I tried to summarize the situation, including what I could remember of Full Tilt Poker’s “Site Terms” that might have been relevant here. I said I knew there was a rule against collusion, and those who do collude risk forfeiting their balance. I knew there was also something in there about using certain programs -- called “external player assistance programs” (I see now, looking at the site) -- “which are designed to provide users with an unfair advantage over their opponents.” That rule goes on to say that “Full Tilt Poker defines an unfair advantage as a user accessing or compiling information on other players beyond that which the user has personally observed through his or her own game play.”
As I explained it to Vera, some of the buzz made it sound as though it were possible that Hastings may have had some knowledge of hands played by some of his friends against Isildur1. That is, perhaps some of what they call “datamining” had happened whereby Hastings learned some things about his opponent he might not have been able to learn without assistance from another.
Hastings didn’t really say much along those lines in his 12/9/09 blog post about the session. He does mention there fellow CardRunners pro Brian Townsend’s losing session earlier in the day versus Isildur1, but doesn’t say anything about having had any inside dope regarding Townsend’s hands.
Shortly after his big day, Hastings was interviewed on a couple of podcasts, including ESPN’s The Poker Edge with Andrew Feldman and Phil Gordon (the 12/10/09 episode). At about the 10-minute mark, Gordon asks Hastings specifically about how he and his buddies had gone about analyzing Isildur1’s play, and Hastings responds by saying they had done quite a bit of study of the unknown Swede’s habits. Hastings notes in particular that Townsend had “analyzed a database of, like, 50,000 heads-up hands that Isildur1 played and constructed ranges of what Isildur1 was doing in all kinds of spots,” adding that “the three of us discussed a ton of hands and the reports that Brian made.” Hastings also appeared on Mediocre Poker Radio (the 12/11/09 episode) where he again makes reference to having watching Townsend playing that session and getting in the mood to play Isildur1 after Townsend finished.
Then, on 12/14/09, Gary Wise posted an article over on the ESPN Poker Club which made a few points about Hastings’ big win, including placing an emphasis on “the strength of the collective” -- i.e., pointing out how beneficial it can be to have fellow poker players to talk to about one’s game. Wise noted how “he, Townsend and Cole South conglomerated their hand histories, allowing them to study the mystery man's playing style,” and included that quote from the Poker Edge interview as well as support.
A couple of days after Wise’s article appeared, a thread started up over on Two Plus Two that raised the question of whether or not Hastings et al. may have violated Full Tilt Poker’s “Site Terms.” On Saturday, 12/19/09, a representative of Full Tilt Poker (“FTPSean”) came onto the thread to say that “After doing an investigation and speaking with Brian Hastings, Brian Townsend, and Cole South, the Fraud and Security team have come to the conclusion that the statement taken from the ESPN article describing the three combining their hands into a shared database was inaccurate.”
However (FTPSean goes on to say), the investigation did reveal that Townsend -- a Full Tilt red pro, by the way -- was guilty of a breach of FTP rules regarding datamining, and that the punishment for Townsend would be the loss of his Red Pro status for one month. (Townsend writes about the matter on his CardRunners blog here.) (Incidentally, Cole South came onto the Two Plus Two thread later as well to deny any wrongdoing on his part.)
I told Vera the whole thing seemed to highlight the fact that the online poker sites have certain rules that seemingly cannot be enforced. Indeed, in FTPSean’s note on Two Plus Two he begins by saying “There is absolutely nothing wrong with discussing hands, discussing opponents, or discussing strategy with other players while away from the table,” but then notes how the sort of datamining of which Townsend was found guilty is out of bounds.
Clearly there is some distinction there regarding the degree to which one takes one’s discussions of strategy while away from the tables. Less clear is how exactly one makes that distinction -- and, importantly, how an online site can effectively regulate against it.
I tried to draw an analogy with downloading music files from the web -- clearly not legal, but “everyone does it.” Vera quickly stopped me. “Not everyone does it,” she said. True. “And downloading music files can always be tracked,” she added, noting a clear difference between the sort of rule-breaking that we were talking about with regard to sharing hand histories/compiling databases and my proposed parallel.
Definitely seems on the surface to be a bit unfair to the individual who finds himself up against “the strength of the collective.” But, really, anyone who plays online poker potentially subjects him/herself to such a disadvantage, dontcha think?
Wonder what Isildur1 thinks about all of this? Sounds like we might find out, as apparently Matthew Parvis of PokerNews has scored an interview with the Swede. I imagine we’ll be seeing that appear sometime today.
Will definitely be interesting to see what else those continuing to dig deeper into this story manage to uncover.
(EDIT [10:55 a.m.]: Parvis’s blog post about the still-to-come interview.)
(EDIT [11:25 a.m.]: The PokerNews interview is now online, in which Isildur1 says he plans to make a formal complaint to Full Tilt Poker regarding the session with Hastings.)