When there’s chat about poker among people who don’t play the game, they seem to think that it’s either a magnet for shady people and gamblers or perceive it as a gentlemen’s game where one’s word is their bond.
The truth is, as always, somewhere in between.
Cheating in poker isn’t something you’ll have to deal with on a daily basis. In fact, most people will never find themselves in a situation where they’re being cheated out of their money at the tables.
However, that doesn’t mean that cheating doesn’t happen or that you should trust everyone blindly.
Whenever there is a lot of money involved, there will always be people looking to get their hands on the cash using whatever methods necessary.
Being aware of some of the most common poker cheats will definitely reduce your chances of getting screwed over, so today I want to cover the ins and outs of this topic.
Cheating In Live Poker Games
When it comes to live poker, the likelihood of getting cheated is much smaller if you play in a casino or an official poker room instead of private home games.
While most players are in this game to have some fun and make additional money, there are straight shooters who will try to outplay you within the rules of the game.
But there are also those who try to find different ways to improve their winning chances by using means that are against poker rules, which makes them straight up cheaters.
That said, you should always keep your eyes open and look for any signs of suspicious activities at your table:
1. Colluding In Tournaments
One of the most common forms of cheating in live poker is colluding. It involves two or more players who work together to beat the rest of the table.
This is usually used in tournaments and especially at final tables where everyone profits from a player being eliminated.
Colluding players will have the arrangement to keep each other alive.
They’ll refuse to call a short stack even when they have the odds and cards to do it with. They’ll make crazy folds for a tiny river bet, conceding a big pot to one of their colluding partners.
Obviously, this kind of behavior hurts everyone else at the table as colluders will do everything they can to protect each other.
This is not just against the spirit of the game, but it’s also against the rules.
Poker isn’t a team sport, and while you can sometimes make a seemingly strange decision to leave someone in the tournament because of the bubble or ICM pressure, you can’t go out of your way time and time again to keep someone alive.
The problem with this kind of cheating is that it’s often hard to prove and do something about it.
While you can argue that someone had clear odds to make a call, there are no rules that stipulate that they have to know anything about odds.
You can say that it’s crazy to fold a pair of Jacks for a nine big blinds’ shove, but they can say they just hate Jacks because they never win with them.
Unless things really get out of control, the tournament director will rarely do anything about colluding players, especially in smaller buy-in events.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t complain, but if it fails, you need to be ready to adjust to the new situation.
The best you can do in this scenario is to try and break the cooperation between the colluders by not letting them play pots with each other and avoid getting squeezed by one of them.
This can be tricky if one of the colluders happens to be a big stack, so you should assess the situation. If there isn’t much you can do about it, sit back and wait for good opportunities without forcing things too much.
2. Signaling Cards
Sometimes, players working together will take things to the next level by trying to signal the strength of their hand or even exact cards to their partner(s).
Having any additional information about your opponents’ holdings can be a huge edge and can only be achieved through cheating. When you’re at the table, you’re only supposed to know your two hole cards.
Experienced cheaters will use different tricks to convey information to one another without the rest of the table noticing it. Usually, they’ll use some sort of chip signaling.
For example, if they have an Ace in their hand, they’ll protect cards using one red chip. If they have a big pocket pair (Queens or better), they’ll put two green chips on top of their cards, etc.
There could be countless variations, including poker chips, card placement on the table, hand positioning, and anything else that is easy to hide and doesn’t look suspicious to other players.
This type of cheating can go unnoticed for a while, especially if both players are experienced with it and have practiced their signals.
The problem is, even if you call them out for it, you’re unlikely to get a reaction from the floor the first time.
And, once they figure out the jig is up, they’ll probably stop doing it.
3. Card Marking
Marking playing cards may be the oldest trick in the book, but that doesn’t mean that some players don’t still use it to get the upper hand.
You should be particularly aware of this one if you’re playing in a home game with strangers as the host and some of the regulars could have had access to the deck before the game.
However, more experienced cheaters aren’t afraid of doing it in a casino, either.
There are different ways cards can be marked.
With all-new technologies out there, cheaters can use invisible ink and special glasses to leave rather obvious marks on the cards that are only visible to them.
In a casino, you can always complain if you notice something just doesn’t add up and request a deck change.
Casinos will usually take these kinds of statements seriously. Cheating with a marked deck it isn’t just bad form; in many countries, the cheater could actually face legal repercussions and even go to jail for doing it.
In home games, it’s a bit trickier.
If you notice something isn’t right – too many strange hero calls, big bluffs that don’t make sense, or anything similar – you should probably make your excuses and leave.
You could try to argue with the host, but if you’re the odd one out, chances are they’re in on it.
At the same time, you shouldn’t be too paranoid, either.
Strange things happen at the tables, especially in home games, where the level of play tends to be subpar.
Just because someone called down your three-barrel bluff with bottom pair, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily cheating. They might just be a huge calling station or a really good player who picked up a live tell (the latter is rarely the case, though).
The bottom line is: if you feel like you’re being cheated, the best thing to do is walk away. You’re better off not playing at all than playing with the deck stacked against you.
4. Bottom Deck Dealing
Another form of poker cheating that you’re likely to encounter in private games is the so-called “bottom deck” dealing.
The method involves the person dealing cards and one of the players in the game.
The dealer – who needs to be a fairly capable card mechanic to pull this off – will set the deck during the shuffling process in such a way as to be able to deal particular cards from the bottom of the deck.
Imagine you’re holding a top set on a flop with a flush draw. You bet big, and your opponent calls. The turn is blank, and you fire another big bet once again to protect your hand and give them wrong odds to chase.
Now, in a regular setup, most players will be dissuaded from calling you with one card to come. However, if you know that your dealer friend will pull the magic card on the river, it becomes much easier.
Unless you’re very experienced, it will actually be hard to notice bottom deck dealing.
A good card mechanic is usually able to do it so quickly that an untrained eye won’t notice a difference. So, you’re better off paying attention to strange patterns instead.
If the situation like the one described above happens frequently and always involves the same player calling against the odds and magically hitting on the river time and time again, you should be very careful.
You’ll rarely ever come across this type of poker cheating in a casino.
Usually, it happens in a private game of some sort, and my advice is the same as for most other similar situations: get out as fast as you can and don’t come back.
To be honest, it’s always very risky to play in unknown private games, and you should actually avoid it for the most part.
Stick to playing in official casinos and with people you actually know in your home games, and you’ll be way less likely to get cheated.
Cheating In Online Poker Games
In online poker games, although you’ll be protected from some of the aforementioned forms of cheating, you’ll also have to deal with other dangers that come with the internet.
While players can’t mark cards or have the dealer help them out, there are numerous ways to cheat at online poker and more than enough people both willing and able to put these systems to use.
1. Colluding And Card Sharing
At a live table, players have to come up with plans and strategies if they want to share card information and work with each other.
Online, however, this is much easier.
What’s there to stop someone from having a friend or two sitting at the same table and chatting via Skype or Viber, discussing hands, sharing information, and even playing together with the goal of taking chips or money from the remaining players?
This is a really tricky poker cheat to prove, and there have been quite a few confirmed examples of this type of play across almost all poker rooms out there.
While poker sites try to improve their security and invest in software to protect the players, I’m quite sure that a ton of colluders have flown under the radar, and the cheaters have never been caught.
The reality is that it will take you a while to notice this kind of cheating.
The first couple of times you sit down to play and encounter the same people on your table, you’ll probably think they just like to play a lot.
Or if you’re playing on a smaller site there might not be many games running, so having the same players at your table is quite normal.
But if you notice people who only play together and win more often than they mathematically should, then this might actually be suspicious.
The best way to deal with these situations is to report the players in question immediately.
The poker room probably won’t take action based on a single report, but if there are multiple reports from multiple players, they’ll eventually deal with the situation.
Since rooms have full access to hand histories and hole cards, they’ll have no problems detecting collusion.
It’s actually not hard to figure out at all given enough information. If and when they confirm these suspicions, players involved will be banned, and you’ll likely receive at least some of the money back.
2. Bot Rings
Poker bots are becoming a real problem for the online poker community.
While some players don’t see this as a form of cheating, the majority agree that computer programs have no business playing against humans or, at the very least, human players should be aware they’re playing against a bot and not an actual person.
A poker bot is a piece of software that’s capable of playing a certain form of poker based on predefined parameters or even his own advanced Artificial Intelligence algorithm.
Some of the newer bots are also capable of adjusting their play in real-time, which makes them very dangerous opponents.
I’m in the camp that believes that using bots is cheating, and it should have no place in online poker.
You can’t really use the argument that “you shouldn’t be playing if you can’t beat a bot” because that’s a very weak argument at this point. With so many powerful solvers, tracking software, and other tools, modern poker bots can play the game on a very high level.
But it’s not just about their playing abilities.
Even if a bot only plays an average game, it will never get tired, it will never tilt, and it won’t ever make any misclicks.
And if you take the human component out of poker completely, you’re playing a very different game.
Imagine you catch a great run of cards in an anniversary Sunday Million and find yourself at the final table with hundreds of thousands in cash up for grabs.
Every pay jump is important, every decision is crucial, and you’re not used to this kind of pressure. Your average buy-in is $5, and your biggest score to date is $1,500.
All of a sudden, you’re playing for the first place of $1,000,000.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had someone like Ivey or Fedor Holz take over and wrap things up?
In a live setting, this could never happen.
The “one player per hand” rule applies in all poker rooms everywhere on the planet, and you’re not allowed to even ask advice from your half-drunk friend who’s there to cheer you on (even though other players definitely wouldn’t mind).
Online, however, the practice of “ghosting” has become quite commonplace in the MTT world.
Players who are involved in staking groups, in particular, will often have someone else take over full control over their computer once they hit a major final table.
No matter how you try to spin this, it’s a huge deal – and clearly cheating – although it’s hard to prove.
The problem with ghosting is twofold.
First of all, by having someone with better skills take over, you’re improving your EV in the event. This really requires no further explanation.
Secondly, by having someone else take your spot, you’re fooling other players. They’re playing a strategy that is supposed to work against someone with an average buy-in of $5. That same strategy obviously won’t work against someone who crushes $1,000 tournaments.
This is, of course, an extreme example, but the point remains.
If a room could verify 100% that someone else was clicking buttons instead of the player who owns the account, they’d definitely confiscate their winnings.
However, this can easily be avoided by the actual player doing the clicking while the PRO dictates what to do over the phone, and there won’t be an easy way to track this.
Sadly, there isn’t much you can do to protect yourself against this form of cheating.
If you notice a particular player has suddenly changed their style dramatically, becoming way more aggressive, for example, you should definitely consider the possibility that they’re being ghosted.
The best thing you can do is stick to a solid and GTO-based strategy and don’t rely too much on any reads you were able to gather up to that point.
Best Known Real-Life Examples Of Cheating In Poker
One of the first rules of cheating (in poker and in general) is that you shouldn’t get caught doing it. If you get caught, it usually means that you’re doing something wrong, or you’ve pushed your luck too far.
Likely, you’ve never heard about the majority of cheaters because they got away with it.
However, there are some quite famous examples of poker cheats, both online and live, that got caught:
1. Ultimate Bet / Absolute Poker Cheating Scandal
One of the biggest examples of cheating in the online world is connected to two sister rooms – Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet.
It all happened in the mid and late-2000s, so quite a while ago, but the story made poker history and still stands as one of the biggest examples of why you should never let your guard down when playing online.
This scandal involved super-user accounts – something that both poker rooms denied even existed before they were caught red-handed.
First came Absolute Poker in 2007. It was during a big online tournament that players noticed that something was amiss. Many of the players went to poker forums to air their complaints and request an investigation.
One of the players involved in the tournament requested from AP to send over their tournament history. By mistake, the room actually sent them a file that showed all the hands from all the players, and this was the smoking gun the community needed.
After carefully reviewing the history, it became apparent that one player, “Potripper,” was making perfect decisions throughout the event. Always making the right choice even in the hardest of spots, “Potripper” ended up winning the tournament.
The later investigation by KGC, the room’s licensing authority, confirmed these findings and it was revealed that the person behind the “Potripper” alias was actually using a master account during the tournament to view other players’ hole cards, which explained how he was able to play so perfectly.
Absolute Poker eventually admitted the existence of super-user accounts, acknowledged that one of them was used by the player in question, and reimbursed the players.
However, they never admitted that it was an inside job in any way, shape, or form.
The Ultimate Bet cheating scheme came to light a bit later, in early 2008.
The setup was quite similar to what had happened at AP as players detected certain accounts that had win-rates that were way too high. One account in particular, “NioNio,” was extremely suspicious.
The internal investigation by the room confirmed these allegations, claiming there was a group of players who used a super-user account to view other players’ cards.
UB claimed the cheating took place from 2006 to 2007, but the later investigation by KGC concluded that super-user accounts were used as early as 2004.
The room was fined $1.5 million, but not much else happened, which naturally caused players to start running for their lives, leaving UB in waves.
It was only later, in 2013, that incriminating phone conversations between Russ Hamilton, one of the owners of UB, and several other people came to light.
In these conversations, Hamilton admitted to blatantly cheating players for years, profiting well over $15 million from the scheme.
In the same conversation, Hamilton showed no willingness or desire to make things right and made it pretty clear he was happy keeping the money won through cheating.
2. Borgata Open And The Counterfeit Chips Situation
When you’re running deep in a big tournament, you’re rarely in such a good spot that you couldn’t find a good use for some extra chips in your stack.
The regular way to get them is by playing poker and trying to win some pots, or you could just bring a few million extra chips in your bag and add them to your stack.
Back in 2014, Christian Lusardi went for the latter option in the Borgata Poker Open.
With just 27 players left in the tournament and more than $370,000 reserved for the winner, Lusardi figured he could give himself an edge by boosting his tournament stack with counterfeit chips.
Lusardi had ordered counterfeit chips from China, kept them in his hotel room at Borgata, and introduced different amounts throughout the tournament.
When the staff caught wind that something fishy was going on and stopped the play, they discovered that more than $800,000 worth of false chips were added to the play.
The police got involved, and it wasn’t long before they figured out that Lusardi (who, ironically, busted the tournament despite all of his efforts) was the culprit.
Upon searching his room, they discovered $2.7 million worth of chips clogging the toilet as the cheater had unsuccessfully tried to get rid of the evidence by flushing them.
Lusardi was arrested and later admitted to his wrongdoings.
When the police searched his apartment, they also discovered DVDs with counterfeit labels, adding further charges to the mix.
He pleaded guilty to both charges and received a fairly harsh penalty of five years in prison.
Lusardi didn’t have to do the full time, though. He was released in 2016, after spending just eight months behind bars.
As for the tournament, Borgata ended up canceling the event and reimbursed all affected players.
Some didn’t agree with this decision, and there were multiple lawsuits raised against the casino, but in all cases, judges upheld the decision made by the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement.
3. WSOP $10,000 Heads Up Championship Card Marking Controversy
During the 2015 World Series of Poker, there was a pretty big scandal that involved many high-profile players and one Valeriu Coca, a fairly unknown player from Moldova who was playing his very first WSOP event.
Namely, during the $10,000 Heads Up Championship, a prestigious event that attracts best of the best, Coca went on to eliminate one player after another with ease.
Those who played with Coca raised their concerns and said they felt there was something weird going on during those matches.
Coca was only eliminated by Keith Lehr, who went on to win the tournament, sending Coca packing in 5th place.
The uproar in the community was enough to trigger an official WSOP investigation.
Almost all players reported the same thing. Coca was acting weirdly at the tables, constantly shuffling his cards, stalling, and his decisions lacked any kind of consistency.
Sometimes he would snap call an all-in with a medium-strength hand; sometimes, he’d take forever with fairly strong holdings.
Despite all the fuss, the WSOP investigation couldn’t find any evidence of cheating.
Decks were checked for the invisible ink that some players believed was used by Coca to mark the cards, but no traces were found. So, officially, the Moldavian played fair and square.
However, during the investigation and due to all the media attention this case caught, Coca’s checkered past came to light.
It turned out he was banned from casinos and poker rooms in Prague for cheating or, more precisely, marking cards.
No invisible ink was used, though. Coca simply applied small, almost invisible dents to kings and aces.
So, while he was cleared of any wrongdoing in the WSOP event, the cloud of doubt remained. There was no actual evidence of cheating, so it remains a mystery.
4. Partouche Poker Tour Collusion Scam
I did say that you’re more likely to get cheated in a private poker game than in a big tournament, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t a risk when playing in a major event.
Cheaters pick their spots, and when an opportunity arises, they grab it.
The situation from the 2009 Partouche Poker Tour Main Event is an excellent example of collusion and how big of an effect it can have on final tournament results.
The scheme involved two players, Cedric Rossi and Jean-Paul Pasqualini, who used hand signals to report their hole cards to one another.
The scheme clearly worked very well for the duo as they went on to claim the top two spots in the event.
The cheaters would probably have gotten away with it had their movements not been caught on camera. Later analysis of the final table footage showed that the duo used a complex signaling system to exchange the information.
One particularly damning hand was the one where short-stacked Pasqualini picked up Ace King, an absolute monster in general, but especially when playing on a short stack.
Yet, after facing a re-raise from Rossi, who followed the action by placing both hands on his forehead, Pasqualini proceeded to send his hand into the muck. It was a correct decision, as Rossi was holding pocket aces!
There were many more instances where the duo avoided the confrontation after exchanging what clearly looks like a set of prearranged signals.
Their code was later broken down, and it turned out they had a particular set of signals for almost every important type of hand there is.
In the end, Pasqualini and Rossi were allowed to keep their winnings despite all the allegations and uproar in the community.
Both players were removed from the Global Poker Index list for ethical breaches, but not much else happened.
Of course, both Pasqualini and Rossi negated all collusion accusations, and Partouche officials sided with them, so there were no further actions taken.
5. Mike Postle And The “God Mode”
One of the more recent poker cheating scandals warns about the dangers of new technologies.
The story was one of the biggest of 2019, and it involves Stones Gambling Hall and an individual named Mike Postle (below).
Stones Gambling Hall was by no means a well-known poker venue. Looking to improve its presence and get some visibility, the room decided to introduce live streaming of games and extended invitations to some fairly known players.
It was a solid idea and things were going pretty well until cheating accusations appeared.
There was one regular in the Stones game who was there for almost every session, with seemingly superb poker abilities.
Mike Postle was the talk of almost every stream. His incredible reading skills, how he was able to get away from difficult spots – all of it turned Postle into the hero the Stones game.
Even the best of the best don’t bring their A-game all the time, so eventually, players started to get suspicious.
There is no single player out there who doesn’t make a big mistake every now and again. You can’t always be spot on with your reads – unless you know exactly what your opponents are holding.
Accusations started to surface that Postle was in cahoots with someone from the Stones who was feeding him the hole card information.
Since this was readily available for streaming purposes, it was certainly possible for someone on the inside to find a way to intercept it and send it over to Postle’s phone.
What followed was probably one of the biggest community-driven investigations in poker cheating allegations in the history of the game.
Countless streamers and high-profile players took it upon themselves to go through hours of the Stones cash game footage, dissecting every important hand Postle was involved in.
It was becoming more and more apparent that something fishy was going on since one situation after another, hand after hand, Postle was always making the right calls.
The footage also revealed Postle frequently checking his phone for something, but apart from one fairly vague frame, it’s impossible to see what’s on his phone.
Stones officials conducted their internal investigation and concluded there was no cheating going on. As far as the room was concerned, this was the end of it, but the community just wouldn’t let go.
New videos and forum threads kept popping up and, eventually, things spilled outside of poker circles.
Almost 90 players who were involved with the games at the Stones filled a lawsuit against Postle, the poker room, and the poker room manager, asking for $10,000,000 in damages.
The lawsuit was filed in California in October of 2019, and the lawyer representing the players believed they had a very strong case.
However, the judge disagreed.
In June of 2020, the lawsuit was dismissed by the court. According to the state’s laws, any losses related to gambling can’t be recovered in court.
This is an old law that may not be in line with modern times, but it is the law nonetheless, and Postle’s legal team used it to get the case dismissed.
Although the whole situation is still ongoing, it seems that nothing will come out of it in the end.
The biggest cheating scandal of recent times, often dubbed “Postlegate” by the media, might end up being just another cautionary tale.
You can’t really hope or expect someone else to protect you at the tables, so if something smells fishy, just get out while you can. There are plenty of games running at all times, so why stick to the one where something is clearly out of order?
Learn The Common Cheats To Avoid Getting Cheated
When it comes to cheating in poker, you don’t need to be overly paranoid, but keeping your guard up and staying cautious doesn’t hurt.
As far as risk is concerend, private games are probably where you have to pay the most attention.
While most people are honest and just want to play some poker, there’s always the possibility of someone inviting you over to rid you of some cash in a dishonest manner – just like “The Tip” poker con.
Stay aware of your surroundings and pay close attention to everything going on around you, especially if you’re in a new environment and surrounded by people you don’t know well.
Online, there is always the risk of being cheated, so you should be aware of the previously mentioned cheats and do your best to protect yourself but don’t become too paranoid in the process.
Remember that sometimes, several bad beats in a row are just a string of bad luck. Usually players can’t see your cards or know that you’re bluffing – they just hate folding.
Stay smart, play it cool, and try not to jump to any conclusions too quickly.