Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Keeping Track of Those Keeping Track

Big Brother is Watching YouEver get the feeling you’re being watched? Used to be just the paranoid few who were afflicted by this malady. But hey, it’s 2010. We may not have hover cars, but we do have Google Earth. And a ton of other ways to leave our footprints -- actual, virtual, etc. -- thus helping others track our every move.

There’s been a lot of talk lately in online poker about the various tools available with which one can track one’s opponents. The big blow-up regarding that Brian Hastings-Isildur1 session from 12/8/09 -- the one in which Hastings took around $4.2 million off the mystery man in less than 3,000 hands of $500/$1,000 heads-up pot-limit Omaha -- had to do with Hastings’ having perhaps benefited from some “data mining” of Isildur1 performed by his CardRunners buddy Brian Townsend (see “Digging for Gold (Mining Isildur1)” for more.)

In a subsequent interview with PokerNews, Isildur1 made known his intention to make a “formal complaint” to the site, Full Tilt Poker, perhaps in an effort to recover his losses, although Tony G’s recent blog post in which he states he might stake Isildur1 seems to suggest the player probably won’t be pursuing the matter. (Tony G also implies there Isildur1 is not, in fact, Viktor Blom.)

If such a grievance were to be pursued, it would be because of the apparent violation of Full Tilt Poker’s “Site Terms” that might have occurred when Townsend shared his findings regarding Isildur1 with Hastings. Such an action perhaps fell under the site’s definition of “an unfair advantage,” namely, “a user accessing or compiling information on other players beyond that which the user has personally observed through his or her own game play.”

Anyhow, it was from following some of the articles and forum threads regarding that incident that I recently became reacquainted with the website Poker Table Ratings. You ever visit this sucker? Wild stuff.

I remember I’d actually visited PTR at least once previously -- for example, to watch a replay of that limit hold’em hand on UltimateBet between Phil Hellmuth and DOUBLEBALLER ($400/$800 stakes) in which Hellmuth was strangely shipped the pot despite having the worst hand. The site had gone online back in the spring of 2008, I believe, but I hadn’t really paid much attention to what exactly it offered. Like I say, the recent debates over Hastings and Isildur1 recently led me back to the site in order to explore it more fully.

I started out doing what I imagine most who visit PTR do when they first open the site -- I looked up myself. Although PTR prevents full access without having signed up for a free account, one can poke around some without registering. Checked out what they had for me from the two sites where I’ve played just about all of my hands here of late, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

Whoa. Looks like just about everything.

I think I'm being watchedAccording to the site’s FAQs, they’ve only been tracking PLO since October 2009, meaning they’d only had the last three months or so of my play in their database, since that’s been my only game. I have Poker Tracker and so I have my own, fairly thorough record of what I’ve been doing over the last three months against which to match what PTR was saying.

The site correctly shows how I’ve been doing okay at Stars, but not so well at Full Tilt Poker (particularly lately). Some of the FTP losses were mitigated by that bonus I’d been working off over the last month, but that isn’t reflected in the stats. In addition to wins/losses, you can check my relative looseness/aggressiveness, my showdown frequency/winrate, and look at specific hands with my biggest pots won or lost. You can even replay some of my recent sessions in their entirety.

Ooh, whether I’m winning or losing, can’t say I like that too much.

There’s also a way to see my top ten “enemies” and “friends” -- that is, the players against whom I’ve won the most and lost the most since October. Checking PTR’s figures against what I have in Poker, it looks like their list is pretty close to mine. The amounts aren’t exactly the same, and there are a couple of guys in my records that don’t show up in theirs, but on the whole the lists match up pretty closely.

PTR goes so far as to offer to sell you hand histories, too. For example, if I wanted to, I could buy 5 million hands of PLO played on PokerStars, 0.10/0.25 blinds, 3-6 players for $204.75. Pretty sure doing so would mean gaining “an unfair advantage,” wouldn’t you say?

I emailed PTR to ask about blocking my own stats from searches, and they sent a quick reply letting me know “that feature is not available at this time,” although my request “has been sent to our development team as a possible future enhancement.”


I also rechecked Full Tilt Poker’s list of prohibited programs and, yes, Poker Table Ratings is one of the ones “Not Permitted During Play.” Then I looked over at PokerStars’ list of “Third Party Tools and Services FAQ” and noticed how they, too, prohibit users from using Poker Table Ratings -- not just during play, but at all times.

Stars actually lists over 50 programs and sites as being out of bounds. The penalty? Well, Stars says if they discover you’re using any of the programs or tools you’ll get a warning. Then, if they find out again, they’ll block Stars from running on your computer. Full Tilt appears to be a little less specific about penalties, but they of course reserve the right to judge each case as they see fit, and “Full Tilt Poker management decisions are final in all matters.”

So I don’t think I’ll be fooling around with Poker Table Ratings anymore, though I imagine some of my opponents will.

Gambling Tales PodcastWas listening yesterday to the latest episode of the Gambling Tales Podcast (1/2/10) in which Special K and Falstaff finished their interview with Lee Jones, the new poker room manager over at Cake Poker. I haven’t got an account at Cake, but I have to say I’m newly intrigued to get one thanks to the way the site allows one to change one’s Player ID every seven days.

Looks like if you take notes on a player at Cake, those notes remain regardless of the ID change. Still, the feature appears a way to ensure sites like PTR can’t track folks. Not yet, anyway.

What else could sites do to stop the rampant data mining? Seems to me like it wouldn’t be that difficult for sites simply to allow players to “turn off” their names if they wanted to -- that even to have a name could be a choice each user makes much like the choice of avatar or photo. You’d appear at the table as “Seat 1” and appear in hand histories as such, too. Would make it marginally more difficult to track one’s own play, I guess, but virtually impossible for sites like PTR to provide such thorough data. I suppose sites could do a lot of other things, too, such as make it impossible even to observe tables without sitting down -- although there are obvious reasons why they’d prefer not to go to that extreme.

Will have to think about all of this further. As a recreational player, I like to keep close records of my own play and even explore some of the data in Poker Tracker to try to improve. But I can’t say I care much for being watched so closely by PTR -- and not being able to prevent others from having comprehensive access to the same stats whether they’ve played a hand with me or not.

Then again, such is the world in 2010. We’re way beyond 1984. We’re all being watched. Always. Might just have to figure out a way to get used to it.

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Blogger Kevin Mathers said...

It's strange Tony G says that, especially after earlier blog posts and comments in the chatbox he made said it was Viktor Blom.

1/06/2010 11:56 AM  
Blogger The Poker Meister said...

"The site correctly shows how I’ve been doing okay at Stars, but not so well at Full Tilt Poker (particularly lately). Some of the FTP losses were mitigated by that bonus I’d been working off over the last month, but that isn’t reflected in the stats."

PTR does not take into account bonuses or rakeback. All they are tracking are direct poker profits / losses and hand histories. And if I were so inclined, I could get the last 100k+ hands that you've been involved, rather than just 5M PLO hands from randoms. I thought, based on the T&Cs from the sites, that it was banned to get HHs from PTR, but okay to check their website. How do they prove either way? Is sharkscope or any of the tourney tracker sites any different?

1/06/2010 12:16 PM  
Blogger Klopzi said...

Your post reminded me to send off an e-mail to the Stars support team concerning a couple software upgrades that I'd like to see implemented. I know that most players at any site have a whole slew of software suggestions, some very good, some ridiculous.

One of my suggested software upgrades would basically kill all forms of data mining and hand history sharing, especially amongst low stakes players.

I'll likely post details on my own site in the near future. I just wanted to chime in to say that I agree that hands like PTR do give an unfair advantage to those willing to break the rules and especially to those willing to fork out a little cash to purchase hand histories.

1/06/2010 12:26 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Looks like both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker list Sharkscope as a site that is not to be opened while playing (but okay otherwise).

My understanding is that sites can monitor what other programs are running when one has the client open and is logged in. E.g., Stars notes in its Q/A about third-party programs that they "are going to look to see if any of those tools or services is running on a player's computer."

I assume yr right, tho', PokerMeister, in what yr question implies -- namely, that the sites obv. can't monitor what tools are being used when not logged in.

1/06/2010 12:54 PM  
Blogger The Poker Meister said...

The reality is, though, there is no unfair advantage by using the PTR site as is, just as sharkscope or other sites. It is freely available for any user to log in and check up on their favorite player or enemy.

The line, in my opinion, is crossed when the user actually goes & purchases hands that he/she did not originally observe directly or was not involved in.

I, for one, look up stats on my opponents to find out whether they are winning / losing players, what their BB/100 rate is, hands, etc. I will not pull a Hastings and incriminate myself by saying that I check on them while involved in hands, but I certainly do check on them within the confines of the rules.

1/06/2010 1:14 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

By the way, most of you who have read all of the way to the bottom of this post & the comments, too, probably saw it already, but last month Paul Nobles (publisher of Bluff Magazine) posted an editorial on Pokerati, "What can be done about prohibited poker datamining?" that offers some thoughts on this topic, too. Some interesting comments there as well.

1/06/2010 2:11 PM  
Anonymous CADmunkey said...

Lee Jones originally talked about the idea of being able to change your username whilst he was still at Stars. It's a shame it wasn't implemented before he left. PTR affects the games in numerous ways but displaying someones losses/wins without permission to me is just not right and should remain private. I had a quick look on there earlier and it seems the site I usually play on isn't supported 'yet', but you can clearly see that Stars hasn't been kind to me with an overall loss of around 300 bucks. Not such a big deal, but I'm sure some other people with bigger losses would want that info kept to themselves only.

1/07/2010 5:04 AM  
Blogger The Blue Knave said...

I'll disagree with everyone.

Information is not going to go away, particularly if the main policing methodology is asking people to be good sports about it.

Coming from the chess world, where every game, pretty much in history, is recorded and available, it is *expected* that you will research and prepare for your opponents. That is part of the game.

Poker should accept that information is available. Good poker players should be expected to spend a certain amount of their time studying the opposition. Good players should make shifting strategies to flummox the data miners part of their repertoire, just as good chess players switch up their openings.

1/07/2010 9:33 AM  
Blogger The Poker Meister said...

Here, here, Blue Knave. I couldn't agree more. The problem is between the haves & have nots.

When you have every hand history on a person available for purchase, perhaps the line is being crossed- for the mere reason that it costs money to purchase those hand histories. I guess it's an anti-capitalist statement, but if I have money, I have a HUGE leg up on my opponent, because I can purchase and immediately tell his tendencies.

That said, if everyone had equal access to all information, including all hand histories, then no problems.

Look, fact is that the fish are not going to do the same job as I'm doing on a nightly basis: reviewing hand histories, tagging the easy players, watching videos, researching players, etc. Whether this data is available for everyone to consume, it doesn't mean they're going to even care. You can lead a horse (or in this case, fish) to water...

1/07/2010 10:28 AM  
Blogger Klopzi said...

I don't have an issue with datamining myself. But I do have issue with datamining now that both Full Tilt and Stars have said it is forbidden.

I'm a rule-follower myself which means that I don't use sites like PTR anymore. Much like the UIGEA, I hate being told that I can't do something while forced to watch others blatantly defy the rules to my detriment.

I think Stars and Full Tilt should implement an option for all players to enable/disable an anonymity filter while sitting at a table.

Or they should simply allow (and encourage) everyone to datamine (through sites like PTR and software like Poker Tracker/Hold'em Manageer) to help level the playing field.

1/08/2010 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Danieldinho said...

Just for the record, Nobles is the publisher of, not Bluff Magazine.

1/28/2010 7:44 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks for the clarification, Danieldinho.

1/28/2010 7:59 AM  

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