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What Is Real Time Assistance (RTA) in Poker?

Dominic Field

Feb 14, 2023

RTA Robot Holding Poker Cards

In this article, we’re going to discuss real-time assistance, or RTA, in online poker. Whether you’re wondering about the legality of RTA, or simply wondering what the term means, we have all the answers you need.

What Exactly Is Real-Time Assistance?

To begin with, let’s define exactly what real-time assistance (RTA) is. In short, RTA is any form of external software which is used to gain an edge when playing online. 

Some poker clients provide tools to assist you in-game. But since these are available to all players on the site, they aren’t giving you any sort of advantage. As a result, even though they help you in real time, they would not be classed as RTA.

How Does RTA Actually Work?

There are many different types of RTA tools out there. The most advanced ones are designed with a Game Theory Optimal (GTO) strategy in mind. These automated GTO solvers instruct players how to act while they are actually playing, in order to employ mathematically perfect tactics. They tell you exactly what to do, even down to the specific amounts you should bet.

However, the software doesn’t have to be as elaborate as an automated solver to be classed as RTA. There are many existing simple tools that present players with basic starting hand charts and other useful information. Then, in order to find out the optimal move, players can manually enter specific details. 

Is RTA Legal?

It’s hard to say whether or not real-time assistance is illegal, in terms of breaking the law. However, it’s certainly against the terms and conditions of most online poker networks, and anyone caught using such tools will be banned.

Natural8 is just one specific poker site that expressly forbids the use of RTA tools. Its T&Cs make reference to automated software, including GTO solvers, range calculators, and ICM analysis tools. But they also rule out the use of any reference materials created by computer simulations. That includes documents as basic as a push-fold chart.

However, you are allowed to use a simple preflop chart which advises on starting hands. It is only categorised as RTA when the materials also mention information like relative stack sizes, betting amounts, and positions.

The Fedor Kruse Case

Fedor Kruse RTA ScandalImage Source: Pokernews

RTA is widely considered to be cheating and is forbidden in the terms and conditions of the most popular poker networks. But we haven’t yet seen such a case tested in a court of law. Perhaps the highest-profile RTA scandal to date is that of high-stakes poker player Fedor Kruse.

The young German was accused of cheating by playing online with a second computer loaded with real-time assistance tools. Dubbed the “Dream Machine”, it’s thought that it would cost up to $60,000 to purchase such a setup. However, given that GGPoker confiscated $250,000 from Kruse after investigating the case, that seems like small change.

Kruse had started out playing $0.50 / $1 but quickly moved up to higher and higher stakes games. Within 12 months, he was already taking shots at a $200 / $400 cash game on GGPoker. 

It wasn’t just the rapid rise in stakes which raised the alarm, though. His plays were frequently described as “non-intuitive”, and when run through GTO solvers, the plays were found to be consistent with their advice. Although he was only banned by GGPoker, other sites did lock his accounts, before eventually returning his money.

More About GTO Strategy

The concept of playing poker in a GTO (Game Theory Optimal) fashion isn’t exactly new. And doing so is certainly within the rules. The goal is to play perfect poker, which is impossible for opponents to exploit. Two players employing flawless GTO strategy against each other would, in theory, break even. 

Using such tactics against weaker players will lead to long-term profits. That’s why many of the world’s most successful players, both live and online, build elements of GTO into their games. However, such players are studying these strategies away from the table, committing everything to memory and then playing without in-game help. 

Playing a GTO style only becomes a problem when players use software which advises them on what to do in real time. This is a shortcut that can save hours of study and will lead to huge gains over a long period of time. And that’s the reason it’s considered cheating. 

Solvers and RTA

As the name implies, for a tool to be classed as RTA, it must be used in real time. A solver in and of itself is not actually RTA. 

There is no problem if you play around with such tools away from the tables. Of course, you are free to simulate hands with this kind of software, assuming hand ranges and betting sizes which are hypothetical. Using solvers should be part of anyone’s study routine if they are going to improve as players.

The most powerful software takes time to generate its results. For instance, a solver such as PIOSolver might need 30 minutes to crunch the numbers you’ve fed into the system. There’s no way you can use it to make immediate decisions when playing online. RTA is only against the rules if it’s being used while playing at the tables, to guide specific decisions.

How Common Is RTA?

RTA on a computer keyboardIf you’ve made it this far, you might be wondering whether you’re at risk of encountering cheaters playing with RTAs. Like anything in life, there will always be nefarious characters in the online poker world, trying to gain unfair advantages. But in general, you should be pretty safe.

Online poker rooms employ sizable security teams that constantly search for cheating. This covers everything from collusion and chip dumping to RTA software that contravenes their rules.

MTTs vs Cash Games

If you’re concerned about encountering players using real-time assistance, your best bet is to play in tournaments. It’s much easier to solve the optimal cash game strategy since players generally play 100 BBs. For a tournament, the database would need to be massive, covering solves all the way from 5 BBs upwards.

Progressive Knockout (PKO) tournaments are thought to be even safer, due to the variable bounties, stacks and ICM considerations involved. It may be completely impossible to ever solve such a tournament format.

Conclusion

Real-time assistance may not be considered illegal in a court of law. But it is certainly not allowed by any of the major online poker sites. The wider community considers any form of RTA to be cheating, and if caught, action will be taken.

The definition of RTA is somewhat debatable. But automated GTO solvers used in real time are definitely against the rules. Even ICM calculators and push-fold charts could be considered RTA usage. To avoid potential repercussions, be sure to read the terms and conditions before playing with anything that could be considered RTA.