Column: Player profiling: should it be legal?

By Jeff Lipsey

Recent debate in the online poker community has brought up the issue on player profiling and its legality. The poker sites are starting to crack down on programs that give players an unfair advantage against opponents.

These programs allow their user to classify – possibly consider using classify – their opponent easier. Usually, the programs tap into a database of hands gathered from a specific poker site and display critical information regarding every player at the table.

This is a large advantage to the players with this information. The information gained includes the percentage of hands played and raised, how aggressive an opponent is, and even how much he has won or lost. Programs like this allow the user to profile an opponent and know with surprising accuracy what an opponent has, allowing the player that uses this information to garner an unfair advantage.

The poker sites themselves are not interested in keeping all players on a fair playing level. What the poker sites want is to have as many players play as long as possible so that they feed the “rake” – a percentage of each pot taken by the site.

It is less profitable for poker sites to have their bad players lose quickly to the more experienced players. What the sites would like is that these bad players win some and lose some until inevitably they fall prey to the rake. By allowing such programs to exist on their site, the good players win money from the bad players at an increasing rate. Meaning more players lose faster to the good players and the poker site loses the ability to collect rake for a longer period of time.

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One of the largest advantages to playing online poker is the ability to profile opponents. I use such programs myself to find the best tables with the worst opponents. Truthfully, I have increased my win rate since I started the use of such a program a few weeks ago. I am not alone either; at least 500-600 other players use the same program as me at one specific site alone. But, when compared to the 500,000 players belonging to the site, the 500 players using the profiling software are minuscule. Even more interesting, the players that have these programs know who the other players are that have these programs, enabling us to stay out of each other’s way.

Obviously, this isn’t the only program out there, but the calculations would remain similar. The proportions of players that use these programs are minute in comparison to the rest of the poker population. However, that doesn’t make them right; the programs give an unfair advantage to the select few able to purchase them.

The programs however will not make a bad player into a good player. Good players were winning money before these programs existed and will continue to win if the poker sites ban such programs. It makes sense to make an even playing field for all players, that way no one can argue they lost unfairly to an advantage they didn’t know exist.

My solution to this problem isn’t to ban such programs, but to make sure that every player has ample opportunity to take advantage of such programs. Yes, this will probably decrease my ability to win as much money, but in my experience, most players won’t take advantage of such programs anyway. Those that do use the programs will hardly understand their full potential but at least they could say we aren’t taking advantage of them. By making programs more available to the public, the poker sites relieve themselves of the liability from losing players due to an unfair advantage.

Inevitably, I feel that the poker sites will eventually ban all such programs. Not because of the advantage given to the good players, but because of their losses from the rake they collect.

Jeff Lipsey is a senior in business. His column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].