Software Update

Partypoker Launches Major Software Update, Eliminates Downloadable Hand Histories

The day some poker players were looking forward to while others were dreading came yesterday: partypoker’s big software update went live. The goal of the update is to try to make the poker environment more comfortable for casual players by eliminating the ability for people to use most third-party software tools.

As often happens with significant software updates, there were hiccups at first. It took many players several hours of trying before the update was fully downloaded, installed, and stable. That aside, the first thing everyone should have noticed was that a pop-up required players to change their screen name, or alias, as partypoker calls it. No doubt this frustrated some, as many players have an almost emotional connection to their screen name; their online identity is very much wrapped up in it. But regardless of how players felt, the screen name change was required.

The reason for this is that partypoker wants to render all data that players have on each other obsolete. This entire update is focused on heads-up displays (HUDs), which display statistical information on players right on the table so that the user can have an immediate read on what kind of players their opponents are. This information is generated from hand history data gathered via previous sessions against those opponents. Sometimes this data can be purchased from third-party sites, which is almost always against a poker site’s rules. By requiring players to change their screen names, any data someone may have had for their HUD or other software is potentially useless because that old screen name, the one attached to the data, will no longer be at the table.

Everyone starts fresh and with the partypoker update, nobody will have data. This because another prong of partypoker’s “rec-friendly” strategy is to get rid of downloadable hand histories, the source of hand and player data for poker tracking software.

Goodbye Seating Scripts?

In addition to HUDs, other third-party software that will either be banned or possibly rendered useless (or both) includes things such as seating scripts. Seating scripts use the same data as HUDs to develop profiles on opponents. The user of the seating script decides which types of players he prefers to play against and the software proceeds to scan the poker lobby, looking for players the user has in his database that fit that profile. When found, the software automatically seats the user with those target players, allowing him to theoretically wipe that weaker player out. (I say “theoretically” because there is never a guarantee someone will win in a particular session.)

Seating scripts have been a controversial subject in the online poker world, though most players generally do not like them. They are used to essentially hunt and bully weaker players throughout the poker room, making them lose money more quickly than normal and certainly have less fun playing poker. This is bad for the poker rooms, as players who feel picked on are less likely to return.

HUDs and seating scripts also contribute to “bum hunting,” the practice where players sit at a heads-up table and wait for a known weak player to sit down. If someone arrives who is not a preferred target, the bum hunter will stand up and wait for someone else to come along. This practice clogs up tables that other players would like to use.

“With this release, we will be making changes to our software that will prevent third-party tracking tools from working,” partypoker managing director Tom Waters said in the original software update announcement. “We want our players to have a fresh start and therefore we are asking all players to select a new alias so that all third-party tool tracking is lost for all our players. At the same time, we have some great promotions running and I’m sure there will be a mad rush by players eager to secure their preferred screenname!”

Poker Tracker LogoNot Everyone Agrees

The changes on partypoker will be welcome by many players, but not by everyone. Max Value Software, the owner of poker tracking software Hold’em Manager and PokerTracker, is incensed at the decision. Last week, a representative of the company posted a lengthy essay on Two Plus Two decrying the elimination of downloadable hand histories.

“With the removal of hand histories,” the representative said, “partypoker is effectively asking their players to ‘trust us but do not verify.’”

The rep continued:

Hand histories have a long track record of being the most important tool to help players themselves ensure game integrity yet partypoker is removing them “to protect players”. Poker hand histories are often downloaded into a local database such as those provided by PokerTracker and Holdem Manager software. Once a player has a database of their hand histories, the analytics tools in the software are instrumental in allowing customers to:

(A) filter/sort/analyze key playing results/trends/patterns that can be instrumental in flagging potential cheating, chip dumping or bots.

(B) review and verify the integrity of card distributions across large samples of their hand histories.

Downloadable poker hand histories also allow you to send a hand to a friend or post it on a forum to publicly discuss it with others.

The rep also argues that data mining and cheating software doesn’t need hand histories to gather player data, so eliminating hand histories only hurts those who obey the rules.

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