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.

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.

splitscreen personality




Sport (and its various mediations) perhaps best expresses that "interdimensional" experience of Being-in-the-City within its logic, offering at once in the same "subjectivity" both flâneur (player) and surveillance functions (diagrammatic x's and o's, archival game video).

nv s ble

NBA Control Center

"Whatever is not captured by resolution is invisible," as Hito Steyerl suggests, but in professional sports at least, decisions of 'truth' are still being made upon this invisibility through instant replay — decisions complicated not only by resolution but also by frame rate and the interstices between 'stills' of a moving game.

Aspects of Curvature


When a sport with pronounced flight trajectories such a basketball is shot for television in 4:3 ratio and then displayed in a stretched 16:9 widescreen format, the paths look very distorted compared to what one is used to seeing in more native televisual or live-viewing contexts. This isn't necessarily true for all curves in the game. Our ability as TV spectators to "adapt" to the "distorted" or "compressed" athletic bodies at play (and their "newly-béziered" contours) is relatively quick and seamless, as is adjusting to the new shape of the three-point arc relative to the rest of the lines which describe the basketball court.

But the flight path of the ball upon being shot — particularly from deeper distances with their longer trajectories — remains stubborn to such perceptual recalibrations by the televiewer. The arc of the shot appears flatter and in turns generates a foreshortening, particularly to the most experienced eyes. The "true" flight of the ball, when seen in the elongated 16:9 widescreen format, continually appears as if it will undershoot the target before ultimately swishing through the net.

Not subject or object, then, but traject and aspect — new relational opportunities for the visually uncanny.


NBA: the ultimate manufactory of plastic.

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