PokerStars Discusses Potential Solution to Rat Holing

Posted By: Date: 05/23/2013 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

There has been widespread debate over a practice that has become known as “rat-holing” at online poker sites for years. PokerStars is attempting to address the issue with a ‘complex solution’; one that would involve software enhancements to impose specific, compulsory rules to prevent rat-holing by players. Rather than simply instating a textual rule that players are obliged to follow, the online poker room feels that an automatic manifestation of the rules would be more appropriate, preventing unaware players from getting in trouble simply because they didn’t understand the policies.

Rat-holing is defined as the act of winning a large sum of money, leaving the table and then returning with a minimal buy-in. Doing so prevents other players who lost money to that person from having the ability to win it back. When committed on a regular basis, such behavior is considered by many poker players to be unethical. Thus, the discussion for a new software-imposed implementation of the ‘no rat-holing’ rule may involve requiring specific minimum table buy-ins for players who leave a table with a profit.

The debate was examined in an April 2013 meeting, and shared with the general public by Steve Day, a representative of the online poker room, on the 2+2 poker forums under his site moniker ‘PokerStars Steve’. The proposed solution to rat-holing came by way of an 18-page proposal, and was condensed into a 23-paragraph post by Day, which can be read here.

Day explicated that they do not wish to punish players for wrong-doing on a minimal level, as such cases are generally unwittingly committed. He said that enacting penalties creates a “negative experience” for players, while taking “substantial resources” on PokerStars’ part. The operator does not want to outlaw rat-holing altogether, as some players may “find themselves in uncomfortable positions where a tough aggressive player has position with deep effective stacks”, and that “players with small account balances may win a pot and want to split their funds up across multiple tables.”

After in-depth study with input from player representatives, PokerStars has proposed the following solution, as relayed by Steve Day:

we track players’ stack sizes when they leave tables and then enforce appropriate minimum buy-ins when they re-join other tables. Joining a table creates a ‘stack identity’ for that table type. For example, if I were to sit at a 40-100bb table with 40bb, then leave the table with 67bb, I would now have 40-100bb stack #1 set at 67bb.

Each player would have a maximum number of stacks at each table type, with table type defined by buy-in range. The maximum number of stacks would be equal to a player’s table cap (for regular tables) and table cap divided by 3 (Zoom). This way a player could start a full maximum tables session with minimum buy-ins, but if they left any table with more than minimum buy-in, they would then need to re-use the same stack identity when buying into another table of the same type.

However, as Day pointed out, there are downsides to the plan that might allow for rat-holing by players who take advantage of the system by playing substantially fewer tables than their cap allows. Imposing limitations on players who have never committed any wrong-doing is another concern. Until all apprehensions are suitably resolved, an official resolution cannot be successfully implemented, thus Day expressed his disappointment that the original date of execution, anticipated for the first half of the year, is highly unlikely. PokerStars now hopes to have the rat-holing situation completely resolved by the end of summer.