It's been coming up aces at a northern poker rally in recent years and a couple of mathematicians have calculated that the results are highly improbable.

The top three hands at the Stanley Mission Poker Rally contained four aces in 2011. The same thing happened again the next year. 

It's an apparently remarkable run of luck that University of Regina mathematics professor Andrei Volodin says is "astronomically impossible."

Rally a popular northern event

Every year, hundreds of snowmobile riders from Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan converge on Stanley Mission for this popular event. 

They race to five different checkpoints and at each location they pick up a card specifically made for this rally. 

At the end of the race they play their hand and generous prizes are awarded to the winners, including a top prize of $20,000.

According to results posted online by rally organizers, the top three hands in both 2011 and 2012 contained four aces.

Mathematicians run the numbers

CBC's iTeam asked two mathematicians, including Andrei Volodin, to calculate the odds

"From a mathematical point of view this is a very rare event. It should not happen two years in a row," Volodin said.

He said by simply looking at the data he can't conclude how this could have happened, but he said "I don't believe it's random."

University of Calgary mathematician Jim Stallard also examined the numbers and came to a similar conclusion.

"Maybe chance happened and if chance happened don't go outside in a thunderstorm because you might get hit by lightning," Stallard said.

While it's highly unlikely that this unusual result is random, Stallard said there may be some logical explanations.

"Maybe there's something wrong in the process," he said. "Maybe the cards aren't being evenly distributed amongst the tables. Maybe there's something wrong with the decks of cards. Maybe the cards aren't being well shuffled. Who knows what it could be?"

Organizer defends poker rally

Gordon Hardlotte, one of the organizers of the rally, dismissed the calculations and conclusions of the professors. 

"I think that's a bunch of crock," Hardlotte said. "We have our ways of preventing anybody from cheating."

Hardlotte said there have been rumours of cheating over the years but as far as he knows it's never happened. 

He said the cards are made specifically for this event and they're specially marked so that players can't mix and match between various poker hands.

"Like without telling you too much, we indent the cards so you can't rub the numbers off," Hardlotte said. 

While Hardlotte acknowledged that there were a lot of four-ace hands in 2011 and 2012, he pointed out that other years have seen very different results. 

For example, in recent years some of the top three hands included four-of-a-kind threes, fours, and tens.

He said if cheaters went to the extent of giving themselves four aces on a five-card hand, why wouldn't they be more generous to themselves? 

"Wouldn't they all give themselves a high kicker if they were trying to cheat?" he said.

But Hardlotte notes sometimes those "kicker" cards are a five, six, or nine.

In light of CBC's questions, Hardlotte said he'll be reviewing the results from previous years but he has no reason to believe there has been cheating.

What are the odds?

In a poker rally with 225 decks, x    52 cards there are 11,700 cards in total

With the additional decks, there are
3,819,816 possible five-card hands:

Only 0.044% of those hands contain 4 aces:

Having 4 aces in three hands at one poker rally with roughly 1,700 participants is rare enough, but having it two years in a row?
That has a probability of just 0.16%.