How to Spot a Cheater at the Poker Table

Man Wearing Sunglasses with Cards Reflected

Suppose you believed everything you saw on television and film. In that case, you’d assume that cheaters were in every poker room on the planet 24/7. Luckily, cheating isn’t nearly as rampant in the real world. I’ve been playing poker for two decades and have never run into a cheater in a casino poker game. Well, if I have, they were so good that nobody noticed.

Cheating is never at the forefront of my mind. However, it should never be wholly ignored either. Depending on where you play poker and the stakes you play, cheating could be a genuine concern. Let’s look at how to spot a cheater at the poker table.

Two Players Always on the Same Table

One way cheaters prefer to operate is with a partner. That means they need to be at the same table together. Now, I’ll regularly head to the poker room with friends while on vacation, and occasionally we’ll be sat at the same table. So, a pair of friends enjoying some lighthearted poker isn’t a definitive sign of a cheat.

Luckily, there are a number of things that you can keep an eye out for in these situations. Watch for a pair of players that are making similar gestures or mannerisms. These could be signs to the other player.

Suppose you hear players continually repeating the exact words and phrases. In that case, you may possibly be better off by getting up and finding another table. Online players have a much steeper hill to climb. There are thousands of active accounts, and it’s impossible to know whether or not a pair of players are colluding.

However, with so many accounts registered, it’s even more unlikely that two players would always find their way to the same table. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to prove anything nefarious is going on. In this situation, your best option is to find another table. You may want to observe the table for a while and see how the two interact.

Soft Play

Soft play is a bit of a grey area for many people. I’ll tell you now that it’s nothing short of collusion. Soft play occurs when one player makes moves or fails to take action to not bust a shorter stack. Why would anyone possibly fail to take action?

There are several reasons, perhaps the most common is probably that the two are friendly. In a typical cash game, this won’t have much impact on anybody else when the two are head to head. Yet, soft play can have some genuine effects in tournament play.

Suppose you are on the bubble of a tourney. If you have a player that decides to take it easy on his short-stacked buddy, you may very well be the one that just misses the cash.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a thing you can do to prevent this. However, word gets around pretty quick in most poker circles. You do not want to be labeled as a cheat in the poker community, regardless of how large or small your circle.

Dumping Chips

Chip dumping is taking soft play and turning it up to an eleven. It’s among the most common forms of collusion I see, and there’s really not much that can be done to curb the activity. Chip dumping is when a player intentionally funnels chips to another player. You’ll almost exclusively find this in poker tournaments.

Sometimes two players will be on the same bankroll or simply good friends, and one player’s stack starts getting low. Player A with a large stack may begin dumping chips to Player B with a smaller stack. Poker tournaments are pretty lucrative. If a player can merely limp their way to the bubble, they are assured to at least get their buy-in back.

This form of collusion can put other players on the outside looking in, all because another player made a decision to cheat. Good or bad, I’ve made a habit of making a comment when I see something that’s relatively blatant. Doing so loud enough that the players and dealer all take notice has never happened a second time. Admittedly, it’s not the best way to make friends, but I don’t want to be friends with cheaters anyway.

A Pattern of Unlikely Wins

This cheat refers to in-person cash games only. Watch out for a player that consistently wins as the dealer.  For example, if your neighbor who can’t spell poker is suddenly winning every time they deal, you could have a problem.

They may have spent the time avoiding poker strategy to learn to shuffle and deal in their favor. If you notice this pattern, pay incredibly close attention. You may be able to spot something in their movements that will tip you off to the cheating. Sometimes, the dealer will stack the deck in another player’s favor. This form of cheating will take longer to spot but can be just as devastating to unwitting bankrolls.

As always, if you see something odd, say something. I don’t recommend flatly calling them a cheat; that could go sideways. Still, the more attention you draw to the cheater, the harder it will be for them to fly under the radar.

Squeeze Play

When two or more players are conspiring against you, they can put the squeeze on you. The first regular form of collusion is squeezing you out of the pot. Teams will work together to squeeze you out of a pot when neither player has a firm hand. You may see a player make a small bet after the flop, and having a decent hand, you decide to call.

The player to act after you then raises, followed by a re-raise from the original bettor. Suddenly your hand isn’t looking nearly as strong. You fold, and it doesn’t matter who wins the hand now because the two are working as a team. Squeezing players out can be highly profitable.

It’s also hard to know unequivocally if you’re a victim of collusion or just ran into some great hands. If you notice the pattern with the same two players repeatedly, it may be best to find another table. Of course, if you’re uber confident, you could always re-raise and try to turn the tables. This can often be an effective way to combat the squeeze. Unfortunately, you may be caught before they can be exposed.

Making Wildly Confident Bets When Out of Position or Behind

Making aggressive bets or calling when a player should be folding is a pretty good sign of a bad poker player. So, if you’re facing them in a cash game or a tournament, go get that money. However, if you’re playing a real money online poker game, this may be a sign that something is off.

Several years ago, hackers were able to install malware that would show them the hands of other players. Clearly, this information is invaluable at the poker table. So, when you’re playing online and seeing a consistently poor play resulting in wins, it’s time to move along. It’s a thin line you must walk when you report somebody, but ensuring that everyone is on a level playing surface is a cornerstone of the online casino industry.

They Are Impossibly Consistent

One of the easiest ways to spot a bot in the online poker rooms is that they are impossibly consistent. I am not referring to using a fundamental poker strategy. What I’m talking about is behaving exactly the same under the same conditions every time. You’re only going to need to be concerned about this in the online poker rooms.

If the patterns remain the same over a significant period and scenarios, you may have run into a bot. Before you start reporting players as bots, you should be absolutely sure of what you’re doing. The online poker sites take the war on bots very seriously. The last thing you should want is to ruin anyone’s day by levying a false accusation.

Odd Play in Head to Head

By watching players head to head, you can identify whether or not the pair may be “in it” together. If the same two players regularly make inexplicable folds when heads up, it could be a sign that they are cheating the pot.

Again, be very careful before you begin throwing out accusations. The best thing to do in my experience is to let the other players know they’re being watched. Sometimes they will snag their chips and head out of the poker room altogether. Rarely will you get much pushback, and when the dealer starts watching, the activities usually cease entirely.

Still, you don’t want to be labeled a “Narc” or a sore loser. Tread lightly when it comes to dealing with cheats. This isn’t the Wild West, so you likely won’t be shot dead at the table. However, you should exercise caution when approaching cheating.


How to spot a cheater at the poker table can be much easier than what to do once they’ve been spotted. You’ll be better off in the long run by enjoying the game and not being overly concerned with cheaters.

Most players at the table are there for the same reasons as you, to enjoy the game they love. When you spot something, bring it to their attention and gauge their reaction. Or you can simply find another table. Cheating in poker is much rarer than many people think.

Petko Stoyanov
Get in touch with Petko
About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.