PokerStars’s new “Stealth” tables could save online poker

Jon Pill
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Posted on December 16, 2020 2:03 pm EST

PokerStars is currently trialling anonymous tables on their Franco-Spanish rooms. The relatively small player pools of these two countries are segregated together (along with Portugal’s players).

Stars call the new tables “Stealth” tables. The table strips out identifying information while the player sits at them. However, 24-hours later the software will make de-anonymized hand histories available.

This allows players to balance anonymity with a general sense of security. Hand histories are frequently exhibit number one in determining the presence of bots, colluders, and superusers.

“This feature has been developed with the integrity of the game at its core. And in order to ensure our players continue to feel secure, they will have access to hand histories with the UserID of their opponents exposed 24 hours after the hand has been played,” said Severin Rasset, PokerStars’ Director of Poker Innovation and Operations in a recent interview.

Late to the party

Though nothing new, the idea of Stealth tables seems to go against this year’s trends. Both GGPoker and PartyPoker instituted a “real name only” policy for their WSOP and WPT online events respectively. Effectively creating anti-Stealth tables.

However, this was a short term adjustment to make the event streams more enjoyable for audiences.

Bovada and Unibet had anonymized tables as far back as 2014. Networks like MPN and Winamax have offered regular name changes as a way to render any mined data on your account useless for a while.

Partypoker also made a gesture towards anonymity this year. They forced everyone to change their usernames back in June. Party intended this process to level the playing field. But they considered it a one-time thing, rather than an ongoing solution.

Make poker great again

Ever since Phil Galfond made anonymity one of the cornerstones of RunItOnce.eu, the market has viewed anonymity as a canonical part of bringing the fish back.

In the past the information gap between pros with HUDs and decades of hand histories was enormous. The pros already have the edge in skill. Stacking VPIP and 3-bet frequencies on that contributed to the steady decline in recreational players. The fish were simply losing too fast and too consistently for poker to stay fun.

Anonymizing the tables by removing usernames (or randomizing them as RunItOnce does) prevents players from gathering info on a player for more than the current session. In this way, it more closely resembles a casual player’s experience at a brick-and-mortar.

“We are always working on new features and products and we have a lot coming up that we plan to test and gain player feedback on,” said Rasset, when Stars first announced they were going to trial this. “This includes testing adding some anonymous tables in upcoming months, which we will monitor very closely as the overall player experience and health of our poker ecosystem is top priority for us.”

It’s early to say whether this approach will work. But anything that might help player retention into 2021 is worth looking at. If anonymizing turns out to be the silver bullet — or even just one part of a larger silver shell — we might be able to keep this year’s online poker-spike going after the vaccines roll out and folks can go outside again.

When a giant like Stars adopts it in a widespread way, that’s when we’ll know anonymizing is here to stay.

Featured image source: Flickr