PokerStars has begun taking steps to limit the “overall impact” of auto-seating scripts at its cash game tables, a representative for the site recently said in a post on the 2+2 forums.
Seating scripts are third-party software that constantly scan the PokerStars lobby, looking to reserve seats to the left of recreational players.
The change comes on the heels of many such decisions made in recent months by the site that are aimed at finding a new equilibrium between the recreational and professional player pools. Unlike many of the other measures taken to protect depositing players, this one has broad support amongst the community as well.
The Infinite Reservation Loop
Players had been clamoring for something to be done about the increasing prevalence of this type of software for over a year. It appears as though the increasing sophistication of the scripts is what has finally done them in.
One feature of the PokerStars client is that when a player chooses a seat at the table, they are given up to 45 seconds to decide how much money they want to sit down with. Scripts have begun exploiting this by reserving a seat even if there is no recreational player at the table. The software will then camp out and wait to see if a recreational player sits down before the 45 seconds is up.
When one script camps out, a second will almost instantly join to its left to wait and see if it is a recreational player that is sitting. This triggers an infinite loop where all seats become reserved by a script waiting to see what type of player takes the seat to its right.
The final result is a bizarre “Dance of the R” (watch video below) where the table becomes completely blocked to anyone trying to manually sit, but where there is no game actually running.
Scripts Are Hurting the Games
There is a broad consensus that scripts are horrific for the games at best, and ethically dubious at worst. Nothing ruins the game for a recreational player like feeling he or she is being unfairly targeted by sophisticated computer software specifically designed to target him or her.
And there is no doubt that this is what is occurring. Recreational players are noticing what is going on, and it does act as a serious disincentive to them.
2+2 user ‘IhasTehBluff’ expressed this sentiment perfectly when he explained that they would no longer play the cash games on PokerStars until the scripts were dealt with:
I got tired of feeling like a gazelle in the sahara being tracked down by every known carnivore, so i withdrew.”
Limits Placed on Seating Reservations
PokerStars is developing a long term plan about how to tackle this issue. To that end, a wide ranging discussion is now open encouraging feedback from all levels of players about how best to put the problem to rest for good.
In the meantime, the first step taken is the obvious one of limiting the number of times that a player may reserve a seat but then not play. Currently, the threshold is set at three times in six hours, after which a player will not be able to reserve a seat until six hours after their first reservation was made.
In PokerStars Chris’ original post on 2+2, he explained:
As an immediate measure we intend to implement a limit on the number of times a player can reserve a seat at a given table without playing. We don’t expect this to solve all the issues, but we expect it to improve the situation while we review the situation in more depth.”
Some have expressed concern that this might create new problems for those who are abiding by the spirit of the game. For example, what happens if a player sits at a table with a legitimate expectation to play, but the table breaks before he or she can be dealt in?
This would functionally be the same as reserving a seat and not playing, but would not deserved to be sanctioned. It is one example of why it is so important that the issues be properly thought out before any definitive resolution to the problem is adopted.
Outright Ban Not Forthcoming for the Moment
Several voices have been raised calling for the outright banning of scripts. According to PokerStars Chris, that step has yet to be taken by PokerStars because – for the moment – the focus is on avoiding the scripts from blocking tables in perpetuity.
While that may be true in part, many are speculating that the real reason is such a ban would be unenforceable.
It remains unclear how scripts could be detected by PokerStars at all, much less with enough certainty for them to act upon the knowledge. It is therefore likely that the result would simply be greater inequity between those who would continue to use them and those who would stop.
Finally, a Consensus on Something
What is certain is that as recreational player pools continue to shrink and sharks continue to chase even the slightest of edges, this is just one more skirmish in the ongoing war for the future of online poker.
Lots of ideas have been thrown around over the last few months about what to do to improve the ecosystem of the game. Most have been characterized by consternation between PokerStars, poker regulars, and poker amateurs.
It should maybe come as no surprise then that it is the specter of everyone being forced to “Dance the Dance of the R” together that seems to have brought a temporary ceasefire.