Why my priors about cheating at poker are so high
I agree with much of the analysis of people who think that the evidence from the Robbi Jade Lew hand doesn't give strong reason to believe she was cheating. Most of my disagreement comes from the prior probability I assign to an unknown player cheating, which is higher than most.
Here are some reasons why I maintain such high priors:
- There are plenty of well-publicized cheating cases.
- The base rate of cheating in general (beyond poker) is quite high. (Here is a relevant Dan Luu Twitter thread.)
- The infrastructure that keeps live poker safe has been eroding: for example, procedures that ensure dealers pitch the cards correctly are enforced much less rigorously than they were 10 to 20 years ago. (In many rooms they are entirely forgotten.) Whenever someone with expertise in live poker procedures came on Thinking Poker, I would ask about this, and none of them (that I can recall) disputed this view.
- Many publicized cases of cheating were discovered because of greedy, shortsighted, or downright silly exploitation of the cheaters' edge. This suggests that more disciplined cheaters in analogous circumstances would not have been caught.
- I have non-public knowledge of some incidents involving cheating and other very suspicious events. (And I was never the sort of prominent person who would have known lots of inside information.)
- Poker players generally have an incentive to emphasize the cleanliness of the game.
Most poker games are clean. The layperson's view (if that layperson's view of poker derives from certain kinds of movies and stories) certainly overestimates how much cheating there is. I would hate for enthusiasts to think that they should not play the Bellagio 2-5 game for fear of being cheated.
I would like for more people to quantify their views here, understanding that a lot of estimation is involved. I have asked: what is the ratio of the probability that, in a given big pot in a high-stakes live cash game, a given player in it:
- Will misread their despite rechecking their cards before making an all-in call.
- Had planned to cheat in that pot and attempted to execute that plan.
I think that the first is not more than one order of magnitude more likely than the second. Misreads are common; misreads in big pots after rechecking one's cards are not. Cheating is uncommon, but (alas) not as uncommon as I'd like it to be.