PokerTableRatings Goes on a PokerStars Fishing Expedition

Remember back in 2012, when PokerStars filed a cease-and-desist against datamining site PokerTableRatings over the unauthorized extraction of player performance data from PokerStars’ servers?  That scuffle, which followed years of tension between the two companies, resulted in PTR agreeing to stop scraping and selling data for which it had no legal right.

Except now, if a recent story from a small affiliate site is to be believed, PTR plans to — or as already started — to resume the selling of scraped hand histories in direct violation of the cease-and-desist.

checkout_pokerstarsThe resumed battle first reappeared courtesy of a short piece published about three weeks ago at a small site called UnitedStatesOfPoker, which the site’s owner, Bob Garcia, then reposted a week later through one of those freebie press release services, EINPressWire.  That’s unusual enough; normally one doesn’t submit a published story to a freebie PR service because it’s not great for SEO — not to mention being a bit tacky in journalistic terms.

However, that was only #2 on the oddity scale.  The story gives every indication of being a planted piece by PokerTableRatings, despite the fact that it carries Bob Garcia’s byline.  Here’s the meat of the piece, which contrary to our normal practice of using only excerpts from other sites, must here for various reasons be preserved in its entirety:

Online poker data mining website, PokerTableRatings.com (PTR) is once again tracking player statistics from PokerStars. PTR, now under new ownership, hasn’t actively tracked player stats from PokerStars since April of 2012.

“Back by popular demand we are now actively tracking the statistics of players from the biggest online poker website in the world,” commented a PTR spokesperson. “PokerStars has the lion’s share of active online poker players so we’re happy to be able to provide this service for the poker community once again.”

Players who use PTR have access to a variety of tools such as Player Search, Buddy List, and Table Finder. They may also incorporate their knowledge of key statistics provided by PTR such as ‘Voluntarily Put Money Into Pot’ and ‘Fold to 3-Bet’ to exploit their opponents tendencies and create an overall edge.

Anyone can view their opponents overall win/loss statistics and utilize this information to sit in more profitable games. The online poker stats site also sells hand histories from which players can analyze past play of their opponents.

The reason for PTR’s change of stance on tracking PokerStars remains unclear but many are speculating that it could be due to the recent change of ownership of PokerStars. In June of last year, shareholders of PokerStars parent Oldfort Group Ltd. agreed to sell their holdings to Amaya Gaming Group Inc. for $4.9 billion.

Since Amaya’s acquisition of PokerStars, the site has undergone a variety of changes which have proven unpopular with their regular player clientele. Cuts have been made to the player bonus rates and VIP programs, and currency exchanges are now being charged a fee.

PTR tracking adds transparency to these changes so players can more easily see how they are impacted. Additionally, PTR’s data has been instrumental in uncovering cheating scandals, most notably the infamous StoxTrader collusion team who used multiple PokerStars accounts to cheat other players.

PTR offers a 20 search free trial and a variety of plans that begin at $9.99 per month, and hand history packages beginning at less than $10.

For more information about PokerTableRatings, please visit PokerTableRatings.com.

Wow.  That’s about as blatant as advertorials get.  Whether or not PTR’s “change of stance on tracking PokerStars [and Stars’ sister company, Full Tilt] remains unclear” or whether recent Stars changes have “proven unpopular with their regular player clientele” is irrelevant: It’s Stars’ and Full Tilt’s data, and PTR doesn’t have a right to it.

The above presser is chock-full of red herrings, a regular breeding run of the little finners, and it all seems designed to re-test the resolve of Stars’s parent company Amaya after the sale of Stars and Tilt from the Scheinberg family to Canada-based Amaya Gaming last year.

Let’s get it straight.  Datascraping and datamining sites operate and have always operated in direct violation of online poker sites’ EULAs (End User License Agreements).  The data itself is only available in bulk by scraping the host servers, which are only accessible via the many copies of user clients, which are in tern not directly accessible to the web without those user clients or similar linking programs.

This makes the bulk data proprietary.  In this specific case it’s owned by Amaya, and not by anyone who chooses to scrape it and resell it.  Most sites allow a few operations to do a limited form of scraping for the sake of industry transparency, such as the traffic reports assembled by PokerScout.  However, some sites do not allow PokerScout access to even generalized player counts.  Bodog/Bovada is a notable example of the latter.

Even HUDs and their manufacturers have to receive tacit approval from the sites they work in conjunction with, and sites tend to allow HUDS -only- because they allow the HUDs’ users to thus play more tables, and generate more rake in the process.  Yet while it’s possible to import third-party, non-played hands into a HUD, most major sites have rules against it.

Sites such as PTR or SharkScope, in this writer’s opinion a similar example, don’t even that veneer of legitimacy.  Their reasons for existing are primarily to offer new information on opponents that a given online player would not previously know much about.  That’s not only a violation of most sites’ TOCs, it’s also a violation of the spirit of poker.

In this case, the old-fashioned stance also has support of the rule of law.  PTR doesn’t have any right to sell Stars and Full Tilt hands or provide results if Amaya doesn’t want it done.  And the 2012 cease-and-desist order is still in effect.

Stars (and Amaya) was already aware of the resumption of scraping by PTR as of the time your FlushDraw editor noticed the topic.  PokerStars Head of Public Relations, Michael Josem, Tweeted about PTR’s presumptive violation of the cease-and-desist yesterday, referring to a piece published by PokerUpdate.

Josem also issued a statement to FlushDraw, regarding the situation: “PokerStars stands by the ‘cease and desist’ letters that we have previously served on Poker Table Ratings and plan to continue to protect our rights.”

That’s pretty blunt, and Josem himself has contributed a lot more to the poker world’s outing of colluding players than PTR’s self-congratulatory piece on the StoxTrader cheating.  It was Josem, however, in his pre-Stars days, who assembled stats and graphs visually showing the extent of cheating done by Russ Hamilton’s “NioNio” account at UltimateBet.

Josem’s work was a critical element in the long process that led to the theft of $25 million or so by UB insiders to be uncovered.  The point being, blatant cheating can be discovered legitimately, by players themselves pooling suspect hand histories that were obtained legitimately.  The StoxTrader example served up by PTR is just a self-serving defense of a EULA-breaking practice, being done for profit.

Has PTR already started to sell hand histories scraped from PokerStars and Full Tilt?  The answer appears to be yes.  This page at PTR (www.pokertableratings.com/hands?adgroup=hhlanding&ad=2&sid=6) appears to be selling hands scraped from both of the sites.  Its illegitimate nature is magnified by the fact that PTR is choosing not to use official logos of Stars or FTP when offering the bulk hand histories, in marked contrast to the other sites listed.

Here’s a screen grab:



At lower left, it says “Stars Hands,” meaning that the weird heart-shape thingy is indeed supposed to represent PokerStars; the logo is indeed named “checkout_pokerstars.png” as well. Similar language can be found on the “FTP” page.

So what comes next? Expect a resumption of legal efforts by Amaya against the new owner of PokerTableRatings, who claims to be operating from Pompano Beach, Fl, in the US, likely within weeks.


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