19 Jan

PokerStars ‘Big Brother’ approach to Weeding out Bots going Too Far?

PokerStars and its throng of high-stakes grinders haven’t been on the best of terms lately. A series of strikes were recently invoked by grinders who aren’t pleased with new changes to the VIP program, and now it seems the operator may be overstepping its bounds in an attempt to weed out bots.

A lot of changes went into effect at PokerStars when 2016 arrived. Alterations to the Terms of Service/Conditions were vaguely explained back in November by Eric Hollreiser, Director of Corporate Communications for PokerStars and its parent company, Amaya Gaming.

In a corporate blog post, Hollreiser confirmed that PokerStars would “roll out new policies that will reinforce the fundamental elements of human competition by limiting certain software programs that may provide an unfair advantage to some players.”

He did not detail what type of software would and would not be allowed, but he did state, “It shouldn’t be about clicking a button because harvested stats tell you to. For this reason, we are on a path to eliminate many of these technological advantages that are used by a minority of players.”

For the most part, online poker players were acquiesce to the concept, as gaining an unfair advantage through bot-play and HUDs is against PokerStars policy. But then the strangest thing happened…

Online Poker or Big Brother?

PokerStars or Big BrotherSeveral high-stakes grinders awoke to find their PokerStars accounts had been locked. Based on their response to the lock-out, no prior notification or warning was provided. Jason Mo (@cuntycakes123), for example, tweeted on Friday: “anyone else get their pokerstars account locked today?”

Not long after, one player from the TwoPlusTwo forums known as ‘TooCuriousso1’ quoted – we assume – an email from PokerStars after having their account locked.

The full 2+2 post reads:

“However, we require a video recording of you playing. This recording has a few mandatory requirements:

– At the beginning of the recording, we must be able to clearly see your face in order to confirm your identity

– Before starting to play, you must rotate your camera 360 degrees to show us all of your surroundings

– You must start your playing session from an empty computer desktop, whereby you initiate the PokerStars client and log into your account

– After logging in, you must play a regular session of yours

– Your playing session at the tables must be for a minimum of 70 active minutes

– During your play at the tables, the recording must be of sufficient quality to see and track the activities that are taking place on your desktop. In addition, the recording must capture your surrounding environment including your monitor, keyboard, mouse and the movement of your hands

– Audio must be included in the recording

– You must minimise the amount of individual video files. Longer, continual recordings are preferred

– You have 10 days to complete this task

It is important that your playing session is conducted in the same manner as one of your typical sessions as your tendencies will be contrasted with your regular play.

You must supply the resulting recording to us via email. In the likely event the files exceed attachment limits, please utilise file sharing services such as Dropbox, Google Drive or whichever service you prefer. We’ll largely leave this option up to you.

Failure to follow these instructions or if the video is of sub-par quality, will result in this task needing to be repeated.”

If what this poster says is true – and it hasn’t been contested in the last 48 hours – many believe PokerStars has overstepped its privacy boundaries by becoming a virtual ‘Big Brother’ to high-stakes poker players. The general consensus from those opposed to the idea was that taking a 70-minute video that encompasses your entire home playing environment to prove you’re a naturally good online poker player is ridiculous, if not illegal.

Then again, not everyone was in disagreement with the ‘Big Brother’ approach. Many respondents on 2+2 said that, if that’s what it takes to remove unfair play from the site, PokerStars is doing the right thing. However, most of the supporters were still conflicted by the act of holding player funds “hostage” during the process.

One member of the forum, “purrretrog”, expressed this opinion:

I dont see how this is ‘vile’, its abit intrusive but with how much everyone jumps down stars throat(rightly so), when bots are found on the site, it seems like this is a logical step to take.*

Would you not be outraged at stars incompetence if you discovered bots in your games, and discovered stars had done nothing to protect your funds from them up until the point that it had came to their attention?

I see it more as stars protecting other players funds as opposed to them holding the party in questions funds at ransom…

PokerStars Digging its own Grave?

There are many people on both sides of the fence regarding this issue, but infiltrating a players life to thwart bots isn’t the only matter of contention among PokerStars players. High-stakes VIPs have been striking since early December based on the changes to the loyalty scheme that will see them earning less rewards for the same amount of gameplay.

A meeting between PokerStars and players took place yesterday at Amaya’s headquarters in Montreal, including several big-name online players like Dani Stern, Daniel Negreanu and Daniel Dvoress. The results of that meeting haven’t been published yet, and won’t be too detailed with each member having to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but hundreds of PokerStars regulars are surely on the edge of their seats.

When you put it all together, one has to wonder if PokerStars is slowly digging its own grave. Yes, recreational players will take no issue with bot-interception or VIP changes that fall in their favor, but as more pros choose to leave PokerStars behind, plugging whatever new site they join to the public, one has to wonder what will become of the online poker giant?