Guide to Online Poker Bots
Worried That Bots are Sinking Your Poker Profits?
Back in 2017, a poker bot developed by Carnegie Mellon University made history. This program, called Libratus, was pitted against 4 poker pros. It came out on top – making history as the first time a bot had beaten humans at heads-up No Limit Hold’em.
Before we give up and hand poker over to the computers, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, this was heads-up. The complexity of the game with multiple players means humans will have the edge for a long time to come. Second, online poker sites have plenty of safeguards against bots. These sites use sophisticated security to ensure that the games are as fair as possible.
This page covers poker bots and shows you how sites keeps the games fair. Here is what you will find below:
- What Are Poker Bots? Why bots are a concern and how do they operate.
- Security Systems: Three ways that online poker rooms keep bots at bay.
- Collusion and Cheating: Some far more human concerns which are more problematic than bots.
- Poker Tools: HUD tools give an edge to pro players at the table. While they are legal at most sites, they do include many bot-like qualities.
- Wrap Up: Why you should not worry, yet stay vigilant.
What Are Poker Bots?
Barring any advanced AI like Libratus, the concept of a regular poker bot is simple. This would be any computer program which plays poker. The game is complex, and it would be impossible to program a bot to beat any big buy-in level. Most people worry about the small and mid buy-ins. Here, a program which played a solid game could take advantage of mistakes made by weaker players. This would generate a small profit at each table – with the bot playing multiple tables to rake in the money.
When you consider the micro stakes games, it would be simple enough to build a program to win. A solid starting hand strategy, pot-odds and implied odds calculations – plus tracking how opponents play would be plenty enough.
There are ‘advice engine’ tools which do this. Some of these are banned by poker sites, as they give too big an edge. They assess opponents and odds – and advise you on the best move for each situation. The reason these are not considered true ‘bots’ is that you need to act on their advice – betting or folding yourself.
Security Systems: How Online Poker Sites Prevent Bot Use
All major and safe poker sites have security systems in place to detect bots. Not only would these need to play a winning strategy, they would need to act like real players to avoid detection. This is more difficult than you’d think – everything from mouse movements to timing is unique to humans and hard to imitate.
Here are the three main ways which poker rooms use to keep the tables bot-free:
- Detection of Other Programs: Major sites will scan your computer to see what other programs are being run. If this includes a banned ‘advice engine’ or known bot software, your account would be quickly frozen (and possibly your bankroll confiscated).
- Pattern Detection: A computer controlling your play will look very different to a human. There are also differences in hand selection and the consistent style of play. For example, a bot would raise, re-raise and so on with the same frequencies time after time. This looks suspicious – as would long times sat at the table, instant reactions and so on. It would take a major effort to make a bot human-like enough to escape this detection. While this is possible, it is way beyond the scope of most hobby programmers.
- CAPTCHA: Some sites will throw up CAPTCHA requests at random, especially for players online for long periods and playing multiple tables. Here you need to type in an obscured (non-computer readable) word to continue playing. Bots simply would not be able to do this.
Sites also have human security teams which will look into any suspicious activity. If you do suspect a bot – or any other form of cheating – then make sure you report it. You may have come across a ‘false positive’, though it is better to be on the side of caution, and the sites take any concerns seriously.
Not Just the Bots: Other Forms of Cheating Online
While bots are the main worry of many players, these are rare – and much easier to detect than some of the other ‘nasties’ you’ll find online.
Here are some of the other things to look out for next time you play:
- Collusion: Playing as a team with other players is common, though thankfully easy to spot. The basic concept includes sharing hole-card information (an immediate edge), and betting in such a way to squeeze someone in the middle for multiple bets. Most people who try this are terrible. If you spot situations where there are multiple raises and reraises, with the players folding to small bets when nobody else is in the hand – make sure you report it.
- Soft Play: This is another form of team play. Players that know each other will often refuse to play big hands against each other, showing down the nuts without raising (when it would be an obvious spot to get all-in) is a common way of spotting this. This can happen live as well as online. Soft play is absolutely cheating, and if you see this (in a tournament situation especially), you should again report it.
- Ghosting: This is almost impossible for players to detect, though the sites do prevent it by using IP address information. The idea here is that if an amateur makes a deep tournament run, a pro takes over at the final table – when the big money is at stake.
- Super Users: Thankfully, this has only been seen once in the history of poker. That was at (now closed and blacklisted) site Ultimate Bet. A backdoor was created in the software, which allowed high stakes players to see their opponent’s hole-cards. These days, people are aware that this could happen – and suspicious activity in terms of win-rates and play of specific hands would quickly uncover it.
Legal Tools Which Have the Advantages of Bots
Most poker sites allow you to use software which has some of the advantages of poker bots. The main ones are called Poker Tracker and Hold’em Manager. These observe every hand against every opponent you play. They display statistics which show a lot of information, though do not make in-play decisions for you.
This information includes the percentage of hands players open with from each position at the table, and the number of times they re-raise. There are also post-flop stats. These include continuation bet frequency, percentage of hands that see showdown and how often a player folds to your 3-bets.
While not quite in the same category as bots, these programs give you a significant advantage. Playing at the mid-stakes or above without one is a serious impediment to your profits. New players have no idea that all these stats are available. With anyone ‘out of line’ immediately flagged, they are a great asset when it comes to identifying and exploiting fish.
Wrap Up: There Really Is No Need to Worry About Poker Bots
Concerns about poker bots are common, though mostly misplaced. As long as you stick to legitimate poker sites – there are plenty of security precautions in place to stop the bots from taking over. That said, if you do see anything suspicious, you need to let the poker site security team know. If everyone remains vigilant against bots and other forms of cheating, poker will remain profitable for real players.