As part of the 2+2 report from the recent PokerStars management and players meeting, PokerStars representative Steve Day posted an explanation of a proposal to deal with “ratholing.”
Ratholing causes a lot of debate among players because it is viewed by many as unethical. Essentially, the term describes someone who wins money, then leaves a table only to rejoin with a smaller stack. It is considered unethical because it reduces the chances for the players who have lost the money to win it back.
Part of the problem of dealing with ratholing is creating an effective definition of the behavior. A player who doubles up and leaves because he lacks the confidence or bank roll to play with a deep stack may be perceived to be ratholing, and if he is out of position next to a better or more aggressive player with an equally deep stack, then it is often irrational not to leave the table.
PokerStars does not want to prevent all behaviors like this, it wants to prevent ratholing being used as a strategy which alienates its other customers. Day explains the task: “We need to create both a verbal definition that is easily understood by poker players and a corresponding technical definition that can be coded into our software.”
To date a simple solution has not been found. “We have not succeeded in finding such a definition that both met our normal standards of simplicity and would properly isolate the problematic behavior,” Day continued. “At some point earlier this year, we resigned ourselves to considering more complex solutions.”
The “complex” solution was presented to the players who attended the Isle of Man meeting in an 18 page Business Requirements Document (BRD). “The basic premise of the solution is that we track players’ stack sizes when they leave tables and then enforce appropriate minimum buy-ins when they re-join other tables.”
A player joining leaving a table creates a “stack identity” for that table type. So a player at a 40bb-100bb table who joins with 40bb and leaves with 60bb creates a 40bb-100bb stack identity of 60bb.
If he rejoins a 40bb-100bb table within a set time he would be required to buy in for 60bb.
Multitablers would acquire numerous stack identities and on joining a table would be able to use the lowest level stack identity as the lower limit for buying in at that table. Each player would have a maximum number of stacks for each table type, calculated by using their normal table cap for regular tables and the cap divided by three for Zoom tables.
The table cap is a figure allocated to each player based on their playing history. A player who normally plays 18 tables would generate up to 18 stack identities. If he played a session of Zoom, he would generate up to 6 stack identities at a different table type. On joining a new table or Zoom pool, the lowest stack size of those identities would be used to determine his minimum buy in.
The time period until these stack identities reset has not yet been decided—currently PokerStars is considering 18-20hrs. “Configuring this period of time is challenging. The longer it is the more effective we are at preventing undesired behavior, but the more likely we are to be prohibiting behavior that we want to allow.”
Day finishes by explaining that PokerStars is now testing the parameters to determine what percentage of ratholing would be affected and/or prevented by this proposal. “As long as the % is meaningful and no better solution presents itself, we will move forward.”