Player-Aid Software Disrupts PokerStars HUSNG Community
The ongoing battle regarding the proper role of computerized processing power assisting players in online poker has again roared to the surface, this time courtesy of a private program written and used by select players in PokerStars’ large but eclectic heads-up sit-n-go (HUSNG) community. At issue is whether the program being used violates PokerStars’ published terms of service (TOS) for playing on the site, or whether the Stars TOS should be amended to further restrict certain forms of software aids.
The private, unnamed program was written by “skier_5,” a member of one the turbo HUSNG “cartels.” Those cartels are themselves controversial large groups of semi-organized players, who have essentially taken control of the high- and mid-level turbo HUSNGs at PokerStars, though that’s a separate tale. HUSNG is a specialized form of poker with a comparatively limited range of strategies, meaning it has been historically susceptible to abuse from third-party programmers who have created various forms of strategy aids. Some of those aids have been deemed to be acceptable by PokerStars; others, applicable to HUSNG as well as to other poker forms, have been banned from use on the site.
Exactly what skier_5’s program does and the private manner in which the program has been provided to a couple of other HUSNG players are part of the controversy. Other HUSNG players noted that in recent months, skier_5 and at least two other players, “allingirl777” and “freechdogg,” made rapid and profitable climbs through the HUSNG games at Stars, all while posting remarkably similar stats regarding the betting actions they took, over thousands of hands.
Ryan “ChicagoRy” Pachmayer, the owner and operator of HUSNG.com (which coincidentally offers other software to the specialized HUSNG community) wrote a piece this week in which he checked into rumors that that allingirl777 and freechdogg were using skier_5’s software in exchange for the share of the profits. The lack of transparency about what the program does and its lack of public availability also angered many players.
Speculation about the program on several major poker discussion forums centers on it veering dangerously close to “bot” territory. One popular theory, based on the virtually identical statistics posted by skier_5 and the others, is that the program assembles a massive table of hand possibilities, adds a randomizing element to allow for bluffs, and then “recommends” an appropriate action to its user, who clicks the button deciding what to do in each hand.
All strategy programs — and even manually-printed strategy tables found online or in printed books — offer such passive advice to varying degrees. What’s unknown is if the skier_5 program may also have a way of incorporating results of hands from opposing players, or to possibly scrape hand data (in real time) from the hands as they are played by the program user’s opponents.
Two other elements add spice to the controversy. One is that PokerStars at some point did a review of the skier_5 program, and deemed it not to be in violation of the Stars TOS — according to the exact wording of that TOS as it is currently written. This does not mean, however, that Stars can’t change its TOS to bar programs that may be combining forms of legal computerized-aid activity in ways that might collectively push a composite program into “unfair advantage” territory.
PokerStars Ring Game Manager Baard Dahl alluded to as much in a brief posting to a related thread at the 2+2 forums, suggesting that the evaluation of the skier_5 program was still ongoing, and that PokerStars may need to adjust its own rules. Wrote Dahl:
Just wanted to let you know that we [PokerStars] are aware of this thread and that we are reading it.
It is also true that we did a review of the tools in question and that they were not deemed to violate our rules as they currently stand.
We are currently having an internal discussion on whether or not our rules need to be updated.
Those rules are contained in a brief section of the Stars TOC, which clarifies certain types of third-party software aids and player practices that are forbidden. According to the Stars TOC:
The following types of tools and services are prohibited:
-Any tool or service that shares hole card data with other players or servicesis colluding, and is prohibited.
-Any tool or service that works off of a central database of player profiles or hands played is prohibited.
-Any tool or service that plays without human intervention (a ‘bot’) or reduces the requirement of a human playing. For instance, an ‘auto-folder’ is prohibited.
-The practice of datamining (observing games without playing in order to build up a database of hand histories for future reference) is prohibited.
-Any tool or service that offers dynamic, real-time commentary or advice on the current game state that goes beyond reporting data and statistics.
The skier_5 program may run afoul of the third and fifth points in the above, but since the program is private and Stars already signed off on its preliminary use, it would seem that it isn’t a clear-cut case of violating software. It’s even possibility that the skier_5 program evades the claim of offering “advice” by presenting a menu of choices as each game situation occurs, with probabilities attached to each. It could also contain a counter of sorts indicating optimal bluffing frequencies and the number of times since a similar bluff was taken by the user, without actually “recommending” a bluff. In such a way a program could adhere to the letter of the the Stars TOC while still violating its spirit.
As for the program’s creator, UK-based skier_5, his responses have been somewhat cryptic. Skier_5 accused HUSNG.com’s Pachmeyer of hypocrisy in publishing his attack on the skier_5 program while continuing to market different software aids to the same specialized HUSNG community; that community is overrun by computer programmers who emphasize coding over the playing of actual poker and has several problems, to say the least.
As to his own software, however, skier_5 says little, only “There is no automated decision software.” That may be true, but it also may be a fine parsing of language, if the program is recommending or highlighting certain actions and allowing the user to quickly make the decision by acting on those recommendations.
HUSNG in general remains a volatile poker variant, one in its online version which seems to run into a brick wall… or devour itself midway through the charge. As a game catering to excessively high-volume players, it’s understandable that Stars would cautiously consider any moves which would represent a reining-in of HUSNG players’ software exploits and excesses. Yet that day seems inevitable, and PokerStars, as the industry leader, can only avoid dealing with the problem of third-party software for so long.