There is a new online poker site that is supposedly going to go live soon. And it has one of the most god awful gimmicks I have ever seen. This site, called Real Deal Poker, claims that it will be the most honest, un-rigged poker room on the internet because, get this, every hand dealt online is based on a real, physical deck of cards that has been shuffled and dealt.
The idea was hatched by Gene Gioia, who, to be quite honest, comes across as a techno-phobe. It’s not that he’s afraid to use technology. After all, he has played online poker for a few years now. It’s that he doesn’t trust technology. He is squarely in the “online poker is rigged” camp. Gioia feels that there is no way to prove that online poker rooms truly deal a fair game, so he believes that by having an actual physical deck shuffled and dealt, the ability to manipulate programming code to influence the deal will disappear.
In a newspaper article, Gioia gave an example of why he thinks something is fishy with the deal in online poker, saying,
“I even got beat with a straight flush by a higher straight flush — things I’d never seen at a real table.”
Well, Mr. Gioia, I have been playing online poker as long or longer than you and I have never personally witnessed a straight flush over straight flush. I know they happen sometimes (I recently watched a video of such a hand triggering a bad beat jackpot win), but I have never seen them happen at my table. He also said that his full house hands “frequently” got topped. That has to be a lie. We have all lost with full houses, but “frequently”? Come on.
At any rate, to claim that hand-shuffled (or, in this case, machine-shuffled) decks are “safer” than virtual, computerized decks is laughable. I would suggest that it is easier and more likely for a physical deck to be tampered with than auditable, testable, complex computer code. Cheating in poker has been going on for ages, long before internet poker was invented. Cold decking, mechanic’s grips, dealing from the bottom of deck, etc., are all things that a skilled poker cheat can do, and that’s in clear view of other players. So, we’re to believe that there is no way that decks of cards in some remote location, out of the view of players, could never be manipulated to deal hands in a certain way? Right.
The folks at Real Deal Poker also like to claim that their shuffles will be “more” random that those of online poker rooms. They say that no random number generator produces a truly random shuffle, that they are “pseudo” random. So? Look, even if an RNG isn’t absolutely, 100% random, it is so close to random that the difference is trivial. Look at Party Poker’s RNG, for example. The company had it tested by iTech Labs, an independent tester and certifier of online gaming systems. According to iTech, Party Poker’s RNG produces “statistically acceptable” raw 32-bit numbers (which are then converted into the 52 cards in the deck) and that they are statistically random. Another test of over half a million decks showed statistical randomness. In the meantime, studies have shown that physical shuffling, whether by hand or machine, does not truly randomize a deck of cards. A good shuffle will do an adequate job, of course, but this does not mean it is “more” random than a random number generator.
And then, of course, there is the logistical mess of a system that Real Deal Poker will implement. One somewhat feasible way to actually use real cards in an online game would be to have machines shuffle decks and then store the results of every shuffle on a computer (the company is using bar codes to translate the physical cards into the virtual game), calling up a new deck from a database for each hand dealt. But this isn’t what Real Deal is going to do. The company says that every deal is from real deck, with the shuffle taking place right when the hand begins. There is no mass storage of decks. So, instead of having the benefit of faster deals online, they are going to slow it down. That sounds like fun. Plus, how expensive is something like this going to be? How many decks will the company run through every day? How many shufflers will it need and how much will maintenance cost? On top of that, they will archive video of every deal in case a player wants proof of the deal’s legitimacy. Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the rake!
Despite my criticisms, I can appreciate what Real Deal Poker is trying to do. It wants to build a better mousetrap. I just don’t think it’s better. If the site does get off the ground and work properly, I can see novice players signing up, enchanted by the promise of safe gaming. But as soon as a few horrific beats happen, the conspiracy theorists will become vocal, just like they do with Party Poker, Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and the like. Real Deal Poker will become just like every other online poker room, except with a tiny player base, slower deals, and high rake.