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Is Pokerstars rigged?
For as long as online poker has existed there has been talk about it being rigged. Many players are convinced that poker sites are rigging the games by using bots or altering their RNG so that certain players win more than others.
As PokerStars is the biggest and most popular poker site online, they (obviously) have a target painted on their back. They can't escape the claims that they're fixing their games, nor will they ever be able to.
Our goal was to research the claims in detail, see if there was any truth to them and lay it all out here for you to see. Ready to see what we came up with?
First Things First. Is PokerStars Rigged?
No. Not based on our research.
What we found is that there were 2 types of accusations. The most common is that PokerStars rigs their RNG (random number generator) to favor a particular person or situation. The second is that they use bots.
We have strong arguments as to why neither is true, which we'll explain more in a second. But lets look at why the accusations we came across cannot be taken seriously.
The problem with every such accusation was that it lacked facts. More importantly, it lacked data. Every forum post we came across was essentially a bad beat disguised as a "PokerStars is rigged, I know it" claim. But no one provided any facts or details, other than the hand history or two they had to show that they lost with pocket aces twice in a row.
According to them that was mathematically impossible, and suspicious, to say the least. The few posters that did claim to have data never shared it as far as we can tell, and the data they claimed to have was a small sample size anyway -- maybe a couple hundred thousand hands. Hardly enough to come to a conclusion.
What the majority of posters failed to realize is that, without data, all they have is a bad beat story. It makes them look like tin-foil hat wearing sore losers. And that's not enough to convince others that PokerStars is rigged. Furthermore, many of these players still played on PokerStars after the fact. So you have to wonder -- are they sore losers or just plain stupid?
What's Wrong with the Bot Theory
We have two problems with the "PokerStars uses bots" theory. Let's first explain what poker bots are.
A poker bot is a software programmed to play poker in place of a human being. They are trained how to react to certain situations. For example, they may be coded to raise pocket aces but fold pocket 5s. The idea is for the robot to grind out a profit without the player having to be there. That's the very basic idea. Poker bots are becoming more and more advanced, though, and may one day be able to hold their own against a solid player.
Now onto our arguments.
The first problem with the bot theory is that PokerStars has openly closed accounts that were associated with bots. As soon as they catch wind of a bot, they start an investigation and if bots are found, accounts are closed and players are punished. Here is one example of pokertars catching bots. They clearly do not allow bots at their site, which is a term you can find in their T&Cs.
Of course it could just be an act: PokerStars gets rid of bots so that they can use their own. But they wouldn't get away with it very long. So many players nowadays use tracking systems. It wouldn't be difficult to see patterns in a person's (bot's) play, nor would it be particularly difficult to see patterns or signs of favoritism in their Holdem Manager or Poker Tracker reports.
The bottom line - PokerStars would have a difficult time getting away with bots. It would be more hassle than it's worth for them.
Problems with the RNG Theory
There are a number of claims regarding PokerStars cheating with their RNG. It could be that PokerStars tags players that are participating in a bonus so that they lose hands. Or PokerStars deals action-oriented hands to get players to play more, thus generating more rake. Good (or bad) players are being favored. Things like that. The RNG is just not as random as it should be.
The first problem with this type of claim is that, once again, poker players that play to earn money (a living) use tracking systems. It wouldn't take long for someone to stand up with cold, hard data, proving that PokerStars is cheating the games. Especially considering that there are players that 10-table (or more) heads-up or 6 -max games, playing hundreds and even thousands of hands per hour. These players could actually generate enough hands (data) to make a solid case against them.
The second problem with the RNG theory is that PokerStars, as well as a number of online casinos, poker rooms and sportsbooks, have their RNG audited regularly. In fact, PokerStars has even requested that their RNG be audited -- once in 2008 and again in 2012. Here is what Cigital had to say in December 2012:
Cigital bases its determination on the results of the statistical tests and the inspection of source code. Cigital certifies that the RNG used by PokerStars complies with the standards for randomness as given in the “Online Gambling (Systems Verification) (No.2) Regulations 2007.". The random number generator produces unpredictable and statistically random sequences that are used to generate the hands dealt on PokerStars.com.
Cigital found that the PokerStars implementation adheres to current best practices in generating random seed values. Source code analysis did not produce any evidence of improper calculations using the random numbers or misuse that would introduce predictability or bias.
In the shuffles of the decks of cards, Cigital found no evidence of bias or predictability. The shuffle test results were statistically significant and correlated strongly with expected probabilities.
PokerStars RNG is random according to Cigital. So unless you want to put on your conspiracy inspired tin hat, and say that PokerStars has Cigital in their back pocket, this report squashes all claims that say otherwise.
Why It Wouldn’t Make Sense For PokerStars to Rig Their Games
We wanted to wrap this page up with a few sound reasons as to why it wouldn't make sense for PokerStars to rig their games. This isn't proof, of course, but each one makes sense and is hard for anyone to disagree with nonetheless.
PokerStars would be easily caught. As mentioned earlier, PokerStars would quickly be caught by players using tracking systems. It would just be too easy for players to find patterns or situations that couldn't be chalked up to "coincidences".
PokerStars makes a lot of money. PokerStars is the largest poker site in the world. They own the majority of the online market. Players flock to them to play poker online. PokerStars makes enough money without having to cheat players and tarnish their name. And if they needed more money it would come down to supply and demand -- they could easily raise the rake and get away with it.
PokerStars will make more money in the long run by being legit. If PokerStars cheated their players they would risk billions of dollars in future revenue. And for what, a few million dollars? They would also miss out on the opportunity to operate in a legal US market. [Source: http://www.psimg.com/pdf/press/atlantic-club-casino-hotel-statement.pdf].
Speaking of which, if there were legit concerns about PokerStars rigging their games, they would never be given the opportunity to operate in America. It just wouldn't happen.
Giving money to a specific player doesn't help anyone. Trying to shift the economy to one type of player doesn't make sense. If they shift the money to a bad player then they'll either make no money (player goes bust) or continue to make small amounts of money (the player never leaves the micros). And if they give all the money to the good players, then the fish will eventually quit and leave, leaving no one for the better players to compete against.
It just doesn't make sense for PokerStars to mistreat their players. The more legit their games, the more promotions, game variations and deposit options they offer, the more money they can continue to pump into their own ecosystem, and eventually, into their own pockets. Fixing their games would simply be counterproductive.