On Monday, May 16, Microgaming Poker Network Head of Poker Alex Scott sat down with Joey Ingram via Skype for a 140-minute discussion. The conversation provided a unique glimpse into how online poker operators deal with bots, collusion, valuating players and the day-to-day business of attracting more players.
Following are the main highlights from that show.
Intro: Who is Alex Scott?
For the past two years, Alex Scott has been Head of Poker for Microgaming, yet his career in the industry actually began as a semi-pro player more than a decade ago.
The software designer was responsible for managing the WPT Online brand back in 2005, and secured a position within PokerStars’ Customer Support department shortly thereafter. Scott worked with Stars for nearly five years — designing improvements such as multi-currency accounts and games — until moving over to Full Tilt Poker a couple of months before Black Friday. Once the dust settled and PokerStars purchased the now-defunct Full Tilt Poker brand in 2012, Scott was let go.
This would eventually pave the way for the 30-something industry consultant to become a key part of MPN’s organizational structure. Alex Scott’s qualifications and experience within the industry include poker room management, game integrity and security, software design, country-specific regulation, tournament direction and virtual penmanship. The Isle of Man resident writes a regular blog on the official Microgaming Poker Network website, and published What I Know About Poker in 2010.
Insightful Discussion on Bots, Collusion and Rake Fees
The heart of Monday’s program revolved around Microgaming’s lower fees in micro-stakes games compared to its competitors, along with the basic workings behind bot and collusion detection in online poker games.
Scott’s dialogue with Ingram is somewhat historic in nature, as it’s the first documented case of an online poker industry representative openly discussing anything authoritative related to bots and their highly suspected use in real money games. As YouTube account holder Brandon Daniels points out in the video’s Comments section, Scott’s observations are “rich in honesty and realism.”
For years, online poker media representatives have balked at publishing any speculation regarding bot use and how to eliminate it — mainly due to a lack of writers/editors who would know the first thing about such programs (myself included). There is a massive n00b-to-proficiency learning curve associated with advancing discussion on such a taboo issue, but luckily for us, the top level decision-makers at Microgaming seem content to give a green light to Scott — allowing him to express his views on just about anything shy of criticizing MPN’s competitors.
Online Poker Operators vs. Bots — “It’s An Arms Race”
At the 38-minute mark of the May 16 broadcast, Ingram points out that bots are becoming a growing concern within the online poker world. Such programs are suspected to enter real money games and exploit weaker players, hands-free of human input.
“It’s something that does worry me,” Scott says. “It’s an arms race.” The Microgaming Head of Poker goes on to explain that his staff is constantly improving its methods for detecting bot activity, and currently uses a Help Desk alerts system to immediately notify MPN personnel of suspicious gameplay patterns that take place on the network.
Scott’s comments convey that he has direct experience battling against robotic angle-shooters. His overall goal is actually making the environment for would-be cheaters at MPN so uncomfortable that they pack-up-shop and move their operations elsewhere. Bots are constantly evolving, as are Microgaming’s efforts to combat them, Scott implies. Referring to the $0.25/$0.50 blind level, the MPN Head of Poker tells Ingram, “We’ve caught bots in the past that have won.”
MPN’s Head of Poker adds that “it’s very difficult to detect a bot within 5 hands… it’s very easy after 500,000 hands. The problem is after 500,000 hands, a lot of damage has been done.” The issue is so prominent that Scott believes some online poker formats such as Heads-Up Limit Hold’em will eventually die off as players become more reluctant to risk potentially competing against a programmed opponent.
MPN has smaller player fields compared to the Current Market Leader (PokerStars). Scott admits this grants the network an advantage — as it’s much more profitable long-term for programmers to optimize their bot software to operate on larger sites such as the CML.
Plenty of in-depth discussion ensues (such as how Microgaming handles reimbursing players who have been affected to by such practices), and the conversation moves on to online poker collusion.
In this area, Scott is much more confident in MIcrogaming’s effectiveness in combating the issue. “Collusion is much easier [to detect] than bots,” he assures Poker Life Podcast viewers. “It’s easy to spot collusion after a few hundred hands, so we catch colluders much, much quicker.”
Player-Friendly Rake in Low Stakes MPN Games
Microgaming’s low rake (compared to its competitors) in small-stakes ring games up to $0.25/$0.50 has gotten quite a bit of love recently — especially from Ingram, who has openly promoted the poker site despite not having any official ties to MPN.
To say that Microgaming’s method for calculating GTO commission rates differs from that of PokerStars would define the word “understatement.” While the world’s largest poker site grabs EV from its players quicker than a Grand Theft Auto V online heist (and curb-stomps a few high volume players for good measure), MPN has come to the conclusion that lower rake does indeed increase the long-term survival of losing players.
“Particularly at the lower stakes, if you charge people a relatively small amount of money to play, then they’re more likely to have a good experience… and they’re more likely to move up in stakes as well” (see 12:45). Scott enlightens Ingram’s viewers by notifying them that MPN has seen increased revenue as a result of its lower rake in small buy-in games.
It will be interesting to see if low-stakes Rest of World online poker players flock to MPN’s rake-friendly formats in upcoming months.
Valuation of High Volume Players & Other Issues
Although Scott has some opinions that jive with winning poker players, he argues that there are cases in which a large rake contributor can be detrimental to the overall poker ecology. Players who pitch-in hundreds of thousands in rake annually to a major site can actually decrease an operator’s revenue potential by being “nasty” to fish or simply devouring them too quickly, argues the TDA-certified industry rep. And while Microgaming’s online poker offering may have received some positive press lately, its games are not perfect — as pointed out by TwoPlusTwo forum poster DontBanMePlz (Jason Mo).
Still, MPN’s willingness to drum-up business by addressing rarely discussed topics is a refreshing departure from PokerStars & Co — whose Director of Communications was once shown the virtual door by TwoPlusTwo founder Mason Malmuth after arguing that the communityshould not have been immediately informed of a Cake Poker security vulnerability while serving as Card Room Manager for that company in 2010. Less than two years later, Lee Jones (back on board with Stars) would ironically clash with the website that originally exposed the Cake Poker lapse — PokerTableRatings.
Microgaming has firmly established its willingness to engage more openly with the online poker community through Alex Scott. who has authored several blog entries in the past year on the official MPN website — including topics such as How To Value Poker Players and Why Most Women Don’t Play Poker.
Newer online poker community members who would like to familiarize themselves with current industry events can receive somewhat of a “crash course” by watching the May 16, 2016 Poker Life Podcast episode. In the meantime, community vets may look to poker media sites in upcoming days to see how Monday’s 140-minute segment plays out in the editorials.