I've been meaning to write about table image; I also wanted to say a few words about putting a guy on tilt at Venetian the other night. But given the timeliness of the topic... a few words on isildur1.
Today Change100 posted an op-ed on PokerNews under the headline "Hand History Analysis Has and Always Will Be Part of Poker". Her op-ed refers to the collusion and cheating allegations now being leveled against CardRunners team member and Full Tilt Red Pros Brian Townsend, Brian Hastings and Cole South for pooling a database of 50,000 hands they had individually played against isildur1 and then mutually dissecting those hands to look for patterns as to how the Swede plays certain spots.
Change100's premise is that, "all [Townsend, Hastings and South] really did was use their brains and engage in the same hand-sharing rituals that have gone on since the days of Wild Bill Hickok. Their little saloon chat just had the benefit of technology." She believes that because the technology exists to pool all of these individual hands into a database and then rigorously analyze them, then woe to those who don't use it. What the CardRunners pros did was fine, she says. However that analysis punts on the more difficult question of whether what the CardRunners pros did was illicit, never mind unethical, especially in light of a recent FTP software update that prevents players from importing hands into tracking databases unless they personally participated in the hands.
In many sporting events (and hey, even in poker these days), players and teams look at "game film" of their opponents. How did the opponent play in a previous match in certain situations? They look for tendencies so that they can be best-prepared for their own match against that opponent. The Dallas Cowboys look at film of a game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles to try to find exploitable flaws in certain of the Giants' defensive schemes.
What the CR pros did was more akin to the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins combining their analysis of the game film between the Giants and the Eagles. In the NFL, this would never happen for a variety of reasons: it's anti-competitive -- by helping each other, the Cowboys and the Redskins may be hurting themeselves; doing so may be in violation of league guidelines; and having the benefit of a combined analysis would be deemed by many to be an "unfair" advantage for each team. All of this despite the fact that the technology allows for such an analysis to take place.
In the nosebleed poker games on FTP, Townsend is the Cowboys, Hastings is the Redskins, isildur1 is the Giants and Full Tilt Poker is the NFL. Tilt has issued guidelines (its Terms of Service) which prohibit data-mining and the sharing of hand histories. Townsend and Hastings violated those guidelines.
Nobody's saying that the coaches of the Cowboys and the Redskins might not discuss some things over dinner, the way "Doyle Brunson and Puggy Pearson chatt[ed] over a buffet on Fremont Street in 1976." But the combined rigorous analysis, using inside information that each team has gleaned in its own dealings with the Giants, would never fly.
This brings us back to the question of "if the technology exists, why not use it." The most obvious answer is because it creates an arms race where it is much more difficult to be long-term successful without taking advantage of all of the "add-on's" available: the HUDs and the databases and the training sites and the what-have-you's. This, in turn, makes the games less fishy because it discourages new players from sticking around after their initial deposit has evaporated
Change100 ends her op-ed by positing that "those who can’t fathom going to the trouble of such an extensive level of analysis of an opponent are attacking Hastings and Townsend". That's selling the opposing viewpoint far too short. I was one of the biggest proponents of data-mining back in 2004 when it first became possible to do. Yet I now see how bad it is for the game. And I'm not the only one.
At the beginning of this year Nat Arem, founder of ThePokerDB, was asked by PokerNews "what one thing that could be attributed to poker's "boom" would you prevent or change?" His response is telling and damning at the same time:
...this is going to sound bad because it is an industry that I helped to develop, but I wish that all of the things that made the poker world less fishy would've never developed. That would include things like datamining stuff, like what we do at the PokerDB or all those other things. It would also include CardRunners. It would include StoxPoker. It would include things like rakeback... The reason why is because it turns poker into this business that essentially exists entirely for the good players to extract money as quickly as possible from the bad players.The simplest solution to all of these issues is one proposed by Paul Nobles on Pokerati: allow players to change their screen names once a week. Convert their existing screen name to a "login" and then give them the option to play under a different screen name that can be changed once a week. When that happens, the illicitness and ethicality of data-mining and sharing hand history databases becomes moot.