Pocket Aces

The Death of Seating Scripts a/k/a PokerStars Expands Script Ban

One of the topics we’ve wanted to explore in greater detail are the continuing changes to the playing environment at PokerStars, the globe’s largest online-poker site. The latest development of note is that, effective April 11, PokerStars has announced a formal ban not only on seating scripts that performed bumhunting functions, but of all seating scripts of any flavor.

Such scripts, software add-ons offered by third parties that run on top of PokerStars’ proprietary software client, were theoretically created just to assist high-volume players with the humdrum chore of finding available seats among Stars’s thousands of available tables. That objective was quickly twisted for profit, with a small seating-script industry changing such scripts’ focus to more of a bumhunting role, where the scripts’ speed and processing power was used to find the likely-most-profitable seats available at Stars’ tables, rather than just available ones.

PokerStarsSuch an automated skewing or priorities made for a virtual chokehold on Stars’ cash-game lobby by the scripts, as players manually searching for seats could almost never outrace the automated scripts for prime seats. And, after years of considering ways to address the huge problem, Stars announced a partial ban on scripts earlier this year, prohibiting any script that performed any sort of player profiling (searching for the fish) as part of its automated search.

The seating-script pocket industry is by its very nature a believer in the letter of the law, rather than the spirit, and even before the initial script ban wen into effect on March 1st, its developers were creating workarounds. Among them were new protocols designed to grab seats at tables only partly filled, or at tables where seats were filling rapidly. The end result at PokerStars’ cash-game tables was that there was little real change: real players looking for seats could click on an empty-appearing seat with several blank spots, then find all “available” seats marked with the big “R” for reserved. Worse, the manual-seating player could be forced to do the same thing, time and time again, with no guarantee of actually getting the supposedly available seat.

After a few weeks of this, and after a new round of complaints from its non-script-using players, PokerStars said enough. On April 11, “Scott S”, a member of the Stars Group Game Integrity Team, posted the following on an Stars thread discussing the ongoing script problems on a prominent poker forum:

Due to ring game seating scripts inherently causing this “table blocking”, we are making changes starting from today to prohibit players using these seating scripts. This change is effective immediately. It will take several days to update information on our webpages.

We thank the players who have raised their concerns with us on this issue.

Of some interest is that PokerStars has not posted a formal update about the expanded ban on its official blog, unlike earlier this year, when Stars posted a lengthy piece on that blog about the pending crackdown against scripts. It’s also going to be interesting to see how Stars goes about disabling the scripts and the player accounts using them; the site has never been (and never will be) open about the technology it uses to sniff out the use of such third-party software. Further, a handful of script makers, who now find their grey-market likelihoods to be impacted, have suggested that many such software developers will continue their efforts but keep their warez more underground, defying PokerStars’ attempts to police the tools’ use.

It’ll be interesting to see which side triumphs if such an underground software war breaks out, but don’t be surprised if word leaks out about a handful of large account seizures, sometime down the road.

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