Friday, July 16, 2010

Cribbage Pro Shuffling & The Deck

So lately it seems popular to dig on the shuffling and claim that we are stacking the deck in the game to favor the computer player.  I'm not going to go into the "Hey, your game cheats" thing again and why people like to think the computer is cheating when they lose, and I'm not even going to go into how the game does it's dealing "every other" and so it could not favor one player over the other.  However, I do want to give everyone some actual data points for the discussion since it seems lots of people are excited about it.  So, for this post, here is some information you may find interesting.

As was mentioned in our last post about the latest release, we use a random number generator in single player mode to randomly pick the location of a card in the deck - so as to shuffle it.  In multiplayer it is from a truly random source, but in single player we use a "tried and true" pseudo-random source based on the "Mersenne-Twister" algorithm.  So what does that really mean though, what is the result of doing that and what does it look like?  How fair is it really?

Let's define some terms first.  We will call "fair" something that in all measurements possible seems to be as truly random as possible.  You may have a different opinion (like it should match a real world shuffle as strictly as possible), but we will not go there for this as there is so much debate about that single point we will simply not solve it here.  The second definition is around a "shuffle".  For this argument, let's agree to define it as the process used to randomize the deck.

So, without further delay, here is the code that does our "shuffle" in the game today:

            rand = new MersenneTwisterRNG(new SecureRandomSeedGenerator());
            //Loop through each card giving it a random value
            for (int n = 0; n < cards.length; n++) {
                cardList.add(new Card(cards[n], rand.nextDouble()));
            //Sort by that random value
            Collections.sort(cardList, new CardSortByKey());
            //Store back into the byte array
            for (int n = 0; n < cards.length; n++) {
                cards[n] = (byte)cardList.get(n).getOrdinal();

There you have, it.  That is all there is to it and it is a direct copy/paste out of the game with comments and all.  If you can't read it, what it is doing is first getting that random number generator I mentioned earlier, the MersenneTwister.  It "seeds" it with the same kind of source that is used for security on your phone (that SecureRandomSeedGenerator makes that happen).  It then takes random numbers from that and assigns one to each card, and then it simply sorts them by that key and stores each card in that location.

So that is the shuffle, but what does the result look like?  Well, one of the best ways we have found to show this is in what is called a scatter/plot graph.  Now we could show you every single card and where it landed, but trust me, you could not read that graph/chart.  So what we will show you is what we will call "marker cards" in the deck and where they ended up after the shuffle.  We chose the "ace" card from each suite for that purpose, but we could just as easily choose anything else, it was just convenient to do that.  The data shown here comes from thousands of real games played - not just us running this in some test area - these are real decks used in real games that some of you may have played.  We got the data from a set time period and stopped at 3,000 decks.  Going anything beyond that and it gets very hard to visualize, but we could of course go to many, many more.

OK, you have been waiting patiently.  So here is the first graph:
This graph is for the ace of hearts (AH) and it is showing for 3,000 decks, where that AH was in the deck from position 0 (top of the deck) to position 52 (bottom of the deck).  As we progress this forward, what you end up getting is what really is a very random distribution.  If there was an inequality, it would stand out as a cluster surrounded by a lot of blank space - and you really just don't see that in the data.  Sure, there are some spots that are darker the others and some not as much, but in the end if you zoom in even, you will find that distribution is quite random from one deck to the next.  Just for informational purposes and to complete this thought, here are the other cards as mentioned:

So that is the distribution of cards in the deck as given by sample marker cards in the deck.  You will see that none of them look the same, this is a good thing, but at the same time don't get too into these and try to read much into them either.  I show it here to say simply this - it is clearly not favoring any deck position over any other.

There is one other way that we have found somewhat helpful in determining not just how distributed a card might be from one deck to the next, but generally how "well shuffled" a given deck might be.  To do that, you can consider looking at what the relative position of a card is now against the card that is positioned next to it in the deck and it's original position.  In other words, two cards may have started as being 1 position away from the other card, but how far apart are they now?  So if you give each card a starting point form 0 to 52 and then you shuffle and see how far apart they are from where they started relative to each other you get an interesting picture.  Of course the theory here is that the more that the results show some random separation, then it could be considered a good shuffle.  There is no "gold standard" we have found in this regard, and maybe we are the only ones looking at this.  Anyway, here is our data of a deck we grabbed from one at random:

Here it is averaged over 5 decks:

Now over 10 decks:

Do  you see a trend?  Here is at the 3,000 mark:

Yeah, we think it looks cool too.  It is almost smiling at you.  In fact, I think it looks like a really good distribution in a good random shuffle.  Things settling towards being equally distributed in the deck on average - meaning each has a decent chance of showing up just about anywhere.  If you consider the possible combinations of a deck, the more you approach that factorial, the more this graph will get flat.  That is exactly what should happen.  I think that is cool.

Feel free to add your interpretations in the comments or ask for other views of the data.  If you have some cool graph you would like to see (and you can tell us how to construct it somewhat), we will do what we can to give it to you.

In summary, we think this shows two very good perspectives on the shuffle and distribution in the game.  We hope you found it interesting and informative.  We think it fairly clearly shows the unbiased nature of the game and the random nature of it's results.  I'm sure some will disagree, but if you do disagree, please let us know why and what you may find more compelling or if there are parts we did not discuss that you would be interested in knowing more about.

-- Josh

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Of Points and Ranking

We have recently had a few comments and questions about the points and ranking system used in the Cribbage Pro game. These comments and questions have been very insightful and helpful in understanding a different perspective, and in response to some of this we are making a few changes to the system.

So, effective immediately, the following changes are now live in the "Top 50" tracking system:

  • Players with unfinished games over 50% of finished games will not qualify for the "Top 50" - they will simply not show up in the top 50 at all until they have played enough games through to bring the percentage back above the line.
  • Players at level 6 or above (points >= 2500) will not be awarded points for a win against a Novice computer player (and no loss of points for a loss) going forward. Players who have already accrued points, will retain their points.
  • Players at level 8 or above (points >= 2750) will not be awarded points for a win against an Intermediate or Novice computer player (and no loss of points for a loss). Players who have already accrued points, will retain their points.
  • The minimum award for a win against the advanced computer will be increased from 2 to 4 points, the intermediate win will stay at 2 but the novice will be decreased to 1.
We believe that these changes will close some of the "loop holes" players have found in the system and will make the ranking in the single-player game more "fair".

Please keep your comments and questions coming in, and let us know what you think.

Since I am writing a post on points and ranking, I should also spend a minute explaining the system being used. Again, if you have sent us an email with this question, the below is going to look familiar.

The first thing to mention here is that it is not a "Ladder" system or a simple points system, it is actually a ranking system which can be foreign to some, so I'll explain what that means. In the next update, we will include more details about the points system we use in the help file to make it more clear what is going on. It is definitely a miss on our part to not have that already included there.

In regards to the points specifically, it is a bit of a technical explanation, so I'll try and explain as best I can. The system is designed for ranking each player as accurately as possible, not a points system as stated earlier, and so as such we give virtual "points" or rankings to the computer players you are playing against (the advanced player is ranked as a "2500" point player). So the points then really is your "Rank" against all others, and just as others win and lose, their points will follow the same algorithm. Those computer players only have so many points themselves to "give away", and as your level goes beyond their level, you get fewer and fewer points up to the minimum amount of 2 points for a win (now adjusted as noted above). Similarly, if you lose then the system works in reverse and so the penalties are larger as your points are larger then theirs (up to the maximum of 41). The system we are using is very close to this one:

It is intended for player to player ranking more then computer ranking, which is why it seems odd right now. When we add the multi-player functions, it will make a lot more sense. However, we may change/tweak the algorithm as well as we are still in beta with it, and it can be concerning to be ranked high and lose so many points so quickly when you lose a game. We will likely keep this one for multi-player either way, as we believe it proves out to be the fairest we have found.

The three point levels the computer players are:

Advanced: 2500
Intermediate: 2000
Novice: 1500

You can use the formula given and these point levels of the computer players to calculate a potential win/loss point award as well. No extra points are given today for a skunk or double skunk beyond what you get by winning by so many points, and we currently do not have plans to change that.

-- Josh

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hey, Your Game Cheats!

So I have debated for a while now about writing this post, as it can be perceived negatively by some. However, over the last few days we have seen a lot of downloads of the Cribbage Pro game on the Android phones, which is really awesome, and at the same time there has been a rise in the number of comments and emails we have been fielding from players who seem to insist the computer is cheating on the various levels of play. I think the vast majority of players realize this is not the case, as many of them we can see in the statistics are winning against the computer an incredibly large number of times. Similarly, we get emails and comments from others that say the computer is simply too easy to beat and they never lose on any level. I think something inside of us (and yes, I mean "us" as some on our staff have honestly asked the same question) want to accuse a computer of cheating when it beats us soundly in a game. This I suppose is one of the draw backs of creating a game that is indeed challenging to win at.

Initially, I found the accusations funny, because I wrote the game and I know every line of code and piece of logic that is in it inside and out. The funny part is that it would have taken me longer and more code to write a game where the computer is cheating then what we actually did in spending our time researching game play strategy and writing a game that simply knows the rules of cribbage very well and how to win. So let's start with a clear and straightforward statement - I stake my personal reputation and that of the entire Fuller Systems Inc. staff, brand and name on everything we make, and this game is no different. With that in mind, I can say with extreme and utter certainty that the game in no way shape or form is cheating. The computer play is playing a completely "fair game" in every sense of the phrase.

With that said, let me explain what is going on in the game a little, and how it works. If you have received an email from me on this topic, this will look familiar.

First, the hands dealt are done so exactly the same way for each and every difficulty level, with the only difference in the levels of play being which cards the computer may choose to hold or discard. This is why on advanced, the hands the computer ends up with tend to score significantly higher then on the other skill levels. The code for the game runs in such a way as to do the deal of cards exactly the same way each time and the shuffle is as natural as possible for each hand. I fully understand that sometimes the computer can/will achieve hands that are consistently higher in the advanced mode, but this is due to the level of computations it goes through in determining what the best possible holding of cards could be. It is in no way doing anything other then just that - working with the cards it is dealt. This is not to say that the computer can not go "on a run", just like a human player might, and get a series of good hands dealt to it - that is just as likely for the computer as it would be for a human player if that human player were to make the same discard decisions. Just as we don't manipulate the deal or play to give the computer an advantage, we don't handicap it either.

To go a step further, here is the exact code used during the dealing of the cards from the deck which is a simple object that holds an array of cards that have been shuffled prior to this step.

// 6 cards for each player - 12 total
for (int i = 0; i < 6; i++) {
  //Deal to pone player first, then to dealer
  if (isP0Deal) {
    player1Cards[i] = deck.nextCard();
    player0Cards[i] = deck.nextCard();
  } else {
    player0Cards[i] = deck.nextCard();
    player1Cards[i] = deck.nextCard();

If you know code structure, or can read through and derive the basic thought from this, you can see that it has no consideration for the computer player (player0) then the other player and that it deals out the cards as per cribbage rules based on who is the dealer. Unfortunately there is not much more I can add here, short of sharing the entire game code with everyone, which we can not do for obvious reasons. So one could claim that this code is not the real code, or that later in the game code changes are made or something. Please understand, there would be absolutely no value for Fuller Systems to have a game that we give away for free, cheat in any way. In the future releases of features we add, you will see more on why that is (yes, think multi-player). In those future versions it becomes even more critical that we ensure no player has any advantage in the deal over any other player.

Lastly, we are working on finding an independent authority to audit and review the game to prove it is fair and accurate in it's play, which we hope will remove some of these concerns. As of yet, we have not found an independent organization that is capable of doing this, so if you have suggestions, please let us know by email or in the comments here.

Thank you for letting me take the time on this blog to respond to some of the accusations, and if you have any thoughts, suggestions or questions, please don't hesitate in letting us know.

-- Josh