*** NOTE – THIS IS AN OLD POST THAT HAS BEEN UPDATED/EXTENDED WITH ADDITIONAL CONTENT ***

An old discussion flared back to life on twitter yesterday after I asked @pokertracker to inform me when they have full HUD coverage of @pokerstars Zoom Poker so I can stop playing it.

This is a stab at @Pokerstars – not @Pokertracker but the inevitable discussion with HUD defenders ensued. In this case with @JoeTall and @Pokertracker associate @_Tizzle.

As often is the case, people defend the existence of HUDs while I oppose not their existence – but how sites cloud their use. So the discussion doesn’t really go anywhere.

Hence I want to make the following clarification:

I am not an opponent of features and functionality that utilizes game data and the strategic complexities of poker to offer players a potentially more engaging play experience. I am probably an above-average proponent of such things. Heck,[intlink id=”1274″ type=”post”] I’ve even argued for the use of bots under certain conditions.[/intlink]

My beef is with the poker sites and their inadequate handling of the fact that such tools exist as third party applications. And the reason I feel so strongly about it is because I understand the root reason of why the act as they do.

The problem isn’t that sites to a varying degree (but not varying enough imho but that is a different discussion) approve the use of 3rd party player tools. It’s their game. They are free to craft whatever play experience they like.  The problem is that they intentionally do very little to make sure the entire player base is aware of these tools and what they can do.

At first this was mostly due to the fact that the industry was young; development happened almost haphazardly, often just copying what everybody else were doing – or mimicking standard practice for live poker. Sites had no control over or even knowledge of  3rd party development that utilized or altered their code. The situation was chaotic.
Nowadays most Terms & Conditions will outline which tools are legit and which are not. And some of the bigger 3rd party tool suppliers, like @pokertracker, cooperate with the sites and networks that their tools support. Some sites may even, especially in the wake of the recreational player revolution, have outlined a credible game design strategy. They now, most of them, understand the role these tools play and how the ecosystem of poker fundamentally works. The problem is that they don’t like what they have learned.

The reality is that sites don’t want their casual players to understand that the game they were sold as one of wit, cunning, guts and luck is often played as a game of statistics and time-consuming data analysis. The sites fear that if a casual player is exposed to the intense world of HUDs and equity calculators and whatnot they will be instantly turned off. They will realize that this is a game in which they are not willing or able to invest the time required to stand a fair chance. And that the fancy talk of bluffing and tells evaporates the minute they clock in enough hands to be adequately analyzed.

Even in a game without monetary involvement this is bad. In one where money is involved it is outrageous. Yet this is never publically discussed other than by me. Not that I am aware of anyway.

By not integrating the advanced functionality offered by many 3rd party tools into their software  – or making the 3rd party tools intuitively and easily accessible from within the GUI – they flunk one of their most important responsibilities as gambling providers – that of offering a level playing field.

Sites choose to accept that a large majority of players will be playing oblivious of the kind of tools, and their potential, that a minority of opponents may be using against them. Allowing them to gleefully adapt a bluffing play style doomed to fail.

The recreational players are simply sold out in order for the sites to not have to deal with either of the following two options:

1. Ban the use of such tools and risk losing committed, highly active users.

2. Make everyone fully aware of the range of approved tools and how to use them – thus taking the risk of losing valuable (contributing) players intrigued by poker’s psychological aspects and taking comfort in that the software seems to offer limited capacity for other players to exploit the fact that they don’t want to read nine books in order to justify playing at all.

But, but all this is spelled out in Terms & Conditions and we also have a page somewhere on our site introducing some of the tools!

Yeah, whatever. It’s not your money being lost after all.

***UPDATE JULY 22***

In the wake of the announcement that @pokertracker will be sponsoring the EPT I, perhaps tediously, decided to give this topic another runaround. It bugs me that it’s never gained much traction.  I can only hope that more people join me in putting pressure on site’s to change or tell me to shut up once and for all.
One argument that has been brought up to back the notion that I’m making a lot of noise over nothing is that the permission to use for example HUDs are spelled out in the rules. And if you don’t read the rules, your bad.
I don’t think this argument removes the responsibility of a game provider to present players with a GUI that reflects the rules, but let’s ignore that for a while.

Here’s what you find about the ability to compile, store and access additional game and player data directly at the table through the use of third party applications on Pokerstars.eu.

Poker Games Frequently Asked Questions – Nothing.
Pokerstars Special Features – Nothing
How to Play section – Develop your skills! – Nothing
Poker Game Rules – Nothing
Poker Strategy – Nothing
Prohibited Software – Full info

This menu item is not found under “the How to Play section” but under a site section called “Poker Room”.  I also find it telling that the section is called “Prohibited Software”. It’s called that because the good people at Pokerstars have put it there not to inform casual players of what tools they can use but instead to answer questions from grinders regarding which they may NOT use.

The following is from Blizzard’s World of Warcraft user interface add-on development policy

1) Add-ons must be free of charge.
All add-ons must be distributed free of charge. Developers may not create “premium” versions of add-ons with additional for-pay features, charge money to download an add-on, charge for services related to the add-on, or otherwise require some form of monetary compensation to download or access an add-on.

2) Add-on code must be completely visible.
The programming code of an add-on must in no way be hidden or obfuscated, and must be freely accessible to and viewable by the general public.

3) Add-ons must not negatively impact World of Warcraft realms or other players.
Add-ons will perform no function which, in Blizzard Entertainment’s sole discretion, negatively impacts the performance of the World of Warcraft realms or otherwise negatively affects the game for other players. For example, this includes but is not limited to excessive use of the chat system, unnecessary loading from the hard disk, and slow frame rates.

Any comparisons between online poker and World of Warcraft here will be flawed for several reasons but I think it is fair to say that one should expect a game in which players gamble with their own money and directly win other people’s money should live up to far higher standards than a subscription MMORPG.

All I am asking is that sites make the existence and use of external aid tools transparent. Either by making sure every new player understand that they are available, make sure the use of external tools is made apparent in the game client so players can discover it themselves or – which would of course would be the best option – make sure the approved functionality is embedded in the software and ban everything else.
Until they do, they are marketing a game experience that does not exist and trick players into thinking they are playing on a level playing field.

Agree? Disagree?

Would love if enough people chipped in so I could conclude once and for all whether I’m right or wrong here.

It’s highly advised to read the comment section before deciding. It’s full of additional angles and arguments.