The Exponential Death Spiral of Pokerface


The basic premise when playing poker is that one never knows what cards the other players are holding. Indeed, 'calling one's bluff' in a gambling-style poker competition essentially amounts to one player 'paying for the right' to look at the opponent's hand, to reveal the card values for the other players in the game that had been to that point occluded from full view (ie. cards in 'the hole').

Given the big data set that emerges from a televised professional poker tournament, on the other hand, with all of the hands dealt, the corresponding recalculations of probabilities after each card turned over and each bet made, the running tabulation of betting pot values, and the presence of the 'hole cam' that shows the TV audience everyone's hidden cards, lies the fact that the televisual-AI apparatus of the event knows everyone's cards before the outcome of each hand is concluded (a handy and trivial AI exercise in image recognition), thus making possible, at least in part, a quantitatively actionable science of human bluffery.

hole cam

This is why the Face — which is dissimulated in the human-to-human communication of game play by being completely devoid of expression, servomechanimistic, through wearing sunglasses or a low-brim hat, etc, so as not to give away 'a tell' that indicates one is bluffing — becomes obsolesced in determining said bluffery, insofar as the human-to-machine communication is concerned: a large enough data set that can recognize and process statistically-anomalous betting decisions vis-à-vis card values around the table doesn't require faciality in its retrospective digestion of the event — 'tells' will be determined by econometric modeling instead.

And yet it remains that these professional poker events take place in real life, in person, in the flesh. The Face still matters in this immediated context as a guarantor of bluff authenticity: there is a qualitative difference between this sort of live, in-person gambling play, and the sort of play that occurs on poker web sites with avatar stand-ins; it is a different sort of affect. Consider the former as a truth marker for how humans act when they are together, trying to deceive one another: the truth of the Pokerface as a guarantor of the false swirls and spirals helically with the false of the Face as an indicator of the true.


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