WO2008091809A2 - Method and system for tracking card play - Google Patents

Method and system for tracking card play Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2008091809A2
WO2008091809A2 PCT/US2008/051531 US2008051531W WO2008091809A2 WO 2008091809 A2 WO2008091809 A2 WO 2008091809A2 US 2008051531 W US2008051531 W US 2008051531W WO 2008091809 A2 WO2008091809 A2 WO 2008091809A2
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WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
data
card
game
deal
player
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/US2008/051531
Other languages
French (fr)
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WO2008091809A3 (en
Inventor
Jeffrey Alan Miller
Richard Allen Finberg
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Jeffrey Alan Miller
Richard Allen Finberg
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Publication date
Priority to US88612407P priority Critical
Priority to US60/886,124 priority
Priority to US98245007P priority
Priority to US60/982,450 priority
Application filed by Jeffrey Alan Miller, Richard Allen Finberg filed Critical Jeffrey Alan Miller
Publication of WO2008091809A2 publication Critical patent/WO2008091809A2/en
Publication of WO2008091809A3 publication Critical patent/WO2008091809A3/en

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Classifications

    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07FCOIN-FREED OR LIKE APPARATUS
    • G07F17/00Coin-freed apparatus for hiring articles; Coin-freed facilities or services
    • G07F17/32Coin-freed apparatus for hiring articles; Coin-freed facilities or services for games, toys, sports or amusements, e.g. casino games, online gambling or betting
    • G07F17/3202Hardware aspects of a gaming system, e.g. components, construction, architecture thereof
    • G07F17/3216Construction aspects of a gaming system, e.g. housing, seats, ergonomic aspects
    • G07F17/322Casino tables, e.g. tables having integrated screens, chip detection means
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07FCOIN-FREED OR LIKE APPARATUS
    • G07F17/00Coin-freed apparatus for hiring articles; Coin-freed facilities or services
    • G07F17/32Coin-freed apparatus for hiring articles; Coin-freed facilities or services for games, toys, sports or amusements, e.g. casino games, online gambling or betting
    • G07F17/3225Data transfer within a gaming system, e.g. data sent between gaming machines and users
    • G07F17/3227Configuring a gaming machine, e.g. downloading personal settings, selecting working parameters
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07FCOIN-FREED OR LIKE APPARATUS
    • G07F17/00Coin-freed apparatus for hiring articles; Coin-freed facilities or services
    • G07F17/32Coin-freed apparatus for hiring articles; Coin-freed facilities or services for games, toys, sports or amusements, e.g. casino games, online gambling or betting
    • G07F17/3225Data transfer within a gaming system, e.g. data sent between gaming machines and users
    • G07F17/3232Data transfer within a gaming system, e.g. data sent between gaming machines and users wherein the operator is informed
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07FCOIN-FREED OR LIKE APPARATUS
    • G07F17/00Coin-freed apparatus for hiring articles; Coin-freed facilities or services
    • G07F17/32Coin-freed apparatus for hiring articles; Coin-freed facilities or services for games, toys, sports or amusements, e.g. casino games, online gambling or betting
    • G07F17/3286Type of games
    • G07F17/3293Card games, e.g. poker, canasta, black jack

Abstract

A system and method is described for tracking card data, deal data and game data during online, computer generated and live card games and allowing users to access the card data, deal data and game data to replay all or portions of such card games at a later time, including the ability to view cards that were not revealed during the original card game. The system may also store card data associated with each hand dealt during the card game and index the card data to allow users to search the card data and replay individual hands in response to user defined search criteria.

Description

METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR TRACKING CARD PLAY

CROSS-REFERENCE

[0001] This patent application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 60/886,124, filed January 23, 2007, and U.S. Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 60/982,450, filed October 25, 2007, which are incorporated herein by reference in their entirety.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION [0002] This invention describes a method, system and apparatus for tracking various games played online or in casinos, card rooms, or other live game settings, including games played virtually or with physical (or actual) playing cards and poker chips.

[0003] One application for the current invention is for tracking card play in connection with a popular poker game known as Texas hold'em. Texas hold'em is currently played in a variety of settings, including at casino's and computer generated games that are played online, on personal computers and on various handheld electronic devices. In other forms of competition (be it golf, bowling, tennis, bridge, backgammon, or chess), results are transparent and can be readily understood. In Texas hold'em and other poker games, however, a player in many situations never knows whether his "moves" or decisions are working or whether the underlying strategies are correct. For example, that an opponent folds may mean a player's bet successfully drove out a better hand, or may simply reflect the fact that the folded hand was weak. Likewise, unless a hand continues through completion, a player will not know if he made a "good lay-down" or was bluffed into folding a winning hand. [0004] Currently, some televised poker tournaments, such as the World Series of Poker®, use a small camera to reveal hole cards for its viewers to see. This approach is fundamentally different, however, since the objective there is to show an audience a limited number of hands, not to provide a means for players to review and critique their play. Moreover, use of multiple cameras involves time consuming and expensive editing, and very few deals are actually shown for a specific player.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION [0005] A system and method is described for tracking card data, deal data and game data during card games and allowing users to access the card data, deal data and game data to replay all or portions of such card games at a later time, including the ability to view cards that were not revealed during the original card game. The card games may be played online, electronically or live. [0006] The system may also store card data, deal data and game data associated with each hand dealt during the card game and index the card data, deal data and game data to allow users to search the card data, deal data and game data and to replay individual hands in response to user defined search criteria. [0007] A better understanding of the objects, advantages, features, properties and relationships of the invention will be obtained from the following detailed description and accompanying drawings which set forth an illustrative embodiment and which are indicative of the various ways in which the principles of the invention may be employed.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS [0008] For a better understanding of the invention, reference may be had to the following Figures, which depict at least one embodiment of the present invention and which include drawings and diagrams therefor:

[0009] Figure 1 is a diagram depicting a computer network on which an embodiment of the invention may be operated. [0010] Figure 2 is a diagram depicting a computer network, including a server computer with an external system database and security module.

[0011] Figure 3 is a diagram depicting an exemplary design of a game playing table equipped with devices for tracking various poker games.

[0012] Figure 4 shows an exemplary design of the underside of the game playing table shown in Figure 3.

[0013] Figure 5 is a diagram depicting a close-up view of a dealer monitor with touch screen capability with an exemplary screen design on which the dealer may input or modify card data, chip data, and game data.

[0014] Figure 6 is a diagram depicting an exemplary design of a dealer control console, as a stand-alone device. DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0015] Turning now to the Figures, wherein like reference numerals refer to like elements, there is illustrated a system and method for tracking card data 40, deal data 40a and game data 40b during various card games. Although not required, the system and method will be described in the general context of a computer network 20, as is well known in the industry, and computer executable instructions being executed by general purpose computing devices within the computer network 20. In this regard, the general purpose computing devices may comprise one or more remote computers 30a, and one or more server computers 30b, hosting a software application 50. The server computer 30b may also include one or more system databases 100 for storing card data 40, which will be discussed in more detail below. [0016] To allow each of the remote computers 30a to access the network 20 without storing copies of the software application 50 on each of those computers 30a, the software application 50 may reside on the server computer 30b. Further, the users may access the software application 50 via an internet browser 60, which acts as an interface between the software application 50 and the operating system for the remote computer 30a. Although the operating system for the server computer 30b is preferably Windows® based, it should be understood that the server computer 30b could employ any one of the currently existing operating systems, such as LINUX®, MAC OS®, Mozilla®, etc. In addition, it should be appreciated by those with skill in the art that other applications besides the browser 60 may also be utilized to act as an interface between the software application 50 and the remote computers 30a or that the browser 60 and the software application 50 may be combined. [0017] For editing, populating and accessing information stored on the system database 100, the browser 60 may include a graphical user interface 64. The graphical user interface 64 may be further comprised of various menu bars, dropdown menus, buttons and display windows and the graphical user interface 64 may also be used to display card data 40, deal data 40a, game data 40b and other information to the user. The menu bars, drop-down menus, buttons and display windows are well known in the industry. [0018] As will be appreciated by those of skill in the art, the computers 30a, 30b need not be limited to personal computers, but may include hand-held devices, multiprocessor systems, microprocessor-based or programmable consumer electronics, minicomputers, mainframe computers, personal digital assistants, cellular telephones, MP3 players, GPS devices, handheld video games or the like depending upon their intended end use within the system. For performing the procedures described hereinafter, the computer executable instructions may be written as routines, programs, objects, components, and/or data structures that perform particular tasks. Within the computer network 20, the computer executable instructions may reside on a single computer 30a, or server computer 30b, or the tasks performed by the computer executable instructions may be distributed among a plurality of the computers 30a, 30b. Therefore, while described in the context of a computer network, it should also be understood that the present invention may be embodied in a stand-alone, general purpose computing device that need not be connected to a network.

[0019] To efficiently provide users with access to the software application 50, the server computers 30b and the underlying framework for the computer network 20 may be provided by the service company itself or by outsourcing the hosting of the software application 50 to an application service provider ("ASP")- ASP's are companies that provide server computers that store and run a software application for a third party entity, which is accessible to the third party entity's users via the Internet or similar means. Therefore, the server computer for operating the software application may be hosted on a computer that is owned and maintained by another party and users may then access and use software applications via the host computer without storing the software application on the remote computers. It should be understood, however, that ASP models are well-known in the industry and should not be viewed as a limitation with respect to the type of system architectures that are capable of providing a computer network 20 that can properly operate the software application discussed herein.

[0020] To perform the particular tasks in accordance with the computer executable instructions, the computers 30a, 30b may include, as needed, a video adapter, a processing unit, a system memory, and a system bus that couples the system memory to the processing unit. The video adapter allows the computers 30a, 30b to support a display, such as a cathode ray tube ("CRT"), a liquid crystal display ("LCD"), a flat screen monitor, a touch screen monitor or similar means for displaying textual and graphical data to a user. The display in combination with the browser 60 and graphical user interface 64 allow a user to view information, such as, code, file directories, error logs, execution logs and other graphical elements. [0021] The computers 30a, 30b may further include read only memory (ROM), a hard disk drive for reading from and writing to a hard disk, a magnetic disk drive for reading from and writing to a magnetic disk, and/or an optical disk drive for reading from and writing to a removable optical disk or any other suitable data storage device. The hard disk drive, magnetic disk drive, and optical disk drive may be connected to the system bus by a hard disk drive interface, a magnetic disk drive interface, or an optical disk drive interface, respectively, or other suitable data interface. The drives and their associated computer-readable media provide a means of non- volatile storage for the computer executable instructions and any other data structures, program modules, databases, arrays, etc. utilized during the operation of the computers 30a, 30b. [0022] To connect the computers 30a, 30b within the computer network 20, the computers 30a, 30b may include a network interface or adapter. When used in a wide area network, such as the Internet, the computers 30a, 30b typically include a network interface, such as a router/modem or similar device. The modem, which may be internal or external, is connected to the system bus for the computer via a serial port interface or other communication port. It will be appreciated that the described network connections are exemplary and that other means of establishing a communications link between the computers 30a, 30b may be used. For example, the system may also include a wireless router/modem that receives and transmits information via a wireless communications medium, such as a cellular communications network, a satellite Communications network, or another similar type of wireless network. It should also be appreciated that the network interface will be capable of employing TCP/IP, FTP, SFTP, Telnet SSH, HTTP, SHTTP, RSH, REXEC, etc. and other network connectivity protocols.

[0023] As mentioned above, in one embodiment, the software application 50 and the system database reside on the server computer 30b and are managed by the provider of the software application 50 or by a third-party. Those with skill in the art will understand, however, that the software application 50 and the system database 100 may reside on the remote computer 30a and may be managed and maintained by a user. As shown in Figure 2, the software application 50 and the system database 100 may also reside on different computers. The browser 60 may load web pages via HTTP or HTTPS or any other suitable format and display those web pages on the graphical user interface 64.

[0024] For populating the system database 100, the browser 60 may be utilized, but this may also be accomplished via an MS-SQL Server Enterprise Manager. While the software application 50 may be programmed in any software language capable of producing the desired functionality, it is envisioned that the software application 50 will be programmed using commonly known software languages.

[0025] To edit, populate and maintain the system database 100, the graphical user interface 64 may allow the user to perform standard text editing functions, including, mouse placement of the cursor, click- and-drag text selection and standard Windows® key combinations for cutting, copying and pasting data. In addition, the graphical user interface 64 may allow users to access, copy, save, export or send data or files by using standard Windows® file transfer functions. It should be understood that these editing and file transfer functions may also be accomplished within other operating system environments, such as LINUX®, MAC OS®, Mozilla®, etc., and that those functions are well known in the industry.

I. SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR TRACKING CARD PLAY IN ONLINE CARD GAMES.

[0026] For enabling users to play card games and track the cards, including hole/unrevealed cards, that are dealt during electronic of online games, the system must include a software application 50 that generates the desired card game and allow users (s) to access the game. Software that generates various card games and that allows users to access the games remotely are well known in the industry and accessible via various internet websites. For example, software already exists for generating online poker games or "virtual" poker games that perform the basic functions of dealing the game, recording bets, determining the winner, and tracking the size of chip stacks. Modifications to the software application 50 would be necessary, however, to enable users to track cards and replay particular hands or games. More specifically, the system 10 may be required to include a system database 100 for storing card data 40, deal data 40a, and game data 40b, a security module 200 for determining which users may replay hands or games and when such hands or games may be replayed, and a display module 300 for displaying replayed hands or games to users in response to specified criteria. It should be obvious that the system database 100, security module 200 and display module 300 may be included as part of the software application 50 or may exist separately and that each of these databases or modules may be included on the remote computer 30a, the server computer 30b, a combination of the remote computer 30a and server computer 30b, or any other general purpose computing device. For example, Figure 2 depicts the system database 100 and security module 200 as separate elements in the system 10. Conversely and as described above, the system database 100 and security module may also be included as part of the server computer 30b. A. System Database.

[0027] To allow the software application 50 to reveal hole cards/pocket cards or to replay specific hands or portions of complete games or tournaments, the system 10 may include a system database 100 for storing detailed card data 40, deal data 40a, game data 40b and other information about the hand. The precise card data 40 that is stored will depend upon the particular type of poker game being played and the rules of the game, but such information would generally include the following information: each card dealt to each player, the order in which cards are dealt to each player, all "common cards" dealt and the order in which they are dealt (including the flop, the turn and the river), and for some purposes, the order in the deck of one or more un- dealt cards, known as "rabbit" cards. The system database 100 may also store deal data 40a such as deal number, table number, identity of the players at the table and their seat location, and where the dealer button is located. The system database 100 may also store game data 40b related to all actions that occur during the game (e.g., posting of antes and blinds, the amount of each bet, the amount of chips held by each player, whether other players call, fold, raise or re-raise, the amounts bet, and any other events relevant to the particular type of poker game (such as, discards and replacement of Cards in draw poker, declarations of playing "high" or "low"(if applicable), and other occurrences such as intentional exposures of cards that would otherwise be concealed)). The system database 100 may store card data 40, including deal data 40a and game data 40b or populate sub-databases 110 for each of the various types of data 40, 40a, 40b. The system 10 may also include additional sub- databases 110 for specific tournaments, tables, players, rabbit cards or types of hands (i.e., bad beats, all-in bets, hands involving 3 of a kind or better, etc.) and index these sub-databases 110 to facilitate subsequent search requests for hands that meet specific search criteria. Therefore, it should be evident that all of the data that is generated by the system 10 may be stored in one system database 100 or parsed out and stored in separate sub-databases 110 for each of the different types of data.

[0028] Alternatively, master deal indexes 120 may be created for storing and categorizing card data 40, deal data 40a and game data 40b based on predetermined criteria or user selected criteria, which may vary depending on the type of card game. For example, in no-limit Texas hold 'em card games, the sub-database 110 or master deal index 120 may categorize the card data 40 based on the following (or other) criteria:

Deal number; Identity of players at the table;

Identity of players who bet, raised, or posted blinds; Stage at which the deal concluded (pre-flop, after the flop, after the turn card, after the river card);

Whether the final bet was called; Identity of the deal winner;

Players eliminated or busted on the deal;

Hands in which a player was eliminated or busted;

Hands in which 1 or more players were "all in";

Hands won in a showdown (final bet called);

Hands in which last bet was not called;

Hands in which "cut-off (player immediately before the button), is first player to bet pre-flop; Hands in which the player on the button is first to bet pre-flop;

Hands in which only one players in the blinds bets;

Hands with 3 or more limpers (the minimum bet is called, but not raised by any player);

Nature of the flop (e.g., the highest card in the flop, whether it contains a pair, and whether the flop is one-suited, two-suited or three-suited); and Content of winning hand (royal flush, straight flush, 4 of a kind, full house, flush, straight, trips, two pair, one pair, or high card).

The previously mentioned search criteria are for exemplary purposes only and

additional or alternative search criteria may be used for Texas Hold' em or other kinds of poker or card games. For example, in High-Low Omaha, a search might be used to identify deals in which the flop contains 0, 1, 2 or 3 cards of different denominations of 8 or lower.

[0029] It should also be appreciated by those with skill in the art that the system database 100 may be provided as part of the software application 50 or as a separate program that interfaces with the software application 50. Moreover, although the present embodiment of the invention anticipates storage of the system database 100 on the server computer 30b it may also be stored on the remote computer 30a or on a stand alone computer with the software application 50. It should be obvious that the system database 100 may be included as part of the software application 50 or may exist separately and that the system database 100 may be included on the remote computer 30a, the server computer 30b, a combination of the remote computer 30a and server computer 30b, or any other general purpose computing device.

B. Security Module. [0030] Since many players will be apprehensive about playing card games on a system that tracks unrevealed cards, the system 10 may need to have checks and balances in place for determining when cards may be revealed. For determining when face-down cards may be revealed, a security module 200 may be provided. For example, a login window 400 may be created to register users and assist in determining who is entitled to receive the card data 40 necessary for replaying particular hands, or portions of games or tournaments. The security module 200 may also be used to determine if any payment is required and whether the required payment has been made. Once the specified criteria for determining when card data 40 may be transmitted to a particular user/player has been met, the security module 200 may enable the system database 100 to send the card data 40 to the display module 300 or the security module 200 may send the card data 40 to a specific user. [0031] In scenarios where the security module 200 exists independent of the server computer 30b, as shown in Figure 2, the security module 200 may send the card data 40 to the server computer 30b for subsequent routing to specific users. Although it is not shown, the card data may also flow through the display module 300 or other modules prior to being forwarded to specific users. Further, in some instances the system 10 may only allow the card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b to be transmitted after the game or tournament is completed. The system 10 or display module 300 may then display any applicable card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b to the eligible user via the browser 60 or transmit any applicable card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b to the eligible user via email, diskette or any other chosen means.

[0032] The specified criteria for determining when card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b may be transmitted may be predetermined by the system 10, specified by the user or specified by the sponsor of the game. The specified criteria, if any, may include restrictions that apply to the availability of card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b, which may be displayed to users as specific hands or portions of a game or tournament. For example, replay information may be made available to all participants in the tournament as part of their entry fee, to those who check a box agreeing to an additional charge, or those who pay a flat fee for a specified time period, or otherwise. For internet and other computer generated games, existing billing and payment options (such as those used to collect entry fees and register players in tournaments) may be utilized to bill for such replays. [0033] Additionally, the sponsor might only permit players, rather than spectators, to receive card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b necessary to replay hands, or to receive card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b for deals in which the player was still in the tournament. For multi-table events, a sponsor might permit players to receive card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b only about deals occurring at such player's own table, or while the player was still in the tournament. The software application 50 may check for any applicable restrictions, and following completion of the game or tournament, the software application 50 may enable the sponsor's game administrator to transmit the applicable card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b to eligible users. To the extent the sponsor restricts access to card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b, such program may sort such data 40, 40a, 40b by using the master deal index 120 or other indexes and send only the appropriate data 40, 40a, 40b.

[0034] To limit access to card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b and to protect the confidentiality of such data 40, 40a and 40b, the system 10 may store the data 40, 40a and 40b in hidden files or files containing encrypted security information or utilize other methods for making the card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b inaccessible to unauthorized users. It should be obvious that the security module 200 may be included as part of the software application 50 or may exist separately and that the security module may be included on the remote computer 30a, the server computer 30b, a combination of the remote computer 30a and server computer 30b, or any other general purpose computing device. C. Display Module.

[0035] For replaying hands, games or tournaments, the system 10 may include a display module 300. The display module 300 may work in conjunction with the system database 100 and the security module 200 to receive card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b from the system database for particular hands, games or tournaments and to present such information to the player/user. The display module 300 may be further comprised of a configuration window 330 and a search window 350

1. Configuration Window. [0036] To determine the format and amount of card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b to be presented to the user, the configuration window 330 may be displayed by the graphical user interface 64. The configuration window 330 may allow the user to select various options 340, such as which cards are displayed (including, undealt/"rabbit" cards), whether they are displayed as text or as graphical images, and whether the players are depicted graphically. Many other options 340 may also be presented to users and this disclosure should not be viewed as limiting the availability of such options. [0037] The configuration window 330 may also allow users to select other options 340 such as, (i) permitting cards to be dealt face up, face down, or in other combinations, and (ii) allowing users to stop the action at pre-determined points during a hand, game or tournament. The options 340 may also be upgraded by downloading periodic "software patches" or new versions of the software application 50 or configuration window 330.

{0038] The "replay" capability of the graphical user interface 64 may also be structured to include some or all of the following features: a. To allow the replay to occur visually, on a computer monitor, television or any other kind of viewing device, and in a format that is the same or similar to that in which the hand, game or tournament was first played (for example, showing user/players positions in order around a circular or oblong virtual table, or in the same relative locations); b. The replay feature may, but need not, include additional features to enhance viewing enjoyment, such as sound effects or animation; c. The replay feature may be capable of showing all concealed cards and displaying them face up or face down, or in various combinations of face up and face down, as chosen by the viewer. Accordingly, a hand can be replayed from the point of view of a particular player (who does not see any concealed cards except those in his own hand), from the viewpoint of other players, or "omnisciently", where all cards are dealt face up and the viewer thus sees and knows everything about the hand/deal; d. The replay feature may enable the viewer to readily expose any concealed cards, such as by "touching" the card with the screen pointer (with or without "clicking" on the card); e. The replay feature may allow the hand/deal to be played back in a

"movie" format. For example, all poker action (bets, calls, folds, dealing of common cards, etc.) would occur in the same sequence as when the hand/deal was first played. Concealed cards that players voluntarily expose, although not required to, will also be shown, with appropriate notation. Where applicable, player notes may also be shown (these notes may be stored on the server computer 30b or on remote computers 30a); f. To enable the action to stop at pre-determined stopping points (e.g., in Texas hold 'em, after the hands are dealt and before the flop is dealt, and at each turn where the player has to make a betting decision). The replay feature may have standard playback options (such as fast forward, reverse, pause, stop and resume). The replay feature may also have the following options: (a) a setting in which the replay stops at predetermined points until prompted by the viewer to continue; (b) a setting by which the replay pauses at such predetermined points (for a pre-set or viewer adjustable amount of time), but then resumes unless the viewer prompts the system 10 to stop; (c) a setting by which the replay runs continuously, without pauses, until prompted to stop or pause; and (d) an option by which the viewer can skip forward in the replay to the end position of each hand/deal; g. The ability to call up for replay only those hands that meet particular criteria or combinations of criteria, as further described herein; h. To present the replay in a convenient and pleasant format, e.g., so that the game can be replayed on a personal computer or other electronic device; i. The card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b for specific hands may also be made available, if desired, in script or text form; and j. To enable the card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b to be placed in database format, for analysis, security, quality control or other purposes.

2. Search Window. [0039] For allowing users to only view hands that meet user-specified search parameters, the system may include a search window 350. The search window 350 may be displayed via the graphical user interface 64 and may use a search engine 360 to conduct the actual searches of the system database 100, sub-databases 110 or master deal indexes 120. To receive search terms for use by the search engine 360, the search window 350 may also include query boxes 352 and logical connector boxes 354. The user may enter terms in the query boxes 352 and select a logical connector (such as "and", "or", "nor", etc.) to be used by the search engine 360. Based on the user-specified search parameters, card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b associated with hands, games or tournaments will be found. The matching hands, games or tournaments may then be displayed by the graphical user interface 64 to the user in the designated format. Search engines are widely known in the industry and many different types of algorithms are employed. The search engine 360 disclosed above may employ any existing search algorithms or other algorithms that may be developed in the future, so long as those search algorithms are consistent with the functionality described above. [0040] To improve the efficiency of the search engine 360 in conducting searches, the sub-databases 110 or master deal indexes 120 may organize the card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b in a way that makes the card data 40 more readily available. In addition, depending upon the use to be made of the card data 40, deal data 40a or game data 40b, the sorting or analysis might occur at the sponsor (or server) level, such as to locate all hands in which a particular user participated. The search attributes may be stored on a master deal index 120 or each sub-database 110 or master deal index 120 may be "marked" for the presence or absence of particular attributes. Some of the possible search attributes were described above in connection with the system database 100. [0041] It should be obvious that the display module 300 may be included as part of the software application 50 or may exist separately and that the display module 300 may be included on the remote computer 30a, the server computer 30b, a combination of the remote computer 30a and server computer 30b, or any other general purpose computing device.

D. Login Module.

[0042] For maintaining the security associated with the software application 50 and system database 100, a unique login window 400 may be maintained for each user/company. The login window 400 may also be used to control the access privileges for various levels of users. Each login window 400 may also require a user name and password. For security purposes, the user names and passwords may be kept separately for each user/company that is accessing the software application 50. To gain access to the software application 50, the user must enter a proper user name in the user name field 410 and password in the password field 420 and press the submit button 430. If the user has forgotten the user name, the software application 50 may included standard protocols for assisting the use in recalling or resetting the password. It should be appreciated that different login procedures may be employed, which are well know in (the industry, on an as-needed basis, including login procedures that employ biometrics, such as fingerprints, retinal scans, etc. It should be obvious that the login module 400 may be included as part of the software application 50 or may exist separately and that the login module 400 may be included on the remote computer 30a, the server computer 30b, a combination of the remote computer 30a and server computer 30b, or any other general purpose computing device.

II. SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR TRACKING CARD PLAY FOR LIVE GAMES. [0043] An alternative embodiment of the present invention may also be used in connection with live poker games that re played in casinos or other venues. For exemplary purposes only, this embodiment of the system 500 will be generally discussed in terms of a single fully equipped game playing table 580. It should be understood by those with skill in the art, however, that multiple game playing tables 580 employing the same methodology may be linked together to allow the system 500 to track and record card data 524, chip data 544 and game data 564 for a group of players in a tournament, regardless of how many game playing tables 580 are used. [0044] The game is recorded on a computing device 510 hosting a software application 512. Software application 512 utilizes card data 524, chip data 544 and game data 564 obtained from card tracking devices 520, chip tracking devices 540, the dealer control console 576, and/or the system database 600 and sub-databases 610. Software application 512 applies the rules of the game to interpret and apply such data, and in some situations, to "fill in the blanks" where data is not available. The system 500 also alerts the dealer audibly and/or visually where irregularities may have occurred. An important aspect of the invention is that play is tracked and recorded unobtrusively, without interfering with the players or game and with minimal monitoring and input from the dealer. [0045] As further described below, the system 500 may utilize some or all of the following primary components which may be combined into an integrated system: a. A computing device 510; b. Software application 512; c. A card sorter device 528, or alternatively, a card shuffle device 530; d. Card tracking devices 520, including card reading devices 522 and

522a, to read and transmit card data 524 to the computing device 510; e. Chip tracking devices 540 to read bets made by players with electronically enabled chips 542, and to transmit the chip data 544 to the computing device 510; f. A dealer command module 570, consisting of dealer monitor 572, with speaker 574 and dealer control console 576 (which may be a stand-alone device and/or part of the dealer monitor 572, if equipped with touch command capability) and/or other dealer input devices 578 or 578a;

g. A game playing table 580, which may be marked to show all players' betting areas 582 which are scanned by chip tracking devices 540; and h. Replay software application 516 and rep lay devices 514 to display the deals.

[0046] The detailed description of the invention herein is for exemplary purposes only. It will be understood by one skilled in the art that the above components and other components described herein may be arranged, combined, configured and interconnected through wiring or wireless means in various combinations and configurations to form system 500. In some embodiments of the invention, certain components may not be used, may be combined and/or alternate or additional components may be added.

A. The Computer Processor and Software Application.

[0047] This section principally discusses the overall operation and functioning of system 500, including how software application 512 utilizes data from different sources and applies the rules of the game to form an integrated system to track and record live poker games or other games. This section also addresses how the dealer interacts with the system 500 as he deals the game. Later sections discuss in greater detail particular components that are referred to herein, including the card sorting devices 528, card shuffling devices 530, card reading devices 522 and 522a, chip tracking devices 540, the dealer command module 570, and the game playing table 580.

[0048] The computing device 510, through the programming code in software application 512, performs the following functions: a. receives, processes and records card data 524, chip data 544 and game data 564 obtained from the card sorter device 528 or card shuffle device 530, the card tracking devices 520 and 520a, the chip tracking devices 540, the dealer, through the dealer command module 570, and/or the system database 600 and sub-databases 610; b. checks all relevant data for consistency with the rules of the game; c. makes pre-programmed assumptions based on the rules of the game when full data is not available, which assumptions can be overridden by further player actions occurring in the game or by input from the dealer; d. causes audible and/or visual alerts to be given to the dealer when possible irregularities occur; e. automatically computes and adjusts relevant data, such as the size of the pot and of players' chip stacks, for occurrences during the game, such as, antes paid, bets made, pots won and changes in the levels of the blinds; f. searches and indexes deals and stores data in the system database 600 and sub-databases 610 where it can be accessed for replay or analysis; and g. shares pertinent data and functionality with computer processors 510 that are networked for multi-table tournament events.

[0049] The bets, folds and other events in the game may be displayed on the dealer monitor 572 as the game progresses, except that information that is confidential, such as hidden cards held by the players, may be displayed only when permitted by the rules of the game and as permitted by the casino or other game sponsor.

[0050] To start the game, the dealer or other casino personnel through the dealer control console 576 or other input devices 578 chooses the applicable game options and provides any other necessary information to the system, such as game type, limit or no limit, starting blind limits, amount of time for each blind level, starting chip stacks, and if required, player identification names or numbers with seat locations. The dealer may input additional information during the game, such as recording when players "re-buy" or "add-on" additional chips, when those options are permitted. Software application 512 will automatically time the rounds and alert the dealer to increases in blinds or antes.

[0051] Software application 512 creates a new deal file 630 at the start of each hand, and loads into the deal file 630 all pertinent game data 564, updated as of the start of the deal. Such game data 564 may include, e.g., deal number, date and time, type of game, blind and ante levels, location of the dealer button, identity and seat location of each player, and each player's starting chip count when the deal begins. The system adds additional information to the deal file 630 as the deal progresses and additional chip data 544, card data 524 and game data 564 is received or generated through the processes described herein.

[0052] For exemplary purposes, the discussion here assumes that bets are made by players placing into their betting areas 582 physical, electronically enabled poker chips 542 which emit or reflect chip signals 546 that carry chip data 544 and which can be "read" remotely by RFID or equivalent technology. This and other methods of tracking bets are further described in Section D, "Chip Tracking Technology." [0053] In tracking and recording the game, software application 512 through its programming code compares chip data 544 and any other data with the rules of the game. In some instances, the system uses pre-programmed default assumptions to "fill in the blanks" where data is not available. The system also self-adjusts its preprogrammed assumptions when new chip data 544 is received so that such data is interpreted and applied in a manner consistent with the rules of the game. Where potential inconsistencies occur, the system may alert the dealer by causing audible warnings using tones or voice messages and/or by causing the action in question to flash or appear in a different color on the dealer monitor 572 (such visual alerts may be programmed to fade to a normal appearance after an appropriate time interval). [0054] The following examples illustrate how the system applies these principles and processes to track and record a live poker game. It will be understood that it is impracticable to set forth herein every conceivable situation that could arise in a variety of different games, and therefore, these examples illustrate the implementation of the invention, but do not limit its teachings. [0055] Through the combination of its programming code and the chip tracking devices 540, software application 512 "knows" the location of the dealer button, which may be electronically enabled, and the amounts of blinds and antes required to be posted by the players. The system 500 can confirm whether the dealer button is correctly located and the blinds and antes have been correctly posted from the chip signals 546 received when players place their electronically enabled chips 542 into their betting areas, and may alert the dealer of any discrepancies. [0056] Similarly, the system 500 may detect and warn the dealer if any bets made during the course of the game are insufficient under the rules of the game. The system 500 may be programmed to also alert others, such as tournament directors, supervisors, pit bosses, game commentators or security personnel, when more serious irregularities occur, or if important events such as the elimination of a player from a tournament occurs. [0057] The system 500 may readily self-correct when irregularities at the table are overcome. For example, suppose player 4 carelessly throws his electronically enabled chips 542 into player 5's designated betting area 582. Initially, the system interprets this action as a fold or check by player 4 (depending on whether he was permitted to check under the rules of the game) followed by a bet by player 5. However, the system will automatically correct this assumption when the electronically enable chips 542 are pushed back into the correct betting area 582. [0058] Similarly, the system automatically corrects itself if a player acts out of turn. Suppose that pre-flop in a Texas Hold 'Em game (or similarly, in an Omaha game) player 1 posts the small blind and player 2 posts the big blind. If the next chip data 544 received by the system is that player 4 has called, software application 512 will provisionally record, and display on the dealer monitor 572, that player 3 folded. An audible tone that denotes "fold" may also be sounded. Suppose, however, that player 4 had called out of turn, before player 3 took any action. The betting reverts to player 3, who we will assume now calls, by placing his bet into his betting area 582 in the usual manner. Player 4's call will stand under the rules of the game, and the play continues with the system automatically correcting player 3's action from "fold" to "call".

[0059] Carrying the example further, suppose, instead, that player 3 chooses to raise, that player 4 now folds, as do all other players except for the big blind, who calls player 3's raise. The system through software application 512 will correctly record these actions, without the dealer's intervention, based on the amount of electronically enabled chips 542 finally placed into each player's betting area 582. For player 4, the system will reflect that he forfeited the chips from his pre-mature call (as required under prevailing rules at all or most casinos).

[0060] For another example, suppose that, pre-flop, the big blind is $20, and the next player to act places a single $25 electronically enabled chip 542 into her designated betting area 582. Consistent with typical casino rules, the system automatically deems this $25 chip to be a call of $20. However, if the bettor had announced "raise" (although betting insufficient chips), and the dealer rules that a raise had occurred, the system will automatically change the "call" entry to a raise when the correct amount of electronically enabled chips 542 are placed in that player's betting area 582. Alternatively, the dealer can input this information directly through the dealer control console 576 or other dealer input devices 578. [0061] Assume that in another Texas Hold "Em game, three players see the flop. Player 1 checks and player 2 places a single $1,000 chip in his betting area, while verbally announcing a bet of only $300. The system detects the chip signal 526 and provisionally records and shows on the dealer monitor 572 that player 2 bet $1,000. It also records that player 1 has checked ~ the pre-programmed default since no bet was required. If player 3 now places only $300 of electronically enabled chips 542 into his betting area 582 (although he has more chips and is not "All-in"), the system will reconcile these facts consistently with the rules of the game. That is, it will assume that player 3 did not make an insufficient bet, and will therefore automatically change player 2's bet to $300. This amount may be highlighted on the dealer monitor 572 to reflect that the system has overridden the actual chip data 544. [0062] Continuing this example, suppose that player 1, who had checked, now raises by placing $1,500 of electronically enabled chips 542 into his betting area 582. Player 2 (who had bet $300) folds by mucking his hand, while leaving his $1,000 chip in his betting area 582. Assume player 3 calls player 1, replacing his prior $300 call with $1 ,500 of electronically enabled chips 542. Based on its programming code, software application 512 will now correctly reflect these facts, automatically, without any input from the dealer. The system will also adjust the game data 564 for player 2 to reflect the $700 in "change" he receives and may present a message to that effect to the dealer.

[0063] In the above example, if player 1 had only raised to $1,000 (rather then $1,500), and if player 2 still folds and player 3 calls, an ambiguity temporarily arises, in that players 2's $1,000 chip will now appear to be a call of player Vs raise. However, when the dealer makes change and places $300 in player 2's betting area (or enters $300 for player 2 manually), the system will correctly record that player 2 folded after paying $300. [0064] In some instances, the dealer may need to inform the system that a betting round is complete. For example, if one or more players call pre-flop and there are no raises, the system will not know when the big blind checks. To do this, the dealer simply touches a "continue" button 578a, which may be a stand-alone device or part of the dealer control console 576. The continue button 578a may also be used if all active players have checked in the round, or if all players folded to the last raise (thus concluding the play of the hand). The system may be programmed to automatically recognize other events as showing the hand has been completed (e.g., the dealer scanning the base card 522b over the base card reading device 522a, assuming dealing protocol permits that to be done only when the hand is over). (See, Section C).

[0065] During or immediately following the play of the deal, software application 512 will receive card data 524, as described in Section C. From this card data 524 and other chip data 544 and game data 564 received, software application 512 can determine the winners of the main pot and any side pots by applying the rules of the game. Alternatively, the dealer can identify the winner if necessary in unusual circumstances (such as when a player misreads a winning hand and mucks it without showing it). [0066] Software application 512 then calculates and adjusts the chip stacks (game data 564) of the players, saves all card data 524, chip data 544 and game data 564 in the deal file 630 for that hand, and stores the completed deal file 630 in database 600 or sub-database 610. The deal file 630 may now, or at a later time, also be searched and indexed for characteristics of interest for replay purposes (real-time spectator viewing is also possible). The system then starts a new deal file 630 for the next deal, and loads into such file all pertinent data, updated with current information. [0067] The implementation and operation of the system is further described in the following Sections. It should be understood that variations of the processes described above can be made, and that certain features of the system may be made optional and in some cases eliminated without destroying the teachings and efficacy of the invention.

B. The Dealer Command Module. [0068] The system 500 includes a dealer command module 570, which term refers to all of the necessary or helpful devices and components by which the dealer can conveniently monitor and prompt the system. As a general matter, the system 500 gives precedence to any input or instructions received from the dealer over any input it receives from other sources. The dealer has the ability to override the system, and may cause it to skip a deal or mark it void without delaying the game. For quality control and security reasons, the system may maintain a record of all dealer actions. [0069] The dealer command module 570 may include a dealer monitor 572, with internal or external speakers 574 with adjustable volume control, and a dealer control console 576 and other dealer input devices 578 such as a "continue" button 578a that, if necessary, prompts the system to move to the next betting round. Such devices may be used on a stand-alone basis, or combined with each other, and may in some instances be made redundant of each other for added speed and convenience. For example, the dealer monitor 572 may also act as a dealer control console 576 if it is capable of receiving commands directly by the touch of the screen. The dealer monitor 572 may be mounted on a monitor support 573 at a convenient location and angle for dealer viewing, or may be mounted flat to form part of the surface of game playing table 580. If desired, the screen on the dealer monitor 572 may be recessed or otherwise shielded from the view of players and spectators, or may contain a "directional" screen such that it can be seen clearly only from the dealer's angle of view.

[0070] The dealer monitor 572 will display the location of the players, their chip holdings, and the current game events (i.e., bets, folds, etc.). Confidential information such as the card data 524 for hidden cards is not displayed unless and until it is revealed by the players in the course of the game, or required to be revealed under the rules of the game or conditions of contest. Although not displayed, such confidential information will be saved by the system in the individual deal file 630 and stored in the system database 600 or sub-databases 610. [0071] The operation and design of the dealer control console 576 (whether stand-alone or part of the dealer monitor 572) will be made to facilitate the easy entry of any necessary information — by the use of a single touch whenever possible. For example, the program code for the software application 512 may cause the system to automatically highlight, or place a screen cursor, at the place where dealer input may be needed, without any need for the dealer to toggle to another player position. Additionally, the screen will offer, and may highlight, likely choices of action. Likewise, a stand-alone game control console may contain large buttons for the frequently recurring actions, such as "continue," call, check, and "All-in." [0072] The dealer may also be given additional tools for running the game efficiently. These may include electronically enabled "All-in" buttons 542a and "Player absent" buttons 542b (see, Section C). Like the electronically enabled chips 542, these buttons may be placed into a player's betting area where they emit or reflect chip signals 546 which are read by the chip tracking devices 540 through the use of RPID or similar technology.

C. Card Sorter Devices, Card Shuffle Devices, and Card Tracking Technology.

[0073] To record the poker game, the software application 512 must know or learn all cards in each player's hand, as well as any common cards in the flop. It is also desirable for some purposes to record the identity and order of cards remaining in the deck which have not yet been dealt. Possible reasons for this include security (e.g., to determine that no cards are missing), entertainment and learning (to know what would have happened, had additional cards been dealt), and to facilitate certain duplicate tournaments or events (e.g., if the same hand will be played in another room or location). [0074] Card data 524 may be scanned and read under existing technology. Card reading devices 522 may use standard optical character recognition software, or similar software, to determine the suit and rank (or value) of the card being read. Alternatively, the card sorter device 528 may use standard bar code technology which is well-known in the industry, to determine the suit and rank of the cards, or employ similar technology to read other special marks placed on the face of the cards. RFID technology may also be used, as further discussed below.

[0075] The following paragraphs in this Section discuss how one or more of these technologies may be effectively applied to a fast moving poker or other game. The following methods are discussed: a. preparing the deck by utilizing an automated card sorter device 528 that scans each card over a card reading device 522 to determine its suit and rank, and sorts the cards into a separately predetermined, randomly generated order, which is only known to the system 500 (the deck may also be cut manually after it is removed from the card sorter device 528 and before it is dealt);

b. preparing the deck by utilizing an automated card shuffle device 530 that randomly shuffles the cards without scanning them or knowing their individual identity — this is followed by a scan of the deck over a card reading device 522 so that the system 500 knows the order in which the cards appear in the deck (the deck may then be cut manually, after it is scanned and before it is dealt); c. dealing a randomly shuffled deck, whose card order is unknown to the system 500, and passing each over a card reading device 522 as it is dealt, and transmitting the card data 524 to the system 500 as each card is dealt; d. having each player hold his cards face down over a card reading device 522 located near the player as soon as the player looks at his hand, and transmitting that card data 524 to the system 500 at that time; e. embedding the cards with RFID chips or tags, which can be read remotely from the signals they emit or reflect (i.e., using RFID technology, rather than optical scanning technology) as or shortly after these cards are dealt; and f. dealing the deck "virtually," and displaying their images on individual player screens that are shielded from the view of other players.

These options are addressed further below.

1. Card sorter devices.

[0076] Card sorting devices 528 exist under current technology, and may be adapted as a desirable and practical means to track cards dealt in a live poker game or other game. As used here, a "card sorter device" 528 (as opposed to "card shuffle device" 530) means a device that sorts cards into a pre-determined order that is separately randomly established, such as by a computerized random deal generator. [0077] The software application 512 may randomly generate the card sequence to be used in the deal by employing commonly known methods for generating random deals for playing cards. Alternatively, the random sequence could be generated by an independent computer processor, through the use of random number tables, or by other means. Whatever means are used, the card sorter device 528 will through card reading devices 522 determine the suit and rank of each card and sort them into the specified randomly established order. This process is performed utilizing a security protocol such that no person can access information as to the order of the deck. [0078] To further assure randomness and security, the deck may be cut one time by the dealer (or other person) after the deck is removed from the card sorter device 528. This cut will temporarily prevent even the system 500 from knowing what hand any player will receive, but ultimately will not prevent the deal from being tracked. Following standard poker practice, the top portion of the cut deck is placed on an opaque blank card or divider, and the remaining portion of the deck is placed on top of this partial deck to form a complete deck with the bottom card covered and hidden from view. The effect of the cut is that the deal begins with a new top card, but the sequence of the cards within the deck is unchanged. The original top card has now been concatenated so that it immediately follows the card that was on the bottom prior to the cut.

[0079] At the same time, the dealer must follow a precise protocol in dealing the cards. For example, in Texas Hold 'Em and Omaha, the dealer deals one card at a time, starting with the player to the immediate right (from dealer's perspective) of the dealer button. Since the order in which the cards appear in the deck are already known to system 500 from the card sorting process, when the system obtains the precise location of any card in the deck — called the "base card" 522b ~ the system can automatically reconstruct the entire deal. [0080] The system is given the identity of the base card 522b by scanning it over a card reading device 522a. This may be done on a fully confidential basis without any players seeing the face of the base card 522b. For convenience, the base card 522b may be the bottom card of the deck (after the cut), or the top card that remains after the players' hands have been dealt, and before the flop (i.e., this is the first burn card in Texas Hold 'Em and other games). The base card 522b may be scanned at a designated time in the game, such as when the deal is complete, when the flop is shown (or when it would have been shown, if the pot was won before the flop), or at any other time permitted by the casino rules, such as whenever convenient while waiting for a player to act. As note above, if done at the end of the deal, scanning the base card 522b may simultaneously signal the system that the hand is now over. [0081] If casino rules do not permit cards to be dealt to seats of players who are absent from the table, the dealer may manually mark the player absent through the dealer control console 576, or by placing an electronically enabled "Player absent" token 542b in the betting area of the absent player. Likewise, if a card is exposed during the deal (in circumstances in which a new card is dealt to the player), such information can be provided to the system by the dealer, and the programming code will apply the dealing protocols to accurately determine all hands.

2. Card Shuffle Devices.

[0082] As used herein, the card shuffle device 530 refers to a device that shuffles cards randomly, without learning their identify (unlike the card sorter device 528 where the identity of every card in the sequence is randomly pre-established). If the card shuffle device 530 is adapted to be combined with card reading device 522 that scans the entire deck before the deck is cut and the deal begins, the card shuffle device 530 will have the same speed and functionality as a card sorter device 528, as described above. Ideally, the scanning process will be fully integrated with the shuffling process, and automated, so that no additional handling by the dealer is required.

[0083] A possible alternate means to scan cards is for the dealer to manually remove the shuffled deck from the card shuffle device 530, and place the cards into a card shoe 532 that is specially equipped with an optical scanning devices or other mechanisms described above to scan and read cards as, or immediately before, they are removed from the shoe and dealt. Since cards that are not dealt would not be read (without delaying the game by scanning additional cards after the hand is completed), some of the replay and security features of the system may be incrementally curtailed. Importantly, even without scanning additional cards, the process of dealing from a shoe may slow down the game, and if so, is less desirable.

[0084] A possible alternative would be for the dealer to scan cards as they are manually dealt, without using a card shoe 532, by passing them over or through a card reading device 522. However, cards are dealt quickly as dealers remove them from a deck and, in practice, dealers do not hold the deck over a single, central area (where a scanner may be located) but move the deck from side to side in the direction of the players to whom they are dealing. This process does not presently appear practical for use in a poker game, if using optical scanning technology, as it would likely slow down the game down. Also, this process would only scan the cards dealt. [0085] Having players scan their own cards by holding them over designated areas visible to card reading devices 522, or similarly, by running them over or through bar code or other devices, is a workable alternative, and is similar to what is done in some televised poker events, where cards are revealed to small cameras. However, this process would likely slow down the game as it requires careful cooperation from all players on all hands. Also, common flop cards would still need to be scanned by the dealer, and cards that are not dealt would not be scanned. In addition, player scanning may be less reliable in games where players are dealt more cards (like Omaha) or where some cards are dealt face up, and others face down (like Razz and 7 -card Stud).

3. RFID Technology to Track Playing Cards. [0086] The playing cards may also be tracked by the system by using electronically enabled playing cards 534 (as used herein, "electronically enabled playing cards 534" includes all means by which playing cards can be automatically read, including, e.g., bar codes and other means discussed below). For tracking the cards, the electronically enabled playing cards 534 may include radio frequency identification ("RFID") card devices 536, or similar devices, embedded within the playing cards 534. It should be understood by those with skill in the art that the RFID devices 536 will reflect or transmit card signals 538 that identify the electronically enabled playing cards 534. The RFID technology may include passive or active RFID tags, as are well known in the industry. To track the card data 524 associated with the electronically enabled playing cards 534, the system 500 may also include a receiver 529 for receiving the card signals 538 and decoding them to determine the value and suit of the playing card that is associated with the respective card signal 538. The receiver 529 may also include a signal decoder 529a that determines the value and suit of the playing card that corresponds to the card signal 538 that has been received. The signal decoder 529a may exist as a stand-alone device or it may be included as part of the receiver 529 or one of the computing devices 510 that form part of the system 500, or the signal decoder 529a may also be provided as a software module that is stored on one of the computing devices 510 that form part of the system 500.

[0087] While, as described below, RFID technology is the best means of tracking electronically enabled poker chips 542, use of that technology with playing cards 534 raises additional issues. RFID tags may make playing cards too thick or rigid for use in a card game in which players frequently bend cards back to peek at them without revealing them to other players. Embedding very small RFID chips into playing cards may pose substantial manufacturing difficulties and costs. Potential security questions may also arise and add to these costs since card signals 538 might, if not uniquely coded, be intercepted and read by players or their confederates.

D. Virtual Dealing.

[0088] Another option for tracking playing cards would be if the deck is dealt "virtually" i.e, without using a physical deck of cards, but having cards appear on individual computer or television screens designed and configured so that other players can not view another player's cards. This would require randomly generating the order of the cards in the deck and dealing the cards on a virtual basis to each of the players. To deal the cards on a virtual basis to the players, each of the players may receive individual viewers 590. The individual viewers 590 may be placed or mounted on the game playing table 580 in front of the respective player. A community viewer 592 may also be available for all of the players to see the common cards or cards that are revealed during a hand. The individual viewer 590 and the community viewer 592 may be comprised of standard displays, such as LCD displays, plasma displays or standard CRT displays. To keep individual hands hidden from view of other players, or observers, the individual viewer 590 may be recessed and include side and top viewing guards, the individual viewer 590 may include a switch that enables the player to light up the individual viewer 590 to display their cards while cupping their hands over the viewer, or the individual viewer 590 may use existing screen shielding technology that makes it impossible or extremely difficult to read the individual viewer 590, unless the individual viewer 590 is viewed "straight on," which would be designed to be viewable from the vantage point of the player in front of it only. E. Chip Tracking Technology.

1. RFID Devices.

[0089] To track and record chip data 544, the system 500 may include electronically enabled chips 542. RFID tags 543, or similar devices, may be embedded within the chips 542. The RFID devices 543 will transmit chip signals 546 that identify amount or value of such chip 542. The RFID technology may include passive or active RFID tags, as are well known in the industry. [0090] Chips with common values (e.g., all black chips) may be given common codes, representing their common value, but may also have additional separate codes that uniquely identify each chip from all other chips. This feature would facilitate determining the number of chips in a stack or group, would enable individual chips to be tracked, and would enhance security, including preventing counterfeiting, especially in a non-tournament game involving high-value chips. [0091] To track the chip data 544 associated with the electronically enabled chips 542, the system 500 may also include a receiver 548 for receiving the chip signals 546 and decoding the chip signals 546 to determine the value that is associated with the respective electronically enabled chip 542. The receiver 548 may also include a signal decoder 549 for determining the value of the chip that corresponds to the chip signal 546 that has been received. The signal decoder 549 may exist as a stand-alone device or it may be included as part of the receiver 548 or one of the computing devices 510 that form part of the system 500. The signal decoder 549 may also be provided as a software module that is stored in one of the computing devices 510. The chip tracking device 540 may be mounted proximate to the game playing table 580 or may be mounted under the surface of the table 580. It should be understood by those with skill in the art that the chip tracking device 540 may be mounted in various alternative arrangements in order to achieve the goals of hiding the chip tracking device 540 from view and positioning the chip tracking device 540 close enough to the electronically enabled chips 542 to receive the chip signals 546. The chip tracking device 540 will utilize standard technology in the RFID industry for receiving the chip signals 546. The chip tracking device 540 will be positioned in close proximity to each of the players so that each player has a separate, designated betting area 582 and so that each player's chips may be read separately. The chip data 544 associated with each of the chip signals 546 will be sent to the system 500 and processed by the software application 512. Other types of chip identification technology may also be utilized, such as the use of UPC or EAN bar codes. It should also be understood that a dealer may have the option to disable one or more of the chip tracking devices 540, which may be helpful in short-handed games or other special situations.

[0092] Specialized tokens may also be electronically enabled, such as "All-in" tokens or "Player Absent" tokens, to facilitate play. For example, where a player makes an "All In" bet, this can be tracked in three ways. The player can push all of his electronically enabled chips 542 into his designated betting area 582, the dealer may manually enter the "All In" bet through the dealer control console 576, or the dealer can simply place an "All hi" token in the player's designated betting area 582. The "All In" token similarly may contain an RFID chip which the software application 512 will read and appropriately record and display, together with the correct player chip count or game data 564 that is already known to the computing device (and which can be manually verified if necessary or desired). Similarly, other kinds of special tokens embedded with RFID chips may be placed by the dealer into a player's designated betting area 582 for other special purposes, such as the "Player Absent" (or "Missing") token to indicate that no hand is being currently dealt to that player's position (alternatively, the dealer could enter such information directly through the dealer console 576). [0093] The surface of the game playing table 580 may be marked to show a designated betting area 582 for each player. The designated betting area 582 will coincide with the range in which the respective chip tracking device 540 is capable of receiving chip signals 546. The chip tracking devices 540 may form a part of the betting surface on the game playing table 580.

[0094] The chip data 544 that is generated or obtained by the chip tracking device 540 may be automatically sent by wired or wireless links to the computing device 510, where software application 512 processes it and where it is displayed on dealer monitor 572. In addition, as described above, software application 512 may compare the card data 524, chip data 544 and game data 564 to the rules of the game, and alert the dealer of actual or potential irregularities. As described, the software application 512 may also apply default assumptions, and enter such information into the chip data 544, such as recording checks by intervening players if no betting activity has been detected— all subject to correction by the dealer. During or upon completion of the deal, the software application 512 may enter and index card data 524, chip data 544 or game data 564, into the appropriate system database 600, sub-database 610, deal file 630 and master deal index 620. 2. Virtual Chips or Bets.

[0095] An alternate method for recording bets, which likewise does not require action by the dealer, is for the bets to be made virtually (or both physically with chips and virtually), whereby players utilize electronic input devices 578, by which bets can be entered by touching a button, entering an amount on a keyboard or sliding a variable bet bar to the desired amount (and clicking to complete the bet), in a manner similar to what is done in online or other computerized play. This method could also be combined with virtual dealing, as described above. The software application 512 may also automatically adjust the chip count of each player, as bets are made and as pots are won, and use such adjusted chip counts in the game data 564 for the deals that follows.

[0096] The above describes the automatic recording and entry of chip data 544. While automatic recording of the game action is highly desired for reasons of speed, ease and accuracy, possible alternatives for obtaining and recording betting information include having the dealer scanning bets by pointing a scanner at the chips, manually entering betting information on the dealer monitor 572 or dealer control console 576, or through voice commands. Regardless of the method, software application 512 will facilitate the entry of data, by assuming and filling in checks and calls by intervening players consistent with the rules of the game.

F. The Game Playing Table.

[0097] The game playing table 580 holds, or is connected to (directly or through wireless connections), a general purpose computing device 510. The computing device 510 hosts software application 512 and system database 600 and sub- databases 610. The game playing table 580 may also be equipped with a dealer command module 570 (described further above); a card sorter device 528 or card shuffle device 530; card reading devices 522 and base card reading device 522a; chip tracking devices 540; and optionally, networking equipment and software to connect multiple game playing tables.

[0098] All of the above described equipment is linked by wire or wireless connections, through means well known in the art, to enable the computer processor to read, record and process the card data 524, chip data 544 and game data 564. This equipment is generally located on, under, or near the game playing table 580, but replay devices 514 with replay software 516 may be located at remote locations where desired. [0099] Some or all of the equipment may be mounted beneath the game playing table 580, such as the card sorter device 528 (or card shuffle device 530), dealer monitor 572 and chip tracking devices 540, so that their top surface is level with, and becomes a part of, the playing surface. Alternatively, such equipment may be mounted or placed so that it is outside of the game playing surface, such as, next to the dealer.

[0100] hi poker tournaments, only a small area is needed for dealer supplies, such as electronically enabled "All-in" or "Player Absent" tokens. Figure 3 depicts an exemplary design of a game playing table 580 for tournament play, with a built-in dealer monitor 572 and small dealer tray. However, it will be understood that the game playing table 580 may be readily modified to accommodate a larger chip trays or dealer supply areas. Additionally, when the tracking features of the system 500 are not being used in a particular game (and the dealer monitor 572 is therefore not needed), a larger portable chip tray, designed to place no weight on the dealer monitor 572, can be placed directly over the monitor. Of course, the game playing table 580 may also have additional features, such as slots for securing money, which are not shown here as they are not a part of, or essential to, the invention described herein. Also, although Figure 1 depicts a game playing table 580 that is set up to accommodate nine players, it will be understood that the layout and equipping of the game playing table can be readily modified for fewer or greater numbers of players, and having betting areas 582 of different sizes or configurations. [0101] The chip tracking devices 540 may be concealed under the surface of the table top, or can be mounted on the ceiling or otherwise suspended above the table so as to maximize the available playing area and not interfere with the players. [0102] ' The surface of the game playing table 580 will be marked to show the designated betting areas 582 for each player, which markings will coincide with the range of the chip tracking device 520 for that player's position. Figure 3 illustrates a game playing table 580 intended for live play with physical or actual chips and cards, and could be modified appropriately if either of those elements were done virtually. [0103] Ideally, the betting areas 582 should be as large as practical, consistent with allowing adequate space for the dealer to hold the pot and common cards and room for player chip stacks at the sides. A relatively large betting area will allow players (if they wish) to "splash" their chips, and will reduce the frequency of bets being placed in another players' betting area. However, the betting areas may be confined to smaller areas, such as appears on a Blackjack table. [0104] Additionally, the dealer may be given the ability to switch "off or ignore one or more chip tracking devices 540 to accommodate short-handed games or for other reasons of convenience to accommodate special games or situations.

[0105] While each game playing table 580 may be self-contained, as noted above additional computer processors 510, located at different game playing tables 580, may be linked together through a computer network 515 to share data and functionality. They may also share replay devices 514. One or more of the computing devices 510 may be designated as the server computer 510a. System databases 600, sub-databases 610 and master deal index 620, which together hold, store and organize the card data 524, chip data 544, game data 564, and deal files 630, may reside on one or more computing devices 510 and server computers 510a.

G. Networking Multiple Game Playing Tables.

[0106] As referenced above, the system 500 may be comprised of one or more game playing tables 580. In the instance in which multiple game playing tables are included, the game playing tables should be in electronic communication with the system 500. The electronic communication between the game playing tables 580 and the system 500 may be achieved by using standard wiring techniques or by using wireless devices that transmit signals between the game playing tables 580 and the system 500. In addition, each of the game playing tables 580 may include a computing device 510. Each of the computing devices 510 associated with each of the game playing tables 580 will also be in electronic communication with one another and/or the system 500. The computing devices 510 may also be connected using standard network protocols. By networking multiple game playing tables together, card data 524, chip data 544 and game data 564 may be exchanged between the computing devices 510 and the system 500, and the system 500 will be able to track various information, such as the standing of players and their chip counts on a real-time basis for an entire field of players. It should be evident that each of the game playing tables 580 may include one or more computing devices 510 in communication with more than one game playing tables 580. If multiple computing devices 510 are provided, each of them may also host the software application 512 and system databases 600, or the software application 512 and system database 600 may be stored on a separate computing device 510 or server computer 510a and accessed by the computing devices 510 on an as-needed basis. Each of the game playing tables 580 may also include a replay device 514 or one or more shared replay devices 514 may be used. [0107] By enabling the system 500 to track the card data 524, chip data 544 and game data 564, this will also allow the system 500 to, for example: (1) automate decisions on when to move players, (2) identify hands of interest for recommendation to spectators (3) immediately display hands of interest to spectators (4) improve consistency with respect to enforcement and application of rules, (5) improve security with respect to cheating and collusion among and between players and dealers, (6) create duplicate poker hands for play at separate game playing tables 580 and (7) enable play at all tables to occur on a hand-for-hand basis as increased prize levels approach (this procedure can be used to prevent players at one table from "stalling", by playing in a slow tempo, while they await for players at other tables to bust out). H. Organizing Data For Replay and Review. [0108] As described above, each hand played at a game playing table 580 will have its own unique deal file 630, which is stored in the system database 600 and subdata bases 610. Such data may also be transferred to other disks and storage devices, and sent via email to players or others who may replay them on standard computer processors or other replay devices 514 using replay software 516. The deals may be searched and indexed for characteristics of interest for replay purposes, or may be downloaded into existing designed software programs or programs that presently exist on the market.

[0109] Master deal indexes 620 may be created for storing and categorizing card deal files 630 based on predetermined criteria or user selected criteria, which may vary depending on the type of card game. See, Section LA above. [0110] It should also be appreciated by those with skill in the art that the system database 600 may be provided as part of the software application 512 or as a separate program that interfaces with the software application 512. Moreover, although the present embodiment of the invention anticipates storage of the system database 600 and sub-databases 610 on the server computer 510a, it may also be stored on the remote computers 510b and storage devices 518. I. Security and Quality Control

[0111] Because live games can now be recorded, the sponsor will have a record of all hands, which can be monitored or analyzed. Moreover, players' knowledge or belief that this can be done, will in and of itself tend to deter improper or illegal conduct, including collusion between players or between the dealer and players. For example, it will be possible to determine whether a player receives an unusual number of "good" hands when a particular dealer is dealing. And, where those alternatives are used in which the software application 512 knows the order of the cards in the deck, variances between the actual deal and that expected by the software application 512 may be detected.

[0112] More basically, quality control is naturally added because the software application 50 will "know", for example, whether the button was be moved, and how many deals have been dealt in a specified time period. Additional programming may be needed for these quality control and security functions.

[0113] Because the system 500 tracks the games, and may also track and record instances where dealers override the system to correct chip discrepancies or for other reasons, casinos security personnel and gaming regulators or other authorized parties may better detect, monitor and deter improper practices such as dealer-player collusion, chip passing between players in tournaments, or other practices. For example, since a record of all hands will be made, it would be possible for the system 500 to determine whether a player receives an unusual number of "good" hands from a particular dealer, when irregular variances between the actual deal and the expected deal occur, and when rules of the game are not being followed. Moreover, the knowledge or belief by players that all hands are being monitored will in and of itself act to deter improper or illegal conduct by the dealer or players. Lastly, it should be obvious to those with skill in the art that the ability to control the quality of the games or tournaments will be enhanced by the system 500. [0114] The foregoing system and method, and variations thereof, apply to all venues, methods or formats by which card games may played, whether for monetary stakes, play money, prizes, live, computer generated or otherwise. The system and method apply to live games, such as in casinos, and online card games, whether accessible via the internet, a stand alone computer, an intranet, a personal network, a virtual private network, a video game player or any other means defined in this application or known in the art. Moreover, the system and method may be accessible electronically via coaxial cable, fiberoptic cable, wireless signals, satellite signals, or any other means of communication currently known or developed in the future with similar characteristics.

[0115] While specific embodiments of the present invention have been described in detail, it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that various modifications and alternatives to those details could be developed in light of the overall teachings of the disclosure. For example, the processes described with respect to computer executable instructions can be performed in hardware or software without departing from the spirit of the invention. Furthermore, the order of all steps disclosed in the figures and discussed above has been provided for exemplary purposes only. Therefore, it should be understood by those skilled in the art that these steps may be rearranged and altered without departing from the spirit of the present invention. In addition, it is to be understood that all patents discussed in this document are to be incorporated herein by reference in their entirety. Accordingly, the particular arrangement disclosed is meant to be illustrative only and not limiting as to the scope of the invention which is to be given the full breadth of the appended claims and any equivalents thereof.

Claims

CLAIMSWhat is claimed is:
1. A method for tracking card play by a user in connection with one or more hands of a game of chance, the method including the steps of: providing electronically enhanced playing cards that generate a card signal that identifies the value and suit of each of the electronically enhanced cards and providing electronically enhanced chips that generate a chip signal that identifies the value of each of the electronically enhanced chips; receiving the card signal at a computer and decoding the card signal to generate card data, deal data and game data associated with the one or more hands, including card data related to unrevealed cards; receiving the chip signal at a computer and decoding the chip signal to generate card data, deal data and game data associated with the one or more hands; populating a system database with the card data, deal data and game data that is generated; checking the card data, deal data and game data for consistency with applicable rules for the game of chance; automatically correcting existing inconsistencies between the card data, deal data and game data and the applicable rules; generating missing game data based on the applicable rules and the card data, deal data and game data; indexing the card data, deal data and game data stored on the system database for searching by the user; and sending information for displaying the card data, deal data or game data, wherein previously unrevealed cards may be displayed.
2. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 1, further including the step of determining with a security module when unrevealed card may be displayed.
3. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 1, wherein the deal data may include information related to deal number, table number, identity of a player, seat location of the player and location of a dealer button.
4. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 1, wherein the game data may include information related to posting of antes, posting of blinds, bet amounts, an amount of chips held by a player, player calls, player folds, player raises or other player actions.
5. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 1, wherein the game of chance is poker.
6. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 1, wherein the card data, deal data and game data is encrypted.
7. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 1, wherein card data, deal data and game data relates to cards that were concealed during the game of chance and wherein all concealed cards may be displayed if proper authorization is provided.
8. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 1, wherein the card data, deal data and game data may be viewed in a movie format or as a printout.
9. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 11, where the movie format or printout displays card data, deal data and game data for each player and each hand that is played, including unrevealed cards.
10. A method for tracking card play by a user in connection with one or more hands of a game of chance, the method including the steps of: receiving card data, deal data and game data at a computer, the card data including information that identifies the value and suit of one or more cards, information that identifies the value of one or more chips and information that identifies the value and suit of one or more unrevealed cards; populating a system database with the card data, deal data and game data; indexing the card data, deal data and game data stored in the system database for future searching; receiving user-selected search criteria; searching the indexed card data for card data that is responsive to the user- selected search criteria; and sending information for displaying the card data that meets the user-selected search criteria in a customized format, wherein the previously unrevealed cards may be displayed.
11. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 10, further including the step of determining with a security module when unrevealed card may be displayed.
12. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 10, wherein the deal data may include information related to deal number, table number, identity of a player, seat location of the player and location of a dealer button.
13. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 10, wherein the game data may include information related to posting of antes, posting of blinds, bet amounts, an amount of chips held by a player, player calls, player folds, player raises or other player actions.
14. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 10, wherein the game of chance is poker.
15. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 10, wherein the card data, deal data and game data is encrypted.
16. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 10, wherein the card data, deal data and game data relates to cards that were concealed during the game of chance and wherein all concealed cards may be displayed if proper authorization is provided.
17. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 10, wherein the card data, deal data and game data may be viewed in a movie format or as a printout.
18. The method for tracking card play defined in claim 11, where the movie format or printout displays card data, deal data and game data for each player and each hand that is played, including unrevealed cards.
19. A system for tracking card play by a user in connection with one or more hands of a game of chance, the system comprising: a system database for storing card data, deal data and game data received from one or more remote computers, including card data related to one or more unrevealed cards; a search engine for receiving user-selected search criteria and searching the system database for card data, deal data and game data that is responsive to the user- selected search criteria; and a display module for displaying card data, deal data and game data that meets the user-selected search criteria to the remote computer in a customized format, wherein previously unrevealed cards may be shown.
20. A system for tracking card play by a user in connection with one or more hands of a game of chance, the system comprising: a card tracking device for receiving card signals that identify a value and suit for electronically identified playing cards, including card data related to one or more unrevealed cards; a chip tracking device for receiving chip signals that identify a value for electronically enabled chips; a software application for generating card data, deal data and game data based on the card signals and chip signals received by the card tracking device and chip tracking device; a system database for storing card data, deal data and game data received from one or more remote computers; a search engine for receiving user-selected search criteria and searching the system database for card data, deal data and game data that is responsive to the user- selected search criteria; and a display module for sending information to display card data, deal data and game data that meets the user-selected search criteria to the remote computer in a customized format, wherein previously unrevealed cards may be shown.
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