PokerStars, the most popular poker site in the world, has asked players to record a video of their sessions to prove they are not a poker bot, in what appears to be an effort to enforce its new, stricter third party software policy. Several high-stakes pros have received letters from the company asking that they film their playing sessions to verify that they are not a poker bot.
A poker bot is computer program designed to play the game of poker against human opponents or other computer opponents. They are commonly referred to as pokerbots or just simply bots. It makes decisions, enters the stakes and press buttons for you. Most bots are extremely simple (looking to exploit beginner players who are likely to make stupid mistakes) while other bots are more complex and change their playing styles based on their opponents style of play.
Poker bots are not new, but until recently they were not very good. But artificial intelligence has come a long way in the last few years, far enough that poker bots are now good enough to win tens of thousands of dollars on major game sites.
The world’s biggest online poker room, PokerStars, recently confirmed that they are investigating a situation involving suspected cheaters using artificial intelligence while playing in mid-stakes pot-limit Omaha games.
Internet detectives estimate that the suspected players, primarily from Russia and Kazakhstan, won almost $1.5 million at the $0.50/$1 and $1/$2 pot-limit Omaha tables.
But Pokerstars demands are not only for that poker bots. In November, Eric Hollreiser, head of corporate communications for PokerStars, wrote in a blog post that the company would prohibit the functions of certain poker apps in order to level the playing field between pros and casual players. In that blog, Hollreiser said that PokerStars hoped to “reemphasize the fun and social aspects of online poker while attracting and retaining more players to the game.”
These days, in an email sent out to some high stakes players, PokerStars informed them that they must prove they are playing alone, without using any prohibited software. On 2+2, user “TooCuriousso1” posted a message from Pokerstars and this is the relevant portion of the e-mail:
However, we require a video recording of you playing. This recording has a few mandatory requirements:
– At the beginning of the recording, we must be able to clearly see your face in order to confirm your identity
– Before starting to play, you must rotate your camera 360 degrees to show us all of your surroundings
– You must start your playing session from an empty computer desktop, whereby you initiate the PokerStars client and log into your account
– After logging in, you must play a regular session of yours
– Your playing session at the tables must be for a minimum of 70 active minutes
– During your play at the tables, the recording must be of sufficient quality to see and track the activities that are taking place on your desktop. In addition, the recording must capture your surrounding environment including your monitor, keyboard, mouse and the movement of your hands
– Audio must be included in the recording
– You must minimise the amount of individual video files. Longer, continual recordings are preferred
– You have 10 days to complete this task
It is important that your playing session is conducted in the same manner as one of your typical sessions as your tendencies will be contrasted with your regular play.
You must supply the resulting recording to us via email. In the likely event the files exceed attachment limits, please utilise file sharing services such as Dropbox, Google Drive or whichever service you prefer. We’ll largely leave this option up to you.
Failure to follow these instructions or if the video is of sub-par quality, will result in this task needing to be repeated.
It goes on to say that the player should play sessions during his normal hours and play in the same manner which he typically does on the site. PokerStars wrote that it would compare the play with play from that player’s previous sessions.
PokerStars defends its actions, also stating that it has been proactively investigating player accounts for years. For exemple, back in 2007, Hevad Khan was accused of running a bot program because he was playing hundreds of SNGs each day (at least 26 at once). After freezing his account, PokerStars asked Khan to record a video of himself playing SNGs under his alias RaiNKhaN to prove he was doing it without assistance (which he was). Similarly, the account rs03rs03 was also investigated by PokerStars back in 2010.
They acknowledge that this might be inconvenient to players who are following the rules, but find it necessary to investigate where they have reason to believe a player has violated the terms of service of the site which they take seriously. A PokerStars representative commented for pokernews.com, the following:
PokerStars takes the enforcement of our Terms of Service very seriously. That’s why we routinely seek additional information from players who are under suspicion of breaking our rules. We conduct thousands of proactive reviews of accounts every year, and some of these reviews are completed for players who we discover during the course of our investigation have done nothing wrong. We understand it is inconvenient for players to comply with additional requests, but where we have reason to believe that a player may have broken our rules and possibly won money fraudulently from other players we are obliged to investigate as fully as possible in order to come to the correct decision.
“PokerStars has used such investigatory techniques for more than five years now, and will continue to do so in the future. A complete and comprehensive investigation is the fairest way for PokerStars to enforce our rules.
The poker community’s reaction to the video request has been mixed. Some think that if you have nothing to hide, then this is not a big deal. Others feel it is overly intrusive and some players complain that their balance is being held hostage. Also, this new PokerStars security measures raise some privacy concerns. Whereas the culture of North America and the UK may be relatively relaxed about privacy issues, many European countries and former communist countries take a much harder line on the issue.