RTA Poker: Should you be Worried? (The Ultimate Guide)
RTA is Everywhere
RTA in poker is widespread. Almost everyone uses it, most likely, you do too.
Perhaps you’re confused now. Well, let’s explore what I mean, but to do that, we need to start off by defining “RTA” (Real Time Assistance).
What is RTA in Poker?
Real time assistance simply means that the player is getting assistance in real time. You might think “doesn’t that mean that drinking coffee while playing poker is using RTA?” The answer is no, it doesn’t. The key here is “real time”.
Real time implies that the assistance that is given, is relevant to the current state of the game. The coffee you're drinking has nothing to do with the current game state.
The HUD that you use to see how wide your opponent raises from the BTN is relevant to the game's current state because every player that sits on the table is a part of the game. Using a HUD is therefore using real time assistance.
The same goes for those MDA (mass database analysis) charts that so many people use while they play. This one is not so obvious, but let’s take a deeper look at it.
When someone does MDA, they get an aggregate of information on the tendencies of the players they have in their database. They might see that in the aggregate of players on the site and the stake they play, people open too wide on the BTN.
Later, they sit down to play and they find themselves in the BB and the player on the BTN has opened. They take a look at the document they have on their second monitor and see that based on the data they have, statistically, this player will open 50% of hands here instead of 44% of hands. With that information about the current game state, they make a decision. The player used real time assistance.
I don’t think I even have to go into solved preflop charts, it should be clear by now that using those is using RTA too. But there is something interesting here, what if the player created the charts on their own, without the use of a solver?
The Precise Definition of RTA in Poker
No matter how faulty the ranges are, using them in-game is still real time assistance. Allow me to elaborate.
The common thought is that if someone uses a solver to solve preflop ranges and then uses them in-game, that is when it becomes real time assistance. But what if the solution is only solved to 10% exploitability? Or if the solution is only solved for one iteration? Or if the player used parameters that results in a terrible solution.
If you’re of the opinion that ranges that have been solved using software like PIOSolver, SimplePreflop, or MonkerSolver, and then used by the player in-game, is considered RTA, but “homemade” ranges aren’t, then answer me this - at what point does the solution become “good” enough that it counts as using real time assistance?
Two Potential Definitions
There are only two potential definitions that are reasonable to use for “real time assistance”. The first is as I have defined it here, any assistance the player receives in real time that relates to the current state of the game, no matter how effective, is real time assistance.
The only other possible definition would be that a player with access to the nash-equilibrium solution as he plays, is using real time assistance. But the problem with the latter definition is that the nash-equilibrium solution has not yet been computed for most poker formats, which means that real time assistance does not exist yet.
A Distinction Between the Different Types of RTA
Now we have established that there are many different types of RTA, so let’s try to make a distinction between them. I will split the different RTAs into three categories; low-level, mid-level, and high-level.
Low Level RTA
At the low level, we have RTA such as HUDs, MDA charts, preflop charts, etc. In the early days of online poker, these weren’t as common, and some of them did not even exist, but in today’s games, you will see these low-level types of RTA everywhere.
Mid Level RTA
At the mid level, we have the people that have libraries of pre-solved solutions that they manually browse through on their second computer while they play. We also have people who even went so far as to create their own software that automatically recognizes the poker tables and feeds them pre-solved solutions in real time. The reason I still keep these at the mid level is that 99% of them will not be very good. The solutions won’t be good enough, they’re not able to play on many tables, they’re not able to play on whatever site they want, it’s slow and because of its low quality, the poker sites are able to detect and ban them.
High Level RTA
At the high level we have software that feeds the player solutions that have been handcrafted for the purpose of being used as RTA. It works on any site, you can play multiple tables, it is instant and undetectable by the poker sites.
Should you be worried about the use of RTA in online poker?
As you might have figured out by now, it depends on the level of the RTA. You have no reason to fear Bill who plays NL25 and uses a HUD. Bill is not using RTA that is sophisticated enough to be of any real threat to you.
The MDA RTA is Against Most Sites TOS
You should be somewhat cautious of the big stables that spend thousands on software and data to arm their students with RTA that is meant to maximally exploit you. I’m talking about MDA here of course. It’s still not that much of a threat because when they make their exploits they open themselves up to being massively exploited in return.
A person with a high level RTA will be generating a lot of EV vs these players. Most sites still take a stance against this MDA RTA in their terms of service.
The Sites Will Ban Mid Level RTA
Then there is the mid-level RTA, but because of the issues that I outlined already, this RTA shouldn’t worry you too much. The poker sites do a pretty good job of taking care of the mid level RTA and besides, it won’t be winning that much vs you. A lot of the time, they simply break even.
The Top of the RTA Hierarchy
Finally, there’s the high level RTA. Most of the people reading this will never have come in contact with this RTA. The reason it’s so rare is that it requires expertise in poker and game theory which 99% of poker players don’t have. Not only that, but it also requires programming at a very high level. The high level RTA is at the top of the food chain. It will win vs all other RTAs.
What can you do to combat poker RTA?
If you’re up against the high level form of RTA, there’s nothing you can do. You will always be losing to this player in the long run. It’s just math. The player with a high level RTA will not make any mistakes and every mistake you make will be taken advantage of.
Your Best Hope
Your best hope is that the poker site will stop offering its services to this player. But in the end, there’s not that much incentive for the poker site to do so because this player also pays rake like everyone else, so the poker site still gets its share, and to stop someone that uses a truly high level RTA is extremely difficult to do.
It would require a lot of money and not just a one-time investment but a continuous one because the teams that build these high level RTAs will continue to improve their software.
Why do Poker Sites not Invest More to Stop RTA?
To understand the poker site’s perspective we have to consider who it is that supplies the poker economy with money. Regulars have always been taking money out of the poker economy. It’s the recreational players that create the game. Without them, regulars would not be able to continue playing.
The Real World
The reality of the world is that we’re driven by financial incentives. To get a company to do something, there has to be money for them to make, and in the situation of the poker sites, they’ll make more money by focusing their efforts elsewhere.
The good news is that the barrier to entry for the high level RTA is still very high. They are rare in today's games.
As the high level RTA slowly becomes more available it will take over the games. It’s the natural evolution of a market such as the poker economy. I think as a community we’re better off accepting it and setting new terms for what online poker is instead of trying to fight a hopeless battle. We can control our future, but to do it, we need to stop resisting the inevitable and instead find ways to work with it.
Innovation in Markets
Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity - not a threat.” The people that have realized this and make the most out of this new era of online poker are the ones that will accomplish the goal all poker players have, to make a lot of money.
For some, this might look like a grim future. But don’t you prefer knowing the truth about what’s happening to online poker instead of living in denial? At least you know now what you’re up against and how to take action.