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PokerStars Announces Third-Party Tool Policy Changes, Bans Seating Scripts

PokerStars announced on Wednesday that it is making changes to its third-party software tools policy, set to go into effect on Monday, March 4th. A number of categories are being addressed in the update, but on the PokerStars blog, Severin Rasset focuses on two: seating scripts and reference material.

Rasset introduces the discussion:

We all sit down at the table as equals. So, when a player takes the time out of their day to play in our poker room, we want them to know they’ve arrived in a safe and fair environment where the only thing to think about is the action. Also, that they’re not being targeted for their experience, and they have a clear and unambiguous picture of the additional resources available to them.

Third party tools are always an interesting topic in this debate. On the one hand, there are legitimate and useful tools out there that can help players to train, get better and enjoy the depth of the game. On the other hand, there are tools that provide their users with sometimes small and other times clear advantages over others, undermining the spirit of the game.

There has been much debate over the years as to whether or not software tools should be allowed, wit some people shunning them in favor of the “pure” game (as much as you can have that online) and others believing just about anything is fair game. I fall somewhere in the middle, believing things like HUDs that show statistics are cool, but anything that automates your play is bullshit. What PokerStars is finally doing is laying down the law with both players and software developers to define what is and is not allowed.

PokerStars LogoSeating Scripts

Seating scripts have been a major focus of the online poker industry in recent years; lots of (most?) poker rooms have taken steps to foil them. A seating script uses data from a player’s third-party software to search the tables and find weak opponents. It then automatically seats the user with those opponents. The problem with seating scripts are fairly obvious: weaker players get targeted and drained of their money quickly, which results in them not having fun and more likely to leave the poker room and never come back.

These are now banned at PokerStars. Some automated seating tools are still allowed, as long as they automate “adding players to a set number of tables, without any reliance on information about other players.”

In a nutshell, if you want to automatically sit down at ten $100 6-Handed No-Limit Hold’em Sit-and-Go’s, you can use automated software to do that for you, as long as it just seats you at random tables, rather than using opponent data to make the seating decisions.

It was thought that PokerStars would utilize its Seat Me system, which is in use in Spain and Italy, as the was to stop seating scripts, but it looks like that’s not happening. Seat Me doesn’t allow players to pick their specific tables, instead having the players choose the game type and stakes and then seating them automatically. It seems like this would be the easier way to go, rather than having to police third-party software, but perhaps PokerStars still wanted to give players the opportunity to scope out tables using their own eyes.

Reference Material

Reference material, including starting hand charts, will also be extremely limited with the new policy change. In general, as long as the helping hand only gives assistance as to basic hand decisions in unopened pots, it is allowed, and only if it does not actually take the action for the player. Thus, someone can have a chart on the screen that tells you to always raise with A-Q suited in late position (I don’t know if it would, I’m just making this up) in an unopened pot.

A PowerPoint presentation gives developers much more detail, but here is a summary from the PokerStars blog of what is permitted when it comes to reference material:

1. Tools or services that simply report basic game-state information, such as pot odds or absolute hand strength
2. Basic reference material that is static, such as simple table-based starting hand charts
3. Tools or services that monitor and display statistics in-game (a Heads-Up Display, or HUD), but make use of only information accumulated through your own play. Within that, there are also qualitative and feature limitations on statistics displayed in-game, such as not being able to change the statistics displayed based on game state or opponent tendencies.
4. Macros and Hotkey programs for gameplay efficiency that do not reduce the requirement of a player having to make a decision. The player must decide what action to take, with the macro or hotkey merely executing this decision.

There are also things that are allowed, but not while the software is open. They can be referenced later:

1. Reference material that provides advice beyond a basic level, such as a large collection of tables offering recommendations beyond whether to play certain hands or not in unopened pots.
2. Tools or services designed specifically to ease referral to reference material.
3. Tools or services that compute advanced equity calculations, such as range vs range simulators, Independent Chip Management or Nash Equilibrium-based programs.

Rasset says it is time to make these policy changes because “….we are constantly looking for ways to better provide a safe and fair environment and to improve the overall experience when a customer chooses to play with us.”

“However,” he adds, “we also need to be able to ensure that we create enforceable and sustainable policies, making sure that players who do follow the rules are not at a disadvantage. The changes we are announcing today follow an extensive period of development to ensure that we can achieve these goals.”


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