Detecting Collusion In Poker

Dean McHugh
18 August 2023

Poker has been popular for centuries because many see it as “winnable gambling.” If you play the best over the course of a tournament, chances are that you will win. It has been further popularised by the growth of online gambling, which has allowed players with lower budgets to get involved with mass poker tournaments.

However, this magic has been tainted by collusion, which is where multiple players on a table agree to collaborate, manipulating this gameplay for financial gain. Now, the winner in online poker is often the player that cheats most effectively rather than the player who has the most skill or experiences the best luck.

This article helps you to understand collusion, spot and respond to collusion, and report the activity when you are playing online poker.

What Is Collusion?

Collusion is one of the hardest types of cheating in gambling for online casinos to spot. It is the practice of teaming up with another player at your table and coordinating moves. Sometimes, high-tech software is used to play the best moves possible. This allows the cheats to target specific players and maximise their chances of winning.

Collusion is a problematic practice when we consider fair play. Poker has a delicate balance meaning that players are playing with the same odds, and only their skills, luck, and strategy will allow them to win. Collusion swings the odds in favour of the colluding players, which upsets the integrity of the game.

Consequences Of Collusion

The primary consequence of collusion happens during the game itself. Each player is relying solely on their skill while colluding players gain from manipulated odds. There is no guarantee that colluding players will prevail. However, collusion eliminates the reason that players love poker, the thrill of battling other opponents on an equal footing to them.

Online gambling platforms are struggling to tackle this practice, and more players are experiencing the negative impacts of collusion. This has shattered players’ trust in the game, and they now question the authenticity of each move made by other players. These seeds of doubt persuade thousands of players to quit playing online poker, and the vibrant poker community is at risk of dwindling.

Some platforms are particularly badly impacted by collusion, and their reputation is taking unprecedented hits. Players think that if a platform isn’t properly addressing collusion, what other forms of cheating are they letting slip through the cracks? Poker platforms can die under this pressure as players become convinced that they should seek a fair gambling experience elsewhere. This is shrinking the number of options you have to play poker online, leading to a less diverse online gambling experience.

The Importance Of Identifying And Preventing Collusion

Players can fight back against collusion by working with their favourite platforms to identify and prevent it. This section delves into why players need to be active participants in this battle.

Firstly, preventing collusion ensures fairness as it makes sure that all players are working with the same odds. Removing colluding players from the game ensures that the natural course of play can resume, leading to a more enjoyable gambling experience for all players.

Secondly, it protects honest players. It is common for colluders to work together to single out specific opponents to be targeted. They can deploy strategies to drastically reduce the chances of the particular player winning. They will soon be knocked out of the tournament, and their hard-earned cash will be lost.. Without colluding players, there is a level playing field, and players can only be knocked out by another player’s skill or their own genuine mistakes.

Finally, it ensures that colluding players are brought to justice. Colluding players are not able to enjoy their ill-gotten gains if their accounts are frozen, and they have bans restricting their gambling activities.

Indicators Of Collusion In Online Poker

Now you understand what collusion is and why you need to be concerned about it, you can begin to gain an understanding of the practices to look out for. Spotting any of the events listed below in isolation is not an indicator of collusion. However, if you spot a consistent pattern of this strange behaviour, it might be worth reporting it to your casino provider.

Abnormal Betting Behaviour

Experienced poker players can be predictable, following recognisable betting strategies depending on the hands that they have. Colluding players go against this by betting in an abnormal way to manipulate the game and create an advantage for themselves. If you spot consistent patterns of strange betting, it might be an indicator of collusion. Make sure to keep an eye out for it and pay particularly close attention to any players that are making strange bets.

Uncommon Player Actions

This is another great red flag to look out for. Look especially closely at cases where the two suspected colluders are in heads-up play. Suppose they are consistently folding on what would seem to have been a good hand from the early phases of the hand. In that case, the colluders might be intentionally avoiding confrontation that would lead to one player being weakened.

Alternatively, you can look at the timing in which players are making decisions. If the colluders are moving very slowly, this might be a sign that they are communicating between them before making moves. Sometimes, colluders might also make an incredibly quick decision when you would usually expect a player to take their time. This can be a sign that the colluders have come up with standard ways for them to respond to certain in-game situations.

Significant Chip Transfers

Chip transfers are when players hand over chips by folding seemingly strong hands in heads-up play. This is a strategy used by colluders to rebalance the chip balance between them. This stops one colluder from getting too small a stack and risking being knocked out of the tournament.

Expert colluders can also identify certain players they want to keep inside the game for a long period of time. Colluders won’t let these favoured players run out of chips. Instead, they will set up hands that will allow them to fold a substantial amount of chips over to the normal player.

Chip transfers are not uncommon in fair games of poker. Players might choose to fold a hand that they believed was strong because of poor outcomes in the turn and river. However, you should look out for chip transfers that are falling outside of this regular rhythm. You should also look for one-sided chip transfers frequently happening between two players.

Communication Procedures

The main part of collusion is that the colluding players need to be in constant communication to ensure that any action they take is to the benefit of both players. Colluding players will often have pre-existing plays ready to deploy when certain in-game situations emerge. Then, they just need a simple cue between them that will trigger both players to take the prescribed action.

Most online casinos don’t have a chat for players to use. However, they often have emoji reactions that players can deploy to respond to a hand. Colluding players might be able to use these to indicate to each other what action they should take.

Using these forms of communication is not a sign of collusion in itself. However, you should check if the action is followed by a suspicious move. An unusual action could show that one colluding player has told the other one to make an unorthodox move.

Practical Tips To Spot Potential Collusion In Online Poker

It can be difficult to notice advanced collusion strategies in a practical sense in the heat of an intense poker game. However, there are a range of things you can do to spot such red flags as those mentioned above. You need to become an expert at observing player behaviour, tracking statistics, maintaining vigilance, and taking notes.

These skills are explained in further detail in the section below:

Observe Player Behaviour

New poker players are often stuck in just keeping an eye on their own use of strategy. However, if you want to spot collusion, you need to come out of your bubble and start watching the other players. Analyse what they are doing and when, and how that might vary from what you know about poker strategy and the standard play styles that have been exhibited by the players earlier on in the game. The biggest tell of collusion is when it seems that the colluding players know what each other’s hands are as soon as the cards have been dealt.

Even if you don’t spot collusion, observing player behaviour is always an important skill to have in poker. It will help you to understand the habits of each player and the circumstances when they take specific actions. This can help you to find and exploit their weaknesses, improving your chances of winning.

Track Statistics

There are plenty of tracking software available that you can pair with your favourite online poker platform. These are brilliant because they open up a new lens into other players’ strategies which can help you identify strange patterns. It is particularly important to look out for statistics like win rates, pre-flop and post-flop aggression percentages, and showdown tendencies. Look for cases when a player’s statistical patterns abruptly change, as this might point to a shift in strategy from the colluding players.

Analysing Hand Histories

It is not just in-game that you should be looking for signs of collusion. Analysing past hand histories can help you to unearth signs of collusion in previous games. Any evidence you find of the above types of collusion and red flags should be taken to your online casino immediately, and they will be able to begin investigative procedures on the players involved.

Searching for collusion in this way will not yield you immediate benefits. The chips that you lost against these cheating players will not be regained. However, it is well worth the effort of doing this as it can improve the quality of the overall poker community in which you are playing.

Maintain Vigilance

You can never fall asleep during an online poker game, and this is even more the case if you are looking out for signs of collusion. Unexplained shifts in the game can happen at any time, and if you miss these signposted displays of cheating, you might never catch up with their strategy. An example of a key shift to look out for is a player suddenly starting to favour another player with their betting strategy.

It should be noted that it is not realistic to expect that you will be able to keep a constant eye on all players. Instead, you should trust your instincts, being particularly sceptical of those making unexplained strange decisions. Remember that most poker players are enjoying the game fairly, and there is no point wasting your energy on players that are clearly following the rules.

Use Player Notes

Lots of online poker platforms have player note features. These help players write down their observations about other participants’ play styles and their thoughts on how they can best be countered. Player notes have another function, as they can help you to track colluding players. Note patterns of collaboration, unusual behaviour, or suspicious play. This will help you to analyse whether there is actually a long-term pattern present that would indicate that collusion has been taking place.

Furthermore, the player notes are great for tracking players over a long period of time. This is especially useful if you use a poker platform where you encounter the same customers on a regular basis. Tracking them across multiple sessions can help you to understand if their behaviour is suspicious or if they just gamble erratically. Alternatively, spotting that you always see two players together will indicate that there is a relationship between them.

How To Report Suspected Collusion

Reporting collusion is crucial to kickstart a platform’s investigation against a suspected player. The platform can use your evidence and observations to temporarily or permanently ban players and prevent them from withdrawing their ill-gotten gains. You must report collusion by following the steps below:

  1. Gather evidence of collusion. This includes hand histories, chat logs, player usernames, and more.
  2. Review the policies of the platform that you are playing for and see if there are specific instructions on what you should do in cases of collusion.
  3. Once you know the policies, you can use them to connect with customer support. Use their live chat or email platforms to open a dialogue about the players you are concerned about and see what they can do.
  4. Use your customer support contact to provide detailed information on the specific suspicious activities you have discovered. Use your evidence to back your claims. The better evidence and explanations you can provide, the easier it will be for the platform to take action against cheating players.
  5. Wait for the platform to complete its investigation and follow up. This will help you to find out what the outcome of your report was and see how you were able to help the platform improve.

Once your case has been completed, you should share your experiences with the other players that enjoy your favourite platform. Showing that you have reported colluding players successfully may encourage other players to follow in your footsteps. Only a collective effort amongst the poker community can counter the scourge of collusion in poker, and you can be a catalysing force to inspire other people.

The Importance Of Reporting Collusion In A Fair Poker Environment

In this blog post, we explored the negative effect that collusion has on online poker. Collusion is the clandestine practice of players collaborating to gain an unfair advantage. We have shown how collusion is currently destroying the online poker community, undermining trust between players and destroying platforms that have been unable to prevent it.

However, the ball is in your court as a player to make it impossible for colluding players to succeed. You can look out for signs that collusion is happening in your games by looking for abnormal behaviour and unexplained shifts in play style. It is up to you to keep track of all players on your table so you can see if this is happening in your game.

As soon as you spot collusion, you need to gather evidence quickly and report it to the platform you are playing on as soon as possible. You then need to consistently follow up to make sure that they deal with the situation appropriately.

If every poker player can be as diligent as you will be, the colluding players will have no chance. They will quickly be removed from the platform, and you can return to getting the best out of your online gambling experience. The winner will again be the player with the best strategy and skills rather than the one who can cheat most effectively.

Author Dean McHugh

I am a full-time Sports Betting & Casino Content Writer based in the UK. I have years of knowledge, covering a broad range of different sports. If I don’t know about it, it's not worth knowing! My favourite sports are Football, Tennis, Golf, Snooker, Cricket, Boxing and MMA. As you can tell...I love sports! I have a passion for the Casino and iGaming industry, I have worked in and around it for the best part of 20 years.