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PokerStars to Expand List of Prohibited Third-Party Software

The use of third-party software in online poker has long been a subject of hot debate. Conversations were initially limited to things like poker analysis software and heads-up displays, but as more software has been developed, so have the arguments. In June, the topic took center stage in the poker community as PokerStars Poker Room Manager Steve Day posted a message on Two Plus Two to explain that the world’s largest online poker room was considering a change in its third-party software policy to add additional restrictions. This week, Day confirmed that some of those changes will be made, hinting at more to come.

The latest third-party software controversy stems from a piece of software developed by a player named “skier_5.” The exact workings of the software are a bit of a mysterious, as it has not been publicly distributed but rather given to a select group of players. According to reports, it appears that the software amounts to a collection of pre-flop situations for Heads-Up Sit-and-Go’s combined with the proper decisions to make in those situations. The software may take it further by at least partially automating the decision-making process, giving players a limited number of action choices to make while advising them on the correct one.

It seems to be very effective, too. Two players who allegedly use the software produced incredible results in Heads-Up Sit-and-Go’s and, according to the records analysis of those they played against, had almost identical decision-making statistics.

PokerStars did approve the software after it was presented for review by its creator, but Day admitted, “The software we reviewed allows quick and precise reference to a very large number of static charts that cover most or all preflop situations. While within our current rules, this software goes beyond the level of assistance we want to see software providing players in our online poker room.”

Thus, an addition to the third-party software rules was being considered:

Any tool or reference material that offers commentary or advice that goes beyond a basic level, such as stack-size-based starting hand tables, decision trees or heads-up displays that dynamically change based on player action or card values.

On Monday, Day announced that the decision has been made to alter the third-party software rules to include more restrictions. “We still have some decisions to make regarding final wording and also to make sure we are comfortable with our detection and enforcement capability,” Day noted. “In the meantime we will be in touch with some software developers regarding their existing applications to clarify which features might violate the upcoming rules so that they will have time to make the appropriate changes.”

He said that effective immediately, skier_5’s software is banned from use while the PokerStars client software is open.

Day explained the decision further:

In the past we had always allowed charts to be used for reference during play. A primary reason was that a player could simply print out a chart and we would not be able to detect it. Another was that the charts in use were limited in their impact on the game. Detailed charts that were complex enough to provide advice useful enough to be competitive against capable players were very limited in the breadth of situations covered, such as push-fold nash charts for HU play. Any charts covering the game more comprehensively, such as hand grouping charts with basic strategy, were not complex enough to cause an issue for game integrity.

This new software framework could be used to replicate the utility of a complex bot in a chart format. It has greatly advanced the efficiency of chart retrieval and presentation to the point where we must take action. While there will be challenges with enforcement, we believe the cost of leaving this software allowable is too high.

Day added that more restrictions are to come, but PokerStars does not want to just implement a blanket ban yet. Instead, the company is taking a measured approach to the third-party software restrictions, eliminating software gradually while “ensuring that our internal detection and enforcement capabilities are able to keep up with the rules and that the community has adequate time to adjust.”

While Day was not able to go into further detail about exactly what software would end up in the ban, it does not sound like it all third-party software will get the axe. The announcement has been generally well-received, though not everybody is onboard. While skeptics usually agree that there needs to be a limit put on allowable software so as not to allow players to just have a computer program play poker for them, some fear that expanding the prohibited list will put honest players at a disadvantage, as cheaters will continue to find ways to use the software, profiting off those who do not.


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