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© March 2006 Anthony Lawrence

It is an unfortunate fact of life that people will cheat at games and contests. The husband and wife at your "friendly" neighborhood card game who pass signals under the table with their feet, the professional teams at casinos: it happens everywhere, but it probably happens much more in the on-line world than anywhere else.

As regular readers here know, I enjoy playing poker. I play on-line at Poker School On-Line (now defunct). This is not a "play for money" site, but people are playing for league points and therefore the games are more serious and are generally more professional than at the "free-play" sites. One of the reasons I don't play at the money sites is because of the ease of cheating.

Almost anything on-line is susceptible to cheating of various kinds: computer assisted playing, multiple accounts, and collusion are all obvious ploys to increase a player's edge. In poker, it doesn't take much: just knowing the cards one other player holds is enough to help you know when to bet and when to fold. Imagine if you were unknowingly playing against four or five players who were telling each other their cards: you still could win now and then, but the odds would be strongly against you.

They might even let you win quite a few small pots: as every good poker player knows, it's not how many pots you win, it's which pots that matters. I've won tournaments with only a handful of winning hands: winning one giant pot at the right time can be much better than winning many small pots. Cheaters can afford to ignore small losses to you if they can trap you for the big money later.

If you do play on-line games for money, be very careful if you see any sign that might indicate cheating. In poker, for example, you might find yourself at a table where one player seemed to suspiciously lose chips to another player with a low stack, and where both seem to be very lucky at guessing when to call your bluffs. That might be nothing, but it could also mean that the two of them are communicating by IM or telephone. A player who takes a long, long time to reach decisions might simply be a careful, deliberate player, but they might also be feeding information to a program that helps them calculate odds and even analyze other players - that may not even be considered cheating, but it could decrease your edge if you are playing as a "bare" human.

On-line gaming is great fun. For many games, you can find other players almost any time, day or night. It can be relaxing, rewarding, you can make new friends, and perhaps even pick up some extra cash. But be aware that the cheaters are out there.

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