In online poker, it is just a fact of life that there are going to be a few cheaters among the millions of players that take to the virtual tables every day. But that doesn’t mean that we or the poker rooms have to put up with it. The poker community uncovered superuser cheating and multi-accounting scandals in the past and now, once again, it has uncovered a bot ring at PokerStars.
It started last Tuesday on the popular Two Plus Two poker forum, when a player who goes by the name “malloc” posted his suspicions about three players. In addition to similarities in their play, he also noted that they played at the same stakes, moved down after almost the same number of hands in a short time span, and then did it again. Reaction on Two Plus Two was lukewarm at first, with some players looking for other explanations for the similarities in play and some immediately assuming they were bots.
The statistics on the alleged bots were found at the site PokerTableRatings.com (PTR), which aggregates results of millions of online players and provides tools that allow customers to see how their opponents’ play. PTR is the same site that revealed the security hole on the CEREUS Network back in May. On July 16th, Two Plus Two user “Gugel” posted more information he dug up on PTR that seemed to show an undeniable correlation among the three accounts in question.
But later that day, it all became all but official. PTR itself published a report, showing “overwhelming evidence” that ten accounts are PokerStars were, in fact, bots, or accounts run by a computer program. Using malloc’s post as a starting point, PTR analyzed its data and found that 10 different accounts had extremely similar stats, changed stakes at the same time or very close to the same time, and had the same distinctive and obvious betting patterns.
Starting with the game play statistics, PTR produced a chart that listed 28 different stats for each player, including VP$IP (voluntarily put money into the pot), pre-flop raise, 3-bet percentages, “saw flop” percentage, and flop aggression. You can go to PTR’s site to see the chart for yourself, but as PTR put it, “These stats are much too similar to be explained by mere chance.”
PTR went further, calculating the Euclidian distance for every player in the $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold’em games who played at least 100,000 hands this year using six specific stats as a comparison. The smaller the Euclidian distance, the more similar the playing style between two players. Using one of the suspected bots as a baseline, the greatest distance between any of the bots was 2.39, whereas the smallest distance between any other player and the baseline bot was 32.94. According to PTR, this shows that the ten suspects are “virtually identical.”
PTR also confirmed malloc’s observation that the suspects shared the same pattern in changing stakes. They started at $1/$2 No Limit Hold’em, moved down to $0.50/$1 on or around the same time, and then moved down to $0.25/$0.50 together. Suspicious in and of itself, it also struck many on Two Plus Two as odd because if the players were winning (which they were), whey would they keep moving down in stakes?
Finally, PTR identified an obvious betting pattern in the ten accounts. In PTR’s words, “When they’re in the big blind in an un-raised pot (limpers only) and it’s checked to them on the flop, they will either shove all-in or bluff by making a non all-in bet. If the bot’s bet is called or raised, the bot will always fold to any further aggression.”
The accounts that PTR concluded were bots on PokerStars are 7emenov, bakabar, crazier, mvra, nakseon, kozzin, demidou, koldan, Daergy, and feidmanis.
Many people on Two Plus Two were upset that it looked like PokerStars did not find these bots before PTR did and that the bots were still playing on the online poker site after PTR released its report. On July 17th, the day after the PTR report, a PokerStars rep explained on Two Plus Two that it had been running its own investigation on the suspected accounts and came to the same conclusion that PTR did.
It did not shut down the accounts until the afternoon of the 17th, however, because it was still hunting for more related accounts and did not want to “spook” them by banning the confirmed bots before the investigation was complete. By the 17th, though, PokerStars felt that there were no other bots related to the ten that had already been uncovered, so the cheaters were purged from the site.