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888poker Bans Accounts, Confiscates Balances - AI Involved?

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Without any warning or public announcement, 888poker has started to ban players for allegedly using prohibited artificial intelligence tools while playing poker. Not only did the poker room boot individuals from its site, but it also confiscated the funds in their accounts. These actions started on Aug. 4, 2017. It's not clear how many users are affected, but it seems that it's a non-trivial percentage of the winning regular players on the 888 poker platform.

Details About the Account Closures

At around 2:00 p.m. EST, twoplustwo user “EpaDha” was the first to report on this phenomenon in a public forum. 888 sent him an email, the text of which was as follows:

Dear Valerija,

This is the Operations Team at 888poker and we are contacting you with regards to your account with username "EpaDha".

As you may be aware we carry out security checks on all of our members at some point during their membership with us. During a security check on your account we have been alerted to suspicious game play indicating that the use of Artificial Intelligence may be involved.

The use of Artificial Intelligence is strictly against our terms and conditions and will not be tolerated on our site. This email is to inform you that we no longer require your membership on any site owned or operated by Cassava Enterprises.

Please refrain from opening any further accounts as these too will be closed from use and no monies refunded.

The poster had a join date of Aug. 2017, and this was his first post, so it's understandable if people were skeptical of his story. However, several others chimed in claiming to have received similar emails. Through our contacts within the poker community, we here at Professional Rakeback were able to get in touch with quite a few people who were given the same treatment. They stated that they didn't know why they were kicked off the site and said that they weren't running any unfair software while playing.

Why Did 888 Close the Accounts

Green Question Mark

There have been waves of account closures before at 888, like when the site decided to block players from the Playa Del Carmen area of Mexico in May 2014. In these previous instances, 888 returned all balances to the players unlike in the current circumstances where they're confiscating the funds. It's therefore a good idea to examine the policies of the company to see if we can shed some light on recent events. **EDITOR'S NOTE: The PDC bannings were never adequately explained. We suspect that it was a crackdown on winning regs in Mexico who were mostly expats. Could a similar culling of the winning player herd be going on here under a flimsy excuse of "AI"?

According to the User Agreement at 888poker.com, “You may not use any software program, robot or external aid, which is endowed with artificial intelligence or which is not included in the Permitted Aids list (as set out above) in connection with your use of our Services.” The site then gives further explanations of the types of activity that counts as artificial intelligence. This includes:

  • Software that facilitates collusion
  • Tools that allow game selection based on opponents' identities
  • Websites and programs that collect and share info on other players
  • Software that acts on behalf of the player at the tables
  • Programs that gather data on hands that the player doesn't play himself
  • Tools that give advice to the player in real time while he plays
  • Seating scripts

None of the affected players claim to have used anything more than popular tracking programs, like HEM2 and PT4, and hotkey utilities that make it easier to manage multiple tables, which don't fall into the categories described above. If it were just a couple of people whose accounts were blocked, then it would be likely that they were lying and actually cheating by running bots or other illicit software programs. The sheer number of individuals who have been targeted makes this unlikely, though, so we must search for an alternate explanation.

Besides just the possibility of a big mistake on the part of 888, one other scenario seems plausible. Many of the programs that are not themselves disallowed by 888poker nevertheless contain optional add-ons that could be viewed as crossing a line in the sand. For instance, the Note Caddy app for Hold'em Manager 2 is able to automatically take notes on opponents' play and display them at the tables. It also identifies when there's a potentially exploitable scenario during gameplay by displaying opponent-specific badges. This type of functionality could easily be treated as advice that's given to the player in the middle of a hand, which could cause the staff at 888poker to consider it a form of proscribed artificial intelligence tool.

The Note Caddy page explains that some of its features are disabled or reduced when used with PokerStars and Full Tilt in order to comply with the rules on those sites, but no such notice is given with regard to 888. It may be the case that the developers of Note Caddy don't consider their software to be in violation of 888's terms and conditions. Another possibility is that more effort went into ensuring compatibility with PokerStars' rules because Stars and Full Tilt combine to form the largest online poker site in the world.

In any event, all of this Note Caddy information is just speculation. There's no telling for sure whether it was the use of this or another program entirely that triggered 888's actions. It's even plausible that the culprit was software that was installed but never used. One of our readers told us that PokerStars advised him via email to stop using the last-generation Holdem Manager suite because it contained elements that were not OK under its terms of service. If such an old piece of software could unknowingly cause someone to violate the rules of a poker site, then there are undoubtedly hundreds or thousands more that could also be problematic.

Player Reactions

Three People Talking

This decision by 888poker to banish many people while taking their money has understandably generated a lot of anger within the player community. Even if the players who were exiled were breaking the rules, the consensus opinion is that they were doing it inadvertently. Surely warnings would have been more appropriate instead of bans and the forfeiture of balances. Some feel that 888, having been criticized in the past for allowing bot rings and colluders to operate unmolested, is now overreacting and punishing the innocent along with the guilty. Several users have appealed to the 888 forum rep on Twoplustwo for assistance, and he said that he has forwarded their cases for review. We'll keep you updated on the latest in this discouraging news story.

888poker Slipping Fast!

Graph of Traffic Level at 888poker

Having recently exited the Australian market and facing fierce competition from its rivals, like Ignition Poker and TigerGaming, 888's traffic numbers are starting to fall. You can see this for yourself in the graph at the right, provided courtesy of PokerScout.com Surely mass bannings of winning regs will not help their traffic numbers either!

 

If you're getting fed up with 888's antics and wish to look for a new poker home, then one of our country-specific guides may be of use to you: Australian poker sites, Czech poker sites, USA poker sites, Brazil poker sites.

 

Comments

Other programs players have listed as using such as Stack and Tile seem to be complaint with the 888 terms of service. Programs such as 888caption2, which do automate some player functions such as betting sizes could be questionable in the opinion of Professional Rakeback staff. However, the 888 rep explicitely stated that 888caption software was allowed back in 2016 (after the software company removed some key features that 888 disagreed with).

Yet another possible program of interest is the illicit Russian based heads up display that works on 888 Snap tables. However, a large number of players banned deny using this software or of even playing Snap games at all. 888 reps have explicitely stated that they do not condone HUD usage on Snap tables.

At this point, we're sorry to report that it's anyone's guess as to what the actual "Artificial Intelligence" being used was.

Another theory we are working on is that this could be affiliate related. Although we have yet to determine a concrete connection to certain affiliates, it is possible that there is a master affiliate who is being targeted somehow and his players are taking the brunt of the attack. This of course is wild speculation at this point. However, in the past, some poker sites have been known to ban players in large groups who were attached to shady affiliates doing nefarious under the table dealings, mass VPN and fake document creation schemes by claiming some other "managerial decisions" to close accounts.

And lastly, there are rumors swirling that some account bans have been reversed. Though we have yet to see any actual credible evidence of this.

We also considered the idea that perhaps Poker Snowie software was an issue. However, after asking around, many players who were banned have never used it. There seems to be no consistency with the programs in use and the players being banned for "Artificial Intelligence".

The 888rep in the official 2+2 thread for 888 poker has only been forwarding player complaints to management and appears to have no actual power to look into the situation independently. No official responses have been posted in regard to his enquiries.

The rumors of ban reversals seem to stem from ONE account of a micro stakes player posted at PokerStrategy. In other words, it appears that the bans, and fund confiscations are standing. Dozens of players have reported their accounts being shut down, all with the same cryptic email response.

Is 888 perhaps just cleaning house and booting winning regs in an attempt to increase their profit margins on the poker room?

888rep tells players to contact Cassava directly in an attempt to resolve claims 

Players are still reporting getting emails. How long is this going to go on and how many players are affected? It seems like there may be hundreds of players at this point. 888 remains silent.