Millions of dollars change hands at the PokerStars tables every day, and it has been that way for close to 20 years. What’s also true is that whether you’re playing for a few cents or for the dizzying amounts of the high rollers, you have a right to know that your money is safe.
Poker players need to know that the games they are playing are fair. They need to know that each participant has the same information and is playing to the same rules. You also need to know that your opponent is who he or she is purporting to be, namely a human being, acting by themselves, and not in cahoots with anybody else.
Here’s the good news: PokerStars is the biggest online poker site in the world, and we take every effort to make it the safest. The company’s Game Integrity division has always been the hardest working in the business, and we want to tell you more about how it works.
We want players to know what happens behind the scenes to make sure PokerStars is safe. It’s why you can now read new pages at PokerStars (on .com, .uk and .eu domains) focused on game integrity, and also watch two new short videos in which we discuss how PokerStars prevents cheating and detects attempts to use bots and artificial intelligence (AI) on the site.
In short: PokerStars believes its customers deserve a safe and reliable place to play online poker against real people on a level playing field. It vigorously polices its tables using cutting edge techniques to protect the integrity of the game.
“A level playing field is one of the most important qualities of a well-functioning online poker eco-system,” said Severin Rasset, Managing Director & Commercial Officer, Poker, at The Stars Group. “We want [our players] to know they’ve arrived in a safe and fair environment where the only thing to think about is the action.”
We take great pride in the safety of our games. From its very earliest days, PokerStars made game integrity its highest priority and presently invests millions of dollars every year in continuing this approach.
The company employs around 60 people in a department specifically tasked with keeping the PokerStars tables safe. They are ex-professional poker players, programmers, qualified data scientists and statistical analysts, who utilise custom-made hardware, software and analytics tools, including machine-learning algorithms, to track down anyone suspected of breaking the rules.
Poker has always attracted a small number of players who try to profit by surreptitious means, and nothing has changed since the advent of online poker. However, technology allows the security department to analyse hand histories (all 200 billion hands ever dealt on the site) and track patterns that might raise red flags. Detection essentially works by analysing huge tracts of data and our systems flagging alerts based on a wide variety of connected factors, focusing on data points that are reliable indicators of possible breaches.
PokerStars’ automated systems run every minute of every day and flag accounts for investigation, which are then subject to closer analysis by specialist teams.
Additionally, any accounts that win prizes, either in MTTs or Spin & Gos, for example, are routinely checked for any suspicious activity. Although only a tiny number of infringements take place in comparison with the number of hands being dealt and players playing on PokerStars, reviews of this nature have sometimes resulted in a redistribution of the prize pool.
It is significant that the Game Integrity team has a number of key-performance indicators (KPIs) that are kept separate from commercial goals. The team’s targets relate exclusively to detecting and preventing illegitimate play.
Whenever a player is suspected of not playing straight, the investigations team moves into action. First of all, the account is frozen meaning that no money can be deposited into or withdrawn from the account, and the player cannot sit down at a table anymore.
Two investigators then review the same data, working independently from one another. If both investigators come to the same conclusion, then appropriate measures are taken to address any wrongdoing. If the investigators do not agree then a third investigator will conduct another enquiry to produce a majority decision.
PokerStars analysts are successfully able to detect collusion between players; to determine whether a player is using banned software to gain an unfair advantage; or to identify if non-human players, otherwise known as bots, are sitting at the table.
If the PokerStars review determines that a player has broken the site’s rules then the nature of the action taken is assessed on a case-by-case basis. That’s because many first-time infringers are unaware of some of the site’s rules and can be allowed to continue playing after being reminded of terms and conditions. If the infringement is more serious, or if the player is a repeat offender, then accounts can be permanently banned.
If PokerStars determines that a player has been financially affected by illegitimate play, they will be compensated in as fair a way as possible.
More than 95 percent of suspected wrongdoing at the PokerStars tables is discovered proactively by the Game Integrity team and its tools. But communication with players is still a valuable part of the business of policing the tables, and the game integrity team will take any reports of suspicious activity very seriously and investigate every one. If something doesn’t feel right about a game — at tournament or cash tables, for any stakes, you should email email@example.com
As technology becomes ever more sophisticated, so do the programs that play games. Artificial Intelligence has been portrayed as a new disruptive force in this area, but for us it’s not exactly breaking news.
Nevertheless, it is only natural for poker players to fear whether the opponents they face at the online tables are bots rather than humans. When you can’t look an opponent in the eye, it’s a legitimate and understandable suspicion. However, PokerStars’ Game Integrity team takes this area incredibly seriously and has been successfully identifying and dealing with bots for almost two decades. It means that PokerStars knows a lot about bots: how to detect them and how to stop them playing.
Broadly speaking, there are two type of bots: fully automated bots (FABs) have complete control of an account and carry out betting actions without any human input. Meanwhile a “push this button bot” (PTBB) is a piece of software that informs the user what action to take, rather executing it independently. Both are banned.
Without revealing too many specifics, the bespoke hardware and software, coupled with the analytical skills of the Game Integrity team, are able to spot anomalies in gameplay and other relationships across the millions of hands that are played each day at PokerStars.
When the Game Integrity team does spot a bot — and it does sometimes happen — the same rigorous investigation will begin. It means that funds are frozen in the specific account and money is given back to the real players affected. Using a bot is a banning offence.
We make this very clear: Bots are not allowed at PokerStars.