THE WEEKLY SHUFFLE, 2006-02-05, by TwoGun
Most poker games played are free of cheating and foul play. However, there are times when players engage in unethical practices. One of the most common forms of cheating is collusion. When two or more players team up and share information about their hands with each other at the table, they engage in collusion.
Players collude in the hopes of winning extra money at the table. For example, if one player has a good hand, the other player will help him or her build the pot through raises. Also, by sharing information about their hands, colluding players may each have a better idea as to the likely possibilities of their opponents' hands.
Collusion is always against the rules, and card rooms ban known colluders. Internet poker rooms also may confiscate funds if they believe a person is colluding. Since most poker players are honest or at least afraid of getting into trouble, few people engage in collusion.
Before proceeding further, it needs to be made clear that it is impossible for me or almost anyone to know for sure how frequently collusion occurs. This article is only my speculation regarding this issue.
The ability for players to collude and the poker room's capacity to limit collusion depends largely if the game is played online or in a brick-and-mortar casino. Let's first address the potential for collusion at online cardrooms.
Many are worried about the potential for online collusion. While collusion certainly occurs at times at online poker rooms, I seriously doubt it greatly affects the quality of most games. If collusion was rampant, then online poker never would have become as popular as it is. Furthermore, if anything, collusion is more of a past issue than one that may blow up in the future. Here are the reasons why collusion simply hasn't been that major of a problem.
First, online poker rooms have anti-collusion programs in place. Since an online poker room has every record of every hand on file, it is not too difficult to detect suspicious behavior by a player. Brick-and-mortar casinos do not have this luxury, and they cannot build a case against a player by pointing to dozens of hand histories like an online poker room can.
Of course, the ability for a poker room to detect cheating is largely dependent on how competent a poker room is. Just because a poker room should have the capacity to detect collusion does not mean it will. Poker rooms that do not invest much into their anti-collusion departments may not stop collusion that they should be able to prevent.
Second, it is not in a very good player's interest to collude. Even if a really good poker player also happens to be a total jerk and scoundrel, he probably would not collude. Why? Because he would be too busy multi-tabling. Colluding takes time and effort. For every table a person can play while colluding, he or she could probably play three fair and square. Most sharks would find it more profitable to just play more tables than to collude. Furthermore, most sharks would be very wary of having their accounts banned from online poker rooms and would probably not risk colluding.
Third, the larger poker rooms can limit the ability for two or more people to sit at the same table with each other. For example, Party Poker limits the total number of tables available at any limit. This tends to create waiting lists and forces players to often just take whatever table is available to them. This helps limit the ability for colluding players to sit at the same table. It should be noted that this is a primary way brick-and-mortar poker rooms prevent collusion.
Finally, I think the growth of online poker favors the ability of online poker rooms to prevent collusion over unethical players attempting to cheat. Several years ago, poker rooms had few tables available at any given limit, so it was not suspicious of two players frequently played at the same table. Now, there may be dozens of games played at any one limit, so players that frequently play at the same table will more closely be watched. Online poker rooms also have most likely learned from their operating experience and are more adept at dealing with player fraud in general.
Since brick-and-mortar poker rooms cannot review hand histories like online rooms, they are more limited in their ability to prevent collusion. However, logistical concerns prevent a lot of collusion in brick-and-mortar cardrooms. After all, players can't just call each other in the middle of the hand and ask what they each have at the table.
Thus, in brick-and-mortar cardrooms, there is more likely less casual collusion than in online games. The complexities of formulating a strategy to convey hand strength probably prevents most amateurs or casual players from attempting to collude at a land-based casino.
However, the inability for poker rooms to detect collusion may make it easier for more high-stakes, professional collusion at a brick-and-mortar game. These players will take the time to develop codes and gestures to indicate the strength of their possession. Furthermore, since it is impossible to multi-table at a brick-and-mortar casino, it is more in the financial interest for strong players to collude.
At these sorts of games, the players will often be able to police each other. Many know each other and play at the same game regularly, so the players may pick up if others are attempting to cheat.
Collusion is an ongoing war between cheating players and the poker rooms. Most likely, the poker rooms are winning and there is only a limited amount of cheating in the poker world. Nevertheless, poker players should not be naive and should still pay attention if they notice suspicious activity from their opponents.
The Weekly Shuffle is our Sunday column with our observations and commentary on the poker world. Have an idea for an article? Leave a suggestion on the feedback page.
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