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Internet Poker Honesty

GUARANTEEING YOURSELF AN HONEST GAME

Just how difficult is it to guarantee yourself an honest game on the Internet?

Cheating, a concern in almost any poker games, seems at first glance to be a greater threat online (where you can't even see your opponents) than in a brick and mortar card room. What's more, you can't physically scrutinize the deck, the shuffle, or the deal for anything suspicious.

A series of bad beats from online opponents seems worse online than in person. It's partly because the pace of play is much faster in cyberspace: A normal downturn compressed into a far shorter time period may feel like an avalanche rather than just a cold shower.

But we believe it has more to do with the impersonal nature of the playing environment.

Unknown Internet opponents seem mysterious and intimidating, and it's easy to project all sorts of fears and apprehensions onto them, and to suspect them of the worst possible motives. Because they make such ideal scapegoats, it's easier to doubt the security and integrity of online games than to doubt one's own luck or skill.

We know veteran poker players who steadfastly refuse to play online for fear of losing money to technically sophisticated cheats. Meanwhile, many players who have tried Internet poker but lost insist it's plagued with unscrupulous conniving folks teaming up on adjacent or multiple computers, tipping off card holdings to colluding buddies on Instant Messages or cell phones, passing hand results ahead of time by hacking into programming codes or - worst of all - conspiring with site operators to dupe unsuspecting clients.

Yet thousands of players hail the Internet as poker's new frontier, and they're wagering large sums across cyberspace tables as easily as they do on real felt. More computer-savvy as a group than average players, they believe that security aspects of online games offset or even exceed those of brick and mortar card-clubs.

They point out that Internet poker casinos use sophisticated detection software programs able to track betting patterns of any player (or group of players) over any time period. Resulting data can provide evidence of collusion, hacking, and other forms of cheating. At the best sites, these programs zero in pro-actively on players with unusually high win rates, cross-correlating their betting patterns with those of other winners in an effort to detect illicit teamwork. When there's a proven match, the culprits are summarily and permanently banned from further play - usually with their funds frozen so that ill-begotten bounty may be redistributed to victims.

Aficionados cite other security advantages of cyberspace poker: Superiority of the purely random shuffle generated by computer software over any shuffle wrought by human hands; one hundred percent accuracy and lightning speed of bet verification and pot-accounting by games programs; elimination of such human dealer errors as misdeals, flipped cards, and misread hands; certainty that all players act in turn because there's no way to circumvent the programming to do otherwise; and inability of opponents to practice deception by making physical "moves," hiding table stakes, or removing chips from play without actually leaving the games.

Even so, the anonymous nature of the Internet almost guarantees at least some instances of folks maintaining separate accounts on multiple computers to unfairly play more than one seat at a time, or networking colluders who share hand information against unknowing opponents.

Your best protection against such cheaters is either stick to very low limits (including play-money games) or develops enough experience - a real "feel" for the games that comes only with time and study - to discern any telltale abnormality in the betting action. But if you're in doubt you can always request that the casino aim its detection software to investigate specific complaints.

To assist you, we offer a ten-point program for assuring yourself an honest game. Though we think some points are common sense. It doesn't hurt to emphasize them: We've learned common sense has a way of becoming uncommon when folks are itching to play - whether online or off. (You'll find our ten-point program conveniently boxed at the end of this page.)



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