In the “old days,” it wasn’t something you had to worry about. Poker, in a live setting, was usually about players getting a “read” on how their opposition is playing, adjusting their style of play to maximize their profits and “changing gears” at the right times between aggression and passivity. Some might even resort to a “grinder’s book” to put these thoughts down on paper so that they will live in perpetuity for the player’s usage against frequently-faced foes.
It wasn’t until the online game that a question has been raised. With the advent of higher volume of play and less time between hands, perhaps even multiple tables being involved, players couldn’t even do notes the “old fashioned” way. That brought about programs that tracked such information that first was available for review by the player following his day’s action and then morphed into the Heads Up Displays (HUDs) that virtually every successful online professional uses nowadays. With a recent situation, however, the question has been asked: How far should poker software go?
On the Two Plus Two forums, a healthy debate has begun over a program that is being used by Heads Up Sit and Go players to maximize their efforts on the virtual felt. Allegedly a program built by a player with the moniker ‘Skier_5’ has allowed that player to rapidly move up the ladder in stakes while maintaining an astonishing success rate. What the program, called a “player aid” in some circles, contains isn’t exactly known, but it is alleged to have advanced pre-flop charting that assists in making decisions on virtually every situation that occurs during a match, among other aids.
Longtime members of the high stakes community have observed other players that until recently were residents of the lower stakes games make a rapid ascension up the table. These newcomers seem to be using the program developed by ‘Skier_5’ and are able to earn victories against veterans of the high stakes arena with little effort. As such, the debate has begun as to whether the program is legal or not.
For his part, ‘Skier_5’ has maintained that it isn’t any more extensive than a HUD would be for most players. Where ‘Skier_5’ has been targeted is that he isn’t selling the program to the general public for its usage. Instead, ‘Skier_5’ has been “renting” the program to other players for a cut of their winnings. ‘Skier_5’ also has an important trump card in his back pocket regarding the program: it’s been approved by the monolithic online poker site PokerStars for usage in their games.
Opponents of the new program state that it virtually makes the decision for players pre-flop, pointing out that ‘Skier_5’ and others that use the program have essentially identical statistics in different situations on the virtual felt. By taking this part of the game out of the player’s hands, the opponents believe, it reduces the decisions that a player would have to make. In essence, the opponents say it changes the game from a mano y mano battle to one of “man versus computer.”
Opinions on Two Plus Two have largely run against ‘Skier_5’ and his program. Poster ‘fightingcoward’ stated, “Been playing these guys at $200 hypers, it feels like “Black Friday” all over again. Competing versus players using this software is incredibly difficult. Stars needs to draw the line somewhere on how much computer assistance is allowed and this has clearly crossed it.” Another poster, ‘Spl0dg3,’ echoed those statements in adding, “Absolutely agree that this goes far beyond what should be acceptable on any online poker platform. You’re basically competing versus a machine, albeit that a human is clicking the buttons and could potentially deviate from the machine’s strategy, there’s close to zero chance of them doing so. Really hope to see Stars change their stance on this and do the right thing.” With this said, there have been many who have asked how to get on ‘Skier_5’s’ gravy train.
The development of the program in use by ‘Skier_5’ and others does bring up an intriguing question regarding online poker play. In the United States, Nevada does not allow for the usage of HUDs on their online poker sites, but New Jersey does allow it for their online gaming and poker industry. Internationally, HUDs have been in use since the mid-2000s, when the first tracking programs were built for players to “keep record” of their bankrolls.
But how far should these programs go? Should they be allowed to essentially make decisions for a player in real time? Isn’t the game of poker about the battle between human minds and wills, fortunes and skills? Or has online poker reached a point that usage of any computer program that allows you to make more money is acceptable? (For the record, this writer has vacillated between both sides – using HUDs and flying by my own decisions – in my online poker play.)
At this moment, PokerStars is standing by their decision regarding the usage of the ‘Skier_5’ program. As ‘Skier_5’ and others use the program, could it eventually push those that don’t use it out of the high stakes game? And would that have an effect on PokerStars’ decision to allow for its usage? It is a situation that bears watching for everyone in the poker community.