The software security team at PokerStars is highly respected in the industry for being at the forefront of the technological war against cheating. Not only does it act to prevent cheating before it occurs, but it acts immediately to investigate allegations of cheating and itself monitors play to identify suspicious activity. When cheating is uncovered, PokerStars freezes accounts and compensates all players who have been affected. Unlike many sites, it does this automatically, even when no players have made complaints.
There a number of scams on the internet from people purporting to sell tools that enable players to see hole cards or otherwise provide mechanisms that enable cheating. All such complaints are untrue. The security protections on PokerStars’ game servers are far too advanced to be tricked by anything for sale on the internet.
There are three common ways in which cheats attempt to gain an unfair advantage. Multi-accounting, collusion and by using automated decision making programs called “bots”.
Players are not allowed to play on more than one account. IP monitoring combined with a number of other security checks, including anti-money laundering identification procedures makes it extremely difficult for anyone to set up multiple PokerStars accounts. The accounts may not be too difficult to establish, but are relatively easy to detect and any money transfers or cash outs are prevented until full identification checks have been carried out.
Collusion occurs when two or more players agree to play together in order to exploit other players. In the end stages of tournaments, one player may fold a good hand pre-flop or lose with a strong hand post-flop to deliberately “dump” chips to their partner and protect them from going bust. Collusion at cash games is less common, but still occurs and often takes the form of “squeezing” one or more players at the table so that they fold rather than get involved in a multi-way re-raised pot.
PokerStars monitors players who regularly play together and checks hand histories and results to identify possible collusion at the earliest opportunity. Players themselves have a key role to play in minimizing collusion by reporting suspicious plays immediately to PokerStars Support.
PokerStars has a team of expert players who can analyze cash games or tournaments and quickly identify the early signs of collusion. All reports of collusion will be investigated by one of the expert team members who will rapidly report back with their findings.
Poker is a game of incomplete information. In chess you can see all your opponent’s pieces, in poker you can’t see your opponents hole cards. This makes it a lot harder to write a program to win at poker than it is to write one that can beat a chess grandmaster.
Most poker players aren’t at the level of a chess grandmaster and make lots of mistakes. A program that plays even a weak or negative expected value strategy can still be profitable simply because it doesn’t make stupid mistakes.
Tournament poker, especially single table tournaments with fast blind structures and short stacks are a regular target for cheats using bots. The mathematics of correct play are very different from cash games where chip expected value (cEV) does not equal $EV.
Independent Chip Modelling (ICM) is a simple mathematical framework that tournament players use for adjusting their play to take account the different chip values as the tournament progresses. At th beginning of a $10 tournament everyone’s chips are worth $10. At the end of a standard tournament the winner has all the chips, but doesn’t win 100% of the prize pool. Each of his chips is worth less than when the tournament started.
It’s difficult to get ICM decisions right in the heat of play, and easy to program a bot to get them right all the time. Fortunately, PokerStars has become extremely adept at detecting bots using pattern recognition techniques that identify the signatures that a program, and not a human being is playing.
The first warning a player gets of these in action is a chat box message asking the player to type in the letters of some distorted text within a short time limit. While bots will continue to be created by optimistic cheats, PokerStars has the problem tightly controlled and promptly reimburses all players who may have been affected when they catch one in operation.