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.
According 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.
Was 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.