Before poker becames so popular and mainstream many people had the misconception that cheating was rife within the sport, images of paddle-boat steamers and cowboys with guns spring to mind.... While it may certainly have gone on, cheating was less common than people think. Once labelled a "cheat" it would almost be impossible for the player to then get a game, unless he travelled. However, while TV exposure and the rise of the Poker Superstars has raised the profile and respectability of our beloved game, there still remains a tiny minority of individuals wanting your cash without playing on a level playing field. Here's a guide to protect yourself against the unscrupulous and shady characters on a rare occasion that you'd come across them.
Best Hand Play
Best hand play is perhaps one of the more subtle methods of cheating in the poker world today and when performed well, it is very difficult to detect even for experienced players. It involves two or more players communicating their hand values to each other and the other weaker hands who would have otherwise played then drop out and just let the best hand play.
This has the effect of denying opponents pot odds for hands that they are playing and substantially reduces the size of the pots that your opponents win. It is very subtle in nature because rather than two or more players always being involved within the same round, only one team member is operating at any one time.
Say for instance that your team member has AQ under the gun in limit hold'em but you are sitting in the cut-off with AK. A player in middle position raises and you re-raise with the AK. Your team member has already folded his AQ because he has let your AK play. So now if the player who raised has a big premium pair for instance and it holds up against your AK, they are denied the extra money that the AQ would have put into the pot because they have folded.
This kind of play can have an almost "starvation" effect on other players because it reduces the average pot size that they win. The economics of poker state that in order to win, you must earn an amount of money that is above and beyond your cost of doing business ( Blinds/Antes/Rake etc ), the best hand play helps to prevent opponents from doing that.
How to spot it
Like I said, when done well, it is very difficult to spot. One of the things to look out for and keep a check of is who is on your table and how often. It is also worth noting which players never seem to play hands together. Apart from this, there is really nothing else that you can do to stop this kind of cheating.