Data’s Game – The Best Player of Them All

by Staff & Contributors on September 7, 2014

in Television

When it comes to sci-fi creations, there are few more intelligent and logical characters than Data. The Star Trek: The Next Generation android with a desire to explore as much about the human psyche as the outreaches of the universe was a hero when he first hit our screens in 1987.

Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking he should be included in any list of respectable characters. One of Data’s defining characteristics, as outlined by his creator Doctor Noonien Soong, was his sentience. Unlike previous androids, Data was able to feel as well as think and that made him a vital asset to Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. Moreover, it made him determined to learn about human behavior and discover his own version of “humanity”.


Data’s Processing Power is a Positive

Image via CBS Paramount Television/Paramount Pictures

One of the first reasons is his ability to process large amounts of information in a short space of time. Thanks to his positronic brain, Data can run through thousands of calculations a second which means he would always be able to outthink his opponents.

In all situations at the poker table there is a certain amount of math that needs to be worked through. From the size of the pot versus the bet you have to call (pot odds), to the probability that certain cards will help certain hands, professional poker players calculate a range of variables before making a move.

Naturally, because the human brain isn’t always capable of carrying out complex equations in seconds, poker players often come up with short hand ways of working out their odds. In most situations this is enough to give players enough insight into the dynamics to enable them to make a solid decision. However, because Data has the mind of a computer, he doesn’t need to rely on shortcuts. Instead he can run through the exact permeations and get the exact answer he needs.


Data’s Quest for Humanity at the Poker Table

This search for enlightenment pushed Data into a range of novel situations, including the now famous scene involving some of the greatest minds of the last few centuries. Shown in the episode “Descent, Part 1,” the scene involved an impromptu poker game between Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and, of course, Data.

Using that game as a vehicle to “explore the greatest facets of humanity,” Data engages the physics masters in conversation and a few rounds of bluffing. Although not expressed explicitly, the name of the game in this episode is 5-card Draw.

One of the more traditional poker variants, 5-card Draw uses a standard 52 deck and is quite easy to learn so that you can understand the joke in this episode. The main premise of the game is that each active player is dealt five cards and then has to option to swap between 0 and five of those cards for new ones in an attempt to create the highest ranking hand. This epic scene begins after the draw is complete and the players are making bets. Stephen Hawking raises and ends up getting called by Einstein, who believes to have caught a bluff. Hawking then shows four of a kind to win the pot, all while mocking Einstein.

Although Data’s game is less than cordial at times, the brain boxes are all convinced that they are intellectually superior and, therefore, the best player at the table. However, somewhat unsurprisingly, Data proves to be the top grinder in the long run for a few reasons.


Emotion is the Key to Data’s Success

Image via Paramount Pictures/CBS Studios

Of course, anyone who has ever studied poker strategy before will know that the game is a mixture of math and psychology. Although you could achieve a certain amount of success in the game by relying on the numbers alone, the top players often consider psychology at the same time.

Because of this, Data is able to top the geniuses in his poker game (and someone else who can outsmart Batman) because he’s able to factor in emotion (while remaining emotionless – another skill that makes him a great poker player). As evidenced by Einstein’s admission that he’s relying on the “uncertainty principle” to play a hand against Hawking, the physic experts seem content to rely on math to guide their decisions.

However, to exclude psychology and emotion at the table is a mistake and one that Data isn’t prone to making. Although calculating “emotion” isn’t easy, Data is able to use his powers of observation to assess the mood changes in his opponents and then factor these into his calculations. Indeed, a frustrated player is more likely to be bluffing. This is a fact which, therefore, needs to be given more weight in any mathematical equations.


Data: The Perfect Card Player

Image via Paramount Domestic

Although Data is far from an expert in the nuances of human emotion, he is aware enough to know that they shouldn’t be excluded in any game of poker (a fact his opponents appear to have overlooked). For this reason, above all else, Data is perfectly set up to be a fantastic poker player. Despite his opponents being less than skilled when it comes to the game, Data is able to demonstrate enough savvy to show that he could easily play 5-card Draw or any variant against the leading pros in the world.

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