We have seen a trend lately of online poker rooms trying to make themselves more recreational-player friendly, not by necessarily weeding out skilled pros (though this is often what happens), but by attempting to protect weaker or simply newer players from those who want to prey on them by means other than simply playing good poker. The latest poker room to announce changes it partypoker, which wants to “level the playing field” for all players.
In a blog post last week, the poker room listed out the following three changes to its software platform (emphasis added):
• Players will be able to view the last 12 months of their own hand histories within the Missions icon in the partypoker software, but hand histories will no longer be able to be downloaded and saved to their local devices
• Players wishing to wait for a cash game will join the room-wide waiting list and be randomly seated when a seat that matches their preference becomes available
• Players joining a cash game will see the names of their opponents only once their first hand is dealt
The goal of these changes is pretty straightforward. A growing problem in online poker has been what many would consider unscrupulous “sharks” using third-party software to target and hunt down “fish” in a way that runs contrary to the spirit of poker. They use software that collects data on players (either from the user’s own hand histories, purchased hand histories, shared hand histories, or some combination of the three), tags statistically weaker players as fish, and helps them find those players in the lobby and then automatically seats them at their tables. Nobody should have a problem with a good player simply winning money from a lesser player at the poker tables, but when they purposely stalk them and have automated assistance from software in doing so, it does appear to be crossing the line.
In eliminating downloadable hand histories, partypoker takes away the ability for hand tracking software to gather data on players, thus making it that much harder for third-party software users to identify fish. And by removing both the ability to select cash game tables and see their opponents before sitting down, sharks should be prevented from hunting down their prey even if they can somehow still identify them ahead of time.
In an interview with PokerNews, partypoker’s Head of Network Operations and Business Intelligence Jay Kanabar explained some of the thought process behind the upcoming implementation, saying:
If I walked into the Bellagio Poker Room in Las Vegas, I could not ask the Card Room Manager, “Who are your worst players? Can you lock me a seat up to the left of one of them? Where do I get the printout of all the hands everyone here has played over the last 6 months? When my juicy seat comes free can you give me a shout, I’m just nipping into Bobby’s Room to take some notes on the hands being played in there!
Tony Dunst, partypoker’s Ambassador and WPT commentator added in the blog post:
These changes at partypoker are designed to create a more hospitable environment for recreational players. Unfortunately, many of the tools and tactics that professionals use to maximize their edge have made the games too difficult for new players to survive. Without them, grinders will merely pass money back and forth while being raked, and games will inevitably dry up. I think these changes will help level the playing field for casual players, and preserve the quality of games for professionals.
The recovery process from the freezing of Full Tilt Poker player funds nearly four and a half years ago continues. Though millions of dollars have been paid out to former U.S. customers of Full Tilt, there are still millions left to go. You thought it was all over, didn’t you?
On Friday, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) announced that another wave of payments is on its way. Specifically, PPA Executive Director John Pappas posted an update on the “PPA Players Repayment Resource Center” of the PPA’s website that he has heard from his contact at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section that another several million dollars is set to be repaid. Nothing official has come from the DoJ or the Full Tilt Claims Administrator, the Garden City Group (GCG), but if Pappas is confident to make the announcement, the news is almost certainly true. As the loss of money from Black Friday is a painful subject to many former Full Tilt players, it is highly unlikely that Pappas would post something so hopeful based solely on speculation.
Below is the entire message John Pappas posted on the PPA’s website:
I just spoke with my contact at DOJ AFMLS and learned that another batch is ready to be issued, but it could still be a few weeks till it hits player bank accounts. This next wave includes roughly 2,000 petitioners totaling $ 5.7M in funds. These are petitioners with disputed funds, those with missing info and those who they consider “new petitioners” (e.g. did not file with valid log-in credentials).
The remission has been approved. They expect about 1-2 weeks to transfer the money to GCG, then GCG will do its bank testing and finally, the money will arrive.
My contact says this leaves about 3,800 petitions unresolved. Most of them are “new petitioners” and there are some others, including pro-players, who are mixed into that bunch. There was no timeline provided for those final petitions, but the expectation was that they could all be done at once.
That is all the info I have for now. Be checking fulltiltpokerclaims.com for their official updates.
John A. Pappas
Poker Players Alliance
If the dollar amount Pappas relayed is accurate, around $ 109 million will have been paid out to U.S. players since the first payment wave started in February 2014. And while that sounds fantastic, there are two problems with that. First, it still doesn’t cover everyone who is owed money; not everyone will have been made whole. Now, that isn’t necessarily the fault of the GCG, the DoJ, or even Full Tilt’s records, as some players may have simply not completed the claims process or gone about it correctly, but it is still unfortunate. Second, the settlement PokerStars agreed to with the DoJ in which the poker room took control of Full Tilt and agreed to pay back its customers set aside $ 184 million for U.S. player refunds. Doing the math, that leaves $ 75 million still to be repaid. It is a virtual certainty that the majority of that will end up in the coffers of the GCG and the U.S. government.
As we pull into the final quarter of the tournament poker year, poker professional Anthony Zinno has continued to dominate the different Player of the Year races in the tournament poker world. In fact, unless someone goes on a major heater before December 31, Zinno probably should have these titles sewn up. (Due to the closure of their magazine and website, the Bluff Magazine Player of the Year standings have not been updated and, as such, have been dropped from our review.)
Zinno’s year to date has been nothing short of outstanding. On the CardPlayer Magazine Player of the Year race, Zinno has used 20 cashes, 11 final tables and five tournament wins to compile 6632 points. For comparison’s sake, last year’s POY victor on the CardPlayer charts, Dan Colman, had a similarly dominating year but only compiled 5498 points for the entire year. With three more months left in 2015, Zinno would jot his name in the annals of poker history with one of the most dominant performances ever.
There are those that would like the shot at taking Zinno down, however. 2015 World Series of Poker bracelet winner Nick Petrangelo picked up a final table finish during the European Poker Tour’s inaugural stop for its Season 12 schedule in Barcelona to add 1400 points to his resume, pushing him to the second place spot with 5134 points. In September, Joe Kuether was quite the busy player as he racked up four cashes, including two final tables and a third place finish at the World Poker Tour’s Borgata Poker Open, adding 1080 points to his successful 2015 season. Kuether, with 4858 points, is in third place ahead of Jason Mercier (4294) and Byron Kaverman (3777).
At one point in the 2015 season, Dzmitry Urbanovich was in a strong second place on the CardPlayer leaderboard but, due to his youthful age (19), he couldn’t participate in the 2015 WSOP in Las Vegas. Because of that lack of action, Urbanovich went from May to August without picking up any POY points. In August, though, Urbanovich got back on the felt at the EPT Barcelona and put together four final tables and 1125 points, bringing him back into the CardPlayer POY race in sixth place with 3723 points.
Someone who has snuck up on many in the tournament poker world is Argentina’s Ivan Luca. Although he did win a bracelet at the 2015 WSOP, few could have recited the success he had had previously in Europe and South America in 2015, earning 20 cashes, 8 final tables and two titles. Luca is hot on Urbanovich’s heels in seventh place with his 3493 points, while Paul Volpe (eighth, 3275 points), EPT Barcelona €10,000 High Roller winner Mustapha Kanit (ninth, 3260) and Taylor Paur (3144, tenth) round out the CardPlayer Top Ten.
On the Global Poker Index Player of the Year race, Zinno is also in the lead but not nearly as dominant as with the CardPlayer charts. In total, Zinno has been able to hold the #1 slot on the GPI POY leaderboard for exactly one-quarter of a year (13 weeks) in 2015, as powerful a statement as any as to the season that Zinno has had. Because of the differences with the GPI rankings (the GPI takes a player’s top 13 performances for points, not every finish), Zinno’s last four cashes haven’t added any points to his GPI POY-leading 4461.20 points, but it will be tough to catch him this late in the year.
Kaverman is the pursuer on the GPI ladder, earning 781.87 points during the month of August to thrust him into the second place slot with his 4292.41 points. Petrangelo is also knocking at the door, holding down third place with 4076.11, and Urbanovich is lurking in the pack with his 3955.62 points in fourth place. Rounding out the Top Five on the GPI board is a new name, Connor Drinan, who had a strong start to the 2015 tournament poker season to earn him 3771.11 points.
The second half of the GPI Top Ten features a couple of other new names. Scott Seiver (sixth, 3762.46 points) has been a bit quiet since his runner-up finish at the $ 500,000 Super High Roller Bowl back in July, but he’s a threat to make a charge up the standings. Mercier has put together a decent season in his own right, holding down the seventh place slot with his 3751.99 points. Volpe (eighth, 3651.76 points), Kuether (3473.3 points) and the other new name, Stephen Chidwick (tenth, 3473.17 points) finish off the GPI Top Ten.
On the GPI front, it is going to be difficult for someone to make a big move. Because of the way the points are totaled – and the usage of only the top 13 finishes from a player – there may not be enough “big” events left in the year to make for significant movement. Zinno will perhaps face his biggest challenges from Kaverman and Petrangelo, but they would have to win a couple big events to make up the difference to Zinno.
On the CardPlayer standings, Zinno big lead is going to force someone in the Top Ten to win a major EPT, WPT or WSOP Europe tournament to surge up the board (as many as 1400 points can be given for a win, depending on field size and buy-in). With this in mind, the contenders looking to take down Zinno will probably have to win two as no one is within that 1400 point circle. Petrangelo’s the closest at 1498 points behind, while Kuether and Mercier are almost two victories behind. Even if Urbanovich would win an EPT Main Event and a WSOP Europe bracelet (and earned 1400 points for each win), he would still not earn enough points to pass Zinno – and this is allowing for the fact that Zinno doesn’t score another point this year.
Up next for tournament poker’s best is the WSOP Europe, heading to Berlin, Germany beginning October 8. The 10-event schedule is expected to draw a sizeable contingent of players looking to take a WSOP bracelet or earn some points towards the WSOP Player of the Year race. Following the conclusion of the WSOP Europe on October 24, the EPT and the WPT will resume their normal schedules with several large events between now and the end of 2015. Will those tournaments have any effect on the POY standings or has Anthony Zinno sewn them up?
In a move that could have a seismic effect on how online players take on the game, PokerStars announced earlier this week new changes to their policies on third party software usage. The new changes are in effect now and, if fully pushed by PokerStars officials, will effect players who have come to depend on something other than their own abilities to play the online game.
In a post on Two Plus Two, PokerStars’ Sit & Go and Tournament Manager Baard Dahl details out the discussions that had been echoing around the halls of PokerStars’ offices. Those discussions brought out the following changes to the third party software policies, straight from Dahl’s post on Two Plus Two:
1. Reference material, such as starting hand charts, now have to be “basic in nature”. Anything considered to be sophisticated in nature can no longer be used whilst the client is open.
2. HUDs are no longer permitted to display non-numerical data, categorize players or dynamically display statistics specific to a certain situation.
3. Hand or Situation Analyzers, such as programs that compute equities of various ranges of hands against one another, can no longer be used whilst the client is open.
4. Game State Reporters can no longer automatically or semi-automatically retrieve information from an otherwise permitted reference material. For example, tools can no longer notify an end-user that their starting hand lies in Group 1 of a statically defined grouping of hands.
5. Table Selection and Seating Scripts can no longer time a player’s registration into a global waiting list. They must register players into specific tables or tournaments.
The first three changes will actually have an impact on how the play will be conducted on the virtual felt. HUDs have long been popular for the voluminous information that they provide to the players, with some even allowing situational analysis for determining the play of hands. By removing the ability to either display hand grouping information or player categorizations, a HUD user will have to rely more on his own immediate knowledge.
Another important change will be in the ability for software to automate the selection of tables and seats. In the case of the Spin & Gos, Dahl writes, it should be totally random whom players were being seated to play against. Such programs as SpinWiz, however, were circumventing the PokerStars software and allowing for players to target certain opponents (the practice when done in a cash game setting is called “bumhunting”). Dahl was quick to note that “at this time” PokerStars was still allowing some generic seating scripts for other games.
In his post, Dahl also details out how the new protocols will be implemented. “In accordance with our usual procedure, our first objective will be to educate people who do not realize that this form of software is now prohibited,” Dahl writes. “Consequently, we will have sent a notification of these rule changes to players who we know have been using such software in the recent past. None of these players have broken any of our rules, but we want to make sure that everyone has first-hand information so that they do not inadvertently end up in a situation where they break the rules in the future.”
The commentary from the users was divided on both sides of the issue. Some thought that the new regulations are the result of Amaya Gaming, the owners of PokerStars, further protecting the “casual” player and taking away from those looking to make a living off of the online game. Others, however, have long bemoaned the usage of third-party software at the virtual tables – even longtime poker professional Patrik Antonius recently lamented that he cannot beat the games online anymore because of the usage of HUD software – and see the moves by PokerStars as long overdue but perhaps too late to help the online game.
With the new rules enacted, we should be able to see the effects on PokerStars traffic numbers – if there is to be any effect – over the coming weeks. Players will either have to adjust to life without some of their favorite software devices or – as is usual in the online game – find others that can circumvent the PokerStars protocols.
After hyping their product as “the world’s only round-the-clock poker TELEVISION network” (emphasis by author), yesterday’s debut of Poker Central was rather disappointing as it became painfully apparent that the new “channel” is nothing more than a streaming outlet, falling far short of the requirement for a TELEVISION station or network.
Visitors to the Poker Central website are sent to a specific area of their website that lists the “outlets” where Poker Central can be found. At this time, only the streaming devices Roku, Amazon Fire, Xbox One and FilmOn.tv offer the channel in their lineups, with the Xbox 360 being listed as “available soon.” Not listed in any of these offerings are such other popular streaming outlets as the Chromecast, the PlayStation 4 or Apple TV.
What is missing from this list also? How about any of the major cable carriers in the United States or the remainder of the world to broadcast the channel. On the Poker Channel website, visitors can leave their pertinent information – name, e-mail, ZIP code, cable or digital television provider – and Poker Central says they will “e-mail you when the channel is available in your area.” This goes against what the “powers that be” with Poker Central previously stated that it would be – a 24/7 poker “television network.”
Now that we’ve established that this isn’t anything other than a streaming network right now, the actual content of the channel leaves a great deal to be desired. Bringing the channel up on my Roku for a few hours, all I have seen to this point are broadcasts of past tournaments, none of this “exciting” new programming that has been promised by network honchos. Although watching some of the Season 7 Premier League from 2014 was interesting, Poker Central showed ONE episode of the Premier League, then dropped the viewer into a whole other broadcast of the 2009 PKR Heads Up Grand Slam (note to the programmers: I don’t want to have to search around for the next broadcast of a long past tournament if I am watching it – your broadcast schedule isn’t exactly easy to find on the website or through promotion on the channel itself. Either play it all the way through or don’t do it at all).
On another aside to the executives at Poker Central, it might be a good idea to stay away from those shows that prominently feature some of the players from the old Full Tilt Poker. One of the staples of programming from Poker Central is the old program Face the Ace, where an Average Joe squared off in heads-up matches with players from the Full Tilt stable. You’re not going to win many fans to your network if poker aficionados have to sit down to watch Chris Ferguson or Howard Lederer, two pariahs in the poker world even if it is in the past (the Poker After Dark episodes might be OK, depending on who is playing in the event).
Poker Central does try to give the appearance of a traditional television network, actually running some commercials in their programming. They also run a promotional bumper – a man who accidentally eats a massive amount of wasabi and tries to play it off to his friend as if nothing has happened, with the tag line “Show Us Your Poker Face,” (not surprisingly a contest that the network is currently running) – that is funny the first time you see it, but wears thin really quickly. Unfortunately, this appears to be the only one that they took the time to create, so get used to it.
What is unfortunately evident is that there should have been more of an emphasis placed on creating new programming for Poker Central than finding filler to go in around two or three programs. There is little in what would be called “new” programs on the channel – tournament director Matt Savage is supposed to have what could be an interesting interview program, but no shows currently are scheduled and poker professional Maria Ho is supposed to be the head of another program, also not expected to premiere for some time – leaving…24 hours to fill with something until these shows (and hopefully others) are ready to be broadcast.
Yes, Poker Central is in its embryonic stage of its development. It will take some time to get a catalog built up so that the channel isn’t playing poker tournaments 23 hours a day, but it is something that needs to be addressed quickly. It also must be addressed that Poker Central isn’t an actual television channel but a streaming one. When you bluff, you have to be telling a convincing story…Poker Central’s leadership isn’t doing well on that front. Perhaps a few more months in development would have provided a better product; it will be tough to keep an audience if you are creating it on the fly.