The controversial changes PokerStars has been making to improve its poker ecology may be dominating the headlines, but PokerStars isn’t the only online poker company that has been shifting toward a more recreational-player-friendly model in recent years.

In fact, it can be argued that PokerStars was late to the recreational model party.

The first was Bodog, which instituted a recreational model back in 2011 with the introduction of anonymous tables.

Another early adopter to the recreational model (beginning in 2012/2013) was partypoker, which announced even more recreational-friendly changes last week.

Regardless of the site making the changes, all of the changes have been met by criticism and predictions of doom, but by and large, most of the sites moving towards a recreational-friendly model seem to be doing quite well. One exception being partypoker, although it’s unfair to pin the site’s decline on the recreational-friendly changes its made – correlation and causation and all.

Considering the company continues to trudge down this road, it seems they are happy with the ecosystem shift its seen from previous changes of this sort.

partypoker’s slow move towards a rec-friendly ecosystem

Soon after it overhauled its software back in May 2013, partypoker put a new VIP program in place, adding missions and challenges to its rewards system. The new rewards program and software were part of a six-step program partypoker announced earlier in 2013 designed to, “optimise the poker ecology.”

In the ensuing years partypoker has continued along this path, calling the changes a “leveling of the playing field.”

Over this span of time the company has:

  • continued to fine tune its VIP rewards scheme;
  • eliminated most of the high stakes tables from the site;
  • removed its top VIP rewards tiers;
  • hidden player screen-names at tables unless you were dealt into a hand at the table;
  • created a site-wide waiting list similar to land-based card rooms and random seating.

The most recent change announced by partypoker is that all hand histories will become anonymous (removing opponents’ screen-names from them), and at the same time the site will ban seating scripts.

Bumhunting and data collection have been the targets

A quick perusal shows that most of the recent changes were aimed at protecting casual players by putting an end to what had become an increasingly problematic situation at online poker rooms, the practice of bumhunting – identifying and following new and/or bad players around the site, and flocking to them as soon as they sat down at a table with the help of seating scripts that quickly identified these players.

Some of the policies will also make it harder for players to data mine, and collect information about their opponents without actually playing against them.

Here’s what partypoker has done to counteract these practice:

  • By switching to a site-wide waiting list (in place of selecting the specific tables you want to join), similar to what you find in a land-based card room, players have less control over the opponents they will square off against.
  • Hiding screen-names to observers not only makes it difficult to identify new and losing players, but it also makes third-party data collection far more difficult.

The latest changes continue this theme

By making hand histories anonymous partypoker continues to apply heat to any remaining bumhunters and data miners that still remain at the site, without adversely affecting a player’s ability to review their own play of hands in order to improve.

“It’s important for us to provide all poker players with a fair and ethical product whilst still allowing them to learn and improve,” partypoker’s Group Head of Poker Tom Walters said in a blog post announcing the new policy. “We want partypoker to offer a level playing field that allows players of all abilities to compete fairly.”

Here’s how it will work according to partypoker:

  • Local hand histories will still be available for download however player screen names will be anonymised
  • Players own screen name will be visible, while remaining players will be listed anonymously in download files e.g. Player 1,2,3
  • Players will still be able to view the number of hands they have played, win rate and other statistics to help them improve their play.
  • The terms and conditions will change will change prohibiting the use of seating scripts. Following these amendments, players using any such software will be initially issued with a warning notice before being banned from using their account
  • Alongside these changes, players will be allowed to make a one-off screen name change

Walters went on to explain how this new policy will cut down on bumhunting and data mining, thereby protecting casual players from the sharks:

“Anonymising hand histories will help prevent data mining and therefore protect both the professional and recreational player and improve the overall ecology on partypoker which is imperative for the long term future of the game.”

Final thoughts

PokerStars may be bearing the brunt of the criticism, but they’re far from the only company moving away from professional-friendly policies.

Although different in nature, the changes at partypoker have been quite sweeping, and are probably far from finished.