PokerStars Makes Sweeping Changes To Ring Game Seating Process

Steve Ruddock January 30, 2017
PokerStars seating

PokerStars has announced a sweeping change that didn’t cause poker Twitter and the 2+2 forum to lose its collective mind, for the first time in a long time.

The latest ecology enhancement is a new method of seating players at tables called Seat Me.

Seat Me was introduced by PokerStars last week, and for the most part, the poker community sees it as a positive change — some more than others.

As a result, the changes will largely take away players’ ability to choose where they sit.

PokerStars will shift to Seat Me gradually, beginning with an impending rollout on the PokerStars.es client. Based on the test results in Spain, the company will decide if and how it wants to move forward with Seat Me in other markets.

“If the test is conclusive, it will be a major milestone against seating scripts and the groups of players that prevent these games being played on an even footing,” said PokerStars’ Director of Poker Innovation and Operations Séverin Rasset in an announcement post on the PokerStars corporate blog. “We aim to deploy this feature in other licenses if the test is successful, and our intention is to propose something similar in cash games in the coming months.”

What is Seat Me?

Seat Me is a new seating policy that mirrors the way most live poker rooms seat players. Instead of sitting at or joining the waitlist of a specific table or tables, PokerStars players will now choose the game and stakes they want to play and will be sent to the first available seat.

Additionally, all table lineups will now be anonymous in the lobby. What this means is players perusing the PokerStars’ lobby will no longer be able to see who is sitting at a specific table, or even view a table, until they’re seated.

In his blog post, Rasset said the new Seat Me seating procedures “[aim] to improve our ring game seating process by making it smoother, quicker and fairer.”

Rasset also laid out several reasons for the change, but it all boils down to two longstanding issues online poker sites have wrestled with:

  1. Data mining
  2. Bum-hunting

The reason the changes were so long in the making is because in order to effectively address bum-hunting and data mining, platforms have to remove some of the features poker players like. That includes railing high stakes games, as well as some of the skillful elements poker pros use to get an edge, such as choosing the specific table and seat they want to occupy.

PokerStars isn’t the first company to go down this road. PartyPoker instituted similar seating policies in October 2015. The site took it a step further by anonymizing hand histories in October 2016.

The elephant in the room

To effectively implement Seat Me and eliminate the practices of bumhunting and datamining, PokerStars had to make the difficult decision to end table observation. That means poker fans will no longer be able to watch their favorite players compete in high-stakes games.

Some Twitter respondents identified the potential impact of this new policy:

The changes do take away some online poker elements that helped promote the game. Particularly the ability to watch high-stakes, well-known players battle for massive amounts of money will go away.

If this turns into a problem, one potential compromise would be to allow people to view only high-stakes tables.

All the way or not at all

As Rasset noted in his blog post, there is a certain give-and-take to all of these decisions. Half-heartedly addressing bum-hunting and data mining would have been worse than doing nothing at all. That could lead to unenforceable policies that virtuous players would abide by and rule-breakers would continue to exploit:

“Protecting the game of poker that we all love is at the core of everything we do. It ignites very passionate discussions as the decisions are often quite complex when we take in consideration our pool of players with different needs and desires, the historical precedence, the evolution of the game, the latest trends…

With so many customers who trust our products, we have to be particularly vigilant against tools or strategies used to gain an unfair advantage. We also need to be able to ensure that we create enforceable and sustainable policies, making sure that players who do follow the rules are not at a disadvantage.”

The good news is table observation was already fizzling out. We are entering a new era of poker where live streams have become the preferred way to watch online poker. The new change may actually be beneficial to some players. Savvy high-stakes players with Twitch and YouTube channels will now be able to exclusively stream content that observers were unable to watch through the PokerStars client.

The days of play-money players railing high-stakes games through the client may be over. However, the rail will continue to exist; it will just be located on Twitch and YouTube from now on.

Problem No. 1: Data mining

Data mining is when a third party collects hand histories from games in which it doesn’t participate. The company then uses the data to gain an advantage or to repackage and sell. For people who mass multi-table, they can depend on heads-up displays and other software rather than observation. In doing so, they can open even more tables, as their purchased database of hands zeroes in on opponents’ tendencies.

As Rasset said: “We have always been committed to doing everything we can to completely remove data mining.”

Rasset went on to explain that part of the reasoning behind Zoom Poker and Spin & Go’s was to make data mining (and bum-hunting) more difficult. At the same time, it will reduce the effectiveness of HUDs and software programs.

Problem No. 2: Bum-hunting

Bum-hunting is the practice of playing against losing or new players almost exclusively. It has been a bane of online poker sites for years. Many professional players rightfully feel the practice has hurt the game.

Only recently have sites started cracking down on bum-hunters. That requires the seating policies and anonymous lobbies that PokerStars will be rolling out.

With regards to bum-hunting, Rasset said:

“All players have a reasonable expectation to play against a large variety of players and of not being targeted by particular opponents. That’s something that we should deliver for the good of all players, not just those that put in the most hours. So, we are currently testing a Heads-up Sit & Go lobby on our Spanish client that removes the possibility of seeing the name of opponents before starting the game, which provides a pool of players that will be randomly matched against each other.”

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