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Are Bots Taking Over?

The poker industry is in a fragile state post-Black Friday. While European sites have seen a small boost in traffic since Full Tilt shut up shop, the recent increase in botting accusations hasn’t helped Euro networks in their quest to attract and retain new players.

Today online poker is tougher than ever. As edges diminish, professional players are faced with the reality that bots, now advanced enough to easily beat recreational games, operate on almost every network and site. While not alone, the iPoker and Pacific networks have recently been hit the hardest.

Bots put in incredible volume and will consistently apply the same mechanical process over hundreds of thousands of hands. That’s the draw—they can operate for an inhuman amount of time and never lose their discipline. As a result, the potential for profit has caught the attention of unscrupulous players, and the demand for bots will only continue to grow.

Easy Access

It is not difficult to purchase a bot sophisticated enough to profit against your average recreational fish. There are various sites that provide bots for a only small outlay. One such site is BonusBots, who offer an out-of-the-box program that is “completely user-configurable.” Others sites include Pokerbot Pro and Pokerbot Online.

Not Just The Micros

It used to be a commonly held view that while bots existed, they were found only in micro and small stakes games, and could barely even beat these limits. This is no longer the case, however, as programming and coding for bot software has improved significantly. A Two Plus Two thread “Possible collusion/softplaying/botting on 1knl on iPoker” started by Kjemmy in 2010 details the statistical similarities between a number of players in mid stakes games on the iPoker network.

A more recent example: in August bots were discovered playing on Merge’s heads up tables in games up to $3/$6. Merge never acknowledged their existence, but the network suspended accounts as a result of an investigation. Once again it was Two Plus Two that exposed the scandal. Poster KingOfAces started a thread “Suspected Foul Play at Merge HU Game” highlighting the similarities in playing styles and times of various accounts. Many of the suspected accounts were shut down less than an hour later.

Tell-Tale Signs

Three common characteristics of a bot:

1. Displaying inhuman ability in terms of hours and/or number of tables played.
2. Statistical similarities between multiple accounts.
3. Immune to tilt—a poker player’s dream. No talking at the tables, too, though some of the latest and most sophisticated software PokerUpdate found has options for table chat.

Do The Sites Care?

Bots plague almost every poker network and room. While PokerStars has confronted the issue publicly and refunded players, others choose to deal with it behind closed doors, citing the non-disclosure of their detection methods. Some operators simply do not care at all; they are more than happy to take the extra rake.

Dealing with the issue requires heart and commitment, as Tony G would tell you. Rooms experience a significant boost in rake due to bots, and to invest money in taking short-term revenue away from the network is only appealing to those with a long-term vision.

What Can Be Done?

It is important that your voice is heard and that poker rooms are made aware of botting accusations. Bots are strictly prohibited under the terms and conditions of all poker rooms, and are considered to be harmful to the economy and ecology of the game.

Please talk to your site’s support to find out where to direct a complaint, and comment on this article and others drawing attention to the issue. Most of all, be vigilant at the tables and look out for any suspicious play.  

What Do You think?

What do you think should be done to help detect and ban bots? Are they harmful to the poker ecology?

What would you think if poker rooms allowed bots to play on designated “bot-only tables”? Would you take the chance to test your skill against their software?

Editor’s note: Michael Dunlop contributed to this story.

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Jamie Nevin