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Are Software Aids a Detriment to Online Poker?

Earlier this month, I wrote about PokerStars’ attempts at curbing the use of seating scripts at its online poker tables. Most agree that they are a problem, but as tends to happen when these sorts of discussions start, debates started in the poker community about players’ use of software to aid in their poker play. These arguments are nothing new; they have been going on for almost as long as online poker has existed. I thought now would be as good a time as any to relay a few thoughts I have on the matter, as if my opinion counts for anything.

People who are in favor of blanket bans on poker hand tracking software such as PokerTracker usually come back to two main points: 1) it gives better, deeper pocketed players an advantage over novices, and 2) “real” poker isn’t meant to be played this way.

I regards to the former, it just seems like a silly statement to make. Better players will always have an advantage because, well, they are better. Yes, stronger players generally are better at using poker tracking software, but that is really because just as they put the time and effort in to improve their skills at poker, they also take the time to learn how to properly use such software. Someone who is not as concerned about their specific opponents, win rates, and obsessing over every little leak in their game will naturally not be willing to dive deep into software that could help them. There is nothing wrong with that. I don’t care to record my video gaming sessions to study them later or to read tons of strategy sites because it doesn’t matter to me if I become a top player. If someone chooses not to use poker tracking software to their benefit, more power to them.

As to the rich getting richer, these software packages do not cost all that much. The cheapest PokerTracker package is $60, which is pretty reasonable. The pricier packages don’t offer a ton more benefit and would appeal to more serious players. For the vast majority of people playing online poker, these tools should not be cost prohibitive. They are not solely the domain of the elite. poker-tracker-logo

As to the point about poker software not being used in “real” poker or harming the “purity of the game,” I just call bullshit. Online poker is not the same thing as live poker. They are both poker, of course, but they are by nature different games. It only makes sense that there are tools available in the online game that differ from the live game. And is the concept of tracking hands and opponents really all that novel? People do it all the time live – Greg Raymer and Bernard Lee are famous for the detailed notes they take at the table. Poker software just does it automatically in a fast-paced game. Making excuses about “real poker” is just lazy. Use the tools that are available to you.

But hey, we could easily make online poker just like “real” poker. We’ll just let players stare each other down for twenty seconds per decision, slash the hands per hour by two-thirds, develop a random number generator for dealer mistakes, and import the bodily fluids on the local casino’s chips straight to our desktops. We need that genuine poker experience.

Now, all this does not mean that I am in favor of every kind of software aid. Seating scripts, as discussed in the earlier article, are particularly nasty. They make games virtually unplayable at times by artificially clogging the tables with people who aren’t even necessarily going to play. And while we all want to play against poor players, they specifically, automatically hunt them down without any concern about the emotional effect that has on the targeted player. While we shouldn’t necessarily care about hurting opponents’ feelings by simply beating them in a game, we should care about needlessly scaring away players. I am not against software that can help the players that know how to use it, but seating scripts greatly damage the health of the games – they need to go.

In general, beyond anything that simply allows someone to cheat, anything that automates actions should be banned from online poker rooms. Fortunately most of those types of software aids are already on the black list. Using a tool that helps you make a decision, gives you information on an opponent, find the best games, etc., is totally fine by me. But you still need take your own seat and play poker yourself.

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