In early March, PokerStars began restricting the use of third-party software tools, namely seating scripts, in an effort to improve the poker environment for its players. Unfortunately, the policy move didn’t quite work out as intended and in response, the online poker room tightened its restrictions, banning seating scripts altogether.

Seating Scripts are Abusive

A seating script is a software program that a user runs alongside the poker client which automatically seats the user at cash game tables based on predetermined criteria. These criteria are derived from data the user has on opponents; the goal is to find the weakest players and sit down at their tables. Seating scripts scan the cash game lobbies for these players and with no intervention needed by the user (aside from activating the software), seats the user where those “fish” are located.

The reason seating scripts were restricted is that they foster a hostile environment toward those weaker players. They are hunted throughout the poker room and picked on by stronger players. Weaker players are always going to have problems winning, but they are not stupid; they know when they are being tracked down and drained of their money. Poker becomes less fun for them and they often do not return.

The new rule read as so:

Any tool or service that sorts available games or (semi-) automates the process of joining games based on the game-play statistics or notes of other players will be prohibited. A tool that solely (or semi-) automates adding players to a set number of tables, without any reliance on information about other players, is permitted.

Unintended Consequences

Interestingly, though, the ban on only certain kinds of seating scripts may have backfired. Posters on Two Plus Two quickly started complaining:

“I thought they were banning scripts but they seem as rampant as ever. Some times hard to even get sat down at regular tables due to this.”

“Pokerstars now is a massive game of musical chairs, and the music stops when a fish sits.”

“scripts are still allowed but not to sit vs color-tags
now they just sit vs every reserved seat or newly sat player, making it 100% worse”

What had happened was that seating script developers modified their scripts to adhere to the new rules, so instead of targeting specific players, users started having their scripts essentially carpet bomb lobbies with seat reservations. Seating scripts would put mass-holds on open seats and then users would wait to see if weaker players would arrive. The result was that non-script using players had trouble even sitting down.

In response to the problems and the complaints, PokerStars decided to cutoff scripts altogether. A PokerStars rep posted on Two Plus Two:

Due to ring game seating scripts inherently causing this “table blocking”, we are making changes starting from today to prohibit players using these seating scripts. This change is effective immediately. It will take several days to update information on our webpages.

We thank the players who have raised their concerns with us on this issue.

The interesting thing about this is that, unlike when the original policy change was announced at the end of February (it went into effect on March 4th), PokerStars did not make another announcement on its site. Instead, the rep just posted in the poker forums on April 11th, a location where only the most dedicated players will notice.

What remains to be seen is how effective the blanket ban will be. Script developers will now likely get much sneakier with their software and a cat-and-mouse game with PokerStars may heat up.

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