Friday, January 29, 2010

Gambling and Honesty

Cheating is often associated with gambling. But let's forget crooked gambling for a moment and ask ourselves one simple question. If gambling is completely void of cheating, can it be called honest? And if so, what percentage of all gambling is actually honest?

There is an old saying, You can't cheat an honest man. I'm sure we all understand the general meaning of this phrase, but how does it pertain to "honest" gamblers?

Let's see, an honest gambler would be a gambler that does not cheat. Obviously it is possible to cheat such person, so does that mean that it is, after all, possible to cheat an honest man? It depends whom you ask.

We should probably first define the word honesty. Honesty is a human characteristic of being fair, just, truthful, sincere and morally upright. What is morally upright is subject of much debate but in my opinion gambling cannot be fair, just or sincere. In any gambling endeavor there is always an element of greed. A fair way to make money is to earn it by producing a product or providing a service. A just way of beating an opponent at a contest is by surpassing the opponent with superior skills, not by the luck of random event purely dependent of chance. So, because of the lack of fairness and justice and because of the presence of greed, an honest gambler does not exist. What some may call an honest gambler is actually just a naïve sucker. The fact that the actions of such person do not involve deliberate deceit does not make that person honest.

In my earlier blog post, Are Casinos Cheating?, I already discussed why casinos are in fact engaged in a form of cheating. So, honesty can be ruled out.

What about card counters and advantage players?

As far as advantage players go, I can simply state that there is noting honest about it, by any stretch of the imagination. Advantage players are basically looking for weaknesses that can be exploited to their advantage. As a general rule, an honest person would feel the moral obligation to alert an opponent about a weakness. If I play tennis against you and I notice that someone threw a banana peel on the court, I should tell you about it before you step on it and trip. But if I steer you into that direction, hoping that you break your leg, I am not honest. Of course, reporting a weakness to a casino may make a person honest, but it also makes him stupid and naïve. But the bottom line is, an advantage player cannot possibly be honest.

So, that leaves us with card counters. It is a commonly accepted philosophy that card counters are neither cheats nor advantage players. But I will argue that card counting is actually a form of advantage play. The reason is simple. The game of blackjack has one weakness and that is precisely the weakness that card counters are trying to exploit. So, exploiting a procedural weakness is the textbook definition of advantage play. But that form of advantage play is not the same as trying to catch a glimpse of the dealer flashing the hole card.

In my opinion there are no honest gamblers and there is no way to gamble honestly. The "honesty" in gambling is just ignorance.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Crooked Mahjong Set

A few days ago I received a rather present from a very good friend of mine; a 144 piece crooked mahjong set. The whole thing is made in China (i.e. the land of mahjong) and also mostly sold to Chinese customers. Here is what the product looks like, when you buy it.

The box next to the mahjong set contains several pairs of luminous contact lenses. Each contact lens is individually packed in its own vial.

These contact lenses are not the same as the Black Predators; i.e. the wavelength of the filtered area is not the same. However, the Black Predators will still see the marks on the mahjong set. Here's what the marks look like.

I must admit that the marks are pretty darn good, especially considering that they are on while. I took this photo by pointing the camera lens through my Black Predator glasses, so this is perhaps not the best representation of what a person would see when wearing the contact lenses. But I can't imagine the supplied contacts would produce much different results. I did not try to put these contact into my eyes, though.

There is one detail about this mahjong set that I find interesting; the packaging.

The packaging makes it obvious that this crooked mahjong set was entirely produced in a factory with a rather large assembly line. I would imagine that it was made by the same factory that normally makes standard mahjong sets, and that the crooked ones are just produced in a small run. I am basing this conclusion solely on the packaging, because there is no way this could have been packed by hand. Each individual tile is separates by an individual die-cut onionskin piece of very thin foam. The foam is so thin it actually feels like cigarette paper, but it's still a piece of foam. And each piece of foam is perfectly aligned with the tiles. When you handle this (during the unwrapping), the foam drives you nuts because of all the static electricity. It took me nearly an hour to unwrap the 144 piece set and I reached the conclusion that it would be virtually impossible for a human to hand-wrap it back together in the same perfect state.

Why am I telling you this? Because there are several small distributors that sell these sets and they claim that they put the work on these sets. Well, if they are wrapped like that, they are not being completely honest with their (crooked) customers.

So, this mahjong set is definitely a good product. I only have two small objections.

The first objection is the packaging. It takes too long to unwrap the whole thing and also, the outside cellophane wrapper is inadequate. The outside should be more heavily protected with anti-shock padding of some sort, not with flimsy cellophane. This set is actually quite heavy and when shipped (especially though customs) it does require protection. In fact, it seems that the cellophane often rips in the factory, before it even reaches the shipping department. So, the cellophane is reinforced with clear adhesive packing tape. The problem is that when the adhesive tape is placed over all the rips, it actually adheres directly to the tiles. So, it took some time to clean up all that residue. But the nerve racking part was removing the adhesive tape from the side of the tiles that bear the invisible marks. Would the invisible marks (i.e. the reason why one would purchase this set, to begin with) come off with the tape? I had no idea what would happen until I ripped the tape off and hoped for the best. The marks held up, though, but it's still not what a customer wants to be dealing with when purchasing this expensive prop. Well, many things are made in China, these days, and all the Chinese made products have something in common. It's the "attention to details." I'm sure it would be different if this were made in Switzerland.

The other objection is more related to the actual marks on the tiles. Although the marks are invisible without the contact lenses, they were protected with some kind of clear varnish. The problem is that the varnish was only applied on the two sides that bear the marks. So, the surface looks different when you tilt the tile against a light source and catch a reflection. If I were making these tiles I would put the same varnish all over the tiles. I'm sure the Swiss would do the same, but not the Chinese.

So, if you're gonna play mahjong this seems to be the way to go. The problem, for Westerners, is that it may be hard to find a partner to play with. But fortunately there is also mahjong solitaire version (I looked it up on the internet) so you can still use these marked tiles to cheat against yourself.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Only a Sucker Can Be a Lottery Winner!

The philosophy is simple, only a sucker would ever buy a lottery ticket, so only a sucker can buy the winning one.

Some will undoubtedly disagree and although I have never participated in any public debates about this issue so I can't tell for sure what some of the opposition theories may be, but I can at least take a crack at guessing. So, let's imagine a hypothetical example of a lottery winner that may not appear to be a sucker.

A couple gets married and on their wedding day they both agree to spend the symbolic sum of $1 to purchase a single lottery ticket. The both go off to their honeymoon and completely forget about the damn ticket. One day the newlyweds catch a headline, "Biggest Lottery Jackpot in History Still Unclaimed." The young husband says to his young wife, "Hey, Honey, didn't we buy a lottery ticket on our wedding day? Where did you put it? I just want to check something." She looks through her purse and finds the forgotten ticket. They nearly both die of heart attacks when they realize theirs is the unclaimed lottery ticket that's been making national news for the past couple of weeks.

I'll have to agree that this couple should not be compared to the typical lottery players that cut corners on food, so they can afford to keep "investing" in their weekly (daily?) lottery. But I will still argue that anyone that buys a lottery ticket, regardless of the circumstances or motivations, must be at least a bit of a sucker at the time of purchase. Let's face it, who buys a lottery ticket and not hope (or expect) to win? So, I will argue that because the hope to win is always part of the mix, the person purchasing the lottery ticket is a sucker, at the time of the purchase. The reason is simple. Because any lottery ticket in the world has a negative expectation. So, only a sucker can buy it.

I could think of some other hypothetical examples, such as the winner of the lottery never actually purchasing the ticket. Perhaps the ticket was purchased by someone else and given to the winner-to-be as a birthday present. But I'll argue that this winner is still a bit of a sucker, even if he/she never made any conscious and/or deliberate decisions to acquire the ticket. My reason is, once again, simple. What's the first thing that goes through a person's mind when given a lottery ticket as a present? "Oh, I hope it's the winning one." And once again, because any lottery ticked in the world has a negative expectation the person is a sucker for entertaining the thoughts that this could be the winning ticket.

OK, so it's really not fair put all these "suckers" in the same bag. I agree. But I will still argue that all lottery winners are suckers in one way or another. And being a sucker is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when one wins, but being a sucker still means that one is hoping for a positive outcome of an event that has a negative expectation.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Luminous Readers: Print Cards

One of the latest developments in luminous readers are print cards. Actually, "latest" is quite a relative term, since these cards have already been around for at least couple of years, if not longer. If you haven't already seen what print cards look like, here's a picture.

As the name suggests, print cards are marked cards that are made on a printer. That certainly beats hand painting the individual cards, in many ways. Instead of learning how to properly put the work on, and worrying if it's may end up too strong or too weak, one only needs to learn how to mount the cards on a board and feed them through a printer. It also drastically cuts down on time and maintains the best possible level of consistency. But even with technology, the end product is only as good as the abilities of the person handling the job.

I have samples of print cards from various sources and there are good ones and bad one. Many online demo videos show how the work lights up like a neon sign as soon as the camera is pointing through the lens of a pair of luminous glasses, but there are some things that these videos don't show. Of all the samples of print cards that I have (and I have a lot more than you see in the image above) only a few are actually good. In most cases when the work is not good it actually appears too strong and I can see it without any glasses, or contacts. The problem is that many of the people that make print cards have no experience reading shade, so they don't know what I'm talking about when I tell them I can see the work with naked eyes. Of course, if I can see the work without any glasses there's a great possibility others could as well.

In some cases the work is not very clear, without the glasses, but one can still see that there's something there on the back of the cards. So, even if you can't clearly see the exact symbol, you can still see there are some kind of bright and dull areas that don't feel right. That's definitely not something that a video camera would pick up on, so you don't see it on the demos, but you do see it when you see the cards for real.

Another thing that is not to my taste, with most print cards, is the code used to mark the cards. There is no code. The cards are marked with clear letter, numbers and suit symbols. I personally prefer when there's a subtle code that doesn't make it apparent that the cards are even marked, should anyone put the glasses on.

With any new technology there are always advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are the ease of use, but the disadvantages are complications.

Print cards don't use the same luminous inks that are used for hand painted cards. In fact, you cannot use those inks to paint by hand. You actually need a printer for these inks. So, while one could easily travel with a small vial and a paintbrush in his pocket and make up a few cards at a moment's notice, one cannot take these inks out of the printer and put the work on manually.

Print cards are a practical commercial solution, because most people really can't learn to paint properly. So, for the average user, I guess this is a good thing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Detroit Police Card Cheat Techniques 1940 Press Photo

I recently picked up a rather nice piece of crooked gambling history, on eBay. This is an 8x10 original press photo from the Detroit News archives of the Patrolman Fred Heath and Lt. William Bring of the Detroit Police Department showing some card cheating techniques, using a holdout machine. It cost me $9.99 plus shipping, which I think is a bargain for this one of a kind, historic photograph.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Poker Cheating; the long awaited chapter

It's kind of hard to pinpoint the exact time when the poker boom started, but the 2003 World Series of Poker pretty much marks a turning point in the history of the game. That was in 2003. And now we're living in 2010. So, this means it took me about six and a half years to come up with a Poker Cheating page on my site. And now, here it is.

So, what took so long? I've actually started writing this chapter several years ago, but I guess I could say that I was having a mental block. After several years of "work" one would expect this thing to be a masterpiece. Well, it aint't no masterpiece. In fact, I think it sucks. Or to put it more mildly, I'm still not quite pleased with it, but I finally decided to put it out and be done with it. But I'm not exactly done with it, because I still plan on doing some editing and expanding some of the descriptions, but I'm at least done with the initial part, and now I can finally say that the poker chapter is finally up. And that calls for a toast.

The new poker chapter is perhaps not even as important at this time, as it will be in the future. As time permits I will add some additional materials and link the topics to various online tutorials that I plan to do. So, at that future time, the poker chapter will act more as a reference to other materials on the site. But I need more time to do all that.

The good news is, I've already started working on some new tutorials, specifically for poker. I already have one completed tutorial on location play, but I will not put it up right away, because I want it to go up alongside a few other tutorials that I plan to do. I already know what they will be, but I just need time to transfer the date from my brain to an HTML file. So, I'll need to spend some more time typing and organizing the materials. I actually have a couple of trips planned for the months of January and February, and I hope my travels will not interfere too much with my plans to do updates. Keep checking the site for updates, sign up to my Twitter account if you haven't done so already and hopefully those tutorials will be up soon.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Mott Street Poker Club; online edition

In a previous post, entitled The Mott Street Poker Club; a rare find... I explained how I was lucky to find a rare historic gambling book. What I didn't mention at that time was that I actually had an internet project in mind. The project was to build a web site, as the first online edition of this rare book. And now, here it is, The Mott Street Poker Club; online edition.

Since this book was published in 1888, it is in fact in the public domain and can be reproduced and distributed without any permission. So, I took advantage of this and published the online edition, as well as a facsimile reprint available through my online gambling bookstore.

Naturally, I read the entire book as I was editing the text. So, I should probably write some kind of review. But to be perfectly honest, I'm kind of tired and lazy (my way to say overworked) and I just don't have the energy to write no reviews. In any event, the book is now available online, for your viewing and reading pleasure, so whenever you have time you can just read it through.

I should probably say just one more thing, though. That book was written in the 19th century and as we all know racism was not exactly a taboo, at that time. So, the book is quite racist. But it is what it is, I didn't write the book, and I am certainly not going to be the one editing an original text, just to make it politically correct and try to obfuscate the facts of the past.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Future of Poker Affiliates

There is no question that online poker sites have established a big presence on the internet. But everything has a beginning and those sites didn't just become what they are overnight. Many of the world's biggest poker sites were actually built and promoted through affiliate programs.

Since my site CARDSHARK Online has been around since 1999, and since it ranks high on many Google search terms, I had been approached numerous times to join poker affiliate programs. But I've always declined. And there are many reasons why not.

First of all, I don't actually want to actively promote gambling. When one joins an affiliate program, one must put some energy into promoting the site one is affiliated with. At least through reviews, or more actively, through "newsletters" (although some call it spam) and a bunch of obnoxious banners. Plus, one has to make sure the web pages with the affiliate links rank high on search terms. And that takes more work than I can even start telling you about. And I wanted to do none of that.

The second reason is closely related to the first one. If I were to promote poker sites, I would have to tell the visitors of my site that I actually believe in those poker sites. That I feel these sites are honest and safe. But my whole site is about cheating at cards and I make it pretty darn clear to the world what my opinions are of online gambling. So, one thing I can't do is to tell the world that I think poker sites are rigged, on one page of my site, and then put an ad for the same sites on another page. So, I would either have to remove all my opinions about poker sites and start promoting them, instead, or do what I did, which was to decline any affiliate offers. Of course, I would have made some money by promoting poker sites, but I would also tell all the folks that believe in my philosophy, that I am too a naive sucker that point blank believes that poker sites are square. And I kind of like to keep the image of a skeptic.

Furthermore, if I don't believe in poker sites it also means I don't believe that I wouldn't get screwed in the process of promoting them. I mean, who is to say that I would actually get paid all of the commissions that are owed to me? Common, do I really look that dumb? I am supposed to believe that those poker sites are "self policing" and "self regulating" to ensure fairness towards their affiliates. Well, I have a different theory, but of course, since I have no evidence I won't bother telling about it. Plus, I don't want people to think that I am a "conspiracy theorist." But let's talk some common sense here: there's absolutely no transparency.

Now the question is, what is the future of poker affiliates?

There are undoubtedly many poker affiliate sites that have made money in the process. There are undoubtedly a lot more that made very little or nothing at all (and yet, they were still promoting the poker sites). But what did it really take to make some affiliate money?

Basically, you had to start early. During the infantile years of poker sites, many people that were itching to play poker didn't really know where to go. But let's be real here. How long do we think this first window of opportunity stayed open?

Then, even after some of the poker sites became known, many people were still hesitant, or were not interested, yet. So, during that second window of opportunity some affiliate sites may have "inspired" people to go and play here, or there, or wherever. I think it's logical that this second window of opportunity stayed open a bit longer than the first one.

I am not really sure if there were any other windows of opportunity, but I am pretty sure they are now all closed. If you had a grocery store around the block from where you live, would you really pick up the phone book and make some calls to find out where to buy groceries? Same goes for poker sites. By now everyone has heard of them, and if not, most people will just go through Google and do a search for "online poker" and they will find the damn sites, without going through affiliate sites, because the actual poker sites are the first results on the first page of Google.

So, the poker sites also know very well that affiliate programs are dead. I have not been getting any more offers for quite some time, which is, I think, a good indicator that this is so. And to all the webmasters that may be considering to enter a poker affiliate program: you'd be wasting your time.