One of the hot topics in the online poker world right now is Real Time Assistance (RTA). In other words, players getting advice while playing.
To explain how we tackle this threat, we’ve used this article to give you a sneak peek into the world of Game Integrity at PokerStars.
We’ll reveal how the team operates, and how it identifies accounts using real time assistance. You’ll also learn what happens when our systems, or you the players, flag up suspicious behaviour. And why anyone thinking of using an RTA should think again.
A PERSISTENT PROBLEM
This topic isn’t anything new to us. We’ve been successfully identifying and removing bots from our ecosystem for almost 20 years. The data used to identify these players has changed throughout the years, but our strategy hasn’t.
In the early days of bot detection, we looked at how an account clicked the action button at our tables with a mouse. We identified a behaviour that only humans would make when using their mouse.
This behaviour still assists us in catching what we call “fully-automated bots.” That is, bots that operate without human interaction.
A CULTURE OF INNOVATION
As with all our innovations, we don’t want to be too explicit about the data that we gather. If we did, such indicators would be masked by the cheaters. This is the arms race we’ve found ourselves in since the beginning. It continues, and always will.
We develop, we catch and close, they develop, we innovate, develop and the cycle continues.
For that reason, a culture of innovation exists in the team. There is always something new around the corner. Something that we haven’t identified or focused on previously. We use a wealth of data gathered from numerous sources.
IDENTIFY THE THREATS EARLY
You might remember years ago, when work was being done in academia attempting to solve the game of poker. This was mostly done from a theoretical viewpoint rather than nefarious purposes.
Long before these solutions were freely available, we identified them as a threat. They had the potential to provide advice to those wanting to play a Game Theory Optimal (GTO) strategy.
So, we got developing.
We needed to get ahead of the curve and ensure we had the tools necessary to fight the existential threat to online poker.
So, we developed systems that monitor hundreds of decisions and actions made by players. All in real-time. It took a tremendous investment and requires constant development. Yet we are more than up to the challenge.
Our tools are created in-house by our developers.
They’re designed specifically to catch players trying to cheat. They’re very efficient and fully integrated into our systems.
Our RTA detection tool is far more than just a database of solutions. We use many ways to identify the different types of cheaters.
Some cheaters play perfect GTO. Some only when there’s significant EV on the line or when it’s a difficult decision. Some get advice on how to play when facing different types of opponents… the list is very long.
We have differing and specialised methodologies to identify them all.
This tool is one weapon in our arsenal, used alongside other detailed information. Things like a player’s technical setup and their behaviour when interacting with the PokerStars software.
It works even if a player is only occasionally pulling solutions while playing. There’re always some behavioural indicators in the data that can help us.
We have a dedicated team that has existed for nearly 20 years. They have each played a lot of online poker hands and understand the nuances of the game. Plus, they take great pride in their work.
In addition, the Game Integrity Development Team works to continually update our tools.
The tools, the experience, the dedicated team, and the spirit of innovation. It all contributes to us having, in my opinion, the best detection techniques in the industry.
IMPROVING THE GAME FOR PLAYERS
We want our players to be able to track their ability and develop as poker players. We want you to be able to study your own hand histories and use tools that help you.
We understand the joy and excitement after crushing a session. Especially having spent the week studying, using tools and solvers in the approved way.
Solvers and service providers that offer solutions are magnificent study tools for players. We understand that and don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water.
But we do want to make sure every single player engages on a level playing field.
OUR REAL TIME ASSISTANCE DETECTION RATES
Our proactive detection rate is more than 95%. Less than 5% of accounts closed so far this year were first identified by our players.
We’re not saying we always have everything covered. This is an arms race against some very motivated individuals.
But we use every setback as an opportunity. When we get reports from our players we conduct extensive investigations.
If the reported player was cheating, we review our processes and work hard to plug the gaps in our detection. We make sure those types of players are caught in future.
So, we do still need your help. If you notice any suspicious activity or play, please contact us. We welcome every report.
THE DETECTION PROCESS
We won’t get into specifics, but we’ll give a little insight into how exactly we investigate for Real Time Assistance use.
Usually, a case is initiated by an alert. We have alerts that flag suspicious activity on an account in real time.
These triggers, refined over years, pinpoint potential breaches of our rules.
Some are based on the player’s decision-making at the tables. Others take in additional data points. Getting real-time assistance leaves a pattern of behaviour, and other indicators. It’s not simply about whether they play a hand correctly according to a Game Theory Optimal solution.
Once the alert is triggered an experienced agent opens a case. They gather all information available to them and make sense of that data. Then they’ll make a decision on the case. Another agent will then review the case once more and reach a conclusion.
If there is confirmed or likely foul play, we suspend the player’s account and ask them for more information.
Sometimes we ask the player to record themselves playing a session. Occasionally, we conduct phone or video calls. We don’t leave anything unturned. We use every option on the table to confirm whether someone is cheating. Then a decision is made by consensus.
ZERO TOLERANCE TO RTA USE
Reviewing and analysing all these calls and recordings takes a lot of time and effort. It keeps our team busy. We’ve seen it all.
It is fair to say we take a zero-tolerance policy on Real Time Assistance use.
If we confirm cheating, the player is barred from PokerStars permanently. Any account balance is confiscated and used to compensate those affected.
If that amount is insufficient, then remaining funds come from PokerStars.
So, if you’re thinking of looking up a few solutions in your next session on PokerStars…my advice: don’t!
Don’t take that chance, we are confident we will find you.
Francis Lincoln is Head of Game Integrity at PokerStars.Back to Top