The Exponential Death Spiral of Pokerface

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.

Time-Axis Adjudication

instant replay

Instant replay in professional basketball illustrates the degree to which time-axis manipulation (ie. slow-motion) can distort a gesture and subsequently an adjudication of "intent". What happens as incidental contact through the intermingling of bodies during the course of play at extremely high speeds often appears in extremely slow motion and extremely brief duration of video clip as a deliberate attempt to strike the opponent — as far as the referee ruling is concerned. It is one thing to use instant replay review, in other words, and quite something else to use instant replay in concert with slow-motion capability: in the latter case the manipulation of time in reviewing the video archive thus becomes a manipulation of the juridical-political process.

a new relationship to the law

helmethelmethelmet

Winter, Classically

winter, classically

The NHL is the top hockey league in the world, and if we are looking at this from a sports production standpoint this means we are describing the most highly skilled manufacture of competition and uncertain hockey outcomes on the planet, as an ongoing concern — which is to say as a matter of accumulation rather than the elite event-based production of the Olympics.

But of course the game is also about the production of spectacle, of audience aggregation and synthetic storylines and target marketing — and thus the most highly skilled manufacture of sporting gesture and its transmission, of affective receptivity, of qualified fanaticism and quantified consumerism.

For most of the 20th century, as John Bale points out, the former has meant an increasingly hygienic space of sporting production, in which the values of achievement sport most desired by accumulation find their way into the daily churn of the professional sport industry. In a sense, it was not simply a standardization that mattered but the removal of noise which could otherwise contaminate the truth of the results.

winter, classically

And for most of the 20th century spectacle played along, developing an increasingly elaborate logistics of perception to disguise production altogether and present the viscera of pure, competitive play-at-work. The surgicality of the endeavour is even more pronounced here, with thousands of sensory cuts rendered and stitched together to somehow produce the skin of a sporting Gesamtkunstwerk.

Which is what makes the NHL's Winter Classic so interesting: by playing the game outdoors and subject to the elements (snow, wind, glare), not only is a particular sporting nostalgia of backyard shinny and pond hockey revived, but spectacle itself becomes more spectacular by explicitly refusing the hygienic paradigm of modern sport. Noise is introduced, friction enters the system, and by the standards of achievement sport the event's game production occurs at a shockingly substandard level.

There is a refusal of hygiene in the play-at-work space, but only by cutting through the spatiotemporal fold and admitting the past. A futural noise, friction or filth would still be unimaginable here.

winter, classically

If there is in fact a zone in which the past-present of the Winter Classic meets the future, it remains bound with that other element of achievement sport — the record. Only the record of interest here is one of accumulation: the largest crowd in hockey history ever to witness a live contest, as 105,491 jammed into the University of Michigan football stadium to watch the game.

And hence the flaw in Bale's analysis: for him, pace Baudrillard and Virilio, it was the television audience that was always right and so to perfectly satisfy the hygienic requirements of achievement sport the spectators at the live event had to be removed, leaving behind only an inert ludic container in which the game could be played, fair play assesed, and television imagery produced. But it appears that accumulation is never so teleological, the crowd is precisely necessary to give the alibi to spectacle, and it is hygienic achievement which can be removed from the equation and left behind without losing a truth verdict in the process.

In this case, witness-noise makes a virtue of production-noise to set a nostalgic record, though one wonders what the hyperbolic curve will demand as it increasingly detaches from its counterpart in linear accumulation.

Injection Moulding

injection moulding

We speak often of the relative rigidity of late modern sports, of the hard lines that constitute their disciplinary diagrams and rigorous production of athletic bodies and somewhat statistically-determinate "uncertain" outcomes. We are aware that these lines are in fact legislated as planes and that the sporting space is usually regulated as a volume rather than strictly a spectacular surface.

But it bears remembering that if the stadium is the factory of postmodern sporting production, then it is a certain plasticity which allows one form of assembly to substitute for another on the production line. Put differently, if the NFL is so easily able to transfer production to Wembley Stadium in London, or the FA is likewise able to travel to Washington for production at RFK, it is not only due to a relative congruity or topology between the rectangles that constitute gridiron and association football codes, respectively, but also to certain malleabilities in material and discursive space.

That turfgrass grows sufficiently long for it to be mowed and erase the very "painterly" conditions that govern production in other forms of sporting assembly, for example, is highly relevant to this modularity — an artificial green ecology in the service of a plastic injection moulding called sporting spectacle. And the televisual possibilities of programmed camera angles, intensive lighting, overlay graphics and audio commentary to constitute a coherent and consistent sporting narrative from anywhere in the world only adds to this plastic capability.

Indeed, what is most potentially intractable in this calculation of malleability is the plasticity of the live crowd in attendance at the factory. To what degree can this fleshy thirdness between sporting capital and televisual spectator mediate and suture together the filaments of an experience both synthetically fibrous and viscerally empirical? This is what is at stake in the economic decision to produce or shut down in non-local contexts under the contemporary conditions of plasticity.

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(thank you to amy for reminding me about "craptacular" or substandard production under certain plastic conditions. ;)

swerve

Impulsion

xxx

kleinian kisses need stitching
breathing, and leaking
at the seams

seems like only yesterday
you tore free
from me, in me
and me to be

xxx

come, rated as such and dated as much
blue breath whispers
sizzzling
time written flee

xxx

seems extreme
this veering theme

xxx

explosive dreams need sequencing
mines stuttering cuts and pasting
and stitching
ocular gauze
visibly

xxx

three stitches or less
by exxxtension
impulsive tears by the tens
in another frame of mine

images of thought lying tattered
knead breath, defibrilly

xxx

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(for all the gadflies and barflies.)