Most Common Poker Cheats

By Alex Smith, Last updated Mar 23, 2024

Many people who don’t have experience playing poker assume the game is overrun with shady players or that it’s full of those looking to cheat others. In reality, poker is usually a gentleman’s game – and it’s scarce for cheating to occur, even though there are many opportunities to do so.

However, as with anything in life, the poker table does attract cheaters and fraudsters – and while cheating is not something you will usually have to deal with daily, it’s worth taking a few minutes to understand some of the different ways that players can cheat at poker. This will allow you to be on the lookout for them and quickly identify whether players at your table may be cheating.

Just because cheating doesn’t happen frequently doesn’t mean it’s something you should ignore – and on this page, we’ll show you some of the most common cheats. This will include a look at both online and offline poker. To finish, we will look at some of the most notorious poker scams in history.

Cheating in Live Poker Games

If you want to play live poker games, we recommend only doing so at a casino or an official poker room. Of course, private home games with your friends shouldn’t pose any problems– but you should avoid playing at clip-shop joints or dodgy-looking poker places as your chances of being cheated increase exponentially.

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Cheating in live poker is a lot more common than in online poker – and as a result, you must familiarize yourself with some of the different ways players try to cheat others. Below, we will look at some of the most common ways players cheat in live poker games.

Tournament Collusion

Tournament collaboration is one of the most common types of cheating in live poker settings. Collusion involves two or more players competing to beat the rest of the table. This almost always happens at final tables, where everybody benefits when a player is eliminated. Colluding players will usually have an arrangement to keep one another alive.

For example, a colluding player may refuse to call a short stack’s all-in, even when they have the odds and the cards to do it. They may make crazy throwaways even when a small river bet is placed, deliberately conceding a big pot to another of their colluding partners. Naturally, this behavior is detrimental to everyone at the table aside from those involved with the cheating – and they will do everything in their power to protect one another.

Not only is this colluding behavior against the rules, but it’s also entirely against the spirit of the game. Poker is not designed to be a team sport. While there are rare circumstances where you may make some crazy laydowns – for example, when you are on the bubble – it’s simply not fair to go out of your way, again and again, to keep somebody alive.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues with this type of cheating is that it is complicated to prove. You can always argue that somebody should have made a call – but no rule in poker stipulates somebody must make a call, even when they hold a firm hand. Some poker rooms, however, will penalize players who are found to have thrown away the “nuts,” as this is almost always a case of collusion play – aside from when on the bubble or when in the final stages of a tournament.

For example, you may find it crazy that a player threw away a pair of Kings pre-flop – but that player could simply turn around and say they don’t like pocket kings or have bad luck with them. 

To make things worse, tournament directors will rarely do anything unless things get really out of control, and it becomes increasingly evident that collaboration is taking place. This is not to say you should not complain and voice your concerns – but, in our opinion, the best thing you can do in this situation is try to break the cooperation between the colluding players.

For example, you can try not to let them play in the same pot together, and avoid getting squeezed out by one of them. Of course, if one of the colluded is sitting on a huge stack, this can become more difficult – and the last thing you want to do is jeopardize your tournament life just to try and break up cheating players.

Card Signaling

In some live poker settings, players will try to work with one another by showcasing the strength of their hand – or even going as far as to tell their partner what their exact card holdings are. When you know additional information about the cards your opponent holds, it can be precious.

When playing poker, you are only supposed to know the two cards you are holding; if you know what cards other players at the table are holding, you gain a significant edge over other players. While every pair of cheaters has their method for informing one another which cards they hold, there are several standard methods to be aware of.

For example, if a player has an ace in their hand, they may choose to protect their cards using one singular red chip. If they have a large pocket pair, they may choose to put two black chips on top of their cards, and so on. There are endless variations, including poker chip placement, card placement, and hand positioning. Unless you are incredibly experienced and able to cotton on in the early stages of cheating, it’s almost impossible to detect.

As a result, this kind of cheating usually goes unnoticed for a while; the chance of this behavior continuing increases if all players involved are experienced and have already practiced their hand signals. Unfortunately, even if you detect this type of play, it’s tough for a player to prove. Once you voice your concerns, the players will simply stop – and there is almost nothing that the tournament or card room director can do.

Marking the Cards

Physically marking cards may be one of the oldest tricks in the books, but it does not mean some players aren’t still using them today. When playing in a land-based casino or poker room, cards can be changed frequently, and dealers are trained to spot inconsistencies and marks on the cards. However, you should be aware of this cheat if you play a home game – especially if strangers are involved.

There are several different ways that cheaters can mark cards, and one of the most technological ways is to use invisible ink and special glasses. This means other players at the table physically cannot see the markings, and only those wearing the specific glasses can see.

Thankfully, this is one of the most accessible cheats to rectify; if you suspect something while playing poker, you can simply request that the dealer change the deck. This request will almost always be granted, and there is a minimal downside to the casino changing the cards.

What’s more, if you voice your concerns about potential marked cards, casinos will usually take these concerns incredibly seriously. Not only is cheating using a marked deck terrible taste – in many countries, but it also illegal, and those caught engaging in it can be arrested and go to prison.

Of course, when you play a home game, things get a bit trickier. Similar things to look out for include strange hero calls, big bluffs that do not make sense, and other inconsistencies that you feel a standard regular player will never do. Of course, you need to consider your safety, so always ensure you are in a safe and secure environment where you can voice your concerns.

Bottom Deck Dealing

Bottom deck dealing is another type of poker cheating you may run into if you play in private or home games. Bottom deck dealing involves the dealer dealing specific cards to certain players at the table. This is a severe form of cheating to pull off, and the dealer must be very experienced to do it effectively.

During the deck shuffling, the cheating dealer will set the deck up so they can pull particular cards from the bottom of the deck. For example, if one of the players at the table holds the top set on a flop with a flush draw, the cheater and dealer may be able to encourage the set-holding player to commit a lot of money to the pot. On the turn of the river, the cheating dealer can then deal the other cheating player a flash – allowing them to stack the unsuspecting victim.

Unless you are a very advanced poker player, it’s almost impossible to notice bottom deck dealing. Dealers often practiced for months or even years to perfect their skills so that the untrained eye wouldn’t even notice the difference – and you are better off looking for strange betting patterns than you are bottom deck dealing.

Thankfully, coming across this type of cheating in a land-based casino environment is incredibly rare. It almost always occurs in home game environments, and this is because casinos are filled with cameras, and pit boss managers frequent all parts of the card room to look out for this exact type of behavior.

Online Poker Sites and Cheating

So far, all of the poker cheating tactics we have looked at have revolved around land-based games. While collaboration can happen in online poker games, the other tactics we have discussed, including card marking and bottom deck dealing, are simply impossible to use at online casinos and card rooms. This should be clear; online poker rooms don’t use physical cards.

However, just because players cannot physically mark cards or take advantage of a cheating dealer doesn’t mean that online poker cheating cannot happen. In the following subsections of this post, we will look at some ways that cheating can occur in online poker rooms.

Online poker players Colluding and Card Sharing

When colluding players play together at a land-based poker room, they must agree upon specific plans and strategies before they begin playing. It would be far too evident if two or more players at the table kept walking off to talk to one another or kept using their mobile phones simultaneously.

Unfortunately, when you are playing online poker, it becomes a lot easier to collude with other players. Nothing stops friends from colluding while sitting at the same poker table and using WhatsApp or Skype to discuss their hands and share information in real time. This is a complicated type of poker cheating to prove, and almost all online poker rooms have struggled to combat it effectively.

The more significant poker sites have invested vast amounts of money and infrastructure in helping protect players – but unfortunately, there’s only so much they can do. We imagine that many cheaters and colluding players have managed to fly under the radar and escape with significant amounts of money using collusion tactics.

Another downside of online poker is that it can take a long time to pick up on this behavior. You may assume that every time you sit down at a poker table online you will be facing different opponents, but you would actually be surprised at just how often regular players play against one another. This is one of the reasons why it’s worth keeping an eye on the players you are playing against.

If you notice frequent occurrences when you are playing with the same players, and they always seem to end up winning – or make spectacular folds or calls – it’s worth reporting these players to the poker site. Naturally, poker websites rarely will take action based upon a single report, but if they start to receive multiple reports from more than one player, they will start to look at the situation in greater levels of depth.

Another benefit of playing at online casinos and card rooms is that the security team can look at hand histories and hole cards. This means it’s usually pretty easy to detect collusion once an initial suspicion has been raised.

Rings of Bots

While bot rings aren’t always considered to be cheating, most people agree that playing poker against bots goes against the spirit of the game. If a player is playing against a pot, they should be informed that they are not playing against a real human being.

If you have not heard of a poker bot before, it is essentially a piece of software capable of playing a specific type of poker. This bot will be programmed using predefined parameters, and some of the more advanced ones are even capable of using artificial intelligence to develop their algorithms. This makes it very dangerous for players, and it’s likely in the future, we will see bots that players simply cannot beat in the long run.

Here at Casinomeister, we firmly believe that playing against bots is unfair – not only does it take so much of the enjoyment away from the game, but it’s also such a severe disadvantage to the player that we can’t believe it’s legal in some jurisdictions. In the past, there was an argument that you should not be playing poker if you could not beat a bot – but today, some of these bots have become so advanced that they would probably beat the world’s best poker players every single time.

Thankfully, poker sites have started to clamp down on bot activity. Naturally, they don’t disclose exactly how they go about finding bots, but you can rest assured they take several factors into account to minimize the damage bots can cause.

Ghosting

Ghosting is a unique type of cheating in poker, and it’s another tactic that is impossible in a land-based environment. Imagine playing in a massive online poker tournament where millions of dollars are up for grabs.

You had a fantastic run of luck, made your way to the final table, and suddenly found yourself competing for a share of the million-dollar prize pool. How awesome would it be if you could ask one of the world’s best poker players, like Phil Ivey or Daniel Cates, to take over for you and begin playing the game on your behalf? This would give you a tremendous edge, and nobody would know. Of course, when you are playing poker in a live environment, the players can’t simply switch themselves – but when you are playing online poker, you can.

Of course, this is a form of cheating – although it’s virtually impossible to prove. While some players argue that this actually isn’t cheating, there is no denying that skill is a significant factor in poker. If you can switch players, it can give you a significant advantage.

Unfortunately, very little can be done to protect yourself against this type of cheating. You can sometimes notice that a player’s playing style has dramatically changed – for example, they have become a lot more aggressive or passive – but even when you notice this, there is not much you can do.

Real-Life Examples of Poker Cheats

Many examples of cheating poker have likely gone undetected. In most cases, there is a strong chance that many of these tactics will never even be uncovered.

However, there have been several well-publicized and newsworthy cheating scandals. Sometimes, these scandals have been unearthed by players and journalists, while, in other situations, poker sites themselves have noticed irregularities. Unfortunately, some poker sites have even been in on the action – another reason why it’s so important to only gamble with real money and trustworthy, reputable websites.

Below, we will look at some of the famous examples of poker cheats – including both online and offline – that were caught.

Ultimate Bet Online Poker Scandal

The Ultimate Bet online poker scandal is one of the most infamous examples of cheating in history – and it involved two sister poker websites; Absolute Poker, and Ultimate Bet. It all started in the mid-to-late 2000s, and while it happened a long time ago, it still stands as one of the most prominent examples of why you always need to keep your guard up when playing poker online.

The scandal revolved around what became known as super-user accounts. Both poker websites venomously denied that these accounts existed. It began in 2007 when players at Absolute Poker began noticing inconsistencies. Many took to online poker forums to discuss their complaints and requested an investigation.

One of the players involved requested Absolute Poker to send them their tournament history. Unfortunately for the poker site, they accidentally sent them a file that showed all the hands from all players – and this turned out to be the smoking gun the community needed.

After hundreds of players reviewed the hand-history, it became clear that one player in particular – “Pottripper” – was making perfect decisions every single time. He could fold hands when he was beaten and call bets when he was winning – even in situations no poker player on earth could accurately do repeatedly. He ended up winning the tournament.

An investigation, carried out later by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, confirmed these findings, and they revealed that the person behind the super-user account was even using a particular master account during the tournament so that they could view other players’ hole cards. This explained how they could make the correct decision every time.

Eventually, Absolute Poker admitted that these super-user accounts existed, admitted their wrongdoing, and refunded and reimbursed all players involved. However, they never took responsibility for it being an inside job; to this day, it continues to be one of the biggest scandals ever hitting the poker community.

However, this was before the Ultimate Bet cheating scandal came to light a year later in 2008. This scandal took the form of a very similar incident to Absolute Poker, and players started to notice irregularities with certain players; these players were seen to be winning at an abnormally high rate, and the poker room initially agreed, admitting that there was a group of players who had used a super-user account to be able to view other players can’t.

While both poker sites claimed that these were isolated incidents, the later investigation by the KGC unearthed evidence that these super-user accounts had been created as early as 2004. As a result, the poker room was fined a total of $1.5 million – but, unfortunately, no further action was taken.

That was until 2013 when Russ Hamilton – one of the owners of Ultimate Bet – had an incriminating phone conversation leaked. In this phone conversation, Hamilton admitted to blatantly cheating players for several years, walking away with more than $15 million from the scheme. He showed zero remorse or accountability and made it evident that he had no intentions of returning stolen money – despite being caught red-handed.

Borgata Open (Counterfeit Chips)

The most significant objective when you’re playing in a tournament is to accumulate as many chips as possible; wouldn’t it be fantastic if you were able to add extra chips to your stack, making you – by far – the most bottomless stack in the field? Well, usually, that’s achieved by winning pots…

But in 2014, Christian Lasardi decided to try something different when playing in the Borgata Poker Open. When just 27 players left and a top prize of $370,000 awaited the winner, Lusardi decided that he could give himself a unique edge by adding counterfeit chips to his stack.

According to reports, he’d ordered these counterfeit chips from China and kept them in his hotel room at Borgata. He carefully introduced these chips to his stack at different points during the tournament – although the tournament staff soon realized something was wrong, they discovered that some $800,000 worth of fake chips had been added to the tournament.

The police were called, and it was discovered that Lusardi was the culprit; after police searched his hotel room, they discovered some $2.7 million worth of counterfeit chips. Ironically, the fraudster had successfully tried to get rid of the evidence by flushing the chips down the toilet. He was subsequently arrested and charged with his crime – and he ended up being sentenced to five years in prison!

However, after just eight months behind bars, he was released; because of his cheating, Borgata canceled the tournament and refunded all players involved. As a result of this decision, several lawsuits were raised against the land-based casino – but they were all ultimately dismissed by judges, who upheld the decision of the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement.

WSOP $10,000 Heads-Up Championship Card Marking

The 2015 World Series of Poker was home to one of the most prominent land-based poker scandals in history – and one of the reasons why it was so notable was because it involved so many high-profile players. However, this incident revolved around a player called Valeriu Coca – a relatively unknown player from Moldova, who was playing his first WSOP event.

During the $10,000 Heads-Up Championship event, he eliminated player after player – with apparent ease. Those who Coca eliminated started to become suspicious – and they felt that there was something strange going on during the time they played with him. Eventually, the WSOP opened an investigation – and almost all players reported the same thing; Coca was acting strangely at the table, constantly shuffling his cards, stalking – and his decisions appeared to lack consistency.

After an investigation, the WSOP failed to turn up any evidence – but Coca’s checkered past soon came to light, and it turns out that he was banned from most land-based casinos and poker rooms in the world due to his ability to mark cards. Rather than using invisible ink, Coca chose to apply very small, nearly-invisible dents to all of the aces and kings in the deck.

Unfortunately, no proof was found that he used this cheat in the WSOP event and was cleared of wrongdoing. However, many players maintain that he cheated, and the mystery of whether he had an unfair advantage remains.

Partouche Poker Tour Collusion Scam

As we have mentioned many times here at Casinomeister, the chances of you being cheated when playing at online poker sites or official poker rooms are very slim; when you play online poker, a wide variety of safeguards are in place to protect you. However, if you’re not playing online poker, online games, or cash games in a land-based environment, your chances of being cheated increase – exponentially.

However, just because you’re playing at significant poker sites or land-based rooms, it doesn’t mean that you are immune from being cheated – and the 2009 Partouche Poker Tour Main Event was a great example of how colluding players can come together and cheat in a significant event – albeit not online tournaments with professional online poker players.

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The cheat involved two players, Cedric Rossi and Jean-Paul Pasqualini. Together, they used hand signals to tell each one what hole cards they were holding – and the scheme worked incredibly well for the duo, as they both managed to go on to claim 1st and a second position within the event.

Unfortunately for the players, their every move was captured on camera – and a later analysis of their gameplay revealed that the duo had been using these hand signals throughout the tournament to exchange information.

For example, one notable hand involved a short-stacked Pasqualini who ended up being dealt Ace-King – a firm hand in general, but almost the nuts when you’re playing short-stacked in a tournament. However, after he faced a raise from Rossi – who ended up following the action by placing both hands on his forehead – Pasqualini FOLDED his hand before the hand began. It turned out that Rossi was holding pocket aces.

This decision is virtually impossible to see in a regular poker game – and it was confirmed to investigators and tournament officials later that they were indeed working with one another. However, in a hugely controversial decision, both players were allowed to keep their winnings. They were both removed from the Global Poker Index list for “ethical breaches,” but other than that, nothing else happened. It should also be noted that both players denied any wrongdoing. 


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