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In online poker, there has always been one threat that people have been worried about from day one. This threat is whether the people they are playing against are really other players, or if they are “bots”, programs designed to play the game for their owners. Most people who actively discuss this sort of thing have often been seen as worrying about nothing, but unfortunately this threat has been confirmed as reality.

A player who goes by the screen name of “malloc” from the TwoPlusTwo forums combined with the group from PokerTableRatings have confirmed the existence of a ring of bots playing at all levels of small stakes no-limit hold’em. Ten accounts in all were used, and all ten accounts played no-limit hold’em cash games at the $0.25/0.50, $0.50/1.00, and $1.00/2.00 blind levels. The ten account names were 7emenov, bakabar, craizer, mvra, nakseon, kozzin, demidou, koldan, Daergy, and feidmanis.

The player “malloc” originally noticed some strange similarities between how three of these players played, and realized that they had all moved up and down stakes at similar times. Responding to a long TwoPlusTwo forums thread showing this evidence, staff members from PokerTableRatings investigated and produced their own report showing that seven other players showed the same types of patterns. PokerStars replied quickly by having these ten accounts frozen while they completed their own investigation.

What’s particularly scary about this ring of bot players is that they were winning. After collectively playing over 8.3 million hands at small stakes no-limit hold’em cash ($0.25/0.50-$1.00/2.00), the players generated almost $58,000 in profit (not including rakeback or VIP benefits) and over $186,000 in rake. At just an effective 30% rakeback, that would be over $55,000 in extra benefits, bringing the bots’ profits to over $113,000.

The almost identical poker statistics and the similar schedules the bot player accounts moved up and down in stakes were not the only evidence that PokerTableRatings found. In addition to this already overwhelming amount of evidence, they also found a particularly strange betting pattern that would happen any time the players were limped to in the big blind. When it was checked to them on the flop in these pots, they would always either go all-in if they had a good hand, or bet/fold and completely shutdown afterward if they were bluffing. This resulted in an easily seen pattern where the bot would almost always have a fold to flop raise of 100% in these scenarios, because they never raised less than all-in with a good hand, so they never had a chance to do anything else but fold when they bet less than all-in.

Many players are left feeling vulnerable after seeing this unfold over the past week and a half. As for now, PokerStars is doing what they can to see if any other player accounts were using this same “bot” setup, and will potentially be redistributing some of the remaining balances in each of the bot accounts to the real players who played against them.