Friday, December 21, 2007

Online Poker Cheats and Steroids (Part Two)

Yesterday's post concluded with my opinion that mental performance enhancing drugs, (although I have no current knowledge of specific professional poker players using them), are definitely a threat to the pro poker world, and even to those who play in big cash games but are not outright professionals. Today I want to talk about what I perceive as a much bigger problem, that of drug use connected to online poker, where big action is available non-stop in every nook and cranny in the world, and where sleep deprivation becomes a factor for those addicted to playing online.

Yesterday I spoke about the drug provigil, marketed as Modafinil. Today I am adding another brand drug, Adderall, to the mix. Adderall is a pharmaceutical psychostimulant comprising mixed amphetamine salts. The drug is used primarily to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. Adderall has also been used successfully to manage severe cases of treatment-resistant depression. It is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it has been deemed to have a high potential for abuse and addiction despite genuine medical uses.

I have been made aware of poker players using this drug by way of a disturbing e-mail I received from the mother of teenage boy playing online in Scandinavia (which, by the way, has depression rates amongst the highest in the world, and that is not good in conjunction with online gambling addiction). She wrote that her son was staying up all hours in the night playing online, missing sleep, missing school, missing out on just about everything. Did I know anything about this? she wanted to know.

Well, one thing I knew even without knowing was why these kinds of drugs appeal to sleepless online poker players who want to be just as sharp while playing as they are sleepless.

Where Modafinil and Adderall can even be more effective in the realm of poker is certainly online. Because there, players can play in multiple games at once and need to retain more data and play more hands in a much less shorter period of time, and this taxes the brain and requires a keen alertness unadulterated by "sleepiness" in order to accomplish all that effectively.

For example, if one normally plays a maximum of 3 tables simultaneously and wants to increase that because he is a winning player, meaning that more hands in action translates in the long-run to more profits, but is limited because he knows that with the added amounts of opponents with each new table, he will not be able to keep track of all the variables at once, and thus will miss opportunities where variance plays would be more effective in given situations, he may search for the added "fuel" needed to make this jump upwards possible.

When one plays more tables at once than he is used to, he is often forced to "default" actions because the players change so frequently online, and also because it is difficult to keep track of who might be in which emotional state. Short-handed games alter this decreased tracking effect even more, as one tends to devote more focus on the short game than the other tables. Everyone is different of course, but for most players, their natural comfort level where they don’t feel like they're giving up anything due to distractions is 3 tables, or 27 simultaneous opponents.

But with Modafinil and Adderall, players are able to extend their effective gamesmanship to 6 tables with relative ease. Once on the drugs, those players usually add one table at a time, lingering on the newly added variables until they feel they have a good read on the players and the games. Their new altered ability to increase attention to detail allows them to reliably track player movements on all tables, most importantly when new players come into any game. They feel the ability to track the movements of more than 50 simultaneous players, with perhaps the capacity for even more as they experience growing confidence in their "poker's little helpers."

For these players it is vital that none of their active tables overlap with any others, in order not to block the information as it streams in. Personal set-ups vary with many using a video card with dual monitor outputs, two 21-inch monitors set to 1600x1200 resolution on each, and placing the monitors side-by-side and sitting between the two, as opposed to having one directly in front of them and one to the side. Basically the idea is to have all the action visible without needing to shift one’s eyes or head around, and relying on the increased awareness of Modafinil and Adderall to keep track of where each player was sitting and sits now, which is normally difficult since their names/avatars are shrunken at 1600x1200 resolution and multiple actions are taking place simultaneously.

Back to live poker now to mention long, multi-day tournaments with the brutal, extended hours of play per day. One of the obvious main differences between tournament and ring play is the inability to dictate your playing hours in the former. If the tournament director is determined to play down to a set number of remaining players for the day, there is a very good chance that an extremely long session is in order, with a participant stuck at his table until the goals of the TD are met. Besides the designated breaks and meals, a tournament player has little choice about choosing whether to play on, even if he knows he has long lost his peak mental performance. If the day requires sixteen hours of play, those players who can sustain their best play for the greatest amount of time within that sixteen have a significant advantage over those that peak and crash after 8, 10, or 12 hours.

Extending this thought, if we look at a super tournament like the Championship WSOP event which will take 5 or more stress filled days to complete, and has an abnormally large chance of causing sleeplessness and exhaustion as the days progress, a player that requires less sleep in order to feel completely rested, and benefiting from a state of heightened awareness in his waking hours even with this shortened rest, will again have a tremendous advantage. The cumulative weariness of those long days would affect anyone, chipping away at one’s ability to sustain his or her best. Since lots of no-limit Hold’em play is so deadly towards a single, thoughtless or missed-cue mistake, the ability to side-step this type of mistake would be huge. Some people will turn to drugs to provide what they feel is a very practical and effective solution to this problem, more effective than any other training they might undertake to improve the quality of their sleepless time.

I want to stress that in spite of the great detail I have given here, explaining exactly how online players create their edge and set-up their equipment, doing drugs to enhance your poker skills will ultimately hurt both you and the game, just like it's done to baseball players and baseball.