Unenforced Rules Suck

It’s becoming more and more clear that the major poker sites are not enforcing many of their own rules.

Part of this is because they’ve made rules that simply can’t be enforced: FTP bans ghosting, and most major sites now ban datamining. Some of their rules clearly are enforceable but either aren’t enforced at all or have no real punishments associated with them: I only know of one example of a site actually confiscating money for multiaccounting in cash games (and it was a complicated case), and I don’t think anyone’s ever gotten more than a warning for using PTR while playing. (Similar problems exist in the live poker world as well, but I’m not really qualified to comment. Nate detailed a bunch of problems with selective enforcement at the PCA in this 2p2 post.)

The result is, predictably, a lot of confusion. Some people simply ignore all these rules and make a lot of money as a result. Most people ignore some of the unenforced rules (PTR, ghosting while coaching), but not all of them. Some people get in trouble for doing things that they didn’t even know were wrong. Throughout this process, the unquestionably important rules such as the bans on collusion or buying accounts deep in tournaments lose their weight. This is obviously a terrible situation, and it will only get worse if the sites don’t do something about it as people continue to learn what they can get away with. Current high profile cases of people breaking the rules and making tons of money off of it with no consequences, like ugotabanana and PTR have, will encourage others to follow suit and certainly won’t make things easier.

So, things definitely have to change. In each case in which a rule is either not enforced or enforced only selectively, each site should either change the rule or start seriously enforcing it. They need to make it clear that breaking their rules is cheating, and cheating is both unprofitable and unacceptable. I’ll outline my specific ideas on how to handle multiaccounting and datamining below (a lot of which is just copied and pasted from an old 2p2 post of mine), but I think that the general policy that rules are rules is much more important than the specifics.

Multiaccounting in Cash Games

Currently, there are barely any consequences to multiaccounting. If the sites find that someone has a second account, they typically simply close it and kindly send send its balance to the original account. So, there’s no downside to multiaccount, and it’s not surprising that it’s very common. It’s also a very big issue; in the one case that happened to become public recently, players lost almost a million dollars to a second account. While some of that money probably would have been oe, he clearly profited tremendously from relative anonymity. There are plenty of other examples that have become public in the past, and there are likely even more that haven’t. So, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the amount that legitimate players have lost due to multiaccounting is in the tens of millions, and the problem will only get worse if left unchecked. (Admittedly, I’m ignoring the fact that one of the largest donators in history lost about $20M on multiple accounts.) So, something has to be done about this.

As I said above, there are only two reasonable solutions:

The sites could effectively allow multiaccounting by letting everyone change their screen names often (like Cake and Party do). Obviously, if they did this, everyone would be a relative unknown, and there would be no advantage to gain from multiaccounting. This also solves some other problems like datamining, extreme bumhunting, and the advantage gained from occasionally “necessary” screen name changes (1 2). The big problem with this is that it kills a lot of the fun of poker. Even online, poker is still a very social game, and it’s still meant to be fun (a fact that a lot of us often forget…). A lot of the fun comes from knowing your opponents and how they play. Allowing players to change their screen names regularly would take all of this (and a lot of the strategy that comes with it) away from the game, and that’s a big sacrifice. This policy would also make it much harder for players to report suspicious activity to sites or to catch cheaters on their own. Players and dataminers currently catch a lot of cheating themselves, so I simply don’t think that security is good enough to be trusted allowing screen name changes, though hopefully that will change with time. So, I don’t think that this is a reasonable option.

The obvious alternative is to start actually having harsh financial punishments for multiaccounting. Morally, it seems appropriate to simply confiscate winnings won on extra accounts and distribute it back to the affected players. Even with fairly low expectations for sites’ abilities to catch multiaccounters, I think that that threat would easily outweigh the advantage gained, so I don’t think many people would multiaccount. Even if they did, many players would likely be happy to play them–Even a small chance at freerolling an opponent would be a huge edge in today’s high-variance games.

There are of course some complications with this approach. Many special cases would have to be handled differently. For example, there’s a large group of people who have had a “second” account for years and don’t even remember their original account name or password; those people obviously shouldn’t have all of their earnings confiscated, nor should they be forced to go back to their original account. There are unfortunately a bunch of different situations like this that would require individual policies and maybe even some case-by-case handling by security departments.

So, the details will certainly be a bit messy, but I think that this general solution will be much better than the current situation.


Datamining simply isn’t going to disappear. If data is publicly available on the internet to anonymous users, people will be able to collect it. A lot of people don’t understand this and suggest simple ideas that they think will end datamining, like only allowing observers to have one table open at a time, but, while policies like that would make datamining a bit more difficult, they won’t prevent it. The fact of the matter is that it’s not incredibly hard for a dedicated dataminer (like PTR) to behave like tons of observers each watching a separate table. So, as long as the information that PTR wants is accessible in bits and pieces to observers, they’ll get it. The sites certainly aren’t going to stop allowing anonymous observers because potential customers naturally like to see the games before they make an account. So, though the sites repeatedly claim that they’re working towards a real solution (and they do occasionally slow down PTR for a few weeks), it’s clear that they won’t find one. The only reasonable thing to do is to allow datamining.

The sites don’t have to completely cede control, though (which is effectively what they’ve done now). They could agree to share data with various datamining businesses (or to just make data collection much easier for them in general) in exchange for concessions that would make datamining more palatable. Sharkscope and OPR already do this: OPR doesn’t show how much a losing player is down, and Sharkscope has agreed to an opt-out/opt-in policy with Stars. I don’t have any direct evidence that PTR would take a deal like this, but it certainly stands to reason that they would. The sites could probably some pretty strict demands without the deal falling through.

The sites could also significantly lessen the impact of datamining by not allowing players to use PTR while playing. This rule is already on the books at most sites; they’d just need to enforce it. Even that’s not particularly hard–They’d simply need to monitor running processes or internet activity while someone is playing. Most of the sites have slowed down or completely stopped their use of these methods because people complain that it violates their privacy, but those concerns are just silly–People who work for a site’s security department don’t care what web sites you visit or what programs you have open as long as you’re not cheating, and they certainly have the right to make sure you’re not cheating when you’re playing real money games on their site. A rule like this would also be morally justified; the sites don’t have any right to dictate what players do while away from the table, but while they’re playing, they have every right to limit the use of external resources.

Another idea that I’ve floated around is to stop datamined hands from being used in HUDs. Both PT3 and HEM have consistently shown willingness to follow the rules of the sites, and they obviously will do a lot to avoid becoming banned software. For example, neither PT3 nor HM have a HUD that works on Cake because Cake has banned HUDs. So, the sites could simply ban the use of datamined hands in HUDs and ask PT3 and HM to only use hands in which the current hero was dealt cards to populate a player’s HUD. This would obviously greatly reduce the edge that people gain from buying datamined hands. (It would be possible to work around this in various ways, but the vast majority of people would stop using datamined hands in HUDs if this were implemented.)

If all of these steps were implemented, I think that many of the positive effects of datamining would remain (extra security, easy access to interesting information, and general transparency in the poker world) but the negatives would largely disappear.


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