Unfortunately, where there is money to be made, there are people trying to make it in unscrupulous ways. The same is true of poker and some people will try and collude with each other to gain an unfair advantage.
We'll be looking at the different types of online poker collusion and exactly how do online poker sites prevent collusion.
Online Poker Collusion Explained
Collusion is when two or more players at a table are actively working together in order to gain an unfair advantage. They work together by sharing their hole card information, sharing information on other opponents' playing styles, and soft playing each other. Their goal is to have any player in their group win the hand and they will share the winnings equally.
Poker is a game of limited information and the more information you have the greater your advantage is over other players at the table. Usually, that informational advantage comes from experience playing the game and knowing what strategy to use based on information that is available to everyone at the table. This is why collusion is banned as the sharing of extra information between a limited number of players gives them an unfair advantage over the rest of the table.
For example, if you get to the river and haveon a board of and your opponent makes a massive overbet to put you all in, you'd reasonably be worried about a K high or A high flush. However, if you're colluding with two other people and they tell you they folded and preflop, you now know that you have the best possible flush and can easily call.
Collusion can also be used to know whether or not you should be drawing to a certain hand. For example, if you're drawing to a flush and deciding whether or not you have the right odds to call the people you're colluding with can tell you whether or not they folded any cards of your suit - giving you information that you're either more likely or less likely to make your hand if you call and enabling you to act accordingly.
How Do Online Poker Sites Prevent Collusion?
Online poker operators know that collusion is a big deal when it comes to player safety and actively seek out and ban colluders.
One of the ways they do this is to limit table access for people playing under the same IP umbrella. This applies to cash games rather than tournaments, and if two players within the same IP umbrella try to sit at the same cash table the site will not allow the second person to sit. They assume that two people playing in the same household will at least be tempted to collude with each other and will not allow it to happen.
However, this doesn't stop people from colluding in two different geographical locations or prevent people from using a different IP to their housemates. Poker sites such as Pokerstars actively track each account to look for suspicious behavior - whether that be botting, colluding, or anything else. As colluders need to be at the same table to achieve their goals, sites will look at accounts that are at the same tables more often than they should be through random chance.
Once they've identified accounts that are possibly colluding, they will do a deeper dive into how they play. They will look at how the suspected accounts play against each other compared to the rest of the player pool and if there are any significant differences. Players who are colluding with each other will often "soft-play" when in a hand with each other, meaning they will not take any aggressive action in order to get to showdown as cheaply as possible. After all, they don't care which of them wins the pot as it will be split between them, and inflating the pot means more money going to rake.
If a poker site has enough evidence that accounts are colluding they will freeze the accounts and seize any assets that are remaining in them. Once the investigation has concluded if they're found guilty their accounts will be shut down and any assets seized will be redistributed to the players that were affected.
Spotting Online Poker Collusion
However, the onus isn't just on the poker site to catch colluders - you can spot them yourself if you know what to look out for.
We haven't spoken about chip transferring or 'chip dumping' yet in this article, mainly because this one does not affect other players as much as regular collusion. Chip dumping in cash games is used as a way to launder money through a poker site.
A player will deposit their 'dirty' money onto the poker site using one of the less reputable deposit methods, join a cash game table where their recipient is playing, and will proceed to lose on purpose to that account. The secondary account will then be able to withdraw their 'clean winnings' from the poker site and deposit it where they like.
However, chip dumping can be used in tournaments to gain an edge for a group working together. If a team of colluders is playing and one player has a skill advantage over the rest of the players, it makes sense for the team to give as many chips as possible to that player to give them the best chance of winning.
There are a couple of methods used for chip dumping, depending on how conspicuous they're happy being. One method is, when in a heads-up pot with the recipient, the chip dumper will almost put themselves all-in, leaving the tiniest amount behind, and will fold to the all-in by the recipient.
Another, slightly less obvious method, is to play the hand cautiously against each other until the river where they know whether or not the recipient has the best hand, and get the money in from there.
Ganging Up on Players
As the colluders don't care which one of them wins the hand, they're free to be as aggressive as they like to try and bully other players out of the pot. There are various examples of how colluders can squeeze out players and take the pot down without showdown.
A common preflop example is where the first colluder opens, the unsuspecting player 3bets, the second colluder 4bets, the action goes back to the first colluder who 5bets - forcing the unsuspecting player to fold unless they have a monster hand like AA/KK. Now, none of these methods are fool-proof as sometimes the unsuspecting player will have a hand that can go all in, but if the colluders keep the 4bets and 5bets small they can fold when their target goes all in and only lose the minimum.
The same thing can happen postflop, where the first colluder bets, the target raises or just calls, then the second colluder raises over the top of them and the first colluder raises again. It's such an effective method as it requires the target to have either an extremely strong hand in a multiway pot or an extremely strong read that the players are bluffing in order to continue.
Even though the colluders will sometimes get caught out by a target who just has the nuts, it's going to work the vast majority of the time and they can shut down as soon as their target puts any more money into the pot.
If you see this move happen a lot at your tables, check to see if it's the same two/three accounts doing it and if so they could be colluding.
What to Do in Case of Online Poker Collusion
If you spot any of these forms of collusion or even suspect that players are colluding at your tables, the best thing to do is to report it to the site you're playing on. This can be done either through a live chat with one of their support team or through email.
The sites take collusion and other forms of cheating very seriously so they will investigate any reports that come to them. A lot of sites will get back in touch to let you know the results of their findings to give you extra peace of mind and show that your inquiry wasn't ignored.
Whilst online poker collusion is a rare occurrence, some players are tempted into it. Luckily poker sites take an active stance against it, and now that you know the signs you can be part of the fight against it.
This article was published on January 6, 2022, and last updated on December 30, 2021.