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Rob Yong partypoker: Podcast Interview Q&A (June 2019)

Partypoker partner Rob Yong joined the Jeff Gross Podcast in June 2019 to discuss major changes that will be taking place for the online poker site in upcoming weeks and months.

Rob Yong partypoker Podcast Interview Q&A (Introduction)

On June 3rd, 2019, partypoker partner Rob Yong appeared on the Jeff Gross Podcast (Episode #24) to share his thoughts on the online poker site’s policies regarding the elimination of Heads-Up Displays (HUDs) and third-party software tools, along with insights into reviving partypoker’s cash game ecology and providing an even playing field for all partypoker players.

Jeff Gross Poker (Official Website)

Following is a link to the full interview, along with a list of Questions & Answers concerning the upcoming changes (in the order they were addressed on the show) that provide information on how partypoker will conduct business in formally licensed markets in 2019 and beyond.

Note that informal commentary not related to the upcoming partypoker “cash game ecology” changes (which took place towards the end of the show) has been omitted from this recap.

Rob Yong partypoker: Podcast Interview Q&A (Timestamps)

FULL VIDEO INTERVIEW (Jeff Gross Podcast, Episode #24 – YouTube – Jun 3, 2019)

Rob Yong partypoker
Rob Yong (partypoker partner)

Q: Who will oversee the major changes that will take place on partypoker, and why?

(1:20-2:34) Rob Yong will personally supervise the partypoker changes. Rob Yong was asked to do so by current partypoker Managing Director Tom Waters.

Q: What changes will be made to the partypoker “cash game ecology” moving forward?

(2:36-4:05) According to Rob Yong, there has been a “huge decline” in online poker cash games across major sites in recent years. Partypoker is no exception to this. Despite the site’s overall 40% YOY growth, cash game revenues have “stayed the same.” Because of this, Rob Yong believes partypoker administrators will enjoy the benefit of a “freeroll” situation that will provide them with a “unique opportunity” to take “big risks” without negatively affecting the site’s “core business.”

Q: What are some of the overall changes that partypoker will make moving forward?

(4:05-6:17) Rob Yong’s strategy for evolving the partypoker cash game ecology consists of “five pillars,” the first of which is player protection — particularly when it comes to granting net-depositing players an even playing field versus professional, net-withdrawing players. The changes include:

  • removing the ability to “download local hand histories,”
  • making third-party software such as PokerTracker and Hold’em Manager “illegal” to use on partypoker,
  • allowing players to use partypoker’s in-house hand-replayer.

Q: What has prompted partypoker to implement these changes now as opposed to in the past?

(6:18-6:45) Rob Yong states that partypoker has “flirted” with the idea of banning HUDs and downloadable hand histories for two years, but only now believes the site has the proper technology and controls to legitimately enforce the policy.

Q: Why is it so important to Rob Yong to remove the ability for players to download their hand history information, and to block usage of software tools such as PokerTracker, Hold’em Manager, and others?

(6:45-9:10) Rob Yong says that the existence of services that mine and sell hand histories (such as PokerTableRatings, HH Smithy, and HH Dealer) means that select groups of players can purchase this hand history data from third-party sites (learn more in our May 2019 Online Poker Hand Histories Debate write-up). This in turn allows certain players to gain access to hand history data from real money action that they never personally participated in, thus creating an unfair advantage over unsuspecting players. This information can subsequently be placed within these players’ HUDs and utilized in real time to further extract an advantage over these unsuspecting players who are unaware these services exist.

Rob Yong states that HUDs in-and-of themselves do not create as large of an advantage that some players may believe. However, the widespread use of these tools has, over time, served to intimidate casual/recreational players, Yong opines. By removing the ability to download hand history data while at the same time banning HUD software, Yong believes some of the more casual players may opt to return to partypoker. Podcast host Jeff Gross also mentions that the use of HUDs can be seen via personalities’ real money gameplay on YouTube and Twitch, and may be intimidating for some real money players.

Q: Is it true that every partypoker player will be required by the site to change his/her “screen name” at some point? And if so, when will this requirement be put into place?

(9:10-10:26) Yes, this is true. The date mentioned by Rob Yong is June 18th, 2019. Yong justifies this incoming policy by making further reference to how hand history data has been stored and shared over time, and says this will allow all partypoker players to enjoy the benefit of a “clean start.”

Q: What does Rob Yong have to say about the use of “bots” in online poker? Are “net-withdrawing” (aka “cashing”) bots fairly common among prohibited software users?

(11:05-15:00) Yong explains why poker sites are in a far better position to detect and block prohibited software users than players are, due to the superior information that poker sites possess. Yong also says that many of the player-initiated accusations that are reported to the site turn out to be false. Yong believes that over time, partypoker will be able to completely eradicate not only bots, but also collusion, multi-accounting, and other forms of cheating. Yong then repeats that he will personally coordinate and work on partypoker’s bot detection program, and invites all partypoker players to hold him (instead of other partypoker staff) accountable for the site’s actions regarding this issue.

RELATED: partypoker Bot Detection and Account Seizures (Dec 2018 – Mar 2019)
RELATED: partypoker Bot Detection and Account Seizures (April 2019)
RELATED: partypoker Bot Detection and Account Seizures (May 2019)

Q: What is the timeline for partypoker removing the ability for players to locally download their own hand history information?

(15:00-15:19) Rob Yong states that this ability will be removed in approximately “four to five weeks” following the June 3rd airdate of Episode #24 of the Jeff Gross Podcast.

Q: What about removing the ability for players to “rail” or watch real money cash game action on partypoker when they are not actually participating in the games?

(15:19-15:29) This ability has already been removed. Non-participating players can no longer “rail” partypoker cash game activity, according to Yong.

Q: Does partypoker plan to communicate these and other changes directly with their players? In what time frame does partypoker anticipate being able to make these changes to site policy?

(15:30-16:33) Rob Yong promises that partypoker will communicate these and other changes (anticipated implementation time frame of 3-9 months) directly with its players. There are “48” overall changes that Yong believes the site will eventually make in order to protect its players and cash game ecology — to a quality standard that will eventually be on par with brick & mortar games that are formally licensed by established regulatory bodies.

Q: What does Rob Yong have to say about “high stakes” cash games, and protecting players who compete for significant amounts of money on partypoker? Does the site plan to put additional security measures in place for these high stakes cash games?

(16:33-21:20) Yong says that high stakes ($10/$25 blind levels and above) cash game players on partypoker will be required to use their “real name.” This means that online “aliases” or screen names will not be allowed for partypoker high stakes games at some point in the future. Yong explains that the feedback he has received so far from these players has been overwhelmingly positive. Yong defends this incoming policy by comparing real money online poker play to that of brick & mortar casinos, and further explains that high stakes games typically “drain the site” due to the amount of rake collected in comparison to the real money that changes hands between peer-to-peer competitors. Yong subsequently says that the “real name” policy is likely to be extended to partypoker “heads-up” tables along with mid-stakes cash games at some point in the future, and that high stakes cash game players will still be able to use aliases when competing in partypoker online tournaments.

Q: What does Rob Yong think about the practice of “buttoning,” understood to be players who “sit-in” for one single hand, exploit other players who have posted obligatory blinds, and then immediately “sit out” at the conclusion of that single hand, or when it is their turn to post blinds?

(21:20-26:23) Rob Yong explains that he is against this practice and — due to partypoker’s internal controls — is personally aware of the individuals who take part in this unethical practice. The future policy of mandating that high stakes cash game players utilize their real names will naturally curb this behavior, Yong believes. This policy will be implemented slowly due to the extreme “cultural change,” and will also extend to all partypoker LIVE satellites at some point. Yong reinforces that he will personally oversee the implementation of partypoker’s incoming policies related to player protections and cash game ecology, and that the site will offer a $500,000 promotion that will coincide with the upcoming player alias screen name changes.

Q: Does Rob Yong believe the incoming partypoker cash game changes and prohibited software restrictions will have at the very least a temporary negative impact on the site’s bottom line?

(26:23-28:37) Yes, but Rob Yong also alludes to the overall decline in online poker cash games for several years and justifies the changes as a means to “do the right thing” instead of being overly-concerned with short-term revenue generation. Yong then states that the recent “bot” account closures have cost the site roughly $10 million in revenue.

Q: Are there any tables that observing players can “rail” now that the observer cash game restrictions have been implemented?

(28:37-32:13) Yes. Rob Yong states that partypoker will have “feature tables” that observers can watch, but that these will be specifically designated/selected by the site. Yong compares this upcoming policy to the Bellagio Poker Room and other popular card rooms in Las Vegas, where players may be allowed to stand around and observe a single “feature” table — but in general are not permitted to loiter around real money tables — because that would naturally enable collusion and other forms of cheating.

Q: When does partypoker plan to stop the use of HUDs on its site, and what actions is partypoker prepared to take against prohibited software tools once they are formally blocked?

(32:25-34:37) Rob Yong states that third-party Heads-Up Display tools will be prohibited on partypoker starting June 18th, 2019, and that partypoker’s Managing Director Tom Waters is in the process of formally notifying third-party HUD software vendors that they may no longer use partypoker’s likeness as of June 18th. Yong also mentions that attempts by third parties to “screen scrape” partypoker games will also be policed by the site, then reinforces the fact that online poker players’ “aliases” (not only on partypoker, but on competing poker sites as well) have been available “all over the internet” since third-party hand history database tools gained prominence within the online player community. Yong also repeats that he anticipates partypoker will “lose some traffic” due to the decision, but that he believes the site is doing the “right thing.”

Q: What specific measures will partypoker implement to “enforce” its policies related to prohibiting third-party tracking software and the detection of bots?

(35:10-37:10) Rob Yong states that this information is restricted to partypoker in-house tools, and that he will not share the info due to its sensitive nature. Sharing this information publicly could potentially compromise partypoker’s ability to monitor and enforce its incoming policies, Yong says.

Q: If partypoker’s incoming changes are to be effective (as Rob Yong insinuates), then why haven’t other poker sites made similar decisions to block third-party HUD tools such as Hold’em Manager and PokerTracker?

(37:12-39:48) Rob Yong specifically addresses Hold’em Manager and PokerTracker proprietor Derek Charles, and states that competing sites have refrained from implementing HUD software blockage because “they’re scared of the loss in rake” that would result from such policies. Rob Yong then re-confirms that partypoker’s “bottom line” will be affected as a result, “because the high-volume players are all using HUDs.” Yong then clarifies that, according to partypoker’s in-house research, 94 percent of players who play six or more tables at a time on partypoker use HUD software that will be prohibited on the site starting June 18th.

Yong goes on to further defend the incoming HUD blockage policy by reinforcing that partypoker offers “cashback” rewards to its highest volume players that — in his opinion — will serve to appropriately compensate previous HUD-using mass-tablers who continue to patronize partypoker once the policies are put into place.

Q: If partypoker has chosen to block third-party Heads-Up Display software tools, why hasn’t the site also decided to disband its in-house feature of displaying online poker player chip counts that allow customers to display said amounts per number of Big Blinds?

(39:48-42:04) Rob Yong states that poker terms such as “Big Blinds” are common knowledge among all poker players, while third-party HUD stats such as “Pre-flop Raise,” “Continuation Bet,” and other percentages are not. Yong then opines that the toggle-based conversion of player chip amounts to “Big Blinds” do not turn off casual players, but that statistical terms commonly used in HUD software do.

Q: Does Rob Yong believe that incoming HUD-usage restrictions will have a negative financial impact on some for-profit poker players who compete on partypoker?

(42:32-43:39) Yes, he does. However, Rob Yong re-states that third-party HUD tools, in-and-of themselves, do not provide professional players with the massive advantage that some players may believe, and that highly skilled players will still enjoy an advantage over lesser-skilled players in spite of partypoker’s incoming restrictions on HUD-usage.

Q: What are Rob Yong’s thoughts on “note taking” in online poker?

(43:55-44:26) Rob Yong is “completely against” note taking in online poker and believes players should be required to keep such information in their heads. With that said, Yong does not believe that online poker note taking does much harm, and note taking isn’t something that the partypoker partner is very passionate about either way. Yong makes it clear that he is much more concerned with players being able to download their full hand history information, which then exposes the online poker player base to unauthorized sales of mass-data that can be used to exploit unsuspecting players.

Q: Does Rob Yong believe that removing the ability for high stakes cash game players on partypoker to use “aliases” and instead requiring them to use their real names is a trend that will catch on?

(44:58-47:12) Rob Yong mentions how the proliferation of social media sites over the past decade has made individuals less “shy” about sharing personally-identifying data, including real names (Twitter verified accounts), family photos (Facebook), and so on. Yong believes that the use of “aliases” on poker forums — specifically TwoPlusTwo — enables poker people to “post sh**” and that online poker would be well-served in general if “real names” are required for real money competition.

With that said, Yong again repeats that the partypoker “real name” requirements will be gradual, and will only apply to partypoker LIVE satellite events, high stakes cash games, and perhaps heads-up tables to begin with. Further requirements may be rolled out (over the course of several years) depending on how the partypoker player base community responds to the initial real name requirements. Yong also believes that requiring partypoker players to use their real names will significantly cut down on the number of players the site has to ban for chat rule violations.

Q: Does Rob Yong plan on adding new types of poker games to partypoker at some point in the future? What about more promotions tied to mixed games and other formats?

(47:14-48:04) Rob Yong states that more promotion revolving around mixed games and possibly introducing more formats is something that partypoker is “committed to.” However, those plans may not be as high of a priority for the site due to the more urgent cash game changes (roughly four dozen of them) that have been listed by Managing Director Tom Waters, and prioritized by Rob Yong.

Q: Has Rob Yong received any pushback from GVC executives when it comes to granting him supervisory, decision-making control over making these changes to partypoker’s “cash game ecology” and other facets of the online poker site’s operations?

(48:41-49:53) Rob Yong explains that his brick & mortar casino in England — Dusk Till Dawn — formed a commercial partnership with partypoker years ago, and that as a result of that partnership, partypoker solicited Yong’s services as a consultant to assist in shoring-up its own online poker offering. Because of this (and because Yong’s focus is on providing a better service for partypoker’s existing and new players), Yong states that he has not received significant pushback from partypoker or GVC Holdings executives.

Q: Not including the upcoming restriction of HUDs, why does Rob Yong believe it is necessary to make all these “cash game ecology” changes to partypoker?

(50:16-50:44) Rob Yong repeats his concerns about mass-sharing of hand history data that has enabled some groups of for-profit players to extract what he feels is an unfair advantage over unsuspecting players who are unaware that their hand history data has been tracked and stored in databases for years.

Q: What makes Rob Yong believe that partypoker’s in-house staff will actually be capable of policing its games against prohibited software, cheating, and collusion, when it has already been proven over the past decade-plus that players having access to their full hand histories can also serve as a serious deterrent to stopping such practices? Even to the point of detecting massive fraud in select cases?

(50:55-52:52) Rob Yong repeats that partypoker possesses far superior data than players ever will when it comes to determining whether x-player’s activities are within the rules. Yong mentions that players will not need to “worry” about policing partypoker’s games going forward because the site possesses “perfect” information. Yong believes the notion that online poker sites are incapable of policing their own games without player assistance and player-usage of hand history data to corroborate site-wide game integrity is “bullsh**.”

Q: Do partypoker LIVE satellite events held on the partypoker online site unfairly favor higher-skilled players over “recreational” players due to the obvious skill gap between seasoned pros and casual players who may be seeking a unique opportunity to enter a major partypoker LIVE tournament?

(53:09-53:50) Rob Yong states that partypoker re-invests 20% of all satellite buy-ins (via overlays, etc.) into “feeding” those tournaments. So while higher-skilled players WILL enjoy an advantage over their lesser-skilled opponents, Yong believes there is still significant “value” provided to recreational players in these online events.

Q: Does partypoker plan on offering “Fast Forward Short Deck” games at some point in the future?

(53:11-54:20) Rob Yong likes this idea, but believes the higher priority at this time is to focus on the dozens of changes that have been outlined by Managing Director Tom Waters.

Q: What does Rob Yong think about the overall popularity of poker cash games versus tournaments?

(54:25-54:38) Rob Yong believes that cash games are more popular in a live setting than they are online.

Q: What does Rob Yong think about higher rake, and whether it provides a general benefit to players?

(54:40-55:22) Rob Yong states that he believes higher rake does not provide a general benefit to poker players. With that said, Yong does believe that rake rates must be “sensible” in order for a poker provider to make a financial return, and that partypoker’s rake rates are “very fair,” and perhaps even “too low” in some formats. Still, Yong does not believe that partypoker will be increasing its rake rates in the foreseeable future.

Q: What site does partypoker consider to represent its biggest competition?

(1:00:10-1:01:50) Rob Yong says that PokerStars represents partypoker’s biggest competition, and that it is “impossible” for partypoker to overtake PokerStars in the near future due to the amount of guaranteed money that PokerStars offers its players along with PokerStars’ established software superiority over its rivals. However, Yong opines that partypoker can fill a void by becoming a viable alternative to playing on PokerStars, and that partypoker LIVE is in fact a superior product compared to its competitors.

* This article is directly funded by Part Time Poker.

SOCIAL MEDIA CONSIDERATION (TWITTER): @JeffGrossPoker, @partypoker

ROB YONG IMAGE CREDIT: Jeff Gross Podcast (Episode #24)

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