PokerStars is rolling out a number of changes to its third-party tools policy including prohibiting all types of seating scripts that automatically seat a player at a table based on opponent profiling.
While PokerStars has yet to confirm the implementation date of these new rules, some of the seating script software developers have been informed that the upcoming changes will come into effect on March 1.
“In order to continue to protect our players and enhance the overall experience, in the coming months we will be introducing a range of changes to our Third Party Tools & Services policy, which we will communicate ahead of time,” a PokerStars spokesperson told Poker Industry PRO.
“One such change is we will be prohibiting any tool or service for table selection efficiency that filters or sorts available games, or automates/semi-automates the process of joining available games based on opponent gameplay statistics or notes,” the statement continues.
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Among the developers to confirm the upcoming changes include NEED4SEAT—a popular table selection tool—and StarsCaption —a multi-purpose software offering players a customizable HUD, hotkey scripts and various other options to assist multi-tabling players.
In fact, the developers of NEED4SEAT have already started preparing for the changes so that their software is compliant with PokerStars’ new policy.
“I’m not sure how this change will affect the business in the long run, NEED4SEAT developer Johannes Stricker told pokerfuse. “I think that with my proposed adjustments to the software, the automated table-selection will still be more comfortable than doing it manually, but I guess we’ll have to wait to see how things turn out.”
Other software providers will also be forced to make changes to their software ahead of the changes to remain compliant. As of now, both NEED4SEAT and StarsCaption are allowed on PokerStars.
PokerStars has clarified that not all types of seating scripts will be prohibited. Those that “merely add players to a set number of available tables without consideration of the opponents,” for example, will remain permitted, PokerStars told PRO.
What are Seating Scripts?
Seating scripts are programs that online poker players use to find the most profitable (soft) tables. It does so by constantly scanning the poker lobby where poker tables can be viewed. The program hunts for weaker or losing players by comparing their stats from previous play history and automatically selects a seat at their table.
These programs are often used by professional players in a hope to avoid playing with other regular players. Many of these tools such as Magic Seat, TableScan Turbo, and Seat Mojo cost up to hundreds of dollars, a price many players are willing to pay considering their usefulness.
Seating scripts have been used in online poker for many years and have often been criticized by both the operators and players in the past, as they are viewed as going against the spirit of fair competition by allowing users to take advantage of weaker players. Without the existence of these programs, winning players would be forced to compete against other winning players and hence lowering their edge and profits.
“Table selection has always been a part of online poker,” Stricker continued. “From what I’ve seen after four years of providing NEED4SEAT is that when scripts are banned players don’t just start playing other regs all of a sudden, and more recreational players don’t just appear. So I don’t think that this is going to have any major positive impact on online poker.”
However, users and developers of such tools defend their existence by arguing that seating scripts help fill tables faster and that they do not provide any game-play advantages to players, unlike the ubiquitous (and commonly permitted) heads-up displays (HUDs).
Why Didn’t PokerStars Ban Seating Scripts Earlier?
Many online poker operators including PokerStars have been working to address the issue since way back in 2013. Back then, the room acknowledged its “negative impact on the games” but stated that difficulty in enforcing a ban was one of the main reasons why such tools were still allowed.
A year later, the room proposed changes to limit the advantage that seating scripts give to their users by implementing a limit on the number of times a player can reserve a seat at a given table without playing. This was finally implemented in 2015 along with many other changes to the third-party software policy including a complete ban on SpinWiz, a seating script particularly designed for PokerStars lottery-style Spin & Go games.
However, the room continued to allow seating scripts in other games and stated that their stance has always been to permit seating script tools because they “do not include any game-play logic directly.” But the room strongly emphasized that they have never been fans of their existence and will look to prohibit all types of seating scripts “in the future.”
Earlier this year, PokerStars ambassador Daniel Negreanu was also seen criticizing the use of seating scripts and called for a complete ban on these tools. According to him, online poker players should be presented a table and seat just like how casinos operate.
After years of debate on the topic, it seems that the room has finally found a way to enforce a ban on seating scripts which was not enforceable earlier.
“These changes were prompted by continuous feedback from both our players and employees regarding what can be done to protect recreational players from being targeted by the users of the latest third party tools, while ensuring that the rules we put in place are reasonably enforceable and unambiguous, in order to protect the users of third party tools who comply with our policies,” the statement concludes.
Seat Me Experimentation
PokerStars may have continued to allow the use of automated seating scripts but the room has been experimenting with many ways to nullify their effect. One of the methods was the introduction of “Seat Me”— a blind lobby feature no longer allowed the players to choose their own seat or table.
First introduced in January 2017 in the Spanish market on a trial basis, Seat Me automatically seats players once they pick the stakes and the buy-in for the games they want to play. The company noticed that the new lobby system helped them achieve most of their intended goals such as reducing players’ ability to exploit weaker players and improving recreational players’ playing experience.
Following its success, Seat Me was also implemented in France, Portugal, and Italy. In 2018, the operator said it would look to expand Seat Me to the dot-com market “towards the end of the year” if the “[Italian] market reacts as expected.”
However, the operator has yet to adopt this functionality across its international player pool, and the move to ban automated seating scripts could be seen as an indication that the Seat Me rollout will be delayed, if not scrapped entirely.
NEED4SEAT wrote to PokerStars support and asked if the room was planning to adopt Seat Me across the dot-com player pool. PokerStars responded:
“There is no imminent plan to change the lobby, however, it is possible to happen at any future date. There won’t be a change related to this specific change in policy.”