If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?
Odin was a war god in Norse mythology, appearing in heroic literature as the protector of heroes. In outward appearance he was a tall, bearded old man with only one eye, having exchanged the other for wisdom. He was a great magician and is associated with knowledge, sorcery, battle, and victory. It was said that fallen warriors joined him in Valhalla.
In January of last year, I wrote an article entitled “Robot Wars: How Long Before Real Time Assistants Threaten the Viability of Online Poker?” In it, I looked at a few of the “real time assistance” (RTA) scandals that had already occurred in the poker world and pondered the consequences of players using “dream-machines” that could tell them the best poker action to take within a 20-30 second timeframe.
can produce very accurate soft solutions to hands in a matter of seconds
Another clear and present existential danger to online poker comes from the training tools used primarily for coaching purposes. These “game theory optimal” (GTO) trainers have become so sophisticated, delving into a massive bank of pre-solved situations, that they can produce very accurate soft solutions to hands in a matter of seconds. It is therefore massively important that the purveyors of such software build in a compulsory time delay slot prevent their use for hands in real time.
One such trainer is Odin, the brainchild of Rory Young, which is now advertised with the tagline: “solving poker has never been faster.” It recently removed its 20-second delay and has launched a sale on the back of this new “feature.” While I understand that players studying simulations appreciate speed and that ground-breaking pieces of study kit like PioSolver are slow, it would be disingenuous not to see how that slogan is also a dog whistle to would-be cheaters.
Players can now use Odin in-game, taking its recommended GTO lines versus unsuspecting villains and giving themselves a huge advantage when battling on the virtual felt. Selling a product that permits such sorcery is scurrilous and a number of high profile people in the industry have spoken out.
What is RTA?
Real-time assistance is anything external to players that helps them make their decisions while playing online cash games or tournaments. The most obvious and clear-cut example of this is a game theory optimal (GTO) solver running on a supercomputer, capable of running hands millions of times in a matter of seconds, devising an optimal line based on those findings, and generating that solution within the limits of a player’s time bank.
Less obvious and often disputed examples are pre-flop push-fold charts or lists of pre-solved opening ranges. Poker sites differ in their attitude towards these but they all draw the line somewhere and then try to police those policies. Top pro Olivier Busquet favors a hard-live approach as anything less would be a slippery slope in his opinion.
Whether you like it or not, we are very much in “The Solver Era” of poker, a natural evolution of information and an example of the inexorable march of new technology. A huge amount of poker study these days is solver-based, with trainers designed to optimize learning via the recognition of patterns and the devising of heuristics. These trainers are wonderful tools, but what happens when a trainer becomes too powerful and too fast at dispensing its findings? In the wrong hands, it becomes an RTA.
RTA in Poker: A Brief History
Back in September 2020, German online gamer turned poker player Fedor Kruse was in the headlines when his flat mates blew the whistle on his use of a two-computer “dream-machine” setup, designed to fool the mouse-tracking systems deployed by online poker security teams. When he finally broke his silence, Kruse was unapologetic, claiming that the use of dream-machines was widespread and that “Russian bot-farms” were already printing money in $5 SNG pools.
Later that same month, GGPoker banned 40 accounts for RTA usage and issued final warnings to 40 others. In total, $1,175,305 was seized from 13 of the banned accounts.
GGPoker put out a statement, explaining how “massive increases in data analysis” were a big part of their new RTA detection methods. They have since followed that up by banning more players, but also, curiously in August of 2022, reinstating others.
RTA use has gotten more prevalent
When researching my article from January 2022, I spoke with dozens of professionals who were concerned about the prevalence of RTA use at high stakes. Some even said that some high stakes players were engaging in “my RTA is better than yours” robot wars for massive sums.
A number of players who spoke to me mentioned the now disgraced Ali Imsirovic and Jake Schindler by name, but were unwilling to go on the record. That limited what I could ethically print, but suffice to say that these are the people I was referring to when I wrote: “right now, as you read this, ‘elite players’ are using ‘push-button bots’ to optimize their decision-making in high-stakes online games. Some of them are the guys you probably rate to be the game’s best.”
In the context of that research, I also bookmarked the following tweet by poker streamer Jaime Staples, who had spotted how RTA makers were openly advertising on poker discord groups:
With the time delay having been removed by Odin, does the developer now fall into the category of “straight scum,” as Staples puts it? Several people have spoken out in recent days against the people behind Odin, including KL Cleeton, who through his dual roles as founder of Range Trainer Pro and manager of Learn Pro Poker, is intimately aware of the issues at stake.
When Odin launched in July 2021, it did so with quite a bit of fanfare, calling itself revolutionary software and boasting 500,000 GTO simulations. It received the endorsement of German wunderkind Fedor Holz who said: “Odin gives you the ability to study basically any spot without ever touching a solver… It’s a must-have for anyone who wants to reach the next level in poker.” Holz also made a YouTube video to celebrate the launch:
Since then, Odin has struggled in the somewhat saturated poker trainer marketplace, it no longer has a relationship with Holz and the removal of the 20-second delay appears to be a last-ditch attempt to tempt buyers. Last Sunday, Cleeton made it clear how he felt about this cynical move:
The following day, Matt Berkey raised the issue on his Only Friends podcast, prompting the following response from Odin creator Rory Young:
It is worth noting that Odin is not the only poker trainer on the market without a delay but all of the others do have RTA prevention via either delays or look-up integrity checks. Vegas Slots Online News reached out to Cleeton and Berkey to ask them three important questions about RTA, the companies that sell them, and the existential threat they pose to the online poker ecosystem. We also spoke to poker pro and DTO Poker Trainer owner Dominik Nitsche and Unibet’s Head of Poker Kris Bergvall to get their perspectives.
Three Big Questions
VSO News: How do you feel about companies that are profiting off products that can be used as cheating tools?
Matt Berkey: I think my opinion has quickly turned on these companies. As an industry, we pretend to hold integrity to the highest standards, and it’s true, having integrity in this industry will get you respect amongst your peers. But in honesty, our history is riddled with the lowest integrity people collecting the biggest pieces of the pie. I feel that this is often because we are expected to self police due to no regulatory oversight and the general disregard at the operator level of widespread issues, such as RTA.
these companies are murdering the ecosystem for short-term profit”
KL Cleeton: My real thoughts are not fit for printing, but what I will say is these companies are murdering the ecosystem for short-term profit. Also, there are smart people behind these companies and they absolutely know what they’re doing. They’re complicit in cheating and should be treated no different than Ali or Jake.
Kris Bergvall: I’d hope that those companies do their utmost to make sure products and services are not used for cheating or breaking site terms of services, and I think it is in their best interest to care about their reputation, long-term business model and long-term health of the online poker industry.
Dominik Nitsche: I’ll probably give you a somewhat different take to what you expect. In my opinion, Odin is a very inefficient RTA and so are most other tools out there. The solves that they and GTOWizard produce are very poor, thankfully.
Ultimately, I believe the real responsibility when it comes to catching RTA users lies with the poker sites. We are paying sites millions in rake, yet the security somehow gets a pass for being unable to detect the most basic and obvious form of cheating. It’s also important to note that there other features in various products that can be used to cheat in a much more efficient manner – yet no one would call them out.
Calling out sites for creating a study program won’t do anything.”
With the future of poker study being firmly in the real time / AI market, it is important to realize that this is now a known problem. Calling out sites for creating a study program won’t do anything. There are countless alternatives out there (there have been for many years) and getting outraged over simply another poor version of RTA is silly.
VSO News: Is online poker in the long run ultimately doomed because of RTA and if so, how long do we have?
Dominik Nitsche: Online poker is not doomed. The threat is real but it’s very likely that there is real RTA out there that is actually efficient to use.
KL Cleeton: I refuse to be defeatist on this. Something can be done to minimize RTA, but it’s on the good actors in the industry (especially from post-flop database sites) to do the right thing. It’s not enough to simply say: “it’s the operator’s responsibility to ban cheaters after-the-fact.” It’s on everyone in the industry to actively try to prevent RTA. Would you rather have a doctor treat your cancer or would you rather have just not smoked in the first place?
Matt Berkey: This is an operator issue, imo. And I’ve actually come around to believing that the best case for the long term sustainability of online poker is for all the tools to remove RTA security buffers. Just as chess.com has to ensure no one uses engines, our online sites should be forced to do the same. No one is demanding that Alpha Zero adds a 60-second buffer.
Kris Bergvall: I remember being very negative about the long-term prospect of online poker in 2013 when I decided to get a real job instead of playing cards, and almost exactly ten years later, the industry is still going strong, so I was clearly too negative back then. I don’t think the entire industry will be in trouble any time soon, but some niches of the industry may well be.
that leaves some niches in the market like low liquidity high stakes games with strong players
I believe it would be difficult to get away with playing a large volume of hands using RTA without being detected by the major sites. Playing a smaller number of hands/tables on lower stakes would obviously cap the upside of the cheating venture and it would also be odd to find players playing almost perfectly on just a few tables when many are available. That leaves some niches in the market like low liquidity high stakes games with strong players and the very low liquidity sites/apps where RTA could be spell doom.
VSO News: Creatively speaking, what kind of things can poker operators do to stop or at least slow down and minimize the impact of RTA?
Kris Bergvall: Operators need to invest in fraud teams and detection technology to keep pace with abusers and be smart about how those resources are deployed.
KL Cleeton: With enough resources, detection can be largely automated by comparing player hand histories to GTO databases and measuring how accurate the player is. But, again, this only catches a cheater. I’m much more interested in preventing cheating.
Dominik Nitsche: Operators have the responsibility to improve their cheating detecting algorithm and would do well to partner with either poker players or software companies to improve their methods. I won’t publicly explain how we at DTO would go about finding anomalies in someone’s game, but I’ll say that someone using any public tool in this manner could be caught very quickly.
Matt Berkey: As far as the longevity of online, I’m very much a doomer. App games make up a massive % of the market and they are completely unchecked from a security standpoint. It’s a race to the bottom unless another Black Friday-type event curbs the black and gray market growth, or at a minimum forces a stricter minimum standard for security. Our only long term hope, in my opinion, is regulation coupled with a uniform overseeing body with regard to security.
Fallen warriors will not be going to Valhalla
These stories are terrible for poker and it is not lost on me that covering them hurts the industry. Between a rock and a hard place, I would rather choose whatever option offers the most transparency, even if that means reporting negative news.
like glove manufacturers deciding to make their gloves out of lead
It is appallingly obvious that technology always seems to exceed our humanity. If the increase in RTA use is like more and more lead getting slipped into the boxing glove, then poker trainers being transformed into dream machines is like glove manufacturers deciding to make their gloves out of lead.
Odin sacrificed an eye for wisdom. The makers of Odin are sacrificing their principles for a buck. Fallen warriors will not be going to Valhalla. They will be going to the poorhouse.
The post Poker Trainer Odin Just Became an RTA Tool appeared first on VegasSlotsOnline News.