Monday, March 10, 2008

How Poker DNA Will Protect Against Cheating Online

Well, the latest in how to cheat at online poker is of course the Ultimate Bet scam. Reading about online poker cheating is becoming much like the "Ho-Hum Daily." But now there's something interesting on the horizon that may contradict some of this rash of online poker cheating. It's something very reminiscent of fighting crime in the real world: DNA. That's right, "Poker DNA" may soon be here to protect us from at least one major form of online poker scamming that has become quite prevalent recently.

Computer hackers have been trawling the online poker rooms "phishing" for sensitive player information by way of phony e-mails. Once they've attained it they put it to immediate use: log in as a player whose identification codes they've pilfered and play against an accomplice, intentionally dumping his chips to the cohort until the account is emptied. This is the hackers' form of online chip dumping.

But a professor from the University of Buffalo and his colleague have come up with a method to combat this problem. They are working on systems to monitor individual play, examining specific traits to each player. They claim that no two poker players play exactly alike, sounding much like the individuality concerning fingerprints and DNA. They say it's establishing a player "DNA" unique to each player.

The industrious pair, Roman Yampolskiy and Venu Govindaraju, are building databases containing information such as how often a player bets and raises, when he tends to do either, the relative amounts of those bets and raises as well as his fold ratio during the play of thousands of hands and at all points of those hands. With all that data, they claim, a unique player profile can be customized for every player in the world.

Then when a poker player's "DNA" is registered, play significantly deviating from his profile can be flagged as suspicious. Only one hour of play is needed to identify players with 80% accuracy, say the software writers, and the more play recorded, the higher the accuracy.

Naturally, there are skeptics challenging the utility of the system. Unpredictable play is essential at the highest levels of poker, they say. Jonathan Schaeffer, head of the University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group and an expert on the effectiveness of online poker bots, says, "If you are predictable, you can be exploited. Strong players try not to be predictable."

Furthermore, the DNA software could be used in place of a bot, using data to create a profile for opponents and thus cheating in predicting other players' hands. Yes, it gets increasingly complicated. Heightened security when players log-in might be more effective at preventing identity thefts than software detection, but nevertheless, this new wave of poker-cheat-busting DNA sounds interesting to me.