Why We Doubt the Online Poker Rigged Theories - On Evidence

There are plenty of conspiracy theories floated about online poker sites. By far the largest class of conspiracy theories are those that suggest poker sites are dealing predetermined hands which create lots of action.

This class of conspiracy theories is manifest in many comments:
  • Party Poker deals too many flushes

  • I've seen too many runner-runner suckouts on Poker Stars

  • Party Poker keeps weaker players in the game by rewarding their drawing hands

  • Paradise has way too many pocket pairs

  • Absolute Poker creates huge showdowns

  • Party Poker deals action flops to steal the our rake
The core premise of all these comments is that the game is rigged. We remain doubtful about all of these theories for a variety of reasons.

EVIDENCE - One Hand History Doesn't Do It

The first problem with those who espouse one of these conspiracy theories is that they produce no substantial evidence to back up their claims. Single hand histories prove nothing.

Here's a hand history that is quite rare, but alone it proves nothing. Note: this hand history has been truncated and edited for brevity.

Player 1: JHARM
Player 7: ZEIDMAN
BB: BDAVIS

Dealt to JHARM: Qd Qc

JHARM Raises to $200
*SEVERAL FOLDS*
ZEIDMAN Calls $200
BDAVIS Calls to $200

FLOP: Ts Jd Qh

JHARM Bets $500
ZEIDMAN Raises to $2000
BDAVIS Folds
JHARM Calls to $2000

TURN: Td

JHARM Checks
ZEIDMAN Bets $1000
JHARM Raises to $3000
ZEIDMAN Calls

RIVER: 7d

JHARM Bets ALL-IN
ZEIDMAN Calls

JHARM shows Qd Qc Qh Ts Td Full House
ZEIDMAN shows 7d 8d 9d Td Jd Straight Flush

ZEIDMAN wins pot

One could easily envision the online chat box after this beat. When something like this happens, some players light up the chat with their complaints.

Of course this hand was actually from live action at the World Series of Poker Main Event. This is the hand where Corey Zeidman's rivered Straight Flush beat Jennifer Harman's Full House.

EVIDENCE - How to Get It

Conspiracy theorists have a lot of potential evidence at their disposal even without playing the hands themselves.

Many of the assertions about sites being rigged are based upon the flop, turn, and river. This data can be collected from a major site like Party Poker without playing. For the data collection step, it would take just a few days for a researcher with Party Poker and Poker Tracker to collect data on many thousands of board cards.

If there are too many flush or straight possibilities being dealt, then prove it with data mining. If the board is pairing too often, then show it with evidence.

EVIDENCE - The Response

The typical response when those of us who are unconvinced of "rigged" theories ask for evidence is complete silence. Collecting lots of hand histories and building an argument is hard work, we truly understand. But players have been complaining about sites being rigged for more than five years. This is plenty of time for someone to track a large number of hands dealt and present a case.

Another recent response goes along these lines:

"The game will always appear fair when looking at a large group of hands because the site only deals an 'action hand' occasionally."

In fact, here is an exact quote from a post on Rec.Gambling.Poker by poster "BossTweed:"

I am no statistician by any means but it seems possible that over millions of
hands dealt the probabilitys could be completely within the correct %'s and yet
still be rigged. There is plenty of leeway in the odds to "favor" certain
hands in certain pots without raising any red flags.


Translation: Rigged deals are so infrequent as to be imperceptible statistically.

Result: A virtually meaningless argument that by definition can't be disproven.

Presenting a thesis on card dealing that can't be disproven -- "no publically available evidence will reveal the manipulation of the deck" -- is a flawed argument. When holding such a position which is loaded against rebuttal, the burden of proof must be on he who proposes the thesis.

While it is possible such a conspiracy exists, it is incumbent on those who believe it and wish to convince others to present some evidence. Since statistical evidence is argued to be unsatisfactory, those who propose this thesis must find other information to support their argument such as a whistleblower.