag for any sensible, discerning person. Why would you even want to go near it? Leave it alone. Stop giving your money away. Or should I say, ‘stop letting thugs steal your cash’.

J smith
@ Mon Nov 12, 2007 02:53:47 PM
60

Excellent articles .. first time here ..
I will read more when I have time …

thanks for posting

klitschko@pokerstars
@ Mon Dec 24, 2007 07:34:20 PM
61

testtube, is on to something, i think most people go into these sites, knowing that either a close to pro,, or a bot is going to get them, i have lost hundreds if not thousands over the last few years and im still their putting in 50 dollars at a time, ill come up a bit go to bigger table and too scared to act or react, raise or reraise, and usually get into big trouble fast, some players are worse than me even, and wouldn’t know a bot if it bit them in the butt, which sometimes happens over and over, they are always raising according to pot, in almost square fashion, i pick them up in a hurry, and often win descent pots after i fold them when the odds are no longer in their favor, im not sure if i ever have a chance to become a great poker player, but when you go up sometimes weeks at a time and turn 50 bucks into 300 bucks , it is a big rush, then when you crash you only see it as actually losing the 50 bucks to start with,, safe to say i am probably addicted, and it will take me seeing these bots in person to be discouraged, and since you can’t see them, they are ai programs, then i will continue to have fun losing,, good point testtube, if you struck a chord with a reasonable , sane person,

Chango
@ Mon Feb 18, 2008 03:04:29 PM
62

I propose a very simple solution that would at least slow down bots. Why not just have a test say every 20 minutes or so at each table where players would enter in letter and number codes just like when you are setting up and email or account somewhere. You know “enter in the above” XT48Y so that only humans are able to read. And have a time limit of say two minutes to enter it.

This would not be a to much trouble and I think many humans would welcome it! Since it is for there safety.

Hopefully someone reading this could pass it along to someone high up in the online world and get it going. The solution is already waiting to be used.

I have been a low stakes holdem pro for around five years. I have played 1000s of hours at both live and online. I have been absolutely disgusted with some of the cash game tables that I have played at online in the last 2 or 3 years. Nobody plays like this in the live games and it seemed way to suspicious. I know humans play differently online since they do not have to look you in the eye. But come on this was $%#@ing ridiculous. I play only pl omaha and STT now online.

Chango
@ Mon Feb 18, 2008 03:40:56 PM
63

I think a good solution is already available. Why not have a test every 20 minutes or so at every table just like when you sign up for an email or an account somewhere online. “enter the above”….X3FT4S…you know “the human test” or whatever it is called..and give the player two minutes to respond.

This would not be too much trouble for a human and welcome by many. Since it is for their own protection!

Or even better have the hole or community cards themselves change a little every so often in some way that only humans would be able to read them.

I dont see why this has not been done as it is an obvious easy solution or at least can slow down the problem of bots.

Hopefully someone reads this that can pass it on to someone high up in the online poker world, or spark some other idea at least.

I have been a low stakes holdem pro for around five years both live and online. And around 2005 the online cash games started getting so suspicious that I went strictly live. I have 1000s of hours playing and I have never seen human beings play like players were playing online. I know people play different online than live (since they are not as shy etc) but for #%@!s sake this was ridiculous and still is!

I play strictly PLO cash and STTs now online and do very well. I wont even bother with a holdem cash game anymore though.

Chango
@ Mon Feb 18, 2008 04:23:14 PM
64

oops posted twice didnt think first one made it..lol

JJS
@ Mon Feb 18, 2008 07:35:14 PM
65

chango>”Why not have a test every 20 minutes or so at every table just like when you sign up for an email or an account somewhere online.”

This is already well known. They are called “captchas”. There are ways to beat captchas; believe it or not some programs are smart enough to respond to them. Or… the programmer can sit in front of the computer and answer the captchas for the bot. Or… for running multiple copies of the bot they can hire teenagers or others who will do it for only a little money (assuming the bot is a winner of course).

chango>”Or even better have the hole or community cards themselves change a little every so often in some way that only humans would be able to read them.”

That’s not the way the programs work. The bot doesn’t recognize patterns on the screen, it recognizes the data that comes into the client program which tells it what card to draw. If this data were to change then everyone who plays at that site would have to download a new client program to continue playing. That’s not something you can do on the fly.

Defeating bots is a really difficult problem and there is no easy solution. Any scheme that one human can think up, another human can beat…

karlene
@ Wed Jul 16, 2008 06:45:57 PM
66

what Ican see what you guys r talking about?

Lou Jones
@ Mon Aug 25, 2008 03:24:08 AM
67

As to the collusion between humans issue:

If you are comfortable making decisions a little more quickly, play turbo. It does give humans less time to confer through MSN and such.

And be wary of players who run their entire time out before they check/bet/fold, and if more than two are dragging their feet consistently at any table, you should probably go elsewhere.

Also look for mistels in your chat box.

Especially one like this: “JJ”

When no one answer from anyone else at the table and there is no reason for someone to have typed it, for example, no one just folded to a bluff.

If you have or just had pocket jacks in your mucked hand, run screaming. In fact, run screaming the word, “Larceny!” And if it happens again at the table, or if it happens at another table with the same person or people, report it to the site.

You might also get a snippet in the text box from out of nowhere and completely unrelated to any chat or action on the table such as: “I’ll put him all in on this one.”

This will be met with silence from the other players, because it’s in the wrong chat box.

Or someone will quickly make a distracting comment about something else.

Watch out for tables and sites where all table chatter is met with jeers and put downs by others at the table. Bot creators might be protecting their creations by intimidating new players into not chatting. Unless your chat could possibly give away a hand during play, the worst that should happen is people should ignore you or make marginal replies, such as ‘ty’ to a chattier than usual: “Good hand, and well played, too,” from you.

Watch out for bots and collusion at play money tables. Those aren’t harmless annoyances, they’re cheaters practicing for the real thing. You will meet them again when you’re splashing around at the penny poker tables, so do figure out how to beat anyone you suspect is a bot, but if you suspect collusion, just quit the table and if you keep seeing or suspecting it, quit the site, because that’s one thing you can’t beat.

The other thing you can’t beat, of course, is someone being able to see your pockets through malware. Perhaps I’m naive, but a less sophisticated screen scraper might just pull your topmost window, correct? If so, maybe you should keep an open window up over your cards until the last minute. I do that sometimes, I’m not sure it helps, but I like to watch a movie in windowed mode over my hand or maybe have a search engine checking for new poker tricks to try.

One concern I have is the ability to manipulate a poker sites shuffle or deal algorithms, which would probably have to be an inside job (certainly that isn’t impossible, given the rumors about some of these sites).

How likely is it that determined outsiders could mess with the shuffle, too? I’m trying to keep track of my starting hand values in play money vs real money games and play vs real money tournaments to see if I’m getting more rags during real money play.

Of course, a poker site might create more exciting hands for play money than for real money, too, but if they do, I haven’t heard of it. That would lure some new fish in to paying up at first, but it would so frustrate and bewilder them once they started seeing their more realistic pockets and flops, I imagine it wouldn’t be a good idea long term.

I run Linux as well as Windows, but the only poker site I ran across that would run off Linux straight up is Absolute Poker, and there’s an insider cheating scandal attached to that name, so I won’t be playing there. And besides that, if a decent player ever got targeted by cheaters who got tired of that player coming in and taking chips from their bots, using Linux wouldn’t protect that player, unless that player also knew a lot more about Linux than most users do. Not against a deliberate, targeted attack, am I correct?

Unfortunately, I’m in that category of ignorant, still novice Linux user, and my understanding is, if your Linux skills don’t extend beyond the gui, don’t count on your system being any more secure than it was with XP on it.

And PS: if you start screwing around with Linux settings and you don’t know what you’re doing, I happen to know you will open a gaping hole in your security and your netbios will shortly be hailing you from Russia. I only caught my blunder and the resulting hijack because I was messing with Etherape.

Etherape for anyone running off Linux might catch some underhanded goings on. Maybe someone with more experience could say whether PeerGuardian or similar could help Microsoft users on that front? I keep an eye on my firewall for interesting bursts of data wandering out while my computer is only supposed to be talking to the poker site I’m playing on, but I can never be sure that dual connection it sometimes has to the poker site is legit, or fishy.

As for giving your poker system a good scrubbing, don’t go half measures if you’re really worried. Wipe and reload, and use a good wipe disk to do it with. DoD or better three wipe from a CD. Office Max sells a good, reusable one with several different wipes. Some malware might still survive in corrupted, unwipeable portions of your hard drive, but not likely.

Hm…I wonder how hard it would be to find a reputable site I could play on using a Knoppix CD?

Just a newbe playerR
@ Tue Sep 09, 2008 04:21:14 PM
68

I read almost all of this, & here something i would say.

In some poker rooms sawed strange thing…

{Prologe

Ive started to play at one small poker room BWIN.
I deposited 10$, wanted to practice after tones of books. Sitted on 0.05/0.1c started …
After few hours ive done 50$ (i got big luck), so i get back 30$ and started to play, after 10 days by 3-4 hours i had 230~. So i climeb by limints … In a 25~ days i had 1300$ and i played on 0.25/0.5. It was normal play i saw statistics by the hands played … etc, so all was normal. So it was absolutely stable play big pots, sometime bad beats .. etc.

}

After it was terrible …

I lost so much… it was olmost unreal

in 10 hours (4 tables) i losted ommost all strong hands with crazy bad beats. Playing preflop all in hands/lost AA 4/1 , KK 5/1 , QQ 3/0 ……

It was feeling that poker system trying to kill me.

So it could be that some poker rooms cheating against players on higher limits.

testtube
@ Thu Oct 02, 2008 06:08:05 AM
69

My post, ‘testtube Sun Nov 11, 2007 06:17:34 AM’ above can be supported by this:

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/09/30/1222651059903.html

Please let go of the rope guys, stop giving these thieves your ‘hard-earned’ and take up golf or something.

John
@ Thu Oct 02, 2008 10:39:57 AM
70

It is extremely difficult to win at poker, because of the number of groups of people that cheat.
See what I wrote here:
http://www.verycoolwriting.com/2008/08/17/why-you-shouldnt-gamble-how-people-cheat-at-online-and-offline-poker/

Anonymous
@ Wed Sep 09, 2009 06:18:25 PM
71

Ed, Good analysis of the bot problem..

Jim
@ Tue Dec 06, 2011 05:09:50 PM
72

Well Ed after reading that article on bots you frankly have me scared of even bothering with online poker anymore. Very sad state of affairs. Well it was fun while it lasted. Sounds like casino poker rooms will reap the rewards. Probably all that’s left to get a fair game, and you have to watch for teams there too. Gotta love it. Thanks for all you do. -Jim

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