PokerStars Players Upset About Spin & Go Datamining

Back in November, PokerStars unleashed what may have been the controversy of the year when it announced changes to its VIP program that are set to take effect this week. Near the end of the blog post that detailed the changes by Amaya and PokerStars Vice President of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser was a brief discussion of third-party software restrictions planned for 2016. For many in the poker community, those restrictions can’t come soon enough.

In the November blog post, Hollreiser wrote:

People have differing views on where the line around third-party software in poker should be drawn; it’s certainly something that we constantly debate and review. Technology can aid, but it shouldn’t take over.

Today, we want to make clear that the line will be drawn to preserve poker as a battle of wits and a test of heart. This will only have a direct effect on a small proportion of players and builds upon our responsibility to provide a level playing field for all players.

PokerStars Spin & GoHe said that PokerStars had already curtailed datamining in Zoom! Poker games, restricted the use of heads-up displays (HUDs), and inflicted a blow on the use of seating scripts in Spin & Go games. But recently, players have been talking more and more about the ongoing problem of datamining at the Spin & Go tables.

A week and a half ago, poster “1v1” on Two Plus Two filed a public complaint:

EVERY Pokerstars spin and go within 30 seconds has 2 viewers appear and stay for the duration of the match from .50-100$. I want an explanation from management why. There is consistently up to 5 viewers for every 2X game and i have played thousands. I have not had ONE game without a viewer. If security is this poor that this is indeed datamining than this should be shared with shareholders that games offered on there [sic] investment are NOT being properly policed.

As we all well know, plenty of poker fans watch tables at which they are not playing, but that is primarily limited to high-stakes games when poker celebrities are active. Other than those instances, the only other times you might see a railbird or two is if someone has a friend playing, it’s the end of a big tournament, or if someone is on the waiting list for a cash game and wants to check out their upcoming competition.

But the scenario 1v1 laid out does not apply to those situations. In no plausible universe would there be multiple observers of every Spin & Go, down to the lowest stakes games. This isn’t “Fringe.” Clearly, these observers are dataminers, likely automated programs, setup to scrape information from every game.

In an op-ed this past September, I gave my thoughts on datamining in a piece that otherwise defended the HUDs that are fed with the data:

Data mining sites aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves. There is something to be said for having a resource to see information about other players. It can be fun to see the track records of others and compare them to oneself, plus, why not have that information out there (for free or not)? The real detestable sites, though, are the ones who sell detailed hand histories by the thousands and even millions. Without ever having played a single hand against you, an opponent who purchases your hand histories from a data mining site can know your tendencies and betting patterns like you had been his home game buddy for a decade. He didn’t do anything to earn this knowledge. He just paid for it. And while this is fine in other sports, it clearly runs contrary to the spirit of poker. There is no arguing this.

Datamining can also be helpful when it comes to unearthing cheaters, as it did in the UltimateBet and Absolute Poker superuser scandals, but on the whole datamining in online poker is considered bad for the game.

A few days after that Two Plus Two post, PokerStars Sit & Go and Tournament Manager Baard Dahl chimed in, saying:

We are aware that there are sites that collect data from all our games, and we are taking steps to prevent them from doing so. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as flipping a switch, but we have dealt with the issue in the Zoom games, and we expect that we will be able to roll out a solution for the Spin & Gos as well. We are hoping to do so in Q1 of 2016, though it is possible we will have to revise that date.

After the Spin & Go solution is in place, our other games will be covered as quickly as possible.

No reason was given as to why certain games were prioritized over others or why Spin & Go’s hadn’t already been shielded from dataminers, but hopefully, at least as far as most players are concerned, PokerStars’ initiative launches sooner rather than later.

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