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Fixing the Problem of Datamining in Online Poker

Datamining is the process of extracting patterns from data. There are various products and services which datamine online poker sites, the most popular of which is PTR. They are parasites that provide detailed information about players, for a fee. Online poker players can purchase hand histories to build up a profile of people they’ve never played with before. This is clearly a major unfair advantage and the process should be stopped.

I’m 100% against these services. Supporters of these services usually say “only losers complain about them”, but I’m a winning poker player. But regardless, saying “only losers complain” should be the primary reason why they are bad for the long term health of online poker. Do we want the bad players to leave? Some people say “losers don’t care”, and while some probably don’t, I bet there are many losers/break even players who do care. These types of players are what contribute to the profits of winners, so online poker sites have to do more to protect them.

I also think this is true of table scanning software which finds the “fish” at the cash game tables. You see long waiting lists at the tables where the fish reside, with sharks circling their prey. This is unhealthy for the good of the game. Everyone knows that online poker games are tougher to beat than they used to be back in 2006, and fish should be offered better protection. Automated tools that allow sharks to pick off the fish are not good for the game.

What can online poker sites do to help prevent this abuse? There are a couple of things that could be done to prevent this and stop the online poker industry from eating itself alive. Here are a few:

Allow users to change their screen names

I’m not a fan of this option. Firstly, I am not against online poker players using their own data to build profiles of their opponents, be it via software like Hold’em Manager or from the building up notes. Allowing screen name changes would be unfair to these players who play by the rules.

More importantly, it would create an environment that makes it easier for cheats to escape detection. Yes the online poker sites would still know who the players are – but do we really trust online poker sites to regulate themselves? I don’t, and if you do then go and read about the scandals at Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet.

Limit table observation

Limiting table observation is the answer, since this is how sites like PTR get “their” data. Critics of this approach might say “but we like to watch the pro players at Full Tilt”. Well, how hard can it be to work something into the software to allow the professionals to be observed? I don’t think it requires much effort.

In my email correspondence with PokerStars they said:

Allowing observers to view the games prior to play is a fundamental
feature of the software that cannot be removed. Players like being able to
tell their friends “hey, come sweat me on table so-and-so, I’m winning big!”

It is our goal to minimise datamining via software limitations, without
overly restricting real players who need to legitimately observe a table
which they are not playing. Since we’re unwilling to completely remove
such features (which would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater), we
will always be engaged in a game of cat and mouse with those people that
seek to break our rules.

They say that the feature cannot be removed, but it doesn’t have to be removed. I also agree that it’s nice to watch your buddies play online poker. But there’s a simple answer to this – allow people to have “buddy lists”, and if their buddy approves, they can view tables they’re playing on. The screen names of the other players can be kept anonymous (“player 1”, “player 2”, etc). This allows the online poker sites to keep the social aspect of the game, but eliminates the parasites like PTR.

What are the online poker sites doing about datamining?

Online poker sites have known about this problem for a long time now. They keep coming up with the same generic replies; such as “We’re very close to tackling this” – but they’ve been saying this for what seems like years. I have a feeling that maybe they don’t care, but have to be seen to care. How difficult is it to tweak their table observation feature? I’m sure it’s not simple, but they have the resources to be able to do it, so they should get their act together and fix it.

If you agree then email your favourite poker site and tell them what you want!

The Changing Landscape of Online Poker

I first started playing online poker almost 10 years ago. It was very different then; there was no Poker Stars or Full Tilt Poker, and there were fewer players. After all this was before Chris Moneymaker turned a $40 punt into millions at the WSOP, and thereby starting the online poker boom – for which he is credited. Indeed, many of today’s online poker players fall into two camps “pre-Moneymaker” and “post-Moneymaker”. I’m in the pre-camp and I know I’m outnumbered – but that’s fine with me.

How has the online poker landscape changed in the last decade? Well for a start Planet Poker is no longer in business, and Paradise poker, once the biggest online poker site, is now a pathetic shadow of its former self – as a skin site on the Boss Poker Network. The whole concept of poker skins and networks is something that poker players are now very familiar with, but this is only a fairly recent change. I actually think there are some really excellent networks (and some really poor ones too), but the big boys are still independents – just like they used to be. It’s almost impossible now to launch a fully independent online poker room without being part of a network. There’s just too much competition.

Is online poker as much fun? This is something I’m not so sure about. I’m probably looking back through rose tinted glasses, and remembering the good stuff…like typing “doh” in the Planet Poker chat box made a sound similar to Homer Simpson (oh what laughter!). Nobody talks these days as there too busy multi-tabling. I’m forgetting the frequent crashes and software problems of course. Indeed, it was the software problems that led to the demise of planet poker. RIP Planet Poker – it was fun while it lasted.

There have been huge improvements in the gameplay, the software, and the security of online poker rooms over the past few years. And let’s not forget third party software is now in abundance too, and there’s widespread use of data mining software. I’m not a fan of this though – I preferred it how it was, but I’m resigned to the fact that data mining is here to stay, sadly.

Along with the quantity, the quality of players has definitely increased over the last few years, and I think it’s fair to credit sites like Cardrunners for this. The games are tougher, there’s no doubt about that. Of course I prefer softer games, but cannot complain – since the people who take the time to learn how to play poker and dedicate themselves to the game will always improve, compared with a lazy players who are unwilling to change and adapt to the new landscape.

Oh, and 10 years ago there was no UIGEA – but that’s too depressing to talk about. Another time!