On April 5, SharkScope, a popular database of online poker tournament results, announced that “Our coverage of Full Tilt [Poker] is currently compromised due to an apparent change in Full Tilt’s policy regarding data retrieval from their site.” Earlier in the year, Full Tilt released a software update that prevents PokerTableRatings.com (PTR) from data mining, as well.
Both Full Tilt and PokerStars prohibit the use of External Player Assistance Programs like SharkScope and PTR because they provide information beyond what players actually observe. The two competitors define this as an “unfair advantage,” yet only Full Tilt has taken action.
Full Tilt deserves a lot of credit for this move. In addition to openly breaking the rules, third-party data-mining sites are bad for the game because they allow losing players to see their own results, encourage bum hunting, and disseminate information that many players would prefer to keep private.
The poker world will not survive if there aren’t enough fish in the sea, and players are getting better and better each year. With a few quick keystrokes, anyone can acquire a coach or membership to a training site and improve their game. We all know that ignorance is bliss, so why do we want to provide free data to losing players? If a recreational player is down thousands of dollars, we as a community should tell them to reload, not show them how much they’ve lost. Players have the right to keep their own stats and should be responsible enough to know when to quit.
For live tournaments, the Hendon Mob database is perfect because all it shows is wins. It allows players to brag about individual scores rather than cover-up their overall losses. SharkScope now offers live stats from WSOP and WPT events, so now regular Joe’s can look up their -200% return on investment.
Bum-hunting has become a staple of online poker. Countless players sit out at dozens of tables waiting for players with poor results to sit down and play. There are plenty of players that are willing to play anyone because they feel like they have an edge, but their potential opponents know they are skilled and refuse to accommodate them. This is perfectly fine if the two players have history, but not if the bum-hunter is making a decision based upon third-party data-mining. Winning players should not be punished because they have good graphs – that’s wrong. Sure, players can block themselves on certain sites, but they shouldn’t have to. This information should be kept private, anyway.
Privacy is indeed the most critical issue at play. Players deserve to be protected by online sites – their results should not become public domain. I am aware that PTR has played a role in catching multi-accounters, bots and other cheaters. This is admirable because these people do even more damage to the industry, but players shouldn’t govern themselves. It’s the site’s responsibility to make sure its players are protected, and even if it have failed in the past, it should remain so. Rather than protest in favor of PTR and other third-party data-mining sites, we should demand better security from the clients themselves. If Full Tilt is capable of stopping sites from mining, they should also be capable of identifying players who are habitually breaking their TOS.
This is precisely why legalization in the U.S. is so important. Without the proper regulatory bodies, there is no surefire way to shield online poker players from shady activity. We cannot continue to depend on third-party sites because their goal is to profit, not to govern and protect players. Until legislation passes, we will continue to float along in a state of martial law.
Some people also argue that heads-up displays (HUDs) should be banned from online poker. HUDs are very different, however, because they only provide information during actual game play, and they’re widely available, making the edge you gain by using one minimal. Additionally, you have to know how to analyze the numbers in order for a HUD to improve your game. If a player doesn’t understand terms like “VPIP” or “Fold to 3-Bet,” then having a HUD is useless.
Third-party sites reserve no right to dispense results for everyone to see, and I commend Full Tilt for stepping up to the plate and protecting their players’ privacy. Unfortunately though, data mining will continue to be a crutch for online poker as a whole. The need for legitimate regulatory bodies is increasing now more than ever, and I hope that legislation is on the horizon.
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