Phil Galfond’s, Let’s Make Some Changes

Phil Galfond recently wrote an excellent blog post that I both wanted to draw some attention to as well as respond to as Phil invited other people to share their thoughts.

In a nutshell, Phil covers several different annoyances and problems with the way online poker sites operate. At the meta-level he seems to be focused on two major issues:

* Player tracking software
* Bumhunting and tables breaking when the mark leaves

While I agree with Phil on many of his points I disagree with his logic because I feel that Phil sees the poker landscape through Phil’s eyes. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re a Razz player, you’re likely to see Razz problems and solutions. Phil is a high-stakes player so he sees problems from a high-stakes player’s perspective.

How would you feel if you were playing poker for fun, just lost a $10k stack, and the 5 people at your table instantly sit out? Takes a little bit of the fun out of poker, I would think.

I completely agree that this would piss me off as a recreational player. I would not view this as a positive experience. But how many recreational players donk off $10K? The vast, vast majority of poker players don’t even have a $10K bankroll. That’s sort of where I think Phil sort of views this through a different set of eyes than I do.

But his point is valid. Even if we’re talking about $100, nobody wants to feel like the mark at the table. However, whether you’re looking at the problem as a $100 problem or a $10K problem can make a significant difference in how you address the issue.

In talking about poker tracking software, Phil says:

What’s more important, by far, is that they are scary. If a recreational player saw what your screen looked like while you played against them, how much less would they be excited to play? And some may not understand what a HUD is… some will talk about how the internet pros use programs that play for them or cheat, and use that as a reason not to play online. Obviously, that’s not what we’re doing, but we can’t prevent people from thinking that.

If you’re sitting down at an online poker table with $10K and you don’t know what PokerTracker or a HUD is, well, knowing what they are probably wouldn’t save you anyway.

But the bigger issue is by this rationale of thinking anything that offers one player an advantage over another can be viewed as being unfair. As I point out in this post in response to Kim Lund and Taylor Caby, access to knowledge is the biggest edge in the game. Isn’t someone who gets coaching from Phil at an unfair advantage against someone who has never been coached? If I read this or that book about poker, don’t I have an edge on someone who hasn’t?

The argument is a slippery slope. Eventually they’ll be asking players to take IQ and poker knowledge tests to make sure that players are evenly matched.

While Phil says that he doesn’t think poker tracking software and HUD’s should be banned, he only does so because he thinks banning them would be unenforceable.

I look at it a different way. I say, integrate poker tracking software into the poker client. If the big concern is that it offers an unfair advantage (which I don’t believe) then eliminate the advantage by giving the same tools to everyone.

In fact, why haven’t any of the poker rooms either bought out the existing poker tracking software developers or developed their own? They’re considered standard tools for online poker players and most poker rooms, for reasons similar as to those Phil cites, have no restrictions on using the software. Owning the software would give poker rooms much better control over how the tools are used.

Phil’s observations and ideas on bumhunting and tables breaking when the mark leaves are interesting and he’s obviously put a lot of thought into them but he’s approaching the problem too much like a high-stakes pro. He spends a lot of time exploring somewhat convoluted ways of preventing both of the above annoying behaviors when a much more simple solution exists.

In fact, he finally gets to part of it in bullet point number five when he suggests Must Move tables. Don’t most of the problems go away if you just employ land based card room solutions?

What if you ran your online poker room just like an offline poker room? You want to play $100 NL? There’s a board. Your name goes on the board and you either take the next available seat or you lose your place and have to wait at the bottom of the list again.

If you don’t like your table you can request a table change just like you do in a brick and mortar poker room. You don’t get to pick which table you get sent to though. You get sent to the next available table with a seat open.

Sure, it’s going to be frustrating for people attempting to pick tables according to the number of fish but that’s how live poker rooms operate and it works for them.

Phil spends a lot of time trying to resolve the issues around heads-up games but that’s not where a lot of the site’s overall games are played nor is it a huge revenue source for the poker rooms. In other words, because he plays a lot of HU, he sees this problem as a much bigger issue than it really is for the entire poker playing pool. All that’s really needed is a system that provides a fair way for people to compete against each other HU and that doesn’t allow certain players to horde HU tables waiting for fish.

IMHO, the most valuable suggestion Phil puts forth is in #6 Rewards/Promotions for Game Starters and Hands Played. I’ve long been a critic of calling what exists today, “loyalty” programs. They don’t really reward loyalty. They reward raw play. The more you play the more points you earn.

But, there are many actions that provide value to the poker room which are more akin to being a loyal player. For instance, as Phil suggests, players who are willing to start games are more valuable than players who will only sit at a full table. So let’s reward them for that. Why not award loyalty points at a higher rate for players who do things beneficial to the poker ecosystem and penalize players by awarding points more slowly for actions which are detrimental to the poker ecosystem?

For instance, why not award loyalty points at double the normal rate for a player who starts a table and plays short-handed until it fills up? Or why not penalize players that sit out when the fish leaves by taking back points for every hand they sit out? Even if you’re morally opposed to taking back points you could give those players a weighted penalty which would lower the amount of points awarded when they sit back in.

Players who attempt to angle shoot the system by sitting out of games, habitually short-stacking, etc would have much of their edge negated by the fact that they are earning loyalty points more slowly and thus moving up loyalty levels slower. Likewise, players who are starting games, playing during normally off-peak hours, or demonstrating other behaviors that benefit the poker ecosystem would earn loyalty points at a faster rate.

Overall, I wish more people would analyze the game the way Phil does. I think it’s healthy for the entire poker community. Whether or not we agree or if the solutions are commercially viable is not really relevant. It’s the discussion of these issues that adds value to everyone.

It would also help if the poker rooms were more open to discussing these topics as well. Instead of just rolling out a rake calculation change maybe they could explain their thinking to the poker community so everyone better understands what is good and what is bad for the poker ecosystem. I think more players would be willing to accept some limitations if they can see what the overall purpose of the change.

5 thoughts on “Phil Galfond’s, Let’s Make Some Changes”

  1. I really agree with Tim in that:

    “In terms of the sites implementing their own tracking software – I don’t see them doing that and I can understand why they’d be reluctant. However, I think there’s a middle ground and they could at least provide some useful stats. PokerStars still have the same “stats” tab on their chat box area that they had in 2003, which is ridiculously lame.”

    This is kind of crazy in that a billion dollar a year company like PokerStars, cannot spend a little bit to improve the stats they provide. But again implementing

    @Chris:
    I do not see how poker trackers would work on anonymous tables assuming that the poker room does in fact block the screen names and possibly the stats given out to the public about the hands at an anonymous table.

    Other then that, great article Bill keep the ball rolling!

    ~Nick

  2. New to the site and have been really enjoying your back history of blogs.

    Another good article Bill, and I agree with a lot of what you said but is there not a 3rd way? I play on Ladbrokes which is a UK poker site and I believe part of the i-poker network. On there they have now introduced “anonymous” tables which they indicate are tracker free. No screen names are shown during play.

    I would interested to know whether the tracking software does actually work on these tables or not, but if not, then it does at least give “fish” a more even playing field. That said, does playing on those tables scream “come and take my money” to the sharks? Then again you won’t know who is a shark and who is a fish on the table until you start playing. In order to work that out will have to rely on your own skill and judgement. That has to be fairer and all a fish can really expect.

    Having not signed up for any other poker sites I am not sure if these kinds of table are on offer anywhere else?

  3. I agree that these tools offer valuable insight away from the tables. That’s the best thing about them. Of course, this information would still be available without the need for a HUD – unless the sites blocked player’s hand histories. I’m sure it’s technically possible to prevent a HUD from working without needing to go down that route. It’s certainly more challenging, but possible.

    I’m a fan of tracking software, don’t get me wrong. But there are limits. It’s like PT and HM have gone on an arms race and the edge they provide (with scanners and so forth) has grown too large, IMO.

    In terms of the sites implementing their own tracking software – I don’t see them doing that and I can understand why they’d be reluctant. However, I think there’s a middle ground and they could at least provide some useful stats. PokerStars still have the same “stats” tab on their chat box area that they had in 2003, which is ridiculously lame. I think the middle ground would be providing basic stats on opponents, such as no. of hands played, VPIP and maybe even PFR. If they did that and banned HUDs without banning hand histories so we could still analyze our personal playing history, then I’d be in favour.

  4. Tim,

    Don’t count yourself short. Your 2 cents at today’s exchange rates is about $1.46. 🙂

    You make a good point though I’m not sure you’re totally aware of it. In fact, I think a lot of people who have written on this topic in the past almost get there but stop just short.

    The reason I say that there’s little difference between reading a poker book and using a HUD is that both are allowed under the TOS’ of nearly all poker rooms. As long as HUD’s are allowed by a poker room then the whole argument about whether or not they provide an unfair advantage is moot. Because, isn’t the real problem here that the n00bs aren’t aware of HUDs?

    So the poker room has two options:

    1. Ban HUDs
    2. Allow them but make them available to everyone.

    However, it seems poker rooms want to walk a vague line. They don’t ban them and they don’t tell players about them. But if they would simply chose one or the other this whole problem goes away overnight.

    And both choices are acceptable. If they want to ban HUDs then do it. Invest some time and effort into blocking them. If they don’t want to do that then the poker rooms should be responsible for educating players about HUDs and, IMHO, providing the tool as part of the product.

    I agree with you on scanning tools. However, scanning tools are already in violation of most poker room’s TOS. The reason they violate the TOS is because they involve collecting information about games the scanner has not participated in.

    And I agree with that though I do have some funny stories of people misusing those tools against me to their own detriment 🙂

    Poker rooms do need to get better at blocking these scanners and scrapers. They are in violation of the TOS of the room and as such, as a player, I am entitled to assume that the poker room is taking reasonable precautions to make sure that the scanners cannot operate on their poker room.

    All in all, I would hate to see PokerTracker and similar tools go away. For the better part of my “career” playing online poker I have used PT and other tools. However, I’ve spent far more time with the tools plugging holes in my game than I have monitoring the play of my opponents. Banning them would block access to information that many players need in order to improve their game.

  5. Hey Bill,

    I want to comment on this section of your post:

    “But the bigger issue is by this rationale of thinking anything that offers one player an advantage over another can be viewed as being unfair. As I point out in this post in response to Kim Lund and Taylor Caby, access to knowledge is the biggest edge in the game. Isn’t someone who gets coaching from Phil at an unfair advantage against someone who has never been coached? If I read this or that book about poker, don’t I have an edge on someone who hasn’t?

    The argument is a slippery slope. Eventually they’ll be asking players to take IQ and poker knowledge tests to make sure that players are evenly matched.”

    I don’t believe any newbie or recreational player would begrudge another player having read a poker strategy book or received some coaching from a friend. Even people who have never played poker before would understand that these are ways in which one could improve their game. I’m not good at chess, but even I know that reading a book or two or getting coaching would help me improve. I would have no complaints about someone else doing the same, nor should I.

    The difference with a HUD is that many new and recreational players are unaware of their existence. You could argue that a new player wouldn’t know about “Harrington on Hold’em” or “Super System” either, but that’s not the point. They would know that there are books available to teach them, but how likely is that with a HUD?

    Dusty Schmidt wrote a blog post last year titled “It’s Time to Clean Up Poker” in which he addressed this issue. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Now I know many people will disagree with this and cite that the major online poker rooms allow them and everyone has the same access to this technology. That is true. But the existence of this software — in fact, the necessity of this software — is not made apparent to the novice until it’s too late and he’s had a negative experience. Even if he becomes aware of it, he’s nonetheless disillusioned to find out that the practice of playing winning poker has been more or less automated. It’s far less a game of mind and skill than he imagined.”

    Source: http://dustyschmidt.net/2011/04/its-time-to-clean-up-poker-part-1/

    I use a HUD and I wouldn’t play cash games online without one. But do I think they’re good for the game overall? No, I don’t think so. I also believe there’s a reason why online sites don’t integrate HUDs into their software – they don’t want everyone to know about them.

    However, HUDs are here to stay and I don’t have a huge issue with them. The real issue I have is with table scanning tools which help players to hunt down the fish. These are far worse for the game and new players should be offered a bit more protection to allow them to lose their money a little less quickly.

    I like the idea of sitting people randomly, even though I wouldn’t like that myself. I think a better solution is to prevent tables from being observed – or to only show screen names to players who are sat at the table.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents.

Comments are closed.

Want More Great Content Like This?  


Subscribe and we'll shoot you an email when we update a video or add a blog post.