Data Mining – Does Isildur1 Have a Case Against Brian Hastings?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the big news in the nosebleed stakes poker circles these days has been Hastings cleaning Isildur1 for over $4 million in one session. It’s since been revealed that Brian Hastings, Brian Townsend, and Cole South spent some time combining their hand histories against Isildur1 so they could formulate a strategy to beat him.

Many, like F-Train, have sided with Isildur1 that this was a clear violation of Full Tilt Poker’s T&C which state:

“The use of shared hand histories provides detailed information on opponents a player has little or no personal experience playing against, and is deemed to be an unfair advantage. Violating this policy is subject to the maximum penalties for prohibited software use?”

Meanwhile there are those like Change100 who liken what the boys did to nothing more than a group of players sitting around and comparing notes on an opponent.

Who’s right? Well, they both are . . . sort of.

The first thing about this though is that we have to understand the difference between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. The rule quoted above was intended to put a police in place to prevent rampant data mining. Players would simply fire up Full Tilt and leave it on for days while it watched 12 or more tables and they would just mine all of those games into PokerTracker so the next time they sat at a table they would have background data on nearly every player at the table.

Obviously, this creates an unfair advantage since none of the other players are aware that their play is being tracked and players can amass huge databases of playing information on their opponents without revealing any of theirs.

So that was the spirit of the law. Did Team CardRunners violate the spirit of the law in what they did? In my opinion, no. They took their collective knowledge of this one particular player and as a group analyzed his play. Isildur1 played against all three opponents and knew that all three opponents were part of CardRunners and it would actually be stupid to assume that they were not at least discussing strategy with each other.

The spirit of the law is attempting to deal with indiscriminant data mining. Even in the wording it says it is to prevent players from having detailed history on players they have little or no playing history with. But Isildur1 and Hastings have played together before. And being so high-profile it would be somewhat naïve to assume that all three of the pros had not watched each other play against Isildur1.

So the question is, did combining their hand histories give them any particular advantage that they might not have gained anyway simply by doing their own hand history analysis individually and the coming together and comparing notes? Because, that certainly would not be in violation of the rules. Players talk about other players all the time. To compare notes would not be unethical nor violate any stated or implied rules.

If you believe that combining their databases gave them an advantage then you probably believe Isildur1 was wronged here. If you believe they would have spotted the same flaws in his game comparing notes of their sessions against him then one has to conclude that they were within the spirit of the law.

Now, did they break the letter of the law? I think they did. I’m not even sure they were aware that the rule was that strictly worded but ignorance of the law is no excuse.

I think Full Tilt’s 30-day suspension is an appropriate punishment for the CardRunners team. It demonstrates that even though the letter of the law was broken it was not so severe as to warrant severing their pro contracts or anything else of that nature.

It’s been reported that Isildur1 is going to file a complaint to Full Tilt now that he has become aware of the CardRunner’s rule violation. On one hand I don’t think he’s entitled to anything since the rule violation was more to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. On the other, I think it would be a goodwill gesture if either Hastings or Full Tilt staked Isildur1 $1 million with makeup and limiting him to more sane stakes until he’s recouped some cash and has the bankroll to play the nosebleeds again (similar to what Dwan has been forced to do).

What we should take away from this is that online poker is in many ways a different beast than live poker. Players can and will have hand histories at their disposal. But more importantly, the poker rooms need to write better T&C’s. Am I violating the one player to a hand rule if my friend is watching over my shoulder and says, “Dude, check raise that fool”? Am I violating the English-only T&C’s if I type “Adios, amigo” in the chat-box?

I know these sound like silly examples but what’s to stop the next player who loses from complaining that I was in technical violation of the T&C’s and seeking his money back? At the lower limits, it’s probably common sense since the CS rep will tell them to go pound sand but here we’re seeing it at the highest stakes which means that the card rooms need to write their rules much more clearly so these types of situations don’t occur again in the future.

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