Friday, June 27, 2014

James Thackston’s Underpants Gnomes

The infamous ipoker-troll James Thackston has finally released his new “4-way collusion software” and a “fuzzy video” (the images are blurry on purpose, but the logic is equally fuzzy).  It has yet to be trumpeted by Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling - but give it time (Cheri Jacobus has already done what she does best - retweeted JT’s original thoughts).  With the software and the video, Thackston purports to show that players can collude and see each other’s hole cards, and that this activity can go undetected by the online casino (more on this later), thus gaining an advantage, and thus allowing cheating and money laundering and other nefarious crimes, therefore, all online activity is suspect and sucks and can’t be trusted, nyah-nyah-nyah.

I mentioned that I felt his logic fuzzy - like the profit motive of South Park’s “underpants gnomes.”  
I will only briefly talk about the “detect-ability issue” - the remainder of this post will discuss Step 2, using the “James Thackston’s 4-way Collusion Underpants Gnomes software” model:
1.  See other colluders’ hole cards.
3.  Profit!

Can the software be detected?  JT says no.  He says the casino would have to act as their own anti-virus company, and this would “break the ipoker business model” (but he doesn’t say how - expense, I assume).  He adds later that “some colluders may get caught but the vast majority will succeed.”  He doesn’t say how they would get caught using his undetectable software.  Later, he says that “greed is a deadly sin.”  He mentions that abuse of the system will likely result in the cheating team’s capture.  My analysis:  Since money is the object, and it is assumed that cheaters cheat because they want money, and this can be considered greed (versus wining money the old fashioned way with quality play), anyone who cheats is greedy and might get caught using this “completely undetectable” (his words, not mine) software.


Enough of that.  Oh, wait, one more thing.  If Thackston hasn’t provided enough caveats for you here, go to his software website and “try” to download the software.  I say “try” because (a) you really don’t want to, and (b) you don’t need to, to see my next point.  Normally, when you attempt to download software, you get a screen with the usual boilerplate warnings and the infamous “I accept” button you have to press before the software will download (you give up your rights to litigate, and your first born, or something).  Thackston makes you go through SEVERAL of these…I did all five, and then my computer had a bit of throw-up in its mouth (no, I didn't download the stuff).  Here’s a screen shot:

Oh - I did a “view source” screen shot to look at his HTML, and noticed this blurb: “Some browsers may show warnings about the safety of this software.”  Fun stuff.

Now, to what I really wanted to talk about.  Step 2.  The missing step.  You can see some other hole cards (of your fellow colluders).  Nice.  This does give you a statistical advantage.  I concede that.  But…there are six other players at the table, and you CAN’T see their cards, nor determine how they will act.  If you have pocket Aces, you also have a statistical advantage, and tell me the last time you saw someone shove against your Aces holding 5-9 offsuit and watched as they hit two pair on the flop and bust you (for me, it was Wednesday, which is why I picked that particular example, thank you).

You can collude, but you may not succeed.  Collusion doesn’t guarantee anything.  Anytime one steps outside the lines, there is additional risk involved.  The idea that a team of poker players could set up such a system and go after “profit” using such a system is believable, as I’ve worked in money businesses all my life.  ANY business where “money” is involved invites criminal activity.  Banking, sure.  Radio (money laundering is easy if you control access to some accounts).  Retail (those $20s are just sitting there in the cash register).  Cops on the take (making $30K but driving expensive cars, etc.).  You get the idea.

But many criminals get caught.  They get greedy.  They get sloppy.  And, because they are “outside the line” people notice.  There is risk involved.  Duh.  Collusion for money laundering?  Too much time, too much effort, too much risk.  Is Al Qaeda sending new recruits to Poker School (they only learn 3-betting, being TAG, and all-in, and never learn folding)?  Gimme a break.

If the software is all it’s cracked up to be, do it.  Show us.  Don’t post a blurry video of some play money game and tell us, “…knowing 4 out of 10 sets of hole cards gives the colluding team enough information to manipulate the game in very subtle (my emphasis) ways.” Go get the info and manipulate.  Post THAT.  Show us, not that it COULD be done, but that it HAS been done.  Then we can have a rational discussion.

Otherwise, quit stealing our underpants.

Monday, June 9, 2014

ADS Explained (Adelson Desperation Syndrome)

It’s not Friday so this isn’t sarcasm.  PPA Minnesota State Director Mike Qualley suggested it was time it was time for me to post something (on the most recent wacky happenings with Sheldon Adelson and his Venetian casino) and I had another blog post on a slightly different subject…and by some miracle found a way to combine them in a ground-breaking post that answers the question – is online poker going to be a legal reality in the United States again, or is it doomed?

The answer follows, and it involves statistics, not emotion.  This is a lengthy post (as it’s really two…two…two posts in one) but the stats will be simple.  And besides, it’s been a while since I posted, so it will be like making up for lost time.

When you’re an advocate for something, it’s sometimes hard to separate logic from sentiment.  You WANT it to happen, just as much as the other side doesn’t.  Making rational objective observations was my former job in marketing research.  Telling folks news they DIDN’T want to hear was tough (and a good way to not get paid).  Giving a potential politician the word that he’s trailing 65/35 and has no hope for victory was the difficult as it was to hear (he lost 64/36, BTW).  Telling a beer company their product was not well received was not well received, but cooler heads prevailed and they saved themselves millions of dollars.  That’s the beauty of statistics.

I let emotion get in the way when I made a comment on Facebook about two recent rulings in Idaho.  Both involved Federal judges making important decisions on items important and passionate to me – poker and gay marriage.  Coming just days apart, the news reported that a judge declared poke a game of skill, and that Idaho’s anti-gay marriage rules were unconstitutional, meaning that states joined 15 others (now 18) allowing same-sex marriages.  (Full disclosure:  I am heterosexual, but have volunteered with pro-gay organizations.  I also enjoy poker.)   I made the comment that “the dominoes were falling” or something like that, meaning it appeared that things were moving (for both issues) in the right direction, and victory seemed inevitable.

A reader saw my post and was confused, then took umbrage.  He couldn’t tell which way I felt about poker, and then, once I explained I was an advocate, was “concerned” that I would mix coverage of the poker issue with a discussion on gay marriage.

So here’s fact #1 – if you want to think of a subject that the course of public opinion was changed any more dramatically – favorably – than gay marriage…think again.  Take a look at this chart from the Gallup Research folks:

You’ll see “gambling” listed farther down the list, but let’s not worry about that now.  Here’s another dramatic Gallup chart:

Way back in 1996, did ANYONE actually believe that a majority of Americans would be supportive of gay marriage?  Well, yeah, I did.  Not because I was passionate about the issue (which I was) but…because of statistics.

I don’t have the charts I saw back then, but I do have this one more Gallup chart to show you that tells pretty much the same thing.  Check it out, and I will explain in a paragraph…

You can see that even in 1996, the youngest age group still did not have a majority of supporters, but they were (by far) the group most likely to support gay marriage.  Back then it was apparent (to me) that younger people were more tolerant of gays and of diversity in general than my generation ever was.  Forty years ago (when I was 21) we were just a few years past Stonewall, and a few years from Billy Crystal’s gay character on Soap.  I remember a high school buddy telling me he didn’t know anyone who was gay.  I told him he did – he just didn’t know they were gay.  Nowadays the closet is gone, gays are mainstream, and…well, you can see the results in the Gallup poll.

But that’s only part of the answer.  What really changed, statistically, wasn’t just that people had changed their opinions.  What also changed were…the people.  Old folks with anti-gay views were not as representative in the 2014 poll as they were in 1996, because many of them were dead.  Twenty years makes the 18-29 age group the 38-49 group!  It’s not the opinion that changes – it’s the people!

And that’s how I knew that gay marriage was inevitable.  The trend was (and is) crystal clear. 

So let’s look (briefly) at online gambling.  First, let’s look at gambling.  Go back forty years (I was still 21) – the only legal place to gamble in a casino was in Nevada.  Atlantic City was still a couple of years away (heck, in ’74 New Jersey voters voted against legalizing casino gambling statewide).  The Internet and the World Wide Web were the stuff of science fiction.

My, how time changes things.

Today the younger generation can gamble legally in 35 of the 50 states (I might be off by a few states, but it’s the majority).  We’ve had the Internet for years, and we even had a small taste of online gaming.  Just like the idea of “morality of gay marriage,” the idea of “morality of gaming” has changed, though not as dramatically…lately.  My guess is that the shift occurred a bit earlier than the first Gallup chart shown above.

Now, here’s another chart…one we’ve seen before:
Do you favor or oppose allowing casinos to run online gambling for people in their states?

Yes, it’s from my earlier blog about the Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll about online gambling and marijuana legalization.  Lookie!  Youth are in favor far more than us oldsters.

Look familiar?  And this is for ALL online gambling – the PublicMind poll did not distinguish between gambling and just online poker (which my non-statistical passionate mind says is an “easier sell” than al of gambling).

So the answer to “is online poker going to be a legal reality in the United States again, or is it doomed?” is YES – it’s inevitable.  But hopefully it comes sooner than 40 years from now, as I’ll be 101 and I really don’t want to wait that long.

Someone else who can’t wait that long is Sheldon Adelson.  He’ll be 120 then.  He’s also the eighth richest person in the world, and even though I’ve called him a senile ol’ coot, he didn’t get to be that rich by being stupid.  My guess is that he knows what I know – he’s read the tea leaves, and it doesn’t look good for his side.

This bring us to his actions of present.  As you may know, he’s committed to spending “whatever it takes” to stop online gambling.  He’s also recently adopted what I call a “scorched earth” policy; drawing lines in the sand and making folks choose his way or the highway, in a “you’re either with us or against us” kind of stance.  Witness the recent backsliding of the AGA (no doubt pressured by Adelson and his $$$), and more recently, the bizarre dismissal of PokerNews from covering a tournament held at Adelson’s Venetian Casino in Las Vegas – a tournament in which they were a sponsor!  You can read the whole story here, but the top paragraph says it all:
Less than a week after The Venetian excluded PokerNews from providing live coverage of a Mid-States Poker Tour event inside its casino, the company issued a statement which confirmed that the ban was related to to PokerNews' business relationships with online poker sites.

Here is my ADS explanation – Sheldon has seen the statistics, too (or has had a minion explain them to him).  He knows that his ONLY hope is to strike fast, now, with some sort of blanket ban that would be difficult to overturn (gay marriage related: DOMA and Prop 8).  It’s not guaranteed of success, of course, but it’s the only option. In desperation, he is doing EVERYTHING he can to succeed – on the national level, on the state level, in every venue and vestibule he can.  Because he’s desperate – he’s seen the handwriting on the wall.

Our advocacy for online poker must remain vigilant.  We can’t let him succeed.  Yes, time is on our side (yes, it is).  But I’m tired of waiting.  Aren’t you?

One thing you might have to wait for is my next post.  Tourist season has started in earnest, but I will do my best to stay on top of all things poker.  Longish posts like these might have to wait until fall, but I will try to be a concern troll and make the occasional witty blurb or droll comment.

It’s inevitable.