Jury Out on PokerStars´ “Seat Me” Proposals

PokerStarsOpinion is divided on whether PokerStars´ plans to introduce a “Seat Me” seating process for ring games will “improve the game of poker” as the site claims.

If there is anything in this world that is certain right now, it is that any change announced by PokerStars will start a passionate discussion about its merits. Such was the case on Wednesday, when PokerStars´ Director of Poker Innovation – Severin Rasset – published an article on the PokerStars blog announcing a change to the ring game seating process.

According to Rasset, once the changes have been implemented, players will only be able to select the type of game they wish to enter and stake level rather than having a full dashboard view of all available tables. The objectives of the change are to eliminate the ability of players to pick their tables and seats at the tables, thus reducing the ability to “bumhunt” or use seating scripts.

The Problem with Bumhunting

Bumhunting involves a skilled player (Player A) taking a seat at an empty table and waiting for a player of a lower skill level to join the table. If a player of equal or higher skill level joins the table, Player A sits out and refuses to play. The practise is frustrating for genuine players, who then have to go and find another table to play at or join a queue to get some action.

The practise also causes less skilled and recreational players to burn through their bankrolls a lot quicker – something that PokerStars is trying to change to prevent depositing players becoming disheartened with the games and abandoning online poker as a pastime. PokerStars hopes that the introduction of the Seat Me seating process will “protect our customers and improve their overall experience.”

Seat Me Should Also Resolve Seating Scripts Issues

Seating scripts are pieces of software that detect when a player joins a table previously occupied by just one player (typically a bumhunter). The scripts reserve the seat to the left of the player just joining the table, hoping the new player is a less-skilled or recreational player. With the advantage of position, players using seating scripts are more likely to profit from the arrival of a new player than the bumhunter who opened the table in the first place.

Inasmuch as seating scripts can give players an unfair advantage against weaker players, a further issue arises when multiple players are using them. When multiple seating scripts are triggered at the same time, tables fill instantly. Several of the players may not want to play against each other – or have got bad positions – so they sit out. This means games on (say) 6-Max tables continue with just two or three players involved in the action, while other genuine players are prevented from joining the table.

Is Seat Me the Right Solution?

Seat Me may prevent bumhunting and reduce the ability for players to use seating scripts, but is it the right solution? Daniel Negreanu seems to think so. In a Tweet to his followers, Negreanu described the changes as “fantastic”, and commented that they were long overdue:

However, not everybody agrees. Some contributors to the 2+2 poker forum have suggested that players seated on tables they do not like will continue to sit out until existing players leave and new players join. Others believe that new seating scripts will be developed to adjust to the new seating process and the situation will remain as bad as it is at the moment.

The Change Could be Bad for Recreational Players Too

Although much of the griping about the changes has been exclusive to regs, the change could be bad for recreational players too. Recreational players are not as stupid as some poker sites seem to think they are and, if a recreational player is forced to sit to the right of an aggressive player he or she has found unbeatable in the past, it is likely that they will sit out or leave the table to play somewhere else.

Although PokerStars believes that “all players have a reasonable expectation to play against a large variety of players”, some recreational players – at least those who put some thought into their game – are adverse to being sat in a disadvantageous seat. If these “middle range” players (between regs and newbies) fail to find a suitable level of action, the Seat Me seating process could backfire and fail to improve the overall experience for the players PokerStars is trying to protect.

When are the Changes being Implemented?

The changes are due to be implemented on the Spanish pokerstars.es client next Tuesday (January 31st). PokerStars will monitor the success of the Seat Me process and then decide if it is to be rolled out on other domains. Writing as somebody who plays on the Spanish client, my feeling is there will likely be insufficient evidence to determine whether the new seating process will be effective due to there being not that many bumhunters in Spain and not enough traffic to justify the cost of seating scripts.

Possibly I am wrong, but my conclusion is that PokerStars will roll out the Seat Me seating process for ring games irrespective of the impact it has in Spain. What impact it will have on the overall experience, only time will tell. The jury is out.