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MPN’s Hand History Changes are Unfortunate, Appropriate

As Haley Hintze wrote about the other day in an article titled, “MPN to Further Tighten Data-Collection Activities,” the Microgaming Poker Network (MPN) will be making some changes to the way it processes hand histories beginning sometime in early April. And because I know you are all hungry to know what I think about the decision, I am offering up my two cents on the matter.

To review what is going on, MPN is going to do two new things with cash game hand histories:

1.    Hand histories will only be saved to a players hard drive if that player contributed to the pot (one would assume that blinds count towards contribution, though MPN did not specify as such). Those who do not contribute to the pot – say, fold pre-flop from middle position in a non-ante game – will get a very bare bones account of the hand. This skeleton “hand history” will include just basic information like the player’s balance at the table, hole cards, and a notation that the hand was folded. No other information on other  players’ hands will be recorded.
2.    Anonymous tables will be completely devoid of hand histories. None whatsoever.

Here is what Alex Scott, Head of Product (Network Games) at MPN, had to say about the upcoming changes:

We have a difficult relationship with tracking software. Personally, I think it’s really important for players to be able to track and analyse their own gameplay, and tracking software is an excellent way to improve if used properly. It’s also a great way to be a responsible gambler, because you can’t hide from your results.

But I also think tracking software has changed the game in a way that makes it less fun. It allows you to gather huge amounts of data on your opponents, without requiring any significant attention or observation on your part. It allows you to exploit the weakest opponents exclusively, if you wish.

We have wanted to limit the ability of tracking software to gather data on opposing players for a long time, and it’s why we introduced features like Anonymous Tables and regular Alias Changes.

I believe these changes are a good idea.

Let me first say that I have no problem with hand tracking software like PokerTracker. When I played a lot, I used it to help me keep records of my play for tax purposes and to use to analyze my play later. I did use a HUD at times to try to get a bead on opponents for whom I had records (I never bought hand histories or anything like that), but at my level and seriousness of play, most of that information was not all that useful, so I eventually ditched the HUD.

I have written about this sort of thing before – I reject the notion of poker luddites who argue that since hand tracking software can’t be used in live poker, it shouldn’t be allowed in online poker. Whatever. Online poker is poker, but it still a different game than live poker. There are certain tools that make sense to allow; hand tracking software is one such tool. I am allowed to take notes on my play at a live table and I am allowed to take notes about my opponents, as well. Hand tracking software gives me the ability to do that online automatically, giving me the chance to concentrate more on the game.

That all said, I fully understand and support MPN’s decision here. As Alex Scott said, excessive use of HUDs makes the game less fun, as players lean more on cold numbers to make their decisions than making reads and clever plays. Not that I have any problem with diving into statistics and probabilities to improve one’s play, but Scott does have a point that it makes it less fun.

That’s not important, though. The important part is that as the years have gone on, “sharks,” the pros and serious amateurs who are the heaviest players, have begun to prey on recreational players more and more using HUDS, which use hand histories as their source of data. The problem is not so much that players have statistical information about their opponents at their fingertips (though acquiring the hand histories that provide that information from data mining sites is not cool), it is that they then use other software tools, like seating scripts, to stalk weaker players.

If you are a good player, you are naturally going to win money from a weak player in the long run. But it does not make for a healthy poker environment for players to use an automated script to find weak players amongst the tables and worm their way into a seat at the table. Those people aren’t really even there to play, as usually when their target leaves, they leave, as well. Though recreational players are often not the strongest, they generally aren’t stupid and can tell when they are being preyed upon. This makes them not enjoy their time at the tables and, in turn, remove their money from the poker economy.

No, serious players won’t like this. They will not be able to gather as much intel on their opponents as they used to. They will still have enough info to analyze their own play, though, and hopefully just logging onto a poker room to play poker will be enough. It’s unfortunate that it has to come to this, but I believe the benefits of the changes will outweigh the costs for MPN.

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