Sunday, June 15, 2008

What Is The Real Future Of Online Poker?

Back in April, 2006, in the final chapter of my book “Dirty Poker,” What does the future hold for online poker?, I made the bold prediction that unless some drastic security measures were taken, online poker would within a decade “go the way of dinosaurs.” Well, only two years and a few months have passed since then, and my prediction, in spite of the fact that many people thought I was crazy for making it, is right on course to become reality.

In the past year we have seen one major online poker cheating scam after another. They have come from the inside, from the outside, from the deeper inside, from the farther outside, and from the middle of all of that. We have seen multi-accounting, botting, collusion, hole-card-peeking, funds-stealing and even sophisticated money laundering schemes through online poker accounts. We’ve seen heralded players exposed as super frauds. We’ve seen respected poker magazine editors and writers fired from their jobs because of their implication in cheating rings. We’ve seen online gambling sites’ owners and employees, and thousands more ambitious cheats attacking the integrity of online poker—and succeeding in raking in tremendously large pots.

But does all this mean that online poker is doomed the way I said it was? Does it mean that in another five years 95% of players playing online (or should I say people occupying online poker tables with whatever means including human beings?) will be doing everything but playing legitimate poker hands? Well, if I had to answer this question right now, I would say that online poker will not be extinct in eight more years, but I would also say that unless some serious measures are taken (and I do not know if those measures are even possible to offset much of the cheating), we will have very little honest online poker games going on. But the irony of that dire outlook is that it might not even matter. People playing online poker might come to think of cheating as the norm and accept it, which means that it might just become incorporated as part of the strategy of the game. For instance, the competition of thinking simple and complex poker strategies we see now might give way to a competition of writing simple and complex poker bot programs. The use of sophisticated bots equipped with artificial intelligence might become so ordinary that hooking them up will be nothing more out of the ordinary than keying in your credit card numbers or whatever the source of your account funding might be.

Another way to look at the “online poker cheating revolution” is to see it the way we have seen the very game of poker change over the past few decades. Before we even had online poker we had five- and seven-card stud in brick and mortar poker rooms. The word “Texas” being bandied about around poker tables only had significance as to where a great percentage of the table’s occupants may have come from. But now “Texas” is the holy grail of poker. And just the same, cheating may become just that of online poker.

The point is that the cheating might only serve to increase the competition, as we have seen in several mock or serious bot tournaments, depending how you look at them. The old adage “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” might be the defining moment for the future of online poker. Whatever the case, I now hardly believe that online poker will ever disappear from the cyberworld, and inasmuch I doubt that online sites will ever be able to stop all the cheating…from either the inside, outside, middle, top or bottom. What I do think is that online poker will go on regardless of its degree of corruption.

Why? Because the competitive element in all of us will make us strive to be the best we can be—no matter how we may “be” that way. And the writing of this article has nothing to do with baseball and steroids…or at least I thought it didn’t.