Monday, May 7, 2012

Extending Poker's Fundamental Theorem

Some of you know me personally. Some have played poker with me. For those who found the experience unprofitable, I thank you for your modest contributions to my sizable drinking budget.

My passing familiarity with the theories of poker allows me to extrapolate its concepts into our game.  I'm at it again.

I was writing a tongue-in-cheek blog to get away from the weighty topic of pool management for a day or two.  It was about how I never want to be the "David Sklansky of V:tES."  In short, he's a well-known author of poker books. Despite being well-regarded as a theoretician, he performs poorly on the tournament scene. I don't ever wanna be that guy in our world.

In the course of rambling on about that, I revisited the thing that established Sklansky's reputation.  It's called the Fundamental Theorem of Poker.  Summarized for brevity, it states:

When you play differently than you would have played having seen their cards, 
you lose and others profit. 

My having to summarize this concept speaks volumes, his writings are tedious to read.  Did I mention that I don't ever wanna be that guy in our world?  But I'll give him this, that concept sparked a thought relevant to V:tES.

If playing with imperfect knowledge is sub-optimal,
why don't I play with perfect knowledge more often?

In poker, they call it cheating.  Then they bludgeon you about the head and shoulders.  But it's legal in V:tES - and easy enough to do.

There are 19 crypt cards and 28 library cards that allow us to look at part or all of another player's hand.   Some of them are REALLY bad.  See the example on right.  I love the art so much that I had to include it.  Too bad it's attached to a virtually useless card.

But many cards with "peeking" function are very playable.  They can be devastating at the right time.  I vividly remember the crowd gasping when an [aus] Aura Reading exposed Trey Morita's hand during a NAC Finals.  It was packed full of War Ghouls that immediately became destined for table-wide block attempts.  Trey's predator when on to win the championship.

One of the decks I have slated for Origins has two different mechanisms to look at players' hands, because I already know how powerful those effect can be in planning a turn.

Pushing that thinking even further, one might ask....

If knowing what is in a player's hand is powerful, 
how much more powerful is actually controlling his hand?

Many believe that inferior Revelations is "superior to the superior" largely because it removes a card from hand. I certainly play the inferior level more, even to the point of including it only for the inferior text.

There has been a recent upswing of tournament wins for True Brujah using Vaticination.  It's reliable (3 stealth), predictive for upcoming events, denies the least favorable card available for play from all Methuselah and resides neatly within a multi-action package easily accessible to the clan.

All this points to controlling parts of your predator's or prey's hand being good.  I'll go father to suggest it is theoretically better than than any other action which does not directly lead to your prey's oust that turn.  Properly targeted, its an action you don't have to block, a block you don't have to face, a Master you don't need to counteract and/or a partridge in a pear tree.

I've often said Direct Intervention is broken, in part because it is a golden bullet.  It fixes so many things. How about this?  Broad spectrum "peek and deny" is potentially worse because it:

  • works against any card, simulating the effects of both Sudden Reversal and Direct Intervention in a single effect.
  • prospectively provides the same cancellation effect for actions taken inside your own turn, which you can't do with  Direct Intervention
  • provides bonus knowledge of 6 other cards in a players hand (assuming you didn't have it BEFORE initiating the discard action)  I exploit this effect lightly in a few decks.  Why haven't I pushed the effect to the limit of absurdity, just to see how broken it really is?  There seem to be so many possibilities that my head swims with them.  As always, the working pieces have to be integrated with nominal payload to oust players, but it seems feasible.  That payload can even be lower than normal, if the deck strips a few pool management cards.

You'll see a deck based on this blog from me at the Week of Nightmares.  Maybe a causal deck, I don't know if I'll get it tested to tournament-readiness in 2 weeks.  But it'll be in the box.

Thank you, Fundamental Theorem.  And thank you David Sklansky (now go win a friggin poker tournament, fer Cripe's Sake).

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