On Thursday, one of the top online poker networks in the industry, Microgaming, announced its intentions to eliminate datamining on its family of sites.
The Microgaming Network, which includes sites such as 32RedPoker, CrazyPoker, PurpleLounge.com, and Unibet, is one of the top ten poker networks in the industry, according to PokerScout.com. Averaging approximately 1,600 players in its cash games and offering a variety of tournament action, the Microgaming Network draws a tremendous amount of action from Europe. However, this hasn’t prevented Microgaming from taking what is a groundbreaking step in the online poker world.
Effective immediately, Microgaming announced the following changes to its hand history policy: “With immediate effect, hand histories on observed tables will no longer be stored on players’ computers and the practice of downloading and storing hand histories in bulk will be stopped.” At most sites, all hands at a player’s table are transferred to a special file on the player’s computer hard drive. This allows a player to go back at a later time and review these histories – and opponents’ tendencies on the virtual felt – and use software like PokerTracker and Holdem Manager to analyze it.
Microgaming feels that such software has tilted the playing field between those who utilize such information and those who do not. Instead of using poker software to analyze play, Microgaming believes that it has become an “exploitative tool” that players use to pick up an unfair advantage.
In the announcement, Andrew Clucas, Head of Poker at Microgaming Software Systems, which operates the Microgaming Poker Network, stated, “Concern has been rising over the long-term effect of third party software upon the poker industry as a whole, and in particular the negative effect it has on the recreational player demographic. The decision to put a stop to the practice of datamining on the poker network is part of Microgaming’s overarching network strategy to support operators in attracting and retaining recreational players. It further demonstrates commitment in providing a secure and fair playing environment.”
While some in the poker playing community may view Microgaming’s move as an assault against those who use the varieties of software available, Clucas emphasizes that the company is simply ensuring a balanced playing field for its customers. “Microgaming is not seeking to alienate its winning players,” Clucas said. “There has been a move in the industry towards penalizing winners; we believe that is the wrong approach. There will always be winners and losers in poker. What we are trying to achieve is a more level playing field for all the players.”
Some in the poker world see the move by Microgaming as just the first domino in a chain about to fall. Steve Ruddock, a writer for the National Online Poker Examiner and a frequent participant in the battles on Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and the Cake Poker Network, believes that the move by Microgaming should be the standard for the online poker industry.
“I think datamining creates an unequal playing field because it puts the emphasis on data collection instead of hard-work, focus, and skill,” Ruddock noted. “Players are no longer rewarded for their hard-work: instead, players are rewarded for spending $50 to $100 and receiving data in return. Tracking software has turned breakeven or slight losers into winners by negating the advantage that decent winning players held over them: Work ethic and focus. Poker is equal parts strategy, psychology, and hard work; datamining eliminates the need for the third part.”
As to Microgaming’s decision, Ruddock sees that it could be a point of sale for players. “I think Microgaming’s decision will have widespread effects,” he opines. “At some point, ‘Do they allow datamining?’ will be just as important as ‘Do they offer rakeback?’ in the minds of potential customers. I hope more sites follow Microgaming’s lead. It would leave a handful of sites with a player base of dataminers and, once they see that the table is full of tight grinders, they’ll start looking for greener pastures.”
Top poker professional Kenna James, who is sponsored by PokerHost on the Cake Poker Network, took a philosophical approach to looking at the issue. “Datamining is an interesting platform for looking at us, as humans, as a microcosm of what is going on in the advancement of the high-tech world and its applications to us altogether,” James stated. “The issue I see with datamining is that it can reduce people to sets of numbers and I personally find this very impersonal; people are more then just a set of numbers.”
“The complexities of poker go beyond that in a live setting where you have to interact with real people, but maybe not so much online where you can hide behind the anonymity of an avatar,” Kenna explained. “Things get more complicated when you bring in emotion, compassion, and reason, among other things. These human qualities and characteristics can slowly be eroded when you begin to see people as just a number.”
James finished our discussion with an interesting thought: “Hours or days or years of using tools like this and becoming dependent on them for making their decisions may lead to some serious personal issues we have not yet discovered in life off the virtual felt.”
Whether other poker networks will follow Microgaming’s lead in the banishment of datamining and poker software remains to be seen. It also is a question as to how players will respond to not being able to use poker software on the Microgaming Network.