A leading third-party software developer of computerized aids for online poker player has published a virulent attack on the world’s second-largest online poker site, partypoker, over new software restrictions. The restrictions, to take effect within a week, will make most such third-party software of little use on the site.
Posting on an official account on the world’s largest poker-discussion forum, an executive of Hold’em Manager’s parent company, Max Value Software LLC, blasted partypoker over the upcoming changes, which also will include a mandatory change of screen names (aliases) for players on party’s global dot-com site.
At issue is partypoker’s plan to block the downloading of hand histories, a widespread practice among professional online players. Such hand histories are central to the vast majority of third-party software programs sold by Max Value Software and dozens, if not hundreds, of other sources. When amassed into large databases, the hand histories can be analyzed not only to improve one’s own play, but to also provide live references to how other players at online tables are likely to act in many poker situations.
The problem facing partypoker and many other sites is that, once downloaded, the hand histories are often sold on a thriving black market. Many dedicated online “grinders” then compile huge databases of played hands far outstripping their own play and use that information to gain an illicit advantage over their foes or to quickly identify new players who are often a bit lesser skilled and are then quickly exploited. The problem has been made worse by illegal “scraping” software, in violation of many sites’ terms of service, that can amass hand histories simply by watching an online table.
Partypoker’s aims include making its site more friendly and balanced for these players, whose deposits ultimately fuel the entire online poker economy. However, that intent, announced last month, flies directly in the face of most third-party software, which is designed to give as many advantages to its users as possible in a zero-sum game.
Hold’em Manager post calls for player protests
The post by Hold’em Manager seeks to further incite the “online pro” segment of the poker world by highlighting the largest weakness of partypoker’s new plan: Over a decade ago, hand-history analysis helped uncover insider cheating at two major online sites. The Hold’em Manager post proclaimed this:
“After June 17, you should be aware that partypoker players will no longer be able to download hand histories of their results. With the removal of hand histories, partypoker is effectively asking their players to ‘trust us but do not verify.’
Some players will minimize the implications of no hand histories because they are comfortable relying solely on partypoker internal security. This kind of blind faith is dangerous and ill-advised for at least a couple of reasons, and this post addresses why we believe this is dangerous for poker players and bad for online poker. …
“On multiple occasions, hand histories were used to detect major cheating scandals that involved players being cheated by poker site ‘insiders.’ While this is not an accusation against partypoker, it is the height of being naïve to assume that it could not happen again.
“The lack of the most critical tool allowing players to help police game integrity should be a key factor to consider when deciding which online poker sites you support in the future as a player.”
The post was not signed, despite being published on Hold’em Manager’s official forum authors. Possible authors include Derek Charles, Max Value Software’s managing partner, who has commented negatively in recent weeks on the upcoming changes; and Max Value software partner and president of the Hold’em Manager Division, Jim Varnon. The company publishes Hold’em Manager 2, PokerTracker 4, TableTracker, TableNinja II, Omaha Manager 2, and Notecaddy Premium, most of which will be directly impacted by partypoker’s June 17 changes.
Hand-history dilemma remains
Major online-poker sites and third-party software developers have been at odds for years over the proliferation of hand-history sales, real-time software aids such as heads-up displays (HUDs) and other enhancements that have widened the gap between newer and more experienced players.
With hand histories being the data source at the root of the battle, a question remains. Is it better to provide such histories, or to stop that service to clamp down on all the illegitimate and predatory services that the data can enable? Increasingly, online sites and networks are researching the issue and determining that the damage caused by third-party software is too damaging to the overall health of online poker and that it must be curtailed in some way. Partypoker’s upcoming changes represent one of the boldest moves to date, but it is far from allowing in trying to combat the third-party software endemic.
Yet there is truth in the issue of uncovering cheating through the use of statistical analysis. While partypoker recently established an internal security team dedicated to uncovering bot-play, in which a computer replaces an online player in making decisions, affected players also encounter and report such cheating at the tables. As the Hold’em Manager poster also wrote, “Even though poker sites have internal game security, in their own blog partypoker reported that, for April 2019, ’39 account closures in the month, 38.5% (15) were directly attributed to reports submitted by partypoker players.'”
Michael Josem cites hand histories’ importance
An important figure in detecting insider cheating offered a supporting view. Australian-born Michael Josem was an online player last decade when he decided to analyze large collections of hand histories from the old UltimateBet and Absolute Poker sites. In both cases, Josem was able to illustrate, beyond any reasonable doubt, that massive amounts of what turned out to be insider cheating had occurred on select accounts. It took additional work by other investigators (including this writer) to link the cheating to prominent insiders and leading cheaters Russ Hamilton and Scott Tom, respectively. Without Josem’s hand-history-fueled analysis, the cheating would likely have gone on longer and affected more players.
Regarding hand histories specifically, Josem came down against partypoker’s planned changes. Josem has since transformed into an industry exec, having worked for PokerStars and CoinPoker while remaining a respected source of information. In the same Hold’em Manager thread, Josem wrote: “Hand histories are fundamental to the trust that players place in online poker sites. Time and time again, hand histories have been essential in protecting players against cheating–cheating by both other players and by the site itself. It is very unsafe to play at an online poker operator that does not allow players to keep their own hand histories.”
The caveat, of course, is that UltimateBet and Absolute Poker were both unregulated sites operating out of the Caribbean. Insiders at both sites discovered that direct cheating was an easy way to pad those executives’ personal bottom line. While unregulated sites still exist today, regulated sites (including partypoker) are generally subject to far more scrutiny. Unfortunately, the dilemma remains, regardless of partypoker’s new direction.