The complex issue of real-time assistants in online poker

The natural evolution of information

The digital camera is a wonderful invention because it allows us to remember… instantly.

~Demetri Martin

We are an impatient species. Our world is built on biology but once we start to understand it, we turn it into technology. In defense of the “wizards” changing the poker landscape around him, poker pro Phil Laak once told me that the creation and adoption of poker software was simply “the natural evolution of ‘information”. Inevitable. Inevitable. He considered it part of the inexorable march of new technologies.

What if this “dream machine” could tell us the best thing to do in 20 seconds?

However, taken to its natural conclusion, technological progress poses an existential threat to online poker. Of course, we can remember our hands, put them in a solver and analyze the result. It is a form of study. It’s post-mortem. However, what if these solvers became smart enough that a player could get game-theoretic optimal (GTO) solutions “instantly”? What if this “dream machine” could tell us the best thing to do in 20 seconds with an extremely high degree of certainty?

Well, that’s not the future I’m describing. This is truly the present and right now as you read this dozens of ‘elite gamers’ are using ‘push button bots’ to optimize their decision making in high stakes online games. students. Some of them are the guys you probably consider the best in the game.

In recent days, poker discord groups have been inundated with advertisements for “real-time assistance” (RTA). The widespread use of such software is an existential threat to online poker. Canadian poker pro Jaime Staples commented on the issue on Twitter earlier this week:

One person, one hand

In some ways, online poker has proven to be a safer space than its live counterpart when it comes to the problem of cheating. If a player suspects that two opponents are colluding against them, they can raise their concerns with the poker site’s security team who can go back and analyze the hands, examining them for suspicious patterns. In a live setting, you have no such recourse.

sites now know when players have opened third-party software

There is, however, a poker rule that has never been possible to control properly in online poker. Although fundamental to the integrity of the game, “one person, one hand” has never been applicable on the virtual felt. A poker site cannot verify who is actually sitting behind the computer, which makes the game vulnerable to “ghosting”. Detection methods have improved over the years and sites now know when players have opened third-party software. This allowed them to implement a ban on programs like Skype, annoying a potential ghoster but certainly not stopping a determined one.

These same detection tools have allowed sites to further restrict players. For example, some have decided to ban heads-up displays (HUDs) in an effort to level the playing field. Through this, operators aim to enforce one player, one hand, and prevent programs from collecting data statistics on the tendencies of opponents. More important, however, is the enforcement of a real-time assistance (RTA) ban.

What is RTA?

Strictly speaking, real-time support is anything external to players that helps them make decisions while playing online cash games or tournaments. An advanced game theory (GTO) solver running on a supercomputer, capable of executing millions of times in seconds, making decisions based on its findings a fraction of a second before timeout is a clear example something that should be banned.

poker sites are responsible for deciding where to draw the line

In contrast, a post-it note taped to the side of a player’s computer with the phrase “Fold Ace-Jack off-suit to 3-bets” also provides a form of outside help, but no one in their right mind would consider this meaningful cheating. . The point here is that there is an array of RTAs (push-fold charts, pre-solved opening range lists, range calculators and ICM analyzers) so poker sites are responsible for deciding where to plot the line.

GGPoker, for example, decided to draw the line to something other than a basic preflop chart that defines the starting hands to play from each position. The emphasis here is on “basic”, as the reading material may not contain stack sizes, relative positions, or user-defined situations. Some say it’s too strict. The best poker pro Olivier Busquet is not one of these:

The first high-profile RTA case

In September 2020, German online gambler-turned-poker Fedor Kruse made headlines when his housemates denounced his use of a “dream machine”. In this case, it was a two-computer setup designed to fool mouse tracking systems (another detection method used by sites). Kruse played on a computer while quickly pulling out the applicable pre-solved spot and following the decision tree to make GTO decisions on the second one. When he finally broke his silence, Kruse said the use of “dream machines” was widespread, saying “Russian robot farms” were in the $5 sit and go pool.

the operator seized about $1.2 million from thirteen of the banned accounts

Kruse has had a meteoric rise from $0.50/$1 cash games to $200/$400 hits in less than 12 months. GGPoker eventually banned the German and confiscated $250,000, while other sites returned his balances before locking his accounts. Later that same month, GGPoker banned another 40 accounts for using RTA and issued final warnings to 40 more. In total, the operator seized approximately $1.2 million from thirteen of the banned accounts.

GGPoker has released a statement explaining its methods in general terms. He said: “The massive increase in data analytics is a big part of our new process. Our team thoroughly analyzes poker hands based on our proprietary algorithms with the help of some of the brightest minds in poker. Their ideas and contributions continually improve our algorithms. Through this process, we can quickly establish whether the GTO poker game has taken place. Once we make that decision, we look at a variety of other factors to determine if said GTO game involved the use of RTA.

It should be noted that there were negative reactions to GGPoker’s decision to ban these players. Either way, poker sites are judge, jury and executioner in these situations. Undeterred, GGPoker has banned more players since.

Lead in the boxing glove

Fortunately, some areas of online poker remain a bigger challenge for solver technology. Multi-table tournaments are certainly not impervious, but the different sizes of mats and ICM complicate things enough to limit the effectiveness of the RTA. Knockout tournament players can certainly feel a lot safer at the moment.

RTA configurations are refined and optimized

It’s been over 16 months since the Fedor Kruse scandal and in that time technology has continued to advance. RTA configurations are refined and optimized. Rumor has it that some high-stakes players engage in “my RTA is better than yours” bot wars. Invisible in the background, behind closed doors, more and more lead is slipped into the boxing glove.

The fact that RTA makers now have the temerity to openly advertise on poker discord groups demonstrates a shamelessness never seen before. If it becomes easier for gamers to get their hands on RTA, others might succumb to the temptation to cheat. Poker site integrity teams have their work cut out for them as the endless game of cat and mouse continues.

Comments are closed.