Since the first hand of online poker was dealt, players have been trying to figure out how poker software could help them win money. This is to be expected, there is a lot at stake in the world of online poker. Because this frontier was completely unexplored at the beginning of the age of online poker, most players would use whatever they could find to help them gain an edge.
This is starting to cause issues as computer software becomes increasingly competent in various games of poker. On more than one occasion, a ring of computers programs that have been programmed to beat human players (Called “Bots”), have been found across many of the online sites. This is bad for both the sites, and the players.
It is fairly obvious why this is bad for the players, it directly takes their money from them. It however is also bad for the sites, for a number of reasons. It decreases the amount of hands that are played for the recreational players, as they have less chance to win. It increases the negative promotion for the site, which might scare players into not wanting to play there. Finally, the accounts the bots play on, will withdraw the money that is won, forever removing it from the online ecosystem.
This is an extreme example of technology in the online poker realm, but it does begin to beg the question of “What is the line in the sand for poker software?”. I think it would be fair to say that if you had a chart of hands that you wanted to play from each position, that this should be allowed. You could print it out and have it next to you, why would it not be allowable to have viewable on your computer?
Recently Pokerstars, who are the industry leaders in online poker, has decided to increase their stance against the development of various poker software. (You can read more about these changes here https://www.pokerstars.com/poker/room/prohibited/ ). Their general stance has been this.
- Anything that can be printed and viewed in front of you
- Anything that gives basic information about your opponents or the table
- 2 Color changes on a HUD (Heads up Display) based on the content of a range
- Any program that will make decisions for you
- Charts that will display various of information with how to act
- Advanced tools that will show how ranges interact with each other.
This is only a short list of the changes in the pokerstars software. However, I find these changes to be a bit troubling. I am a strong believer in that policies should be made to reflect stances that are actually going to be able to be upheld. It doesn’t make sense to create policies that you won’t be able to reasonably enforce.
Bots should not be allowed, that is clear. Additionally these programs are fairly easy to detect, and with Pokerstars game integrity team being as strong as they are, you will likely get a fair shake when playing at Pokerstars. But then they have also banned programs such as Pokerstove or Equilab. These are basic programs, where you can put in a hand or a range, and see what its equity vs another hand or range is.
An Equilab hand matrix, is this the battle we need to be fighting?
This program can take two ranges, and compare what their equities are against each other. At Upswing Poker, this is our primary tool to analyze two ranges. We are very familiar with its functionality and use this daily.
There are too many ways around this. What if there are other range vs range calculators that players are using that Pokerstars doesn’t recognize? What if they have calculated out these instances beforehand, and have a printed sheet of the equities? What if they simply have another computer next to them, to run the simulations? I feel that this is an unenforceable policy, which should not be the stance of online sites.
It will be interesting to see what software will and will not be allowed. The current major software companies will need to make changes within their own products in order to maintain usability (and thus a client base). There will also be some programs that will be allowed to be used when pokerstars is closed, but not when the client is open. This will also create new problems, figuring out the line for when something should be able to be used.
What I can say, is that I am glad that Pokerstars is trying to take steps to address the problems of the online poker ecosystem. At the end of the day, they are trying to make the most money for their company, which means protecting the recreational poker player. While this most directly has a negative impact on professional players such as myself, I can understand this stance and I think that taking steps to insure them a fair game is the correct move. I just don’t want ineffective policies that cannot be enforced to become a staple of online poker rule-making.