Checking over at PokerScout, iPoker is currently challenging PartyPoker for second in terms of online poker traffic worldwide, though both remain well behind PokerStars. (Like PokerStars and Party, the iPoker sites don’t allow U.S. players.)
From what I’ve gathered, the fuss appears to have begun following a weird exchange between a player and customer support at William Hill, an exchange that led the player to believe the site not only allows “bots” -- i.e., the running of software programs that can play the games without further human input -- but in fact that the site used bots themselves sort of like “prop” players to help get games going and fill empty seats.
It appears the support person was well off the mark here, although could be partly forgiven since the William Hill Casino site does in fact apparently reserve the right to employ “bots” in some of its other games. In fact, the terms and conditions over on the WillIam Hill Casino site explicitly state how “in games offered via the Website which benefit from more players or greater liquidity we may deploy electronic players (known as robots, and whose usernames will be ‘bot’) who are pre programmed to play and join in with the game in order to assist the liquidity or the number of players gaming.” Meanwhile, over in the poker TOC, “the use of automated players (sometimes known as ‘bots')” is expressly forbidden.
Having read the statement in the Casino TOC, a player who thought it might have applied to the poker games asked about it, and it sounds like the not-too-well-informed support person mistakenly confirmed that the site was in fact filling out seats in the poker games with its own bots.
The story blew up surprisingly quickly, with many rushing in to damn the site, the iPoker network, and online poker, generally speaking. Eventually iPoker responded with a statement clarifying the matter, although some continue to harbor doubts about the existence of actual bots (not “in-house” ones) on the site.
Had a couple of thoughts about all of this as I read about the controversy. One was to note how so many immediately assumed that an online poker site was in fact using its own bots. Then, when some of the accounts with “bot” in their usernames were scrutinized and it was discovered some among them were winning players, that fueled even more outrage. Not only was the site using bots, said some, but beating its customers with them, too!
Assuming that it really was all just a misunderstanding -- and setting aside the possibility that there really are some folks getting away with using bots on the site -- it definitely says something about our collective experience with online poker over the last decade or so when such a possibility can be so readily believed by so many.
We’ve been screwed in every way imaginable so far, think many (understandably). Why not this way, too?
The other thought I had kind of anticipated a question I saw @InfiniteEdgeKim ask on Twitter earlier today: “What's so bad about bots in online poker?”
To be more precise (and honest), my earlier thought was to think about the idea of having “prop” players, and wonder whether or not it would really matter in the online environment if those props were bots rather than humans. It didn’t take long for me to decide it would be quite wrong for a site to do so. Players are already forced to trust sites aren’t “rigged” in other ways; having non-human props at the table would only cram a further wedge of doubt into the proceedings.
In response to Kim’s question, I chimed in to point out that online poker was already less than 100% human interaction, with the introduction of bots only lessening the human element even further. Thus, a person’s answer to the question would probably be swayed by how important the human element is to him or her.
To me, the human element is quite important, though I have to admit not so essential that I cannot enjoy the mediated type of interaction the online game allows. Still, I know I don’t want to play against bots. Not for real money, anyway.
Still following the Twitter conversation Kim began. Hoping perhaps a post comes out of it over on Infinite Edge. (EDIT [added 10/10/11]: Kim did write an interesting post on the subject, collecting a lot of what was said in the Twitter conversation and presenting his own argument that there may well be some instances where bots might have a place in online poker.)
Meanwhile, what do you think about playing against bots?
And please, no automated spam replies.