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Automatic All-In Protection
Having been around just under a decade, online poker isn't very old compared to the versions of the game that have been played around the world for nearly 200 years.
By the standards of Internet technologies, however, online poker is nearly middle-aged. It should come as no surprise, then, that some of its features have changed a bit since the first virtual cards were shuffled.
One feature that has changed a lot since online poker's inception is the automatic all-in protection. The concept behind such protection is simple: Internet connections can be flaky sometimes, so every player is given a certain degree of protection from being forced out of a pot by the whims of technology.
If a player loses his connection during a hand, he is treated as being all-in and can still win the pot, up to the amount of his own bets. So if you held the nut flush on the turn and got disconnected from the site, all-in protection would keep your opponent from simply betting to push you out of the pot.
The all-in protection was an important feature for online sites in the days when the vast majority of Internet users were on dial-up connections, which were much more prone to disruption than the broadband connection that most online poker players use today.
However, unethical players have always taken advantage of any rule or feature that they can bend in their favor, and the all-in protection was no exception. Sometimes, for example, a player might disconnect when on a draw in a big pot so as not to have to pay more money to see if the right card would hit. Not having to pay to see a final card, or even a showdown, obviously affects the integrity of the game.
In order to provide balanced protection for players that doesn't allow the less-than-scrupulous to take advantage of the system, many rooms have implemented changes that address the abuse of the automatic all-in protection.
PokerStars, for instance, now has "no all-in" Pot-Limit and No-Limit tables that do not feature the classic all-in protection; however, these tables still offer some protection for the players by providing additional decision-making time based on the equity they have in a given pot.
Obviously a disconnection can seriously affect the fortunes of a player, so if you're still on dial-up (or any other another unpredictable connection), you might want to consider the disconnect protection policies of the rooms you're considering patronizing.
And if you do play in a room that features the classic all-in protection, be wary of opponents who abuse it to get around having to pay to see all their cards. There's never anything wrong with reporting unethical players to the cardroom's management.