My Reaction to Changes to Poker Sites' Software Policies

Date: 2015-10-26
Author: Jason Glatzer

Many online poker sites have implemented policy changes regarding third-party software.  Some of these changes should prove to be good for online poker in general, while others may have gone too far.
First off, about a month ago, Microgaming implemented a new policy allowing its players to change screen names the sooner of every 30 days or every 1,000 real money hands.  On one hand, this is good for players who take advantage of it since they will be less likely to be targeted by those who use seat scripting.  Also, it will limit the effectiveness of HUDs since the software may now only show stats for a session.
I tend to think this policy is a good one since players will still have access to their hand histories and should be able to still detect collusion and bots.  My problem isn't the policy itself, it is that many recreational players may not realize they can change their screen name often.  If this is true, it means that the players the network is attempting to protect the most could be still targeted by those using seat scripting software.
Shortly afterwards, PokerStars announced some changes to advanced third-party poker software.  For the most part, this should protect its recreational and losing players.  However, the site has yet to implement any measures to limit seat scripting software with the exception of Spin and Gos and it seems the software that they are limiting is mostly just going to affect regular players playing against other regular players.  Seat scripting is something most players believe hurts the game and PokerStars has hinted that there could be more changes to potentially prohibit its use in all of its games.
Also to note is that the PokerStars changes really only limited the extremes in software.  This means advanced HUDs such as NoteCaddy Edge will still provide great value to players since the software company just scaled back on what they were forced to in order to comply with the new policy.  I recommend that any serious player still use software such as NoteCaddy Edge on PokerStars to allow their HUD to be as advanced as possible under the new rules.
Last but not least is PartyPoker.  The online poker room no longer allows hand histories to be stored locally on hard drives and has made HUDs and seating scripts prohibited.  Whether you think third-party poker software should be allowed or not, I feel this went a bit too far.
The big problem that I see is that they have removed the ability of poker players to detect advanced collusion or other cheating.  Just this past year, there was a major PLO bot scandal taking place over a few online poker rooms which was discovered by poker players by analyzing hands in their poker tracking databases.

If we go a bit further in the past, poker tracking software helped players uncover that certain accounts on the now defunct Ultimate Poker and Absolute Poker had super user abilities.  This was perhaps the biggest scandal outside of Black Friday and players will now have a hard time detecting any irregularities without being able to store hands in a tracking database.
While it is true that players might still be able to detect some irregularities by simply review hands that are stored within the poker client itself, this would not be enough to detect any major problems that require a more in-depth analysis.
What might work more effectively is if PartyPoker simply asked the major poker tracking database companies to disable the HUD, but still allow the tracking software to work after the fact.  If PartyPoker is concerned that some companies might not allow this, what they could do instead is allow hand histories to be downloaded a few hours after a game is over.

Additionally, they could take a page out of Microgaming's playbook and combine this with the ability for players to change their screen names frequently to limit the effectiveness of any third-party software company not complying with its requests.

If hand histories were still able to be downloaded, I could get behind PartyPoker's changes.  Although I personally use a HUD, I believe variety is the spice of life and it's fine with me if some sites choose to allow HUDs and some don't.
While I am a fan of poker software, I do agree that there needs to be a balance between what is good for advanced players and what is good for a poker ecology.  As a recommendation to players, I would say to always comply with the rules about third-party poker software each site has, but to try to maximize what you are allowed to use to make the most out of your poker experience.

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