Collusion: The Cheater's Last Stand

Internet Hold’em tables are, bar none, the safest places to play in the world. Not only are most of them thoroughly protected against security problems, but unlike in face-to-face games, online players can’t see each others' pocket cards, muck in outside cards or learn what the Flop, Turn and River are before they’re dealt. What’s more, with remote Hold’em you don’t have to worry about a mechanic/shill team cheating off each other—the dealer, after all, is a computer program, and programs can only cheat by having unfair code tendencies (a possibility minimized by the oversight groups that verify sites’ integrity).

That being said, though, there will always be a handful of folks out there who use the last form of cheating left to online players: collusion. Collusion, in a nutshell, is when two or more players reveal their cards to each other, then mount a team effort to take everyone else’s money. While this does happen every once in a while in a “live” game, it’s more common in online games because the conspirators can either be on the phone with each other or even sitting next to each other on different computers.

Fortunately, most colluding players really have no idea how to pull the scam off properly. Collusion isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of time and practice to get right. Meanwhile, online casinos are constantly on the lookout for this scheme, and if they notice a band of “good buddies” always sitting at the same table together—and raking in a king’s share of the cash—they’ll simply ban them from the site. This doesn’t mean, however, that the house is going to catch all the cheaters all the time, and just to be on the safe side, you need to keep an eye out for the following sleaze-ball moves:

Steamrolling: Be on the lookout for players who try to steamroll other players out of the game. By “steamroll,” we mean that a group of players will continually re-raise each other so non-colluding players have to call multiple bets at once. If you notice this happening, get out of the game—fast!

Slow-Mo: Beware of players who never play a fast pre-Flop. If it seems like they always take an exceptionally long time, they may be discussing their hole cards with their teammates. Really, everybody has a slow moment now and then, but if it happens more than once or twice a round, there’s probably shady dealings afoot. Again, if you catch several players with this bent, your best bet is to get out of the game and head for another table.

Price Hikes: Be mindful of groups who are constantly jacking up the pay rate. Collusion players do this for obvious reasons (i.e., to milk non-colluding players for all they’re worth), and the best way to determine if this brand of fishiness is in the works is to check the hand histories after a suspicious bout of betting. Normally a good Hold’em player is leery of upping the ante on an unsuited 2,5 while a colluding player will do so because his teammate’s pocket aces are as good as his own. Now, obviously, there are bad players out there, and a couple bad bets isn’t grounds for reporting a player to the house. But a bout of consistent, sloppy bluffs—bluffs even the dumbest of the dumb know not to make—definitely is.

-Jim Abrahamsson