Online Poker Card Shuffling is Fair

This article will summarize the ground we’ve covered in this series on how cards are shuffled in Online Poker rooms. Our conclusion is that the major online poker sites are shuffling the “cards” fairly.

This series has just dealt with the fundamentals of poker site shuffling. I am aware of the many theories about poker sites dealing scripted hands, creating “action flops,” and otherwise rigging the card ordering. We will address those specifically in future articles.

All evidence available to us about the major online poker sites shows that these sites are shuffling the deck appropriately. The “cards” in a deck in an online poker room such as Party Poker, Paradise Poker, Absolute Poker and others are distributed equally randomly as the decks of real cards in your local card room.

We are not limiting approval to the sites listed above. Those are just the sites that get a majority of our play. This site will eventually have links to small articles on each poker site with a review of their shuffling methods and an explanation on why you can trust that shuffle to be random.

In the article on how cards are shuffled in live games, we saw that there is the possibility of a lazy dealer who runs only one or two riffle shuffles. In these cases, you are certainly getting better distribution of cards online than live. It is highly recommended that poker room dealers scramble the cards before riffling them.

The comparison of an online poker shuffling to poker room shuffling is important for people to understand. Some people have a vague concept of randomness that leads them to be suspicious of events such as a flop with all Aces or someone hitting quads to beat their full house. Some players draw conclusions that sites are cheating when they witness this online but don’t think a second time when they deal it themselves at a home game.

Randomness doesn’t mean that an event will not happen – only that this event is not predictable and occurs about the expected number of times over a very long number of tries. If you flip a coin enough times, there will be a time where you flip "Heads" ten times in a row, even though this has a 00.097% chance of happening if you pick a starting point.

Online poker sites are shuffling the deck at the beginning of a hand such that any of 52! (That’s 52-factorial) orderings are possible. This means that any possible order of cards in a deck could be used at the start of your next hand.

They key factors in ensuring that any possible deck ordering can be offered to the player are: a robust algorithm and a proper RNG (random number generator).

The algorithm is typically fairly simple and efficient but it must be robust enough to support numbers as high as 52! (52-factorial) because this number is very, very, large.

The RNG must not only support a value as high as 52! (52-factorial), but it must also have input that is truly random. Most sites are using a hardware-based RNG that combines several data sources such as processor behavior, customer mouse movement, and telecommunications traffic.

These factors are very important, and if you plan to play at an online poker site that is new or not one of the big name sites, you should ask for information on these issues.

It is true that bad algorithms and bad RNGs have been a problem. Someone may tell you that they know of a site where the shuffle was cracked. They are correct -- an online poker site had their shuffling algorithm and RNG solved in a way that made cards predictable during a hand. I have a much more thorough explanation HERE.

Even back when that site was cracked, other contemporary sites did not have the same problem. And today, all large reputable sites have algorithms and RNGs that don’t have these problems. For more detail on how current poker sites are different, go HERE.

Poker sites also have certifications on their site that claim to verify the trustworthiness of their games. As discussed in our article HERE, those certifications can be quite informative and valuable but not wholly conclusive. Always consider the source of the certification and weigh their credibility.

Several players have kept logs of the hands they are dealt at an online poker site. This author has every hand he’s ever played at Party Poker, Paradise Poker, and Absolute Poker stored on a computer. Some have privately compared their dealt cards to ensure they are being dealt randomly. One poster made his review public, which is discussed in this post HERE.

This site will eventually host a project of combined card databases that makes a very large sample available to audit poker site card distribution.

At the beginning of this series, we listed our expectation of randomness for online poker card shuffles as the following:

*After the shuffle, the order of the cards is placed so that I can have confidence that any single unused card is as potentially likely to be next in the deck as any other single unused card.

*There is ZERO predictability at any time during the hand beyond likelihood percentages easily calculated using probability.

Based on our review so far, these criteria are met by the major online poker sites.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

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