With poker news running rampant surrounding PokerStars’ rumored purchase of Full Tilt Poker, another massive story has been undeservingly swept under the rug. In a move that would easily have been the biggest story of any other poker news week, PokerTableRatings.com has heeded the Cease and Desist that PokerStars sent them last week and is no longer tracking players without consent.
Whether or not this is your first time hearing of Poker Table Ratings (PTR), this is a huge development for any player on PokerStars.
There is no denying how big PTR.com has gotten over the last few years. Just like with tweeting and Googling in the internet world, “PTRing” has become its own verb in the poker world. Since Poker Table Ratings (ironically) doesn’t keep their subscription information public, it’s impossible to quantify exactly what percentage of players used the search function—which allowed players to see opponents’ career results—or what percentage of players purchased hand histories and/or had paying subscriptions. (These subscribers were given access to information as specific as Fold to River Raise and Raise Continuation Bet based on every hand ever played by every player on the site.) Without knowing the exact numbers, though, it is clear (based on frequent interaction with players in forums, chat rooms and Skype) that the search function was used during sessions by the vast majority of regulars and that it was a very common practice for regulars at $0.50/$1 NL and higher to have very privileged (and very illegal) information—that is, hand histories and/or paid subscriptions.
There are so many effects of this move that it deserves its own top 5 list. There is no fluff here; these are all very noteworthy changes to the game of online poker.
Note that PTR still tracks hands for several other sites, and this move only affects PokerStars.
Also note that PTR technically is not completely shutdown for all Stars-related gaming. Players can still e-mail PokerStars in order to give consent to making their playing information public, but it is unlikely that a significant enough number of players will do this for players to even bother searching the site. Anyone who hasn’t heard of Poker Table Ratings will obviously not e-mail Stars support in order to consent to a tracking service they know nothing about, and players who have heard of the site will generally know that it is only to their disadvantage to have their playing information out there for anyone to see.
Anyway, here are the top 5 reasons you should care about this move:
The Good, Bad and Debatable of a PTR-Free PokerStars
#5: Less Tank Tapping – GOOD!
Everyone knows that tapping the tank is bad for everyone in the game—bad for the fish being ridiculed and bad for the sharks who are trying to keep the fish at the table until all of their chips are gone.
And Lee Jones, PokerStars’ Head of Home Games, aptly pointed out last week that the ability to search any players’ results facilitated exactly that. In a lot of cases, there was explicit derision that took place in the table chat feature where a bully would rub it in that a player had losing results for their career. Even more commonly was there implicit derision—that is, even without a player openly mocking someone, just the fear that there was a site out there making all of their results public was enough to make players shy away from the potential embarrassment of playing. PokerStars’ takedown of this site—even if it’s a site a fish didn’t know of before—is a great PR move so that players can feel that the privacy of their results are respected.
#4: Coaching, Staking and Book Buying – BAD!
If you’re just a casual player who doesn’t invest in electronic books, coaching or staking players, then you can skip this. For everyone else, you likely already know how important PTR has been to deciding on what coaches to hire for personal use or for a training site, how uncertain it is to make staking decisions on players who aren’t well-connected in the poker community without PTR and how much less likely you are to drop a couple grand on a book written by an unknown player who can’t back up their credentials with some massively winning results. It might also be a lot tougher to get action on Prop Bets now that under-the-radar winners can become hustlers.
But, hey, we got by back in those pre-PTR days, so this doesn’t quite make the top 3.
#3: No More Bum Hunting (Especially at Heads Up) – Debatable
If you’ve ever been in PokerStars’ Heads Up lobby, then you already know how bad, ridiculous and embarrassing bum hunting had gotten. The first 20 tables would have one regular sitting on them waiting for a random fish to stumble upon their table, and if anyone with winning results ever tried to sit at “their” table, they would sitout immediately. It was a complete action killer—one that Phil Galfond expressed extreme frustration over recently.
Well at last, players are going to have to actually tangle with other players in order to find out if they’re any good. This is listed as “Debatable” because not all players are pleased by this move, but this really helps action at Heads Up tables. And since the point of poker is to—you know—play hands of poker, this is a big win for the game.
#2: Bots, Collusion and Multi-Accounts – BAD!
Online poker has had a great one-two defense against dishonest play over the last few years. The first weapon was a data-mining site that kept such thorough information on every players’ style that it seems implausible that there would be software (or collusion strategies) sophisticated enough to bypass suspicion. The second weapon was the poker community itself, which was chock full of smart, studious players who had an invested interest in keeping the game clean. The sleuths are still there, but their biggest investigative tool is gone.
Now, PokerStars has demonstrated an impressive willingness to take the short-term PR hit that comes from admitting that they have found cheaters on the site in order to achieve the most crucial long-term goal of getting those cheaters off the site. This helps give a vote of confidence that they will take all necessary steps to pick up where PTR left off. But no matter what steps they take, there will be a drop-off in the efficacy of catching cheats that existed under Poker Table Ratings.
#1: Leveling the Playing Field – Debatable
To put it simply, those who used PTR have been denied a gargantuan tool for winning the information war that we call poker. Those who hadn’t heard of PTR, or refused to use it on principle, are no longer being disadvantaged. Then, there are plenty of players in between who used PTR but to such a casual degree that they were probably being cheated more than they were cheating.
The use of Poker Table Ratings had become so rampant that it blurred the lines of what was cheating and what was just “keeping up” (kind of like steroid use in the 1990s MLB). In fact, there are those who argue that data-mining is part of the game regardless of what steps PokerStars takes. So, these people argue, getting rid of such a well-known avenue may level the playing field among all the “honest” players but make for an even bigger advantage for more persistent cheaters.
In the end, though, this move has lent such a big helping hand to those who were following the rules all along that it seems like a huge win for the game.
Though it may look like the final score is 1 Good to 2 Bads, both of those “Debatables” are really improvements to the game of poker. So while PokerStars has been solidifying their already-extensive hold on the poker market, they have been embarking on a landmark move to ensure that the gaming across their network is honest.
A best of luck to all of readers who are ready to try their hand at the changed gaming environment of PokerStars cash game tables.