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!

One thought on “Fixing the Problem of Datamining in Online Poker

  1. Nate

    Well, we could have a long debate about this. I don´t necessarily disagree with you that more info might hurt people´s winrate, but it is kind of ironic that you qoute PTR in your last post 😉

    There are few points that i´d like to throw out:

    – where do you draw the line between “parasite” and tracking tool. I´m sure you use HEM or PT and i´m pretty sure that they´ve made you tons of money. Now you can use the same reasoning that you used against PTR. Lets start at Adam and Eve.

    1) You play poker and observe players. You can manually write down all their actions or remember all their actions

    2) HEM or PT comes in and does that work for you. They offer a service and accelerate your growth. But also everybody else´s growth. fish get exploited quicker, faster and better.
    —-> games get tougher

    3) People can sit in front of their pc and watch other players play. All the tables, every site, can manually take notes about their play…

    4) PTR comes in and says, hey, pens away guys. Let me do the work. PTR increases your growth, but also everybody else´s growth.
    —-> games get even more tough

    Its called evolution. Like it or hate it. But it is what it is.

    What i´m trying to say is that the “they are parasites” argument is very polemic and a weak one. If you´re just angry that the games get tougher, so? Loosing players getting outed…?! Is that new? Didn´t you share that stuff with your friends… now its just on a different scale. Where do you wanna draw the line?
    PTR is doing in big what everybody else is doing in small.

    5) Trust me, PTR has cost me more money than most players out there. One has to strongly diffrenciate though between personal gain and moral reasoning.

    6) My strongest line: If you can´t beat them, join them. Its pure practical advice. Your mails to stars or wherever have little effect. Of course we all know they don´t care. They can´t say it, but sometimes action speaks louder than words. “Panta rhei” is what the pre-socratic philosopher Heraklit would have said. Everything changes. Constantly.


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