A Reddit thread claiming that online poker is rigged is as common as a sunny day in Las Vegas. However, a recent contribution by user nostalgic_goldfish (a.k.a. Justin) was notable for including something that most such threads lack: actual data.
Justin’s claim is that there is something seriously wrong with the distribution of dealt-in seats when playing partypoker’s popular Fast Forward format. This is the site’s version of “fast fold” poker, in which a player is transferred to a new table as soon as they have folded their hand.
Justin provided the following image of data from a 580k hand sample:
One would expect the number of hands dealt to each position to be the same for such a sample, within statistical error. What these data indicate instead is a significant deficit of hands dealt to the CO (cut-off) position, except in the case of 3-handed play where the drop is seen for the button.
The relevance of this “CO dip” is apparent to anyone with a basic understanding of the importance of position in no-limit hold’em. Missing hands from the CO means some or all (depending on the number of players) get redistributed to the blinds: an intrinsically unprofitable spot. In the parlance of poker, the CO dip could be stealing EV, and thus money, from anyone experiencing it.
A known problem since March 2021
The issue first surfaced in a thread on the 2+2 forum last March. Other self-identified multi-tablers on Fast Forward posted similar data showing this CO dip. The 2+2 community sprang into action, suggesting possible reasons, from erroneous tracking software results to far more sinister explanations involving partypoker tilting the playing field in favor of losing players.
On one topic there was consensus, however. If some players are getting a seat distribution that misses hands in the CO, there must be other players who are experiencing an excess of hands dealt to that position.
Sure enough, a couple of self-confessed losing players popped up in the 2+2 thread, posting data that showed a statistically-significant “CO bump.”
2+2 user Kanaxis seems to have uncovered what is causing the uneven seat distribution, even though the why is still uncertain. By single-tabling Fast Forward, he found that he was being dealt more hands in the CO than other positions. Since winning players typically multi-table, it seems that it is multi-tabling that is producing the CO dip.
The fact this bug works against winning players who tend to multi-table, and in favor of single-tabling losing ones is, in the eyes of many in the community, nothing more than an embarrassing accident. Partypoker has little motivation to deliberately rig their games, given the inevitability that the CO dip would be discovered. What many find troubling, however, is the fact that this issue has still not been fixed.
Partypoker allegedly acknowledges the problem; does nothing
In Justin’s Reddit thread, he claims that he informed partypoker of this serious problem last April via his account manager. He goes onto say:
“The partypoker account manager said that partypoker ACKNOWLEDGES the bug and even COMPENSATED me for my EV losses at the time (which was $282.39).”
Poker.org reached out to other Fast Forward regs and heard similar accounts. One told us:
“When my account manager was in voice call with the programmers and asked about possible refunds, they responded ‘But you knew about the bug, so why would we refund you?'”
Others report conversations with partypoker customer service managers in which the bug was acknowledged. Players claim they were asked to “be patient.” Several have reported all contact with partypoker reps drying up over the last few weeks.
Millions of lost dollars?
Fast Forward poker is favored among professional poker players because of its speed. A winning player has an edge over the field, and each hand played presses that edge. It also follows that, when that edge is dulled by bad coding, money is being lost.
Justin, a full-time student and part-time poker player, estimates that the CO dip has cost him $3929.97 in EV. This is commendably precise, but pretty small beer compared to professional grinders. A full-time player told us the bug had cost him $30k before he became aware of it and quit multi-tabling.
It does not take many full-time grinders to have been caught out by the CO dip before the total earnings lost is comfortably in the millions.
And what are those grinders doing in response to the problem? Some are single-tabling Fast Forward while playing other games, thereby farming EV from the still uncorrected CO dip.