Do you feel like you are being watched? Well you might be, so we decided to see if poker trackers are killing the online game

Some argue that poker tracking sites and software will ultimately lead to the death of the game

Anyone who takes online poker seriously must have at least heard of software such as Poker Tracker and similar tools such as Poker Office. These are the best known examples of ‘tracking’ software which is configured to run in the background to compile a comprehensive database of every single hand that you play. Once your database has gathered a significant number of hands, you are able to run a variety of powerful reports to analyse your play and, more significantly, the play of your opponents.

Hand histories describe the actions of not just one player but everyone at the table. So after spending significant time playing with someone you can be presented with a very good idea of their pre-flop starting hands, aggression on the flop, or bluff frequency on the river.

Whereas in the past (as in live poker) it was advised to keep notes on regular opponents in order to spot any exploitable habits, this is now performed quicker and more effectively for you with next to zero effort. The tracker programs even provide convenient additional software that overlays the statistics next to your opponent on the table. You can play over 20 tables at a time while still instantly knowing whether to fear or scoff at a pre-flop re-raise with a cursory glance at their database numbers.

These products have been heralded by players worldwide for increasing the profits of those who have been able to harness their potential. But can this ‘progress’ really be good for the online poker industry as a whole? I doubt it can be in the long-term.

Helping hand

There is a second category of poker tools, which are shared databases such as SharkScope and thepokerdb. With these products there is no need to download any new software as all the hard work is done for you, with each product concentrating on a niche of the market. SharkScope claims to record the result of every sit&go tournament run on the major networks including screen names, buy-ins and payouts. The equivalent in the world of multi-table tournaments is thepokerdb which records the same information for the major networks.

These products allow anyone to access their databases of results and extract the desired stats on any player they wish. You can then see how many tournaments they have entered, their average buy-ins/cashes, and overall profit without ever having encountered them yourself at the tables. SharkScope even provides helpful icons such as ‘shark’ and ‘fish’ next to the stats of certain players.

Poker training sites such as the popular CardRunners have emerged that school users in a mathematically sound method of playing poker based on the various statistics provided to them by the new wave of poker tools. This has led to a new generation of (often young) professional online poker players who have the knowledge and tools to win more money in less time from the casual player.

Path to destruction

The key to longevity in all types of gambling is that players will win on a significant number of occasions in order for their interest to be held despite an overall negative expected return. The worry is that the skilled and informed professionals will increase their ‘edge’ to such a degree that the casual player will lose more often and in a shorter time period, resulting in a less enjoyable entertainment experience and lower likelihood of returning to play. Looking at it from this perspective: would a casual online poker player still feel comfortable taking part if they were aware of the sophistication of these tracking and database tools? They are certainly not publicised by the online poker rooms, which would seem to suggest a fear of how the average customer would react to the news. However, it would also be bad business to ban or discourage the use of such tools because the players who use them generate large rake revenues. These high raking players effectively prop up the liquidity of any given site due to the number of tables they are capable of profitably playing simultaneously. It is a veritable Catch 22 situation.

But it is not a situation that can be ignored in the hope it will all resolve itself neatly in the future. Ultimately, I think online poker could be heading down a self-destructive path, with top players and site operators capitalising on short-term gains at the expense of long-term revenues. An old adage would seem to ring true: ‘You can shear a sheep many times, but can skin him only once.’

If too many new or casual players get skinned quickly by the online pros then it can only be so long before the general public catches on and starts treating online poker like the stock market – the preserve of the pros.

To improve your poker game the best thing to do is to read a copy of PokerPlayer magazine HERE


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