French Site Winamax Continues Battle Against Poker Bots

It’s time to check in over at prominent French online-poker site Winamax, where a months-long, high-profile controversy involving alleged “bot” (computer-controlled) play by several accounts has been resolved, with one account being terminated and its bankroll confiscated, and another being asked by Winamax managers to take its business elsewhere. For various reasons, some of them legal, it’s unusual for a major site to identify that certain accounts are not only officially under investigation, but that actions have been taken against them.

WinamaxThe Winamax bot situation dates back to early June, when posters at the prominent ClubPoker (French language) discussion forum published evidence that at least two and as many as four high-profit accounts logging heavy action in Winamax’s 100 and 250 “Espresso” SNG games had likely been using bots, and also may have been in cahoots, never playing against each other. The accounts may have posted nearly two million euros in profit over the past year, meaning that it was no small deal and may have affected many other well-known players on the site.

The first accusations were made against two accounts, “Twopandas” and “VictoriaMo” (the latter one which was renamed to “mr.GR33N13” during the course of Winamax’s investigation). Significant data extracted from opponents’ hand histories offered patterns indicating probable bot play, which is often how these things are uncovered. Winamax took a couple of months to do a detailed internal investigation, then posted in the length ClubPoker discussion thread about its findings.

We’ll bring you that post (translated to English) in its entirety, because it includes numerous points of importance. The post offered this:

Hello everyone,

In response to the initial subject of this topic, it is important to note that the two suspected players have very different profiles. The investigation that followed their pre-emptive suspension and their behavior during the proceedings highlighted the fact that we were dealing with two separate cases, with equally distinct conclusions and consequences.

Twopandas did not give a positive answer to our request to come play in our premises in Paris. His refusal entails the following consequences:

His account is definitely suspended .
The balance of his account is seized .
All challenges will be fully recalculated and premiums paid back . In addition, an envelope is put in place to compensate for the damage suffered by the players . Offsets will be made within 15 days maximum .

VictoriaMo / mr.GR33N13 quickly agreed to visit our offices for a number of sessions. Over two days, he played over 400 Expresso in his classic playing conditions: 6-tabling, limits of € 100 and € 250 and long sessions. After analyzing the statistics, it appears that:

The VictoriaMo / mr.GR33N13 GTO score is average for its usual sessions and remains significantly better than other regulars in the format.
We did not see any deviation from its game statistics standards .
We noted some differences in reaction times compared to the usual numbers.

These results tend to legitimize the player VictoriaMo / mr.GR33N13 : a level similar to his habits and a desire for transparency that plays in his favor. However, given the suspicion ring around this player and the general climate of mistrust that ensues, it was decided as a precaution not to lift the suspension of his account. His bankroll has been returned to him in full (euros and miles).

The guarantee of a fair and secure gaming environment has always been at the heart of our concerns, which is also true for all players in the online poker industry. These cases perfectly illustrate the challenge of this issue, the consequences of which affect both players and operators, and even the sustainability of the sector.

Our policy has hitherto been based on the presumption of innocence for lack of evidence, and the conclusions of this thorough investigation have motivated us to question this approach by hardening the treatment of similar cases that may arise thereafter. We now reserve the right to apply a precautionary exclusion in order to restore a climate of trust that we consider indispensable.

The cooperation between players and operators, as was the case for these two cases, is one of the best weapons we have to combat cheating. We therefore thank batmax for his report and all the members of the community who participated in our investigation on this delicate subject.

Not really dealt with in Winamax’s still-lengthy response was evidence that the two accounts had some form of relationship with each other. The Twopandas account never played against the VictoriaMo/mr.GR33N13 account during the entire span of play being investigated. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise: The VictoriaMo/mr.GR33N13 account logged out at just prior to 6pm France time, according to a batmax post, and the Twopandas account logged on just minutes later.

It’s also suspicious that the owner of one of the accounts (VictoriaMo/mr.GR33N13) was willing to come to Winamax’s office and demonstrate a session of live play showing the skills associated with that account, while the other one (Twopandas) wasn’t. Of course the owner of the account should be able to play in the same manner as the alleged bot play, being the one who likely programmed it; the bot’s purpose is generally to play long, error-free sessions (at perhaps more tables without giving its existence away).

Winamax’s declaration that the two accounts must be different players isn’t absolutely true, however. There’s no reason why a single skilled player couldn’t set up two separate accounts with slightly different but still-profitable strategies, the better to evade detection.

There are multiple possible explanations for the whole of the findings and actions taken by Winamax. Perhaps:

  • The VictoriaMo/mr.GR33N13 and Twopandas accounts were actually owned and operated by the same person. This would explain why a player could show up at Winamax’s offices to play in person, but that ruse could only be used for one account;
  • The accounts were owned by two (or more) people working together in a “poker house” arrangement. This would help explain why one account played a daytime shift, while the other appeared only at night. Then again, a single player would also likely run two bot accounts on separate shifts, the better to maximize earning potential in these high-buy-in games.

Winamax’s statement that it is likely to be more aggressive toward suspected bot play is worth highlighting as well, because there’s an implied finding here that whoever was behind these particular bot accounts was pretty darned good at it. That should serve as a warning to other poker-site operators that increased diligence and better bot detection is going to be vital to maintain game integrity. A handful of sites and networks have been accused of essentially catering to bots, enjoying the added rake the accounts generate. This episode at Winamax shows that there’s a looming endpoint to any such practices.

Interesting times indeed.

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