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PokerStars Considers Tightening Third-Party Software Rules

Online poker market leader PokerStars has confirmed that they are “strongly considering” a general tightening of rules regarding the capability of third-party software programs.

The issue has risen in prominence in recent weeks following last month’s revelation of a private third-party program being employed on PokerStars’ HUSNG tables.  That program, essentially a massive compilation of pre-flop strategy charts, was initially approved in general form by PokerStars.  However, upon deeper evaluation, the program’s usage was combined with an independent randomizing element to introduce bluffs and variable bets, essentially automating all pre-flop play for its users.

pokerstars-spade-logoThough not technically a true poker “bot” in the traditional sense, the software combination was judged by the general poker community to have crossed lines regarding automated play, and drew widespread protests.

PokerStars quickly announced that it was reevaluating both the specific software and its own rules regarding such third-party programs.  Those rules are generally designed to allow passive strategic aids, but not live-time advice.  PokerStars left unspoken one truth about the usage of such software: it’s employed most heavily by the site’s highest-volume players.  In fact, without such software, massive multi-table play wouldn’t even be possible, and the rake generated by Stars — or most other sites and networks, where such software is allowed — would suffer a sizable percentage decrease.

PokerStars’ Poker Room Manager, Steve Day, announced the probable direction that Stars will take in reigning in some of the software in a message posted to various poker forums.  Wrote Day, “As evidenced by recent forum discussion, the topic of third-party software in online poker is a highly complex and contentious issue. As new software is developed, we must keep our rules enforcement up to date and also consider when rules need to be changed.

“A developer recently shared new software with us for evaluation and we informed him that the software was allowable. The decision was based around the premise that static reference material that does not change depending on action in the hand, or any other variable, is permitted. This rule was initially designed some years ago so that Nash charts and other similar documents would be permitted to be referenced while playing.

The software we reviewed allows quick and precise reference to a very large number of static charts that cover most or all preflop situations. While within our current rules, this software goes beyond the level of assistance we want to see software providing players in our online poker room.”

Added Day, “As a result, we are strongly considering changing our current policies… .”

The change that Day intimated would soon be enact would be to add a section to Stars’ Terms of Service regarding prohibited software programs, attempting to eliminate all programs offering more than “basic” advice.  The added section will likely read as follows, regarding the soon-to-be-banned software category:

Any tool or reference material that offers commentary or advice that goes beyond a basic level, such as stack-size-based starting hand tables, decision trees or heads-up displays that dynamically change based on player action or card values.

Day also listed a number of programs that would likely be judged as non-permitted should the suggested change go into effect.  Among those:

  • SessionLord’s Preflop Chart
  • Holy Grail of Poker
  • Poker Academy
  • HEM2’s LeakBuster
  • FlopZilla
  • Odds Oracle
  • PokerStove
  • NoteCaddy; Day offered the following qualifier — “[the program] as is would require changes. It is permissible for HUDs to filter / drill down via street, but not by action facing or hole card / communicate card values.”
  • PT4’s Leak Tracker [PT4 is PokerTracker 4, perhaps the most popular third-party software aid on the market, and Leak Tracker is an optional utility within it.]

Noted Day, “This is by no means a complete list, but a starting point to demonstrate what consequences the proposed changes would be.”  Day also announced that no implementation of the proposed new rule would be made for at least 10 days, to allow the online poker community in general the chance to sound off on the new proposal.  Dozens of third-party software programs are already forbidden by PokerStars, and it is expected that most (if not all) of the makers of the above programs and others are expected to lobby hard against the new rules.

Nonetheless, Stars’ update on the situation shows that they recognize the need to keep a reasonable balance between inexperienced players and veteran, multi-tabling grinders.  Reigning in the increasingly prevalent software abuses, even if in a limited form, represents a step in the right direction.

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