Phil Galfond sounds off regarding juiced-RNG myths

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: February 20, 2023 15:07 PST

Online poker, like any other competitive entertainment, has its myths. Since poker combines elements of both skill and chance, players often tend to overappreciate the element they control, the skill, while underestimated the impact that the luck of the cards also has. Or, when the down side of variance rears its ugly head, a few players try to find other explanations other than plain old bad luck.

PLO legend and Run It Once founder Phil Galfond addressed one of online poker's perpetual myths on Friday when he opined on whether or not online poker operators rig their random number generators (RNGs) to produce "action" hands, favor underdogs, or otherwise alter hands' results from their expected probabilities. In all of online poker's history, there's never been an instance of a major poker site that's using a true RNG that's been found to have altered the RNG's output to produce altered results... presumably to generate additional profits.

There are a lot of reasons why de-randomizing a site's RNG would be unlikely, but the myths and accusations have been unceasing over nearly a quarter century. Given that it's impossble to prove a negative, is there any truth behind the myth at all?

Not according to Galfond, who stirred the proverbial hornet's nest on the topic, beginning with this Tweet:

Pushback and elaboration

Such a Tweet was destined to produce a rush of outcries from players who believe otherwise, and by Sunday, Galfond revisited the topic:

From there, Galfond dove down the rabbit hole in a middle-length thread, exploring many if the reasons why no responsible operator would seriously consider altering their gaming platform's RNG in search of short-term revenue.

Point after point, Galfond explained to a general audience why the juiced-RNG accusations are unlikely to be real. Beginning with a mention of corporate ethics -- perhaps not the strongest lead, in hindsight, for conspiracy-minded readers -- Galfond then touched on related matters, such as the theories of RNG manipulation, the impact that any site's fixed cap on a given hand's rake would have, and the supposed goal of creating an increase in so-called "active players" who would generate more rake and thus boost the site's bottom line in an artificial way.

And, as Galfond gets to in due time, the types of hands that RNG-conspiracy theorists most often complain about aren't the type of hand that would accomplish the sites' supposed goals. Galfond describes the ideal outcome under these theories as such:

Blaming imagined external inputs for subpar results

Galfond thinks that several factors perpetuate the myth of juiced RNGs, too. When PokerOrg asked whether one of the contributing factors to the mythology was players understimating the impact of variance, he concurred.

"Honestly, poker sites will get all kinds of angry emails even if all of the players understood the RNGs were not rigged," he told PokerOrg. "I don’t view that as the key issue. The key issue to me is that the lack of understanding that causes people to believe sites are rigged - specifically, an understanding of variance - also leads them to not improve their poker game as much as they should. Similarly, when they blame rigged online poker instead of accepting that they might not be good enough to win yet, they stunt their growth. So the motivation for me was, and often is, to help people improve."

Ever the realistic, Galfond kept the focus on practice and stidy as the surest ways to overcome bad luck in the shorter term, even if it's not always easy to do.

Galfond may have even overlooked another element in his lists of why reputable sites' RNGs aren't rigged, that being regulation and testing. So-called "white label" poker sites that operate in regulated jurisdictions must submit their RNG processes and output for examination and approval. If it's being offered by a regulated online site, its card randomness can be presumed to be legit.

It's true that there's a tiny possibility that wasn't always so, even if the chance that it actually occurred remains vanishingly slim. In online poker's earlier days, a few less-than-reputable operators used rubber-stamp regulator regimes that conducted no such testing, though those sites' use of such rubber-stamp regulators was done for other purposes, not to juice the RNGs. Again, it's impossible to prove a negative.

Nonetheless, Galfond's take remains the correct one. If you're playing online poker and you've encountered a seemingly impossible run of bad luck, it's not the RNG. It's just the very worst of variance.

Featured image source: Facebook / Phil Galfond