Software Update

Publisher of Hold’em Manager HUD Bashes partypoker Over Upcoming Software Changes

The parent company of Hold’em Manager and several other third-party software programs, Max Value Software LLC (MVS), has taken prominent online poker site partypoker to task over a series of prominent client software changes that are set to be rolled out on June 17th. Among the most controversial of the changes is the discontinuation of party’s providing hand histories to players, in an effort to combat the rampant sale and distribution of such hand histories on the black market that has contributed to the long-widening gap between online grinders and newer and more casual players.

Posting on the official Hold’em Manager account on the 4 poker forum, an unnamed MVS exec slags partypoker in a lengthy post attacking the sole weak point in party’s planned software changes, that hand histories in players’ hands have played a prominent role in online poker’s past in helping to out collusion and cheating among other players and, most importantly, the rampant insider cheating by the bosses at now defunct sites UltimateBet and Absolute Poker.

The unsigned post was likely authored by either Derek Charles, Max Value Software’s managing partner, or MVS software partner and president of the Hold’em Manager Division, Jim Varnon. Though Varnon might be more central to Hold’em Manager (HEM) operations, Charles has been outspoken in his opposition to party’s plans in recent weeks. It could have been another MVS boss doing the posting as well, yet there’s no doubt the blistering post, which recommends HEM customers protest to partypoker en masse, represents the company’s views.

The post begins as follows:

After June 17, you should be aware that partypoker players will no longer be able to download hand histories of their results. With the removal of hand histories, partypoker is effectively asking their players to “trust us but do not verify.”

Some players will minimize the implications of no hand histories because they are comfortable relying solely on partypoker internal security. This kind of blind faith is dangerous and ill-advised for at least a couple of reasons, and this post addresses why we believe this is dangerous for poker players and bad for online poker.

Even though poker sites have internal game security, in their own blog partypoker reported that, for April 2019, “39 account closures in the month, 38.5% (15) were directly attributed to reports submitted by partypoker players.”

On multiple occasions, hand histories were used to detect major cheating scandals that involved players being cheated by poker site “insiders”. While this is not an accusation against partypoker, it is the height of being naïve to assume that it could not happen again.

The lack of the most critical tool allowing players to help police game integrity should be a key factor to consider when deciding which online poker sites you support in the future as a player.

Most of MVS’s software programs will see their efficacy vastly reduced on partypoker when the upcoming changes are implemented, and that will almost certainly translate into a reduction of sales and renewals. The company offers a large suite of software add-ons, most of which provide live-time aids to online grinders and allow them to fleece the sheep that much more efficiently, which is exactly the situation that party and many other sites are trying to rein in.

The Hold’em Manager post continues the attack, often (unfortunately) adding many spurious claims to the legit one about the history of hand histories. Consider this, for instance:

… 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.

(A) is largely true in theory, though HEM and other MVS programs are seldom used that way by most players. (B) is largely a sentence of craptastic fear-mongering. Any major site or network that’s regulated by a legit online-poker regulator (notably excepting Curacao), has had its randomized shuffling and card distributions vetted by those same regulators. If you think you’re getting a crooked deal from party or PokerStars or one of the other big boys, you simply shouldn’t be playing online poker.

Here’s another example of MVS playing the white-knight card way too hard:

I don’t use a poker hand database to review my hand histories. Why should I care?

While you may not use a hand history database, the players that do use them are helping to protect every poker player. When a player detects suspicious play or patterns of potential cheating via the analytics in their PokerTracker or Holdem Manager hand history database, they are often detecting cheating rings, chip dumpers, and bots that have cheated 1000’s of players prior to being discovered.

I call bullshit. The players using HEM and other live-assist programs are helping “every poker player” only by accident, and MVS claiming such altruism is a crock of the very deep brown. The vast majority of the HUD-using crowd cares about themselves, in some cases close relatives and friends, and almost never anyone else. They want to get rid of cheaters not only because cheaters negatively impact the bottom lines of all players, but because they want to do all the sheep-shearing themselves. To the rare altruistic soul who might read this, my apologies, but know that you are the rare exception, not the rule.

Now, about those hand histories. It’s the sole legit point in MVS’s argument. Not long after the Hold’em Manager post appeared, none other than Michael Josem, a mod at 4, offered this comment:

Hand histories are fundamental to the trust that players place in online poker sites. Time and time again, hand histories have been essential in protecting players against cheating – cheating by both other players and by the site itself. It is very unsafe to play at an online poker operator that does not allow players to keep their own hand histories.

Josem’s no random. He’s a long-time online player and has also worked on the industry side for several years. Even more importantly, for this debate, is that Josem was the person who deduced the insider cheating last decade at UltimateBet and Absolute Poker, which he statistically proved by analyzing large collections of hand histories. And given that even though partypoker recently launched its own internal anti-collusion and anti-bot team, some players themselves are still discovering cheats on their own.

When partypoker posted about several of their upcoming changes, I Tweeted something like, “It’s about goddamned time someone did this.” In large part, most of the upcoming changes are very good for the overall player ecomony. The best thing of all is party forcing all players on the global dot-com site to change their screen names.

“Won’t that help cheaters?” one might ask. The answer is a qualified yes, but there are still some unknowns in what party will introduce. First, is party finds a way to block hand histories permanently and entirely, then that adds legitimacy to MVS’s claims. However, the better and wiser approach is to find a way to real limit the effectiveness of HUDs and similar software.

For instance, partypoker has yet to declare if the forced alias changes will be a recurring thing. If partypoker does this just once while ridding itself of all hand histories, then it’s not as great a move. A far better solution would be to require players to change their screen names very frequently — perhaps every six weeks or two months — while also allowing players to download hand histories. Bots and other cheaters can be identified very quickly, even if those accounts also change their screen names, so that would solve the issue the Hold’em Manager post describes. Yet the frequent forced change of aliases would also greatly reduce the effectiveness of hand-history databases and disrupt utterly the black-market sale of such hands, which ought to be party’s real goal.

It’s an imperfect situation, which means any solution is also likely to need some tweaks. But less third-party software is far, far better for online poker as a whole, and party’s moves remain a giant step in the right direction.

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