RFID implicated in live-streamed poker cheating scandal

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/10/07/rfid-implicated-in-live-stream.html

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why do they use RFID cards in the first place? is there a benefit. seems like it would be ripe for abuse.


never mind, seems that they use them to read the cards for the viewer. sometimes they use little cameras and sometimes they use the RFID cards.


I had no idea there was RFID cards out there, but I agree with you; seems like the sort of thing that would be too easy to use to cheat.

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It seems he failed to learn from the British after they broke the enigma machine. You must make sacrifices even if you don’t have to in order to keep your opponent from figuring out that you know their moves before they make them.


I’d be very curious if his play remained consistent after the RFID cards were removed. If his style of play changes notably, that’s pretty damning.

And, as others have pointed out, it sure seems to be a bad idea on its face to have cards that can be read by undetectable machines.


Figuring out how to play when you know your opponents’ cards but don’t want to be detected seems like a lot of fun for a mathematician. You have to make bad calls when they are actually bad calls, not just bad calls when they are going to win, but you also have to make sure that your ratio of winning-bad-calls-when-pot-is-large to winning-bad-calls-when-pot-is-small doesn’t get so far away from the expected values that there is a provable pattern. But then the longer you do it the more provable the pattern would become.

If you can actually do all this math, maybe you should just play poker optimally.


It could be that the flaw is somewhere else then in the RFID chips.

If the games really were live streamed, with all the cards shown, then the only problem that remains is how to get that information to him during the game. No need to add the extra problem of reading the RFID cards from a safe enough distance to not be suspicious and then still having to communicate that information to him.


“We think someone is cheating and somehow reading our marked cards!”


eta: Why the hell do they allow phones at the table?


I’m not so amazed by the RFID cards as them letting players bring phones and other junk to the table!

$1 says he’s using an RFID reader in his keys (close enough to read cards) connected by bluetooth to an iphone running a relevant reader app. I bet it’s a custom app too, with little pictures of cards and everything, because this guy is a dork who knows tech, not poker.


I would take that bet (not going to actually hold you to it). RFID is short range. Extremely short range. You need a device about the size of a small pizza box to read cards 18" away. It’s much easier to write an app that uses the vibrator in the phone to read sms messages in morse code. Then have a friend txt you the hands from the live stream.


Car keys right there by the hole cards! (EDIT: I can’t see them on this video now I got screenshottering, but I’m certain I saw it in another one)

I suspected a spotter too, but apparently the livestream is delayed somewhat to prevent that. Maybe an insider is helping him. In one thread, someone claimed there was something on his linkedin page that suggested he’d worked with the RFID provider, but … can’t find it now, amid all the fury and words.


“Live” stream in this case meaning a 30 minute delay.

However, he had also recently deleted a factoid from his Linkedin profile that he was a consultant who installed the communication systems used to feed the stream. It seems likely that he simply had an app listening in on the data from the RFID sensors on the table and getting some sort of notification on his phone.


Different RFIDs have different ranges. The fastrak transponder that pays highway tolls is a form of RFID which works at least 6 feet away.

But I would also suspect that RFIDs small enough to implant in playing cards don’t work more than a foot at most without extraordinary antennas.


IDGAF about this guy, professional poker in general, or this or that game-enabling technology. I’m 100% open to an inductive proof of cheating here—or rather, my openness to it asymptotically approaches 100% as more evidence is considered.


This makes me nervous:

Berkey said Postle made plays no pro would ever make

Broadly speaking, that’s true of how people played right before every major revolution in gameplay in any game or sport, ever. And in poker, it’s especially dangerous to think that “different = cheating” because poker is, in essence, a game of zigging when others expect you to zag.

And there’s also an insanely unquantifiable element of “reading” the other player, which is a skill that some people genuinely possess but which is very, very hard to reliably assess. That’s key, because folding a good hand when your opponent is trying to convince you it’s the BEST hand is so difficult that being able to do it at all is what makes you even a mediocre pro. If you conclude that he’s cheating from that alone, you’re essentially saying “no one could be that good.” But… he could be.

Everything beyond that is circumstantial. E.g., does he stop playing, or play worse, once the RFID is removed? He might very well if he were innocent, too, because the insult of being suspected this way either kept him away or disturbed some delicate mental equilibrium.

I’m not white-knighting this guy. If I had to bet money on it myself, I’d probably bet that there were some shenanigans here. But the vaunted “hours upon hours” of analysis shown here turns out not to be hours and hours of proof; it’s just a streamer watching recordings of him and commenting in real time, so of course it’s going to take hours—which is good for the streamer, who makes money in proportion to the amount of time he can collect eyeballs and donations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But it’s not (yet) the overwhelming avalanche of statistical analysis you’d need to be morally certain that the guy is a cheater.

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The problem with having the RFID reader in the cards is that it’s not typically directional. Figuring out who has what cards would be very difficult for a reader positioned more or less in the middle of them. It’s not impossible, but it would be fairly difficult to build, especially when you have to conceal it inside of a keyfob.


I believe the answer can be found in another historical precedent, the MIT blackjack team. Loose consistently when the stakes are low, but keep the stakes low. Win when the stakes are high. Even then the game won’t last forever, you can probably keep it going for a while with a few high stake losses but eventually any statistical anomaly can be detected albeit with a reduced level of confidence.

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He was way, way, outside of what pro players have achieved in the past.

A person on Reddit whipped up this chart to show just how he compares to regular pros, and to potripper, another known cheater:

The chart is describing how often the player makes a big bet, and how often it pays off for them. Postle never guesses wrong. His big bets always pay off.


Broadly speaking, it’s because anyone with the money can enter most poker tournaments (including the biggest), and nobody is more welcome among professional gamblers than somebody who needs a crutch to do what they do effortlessly in their heads.

A potentially good player (i.e., a terrible player amongst pros) can correctly use a calculator to figure out pot odds. An extremely good player (i.e., a mediocre pro) can do it in their head. A god-tier player doesn’t even need to consciously think about the numbers to intuit the right decision. But it sure makes the experts’ day easier if there are a few dudes sweating over their phones at the start of it.

ETA: And because, I guess, they figure that phones can’t be used for proper cheating. Whether this is hubris or not is a matter of perspective, I guess.


Cool. Like I said, I can totally believe cheating accusations can be made statistically overwhelming, and maybe they already have been. Can you link to the reddit thread? Purely for my own edification, I’m neither inclined nor (probably) good enough with analysis to come back with a WELL ACKSHUALLY post about how the chart isn’t what the chart says it is.

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