There is a virus attacking poker.
How the poker industry and community react to this attack will inform the ongoing health of our game.
You’re probably aware of at least some of the tools available to find Nash equilibria for (“solve”) no-limit hold’em hands. Two of the most popular, “PioSolver,” and “GTOWizard,” are terms you hear all over online conversations and even at live tables these days.
Already, the use of these tools in real-time in an online setting (“Real-Time Assistance” or “RTA”) has created a huge headache for online poker sites.
GGPoker issued refunds of almost $1.2 million to over 4,000 players.
Two top pros were banned from PokerGo and other tours after they were nearly proven to have used RTA during online play.
Reasonable people are asking if online poker can survive another two, five, or ten years; the tools will only become more accurate and faster, and those willing to cheat using them will do whatever they can to avoid being caught.
The existential threat
Real-Time Assitance poses an existential threat to poker as we know it, both online and live.
Recently, a player at the Bellagio was spotted using a tool (likely GTOWizard) in the middle of a live game. Matt Berkey and the folks at the Solve For Why podcast covered the incident, not least because S4Y instructor, and all-around legend, Christian Soto was at the table when it happened. You can watch their discussion here.
One of the most shocking aspects of the event was that Soto approached an unnamed Bellagio floorperson and pointed out what was going on. The floorperson said that what the player was doing was permitted – an egregiously poor decision.
Then the podcast discussion turned to, “Well, what can we do about this?” There were various suggestions, but (a) no silver bullet was found, and then (b) S4Y had a “Squirrel!” moment, tangented away from the topic, and never came back.
My suggestion: get the TDA involved
Allow me to throw my $.02 into the pot…
For whatever reason, live cash game poker has never had the organization and consistency of rules that tournament poker has. Going back to 2001, when the Poker Tournament Directors Association (TDA) was formed,1 the tournament community has worked hard to standardize rules and protocols.
In its 20+ year existence, the TDA has established itself as the near-unanimous arbiter of poker tournament rules and protocols. Arguments about how a situation should be handled often end with somebody checking the TDA rules and/or tweeting Matt Savage (who basically quotes the TDA rule).
And that’s it – discussion over.
Cash game management, rulings, and protocols have somehow evaded this organization and consistency. For proof, look no further than the straddle rules from poker room to poker room. Thus, it’s futile (and dangerous) to hope that poker room managers and staff will address the live RTA problem in any kind of meaningful way.
Proof by Christian Soto and an unnamed Bellagio floorperson.
So let’s get over to the side of the room where they actually have a rulebook, and follow it. Let’s get the TDA looking at live RTA. The TDA leadership is made up of the best and brightest in the business – they will immediately get the severity of the problem if it’s properly presented.
If we can get a paragraph into the TDA rule book that prohibits RTA, that’s the first crucial step. It makes it clear that you can and will be disqualified for using such tools in a tournament. While such rules aren’t automatically binding on cash games, there is enough crossover between the staff and players that the rules routinely osmose into the cash game world, not least because the cash game world can offer no reasonable alternative.
The TDA usually meets every two years – I presume there’s a meeting scheduled for 2024. I have no idea if there’s a mechanism for proposing and/or voting on rule changes in the interim. But I’d be more than willing to get involved if there is.
I’m delighted to report that Sean McCormack, head of Poker Strategy for MGM resorts, just tweeted a clear prohibition of live RTA:
I’d love to see this spread to all poker rooms, and thank you, Sean.
But the TDA still needs to write a rule.
- All hail Matt Savage, Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, and Dave Lamb.