Hacking Pickleball

My latest book, A Hacker’s Mind, has a lot of sports stories. Sports are filled with hacks, as players look for every possible advantage that doesn’t explicitly break the rules. Here’s an example from pickleball, which nicely explains the dilemma between hacking as a subversion and hacking as innovation:

Some might consider these actions cheating, while the acting player would argue that there was no rule that said the action couldn’t be performed. So, how do we address these situations, and close those loopholes? We make new rules that specifically address the loophole action. And the rules book gets longer, and the cycle continues with new loopholes identified, and new rules to prohibit that particular action in the future.

Alternatively, sometimes an action taken as a result of an identified loophole which is not deemed as harmful to the integrity of the game or sportsmanship, becomes part of the game. Ernie Perry found a loophole, and his shot, appropriately named the “Ernie shot,” became part of the game. He realized that by jumping completely over the corner of the NVZ, without breaking any of the NVZ rules, he could volley the ball, making contact closer to the net, usually surprising the opponent, and often winning the rally with an un-returnable shot. He found a loophole, and in this case, it became a very popular and exciting shot to execute and to watch!

I don’t understand pickleball at all, so that explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. (I watched a video explaining the shot; that helped somewhat.) But it looks like an excellent example.

The blog post also links to a 2010 paper that I wish I’d known about when I was writing my book: “Loophole ethics in sports,” by Øyvind Kvalnes and Liv Birgitte Hemmestad:

Abstract: Ethical challenges in sports occur when the practitioners are caught between the will to win and the overall task of staying within the realm of acceptable values and virtues. One way to prepare for these challenges is to formulate comprehensive and specific rules of acceptable conduct. In this paper we will draw attention to one serious problem with such a rule-based approach. It may inadvertently encourage what we will call loophole ethics, an attitude where every action that is not explicitly defined as wrong, will be seen as a viable option. Detailed codes of conduct leave little room for personal judgement, and instead promote a loophole mentality. We argue that loophole ethics can be avoided by operating with only a limited set of general principles, thus leaving more space for personal judgement and wisdom.

EDITED TO ADD (5/12): Here’s an eleven-second video that explains the Erne (or Ernie).

Posted on April 21, 2023 at 2:11 PM16 Comments


JonKnowsNothing April 21, 2023 5:28 PM


There are lots of e-games now looking to block various hacking or “unintended” game play.

One form being addressed is Packet Stuffing. It comes in 2 forms.

One is exploiting the number of commands contained in each packet between client and server. There are 3d party programs or apps, that will stuff the packet with additional skill executions. Many of these games send a number of skills execution commands in one packet (Skill 1 Skill 2 Skill 3), in packet stuffing the 3d Party App, will stuff more in each packet (Skill 1 Skill 2 Skill 3 Skill 8 Skill 9 Skill 10). The effect is getting “extra hits” in each exchange. Like being able to secretly draw extra cards in a game or holding 10 cards in your hand when 5 is normal.

The other form of Packet Stuffing uses the exchange timer. In on-line games, there is the Skill, the Animation, specific characteristics of the Skill, Timer, Delay, Cool-down (frequency), Channel (duration) and Dependency. The player determines that for Skill A its Animation can be stopped and another Skill B executed as soon as the Animation for Skill A stops. Basically you cannot do Skill B while the Animation for Skill A is still active, so by ending the Animation early, you can get another Skill off sooner. Players mostly use 3d Party Apps for this, but it can be done without them.

Another form of unintended but “accepted” game play is using the graphic update delay (client-server-client-graphics card-screen response) to execute skills by exploiting Line of Sight (LOS) requirement in the game. LOS is most often determined as an ARC in front of the player in a straight line that is not obscured by an object. So, facing an opponent your skills hit in a 30degree arc in front of you, provided there is nothing blocking it like a tree or boulder; distance is determined by the skill.

In this case an opponent will try to get behind you because you cannot hit them. This is normal game play. The unintended but accepted part is that the other player is not where you see them visibly on the screen due to the delay in processing the image. Your LOS is blocked because even if you turn around to target the other player, that player has already moved out of your LOS but your screen has not updated to the new location. A player skilled in this LOS Block, will dance around your character but they are not targetable. In some games this is called Bunny Hopping. By twisting your character 45degrees L/R in a fast repeated action, the opponent cannot get a Target Lock on you., as you are always just outside the LOS arc. Even if the opponent gets a Target Lock, the opponent’s skill fails because by the time the information makes the RT to the server, the LOS Lock fails and the opponent’s skill timer cool down starts.



Circle strafing

BCS April 21, 2023 6:02 PM

That last abstract reminds me of an observation I’ve seen in different forms in a few contexts: “you can expect people to comply with you or cooperate with you, but generally not both”. That is to say that if you demand people follow the letter of the rules, they will, even if it doesn’t accomplish what you want. Or you can do the reverse. (Realistically, it’s a spectrum, not a binary thing, but that’s harder to summarize.)

Depending on who you are dealing with, you may run into more problems at one end or the other, but it’s yet another thing where you are better off making a choice than you are just falling into something by blind chance.

Clive Robinson April 21, 2023 7:16 PM

@ Bruce,

Sometimes the rules are a problem such as,

“Conduct : A player will behave in a respectful manner to other players and officials”

Begs the “What is respectful?” as it’s never defined except as “You know disrespectfull when you see it”.

But as for loop holes F1 motor sport had many for years,

One was that the “weigh in was pre race, not post race” thus “wet weight, not dry”. A certain person who worked in Chesington in Surrey worked out that freon had some advantages in this respect.

Another more well known because it almost killed someone was to do with “down force” there is only so far you can go with vehicle aerodynamics. However put a fan underneath that works in the inverse way of a hovercraft and you can have down force even at very low speeds. So get it in cornering where you realy need it. The problem is like a vacuum cleaner it sucks all the dirt and grit off of the track and that has to go somewhere like pellets from BB/air-rifle gun, directing it backwards to disguise or get a little thrust is not a good idea.

Motor sport on tracks is an interesting problem in dynamics, to get fast acceleration with a power constraind engine you have to reduce inertia, which is related to the inverse of vehical mass. But you also need traction which is related to increasing mass.

Thus you need something else, tyres are one area but as anyone who races push bikes knows the less tyre on the ground the better. Which is why the wheel rims look razor thin. So you need increased adherence hence “sticky tyres”. And one of the reasons that there is a rule about new tyre designs have to be available to all compeating teams.

There is also a couple of less than tounge in cheek sayings in F1 motor sport which are,

1, What ever Ferrari wants Ferrari gets.
2, F1 means Ferrari first.

As some journalists pointed out in the 80’s/90’s there certainly appears to be some truth in these sayings.

Mind you Bernie was a very strange man, and as for Max Mosley…

Try “Googling”,

F1 and spygate
F1 and Max Mosley

As I’ve mentioned before I’d stoped having involvment at Chesington by the time those stories came to light.

Clive Robinson April 21, 2023 7:35 PM

@ Doug,

Re : Spell checker trouble,

I think you mean Sail not Sale 😉

Beware the auto correcting spell checker they can have sharp teeth…

Back in the early days of “office” software, somebody in the military I knew lost a promotion because of one.

He had to give a presentation to some very senior red tabs about database “Warehousing” Unfortunately for him he did not proof read his presentation and “Warehousing” got changed to how do you put it tactfully “frequenting ladies of the evening / negotiable affection in their houses of ill-repute”…

So he got glass ceilinged at Major. And resigned his commission very shortly there after and went into the data side of the Financial Industry, better pay by a lot and better hours, and seeing the family more… But he was a career soldier through and through, so it was always second best to him, though his wife was as she said “Glad to have him underfoot at home”.

Jennifer Stevenson April 21, 2023 8:44 PM

Modern roller derby (not the fishnets and face-punches version, the post 2005 version) suffered a giant sea change around 2010 when some Pacific Northwest teams discovered that they could exploit a couple of rules to create an unbeatable situation for scoring. While the opposing jammer (scoring skater) is in the sin bin (penalty chair) for 60 seconds, your jammer is facing up to four blockers, past whom she must skate, then lap the pack (the body of both teams’ skaters) to score, but she is unopposed by the other jammer. Add this rule: you cannot hit or block or otherwise impede a jammer once they have advanced 20 feet beyond the pack. The PNW skaters figured out that if they trapped one of the opposing blockers and held that skater still, or at least moved forward very very slowly, and their own jammer pushed like a mother against the three remaining opposing blockers until she had inched that 20 feet away from the pack, eventually the opposing blockers had to let her go. And she could lap the pack and begin scoring, possibly in the same (very slow) manner. Until the opposing jammer got out of stir.

Those of us who had grown up with the more violent version of derby called it “stroller derby” and found it excruciating to watch. I remember screaming “Hit somebody!” and “Defend your jammer, you bitches!” a lot. But teams using this strategy won. And won and won and won.

It was a hard strategy to copy, although everyone tried. Your skaters have to be fast, and your jammers have to be able to push the equivalent of a Zamboni machine on ice. The fans hated it, teams who wished they could win with it insisted on trying and failing, but the strategy survived.

Finally the rules were rewritten to allow it, but also to shorten the time a skater spends in the sin bin for a penalty. Minor penalties went away. Defensive strategies flowered, the violence level went down, and, after four or five tedious years, derby got fun to watch again. As with most contact sports, it has become more interesting to watch the defense than the offense.

Nil Commentum April 21, 2023 11:46 PM

Of course the real hack was when one team surreptitiously changed the ball for an actual pickle (a gherkin I believe). There is also the mixed pickles form of the game.

Jon April 22, 2023 8:42 AM

I enthusiastically agree with Clive Robinson. Technical advances in auto racing have often been transformative, by creative reading of the rules: what is not explicitly mandated or forbidden, is available for development – though there is no guarantee that any specific innovation will necessarily yield a performance advantage.

And there is often great dispute about the point where creative interpretation becomes out and out cheating. Many of the greatest innovators were not particularly concerned where that precise point of transition lay, and we seem equally many examples where equal ingenuity was put to camouflaging particular ‘innovations’.

Messy and contentious as it is, this iterative process of innovation, policing and competition has forced design and technical evolution, greatly accelerating the evolution of the art.

Clive Robinson April 22, 2023 4:49 PM

@ Bruce, Jon, ALL,

Re : Bends with inovative intent.

“… hacks, as players look for every possible advantage that doesn’t explicitly break the rules.”

It’s not just physically arduous sports and competitions where rules “get allowably bent”…

As @Jon notes above,

“by creative reading of the rules: what is not explicitly mandated or forbidden, is available for development – though there is no guarantee that any specific innovation will necessarily yield a performance advantage.”

Raises the question,

“Does it move out of development?”

The answer to which is “most don’t”, but less obvious is also the question of,

Does the “advantage” have to be for performance?

The answer of course is “no” it could for instance be for “efficiency”, “privacy” or a myriad of other things that fall within the InfoSec, EmSec, etc domains.

For a real example that gives some “Privacy”.

Ham radio in the US is regulated by the FCC, and one of the rules is effectively transmissions have to be “open for all to listen” which whilst very ambiguous is used to prevent the use of encryption, talking in code, and similar “dekiberate secrecy”.

But… the primary reason for Ham radio has always been “technical inovation” and now with the low cost of computers all sorts of digital modes are available and used. Whilst the “open for all to listen” is there with any receiver that covers that frequency, it’s not intelligible at all. So it appears as though it’s encrypted thus should not be alowed.

One commercial organisation looks at the rules in a different way that has caused a bit of consternation but the FCC voted in favour and effectively shot it’s self in the foot by doing so. That is they looked at “intent” not “effect”

Basically the company uses a “secret method” to send high rate digital information in the Ham bands, by selling a “Digital modem”. The companies argument is that the high cost of their modems is not an impediment to the transmissions being “open for all to listen”, they just have to pay through the nose to do so…

But the logic of this has a flip side, for those in the US they can transmit in any “secret method” providing a “Digital modem” is available “at any price” so in theory the “open for all to listen” is preserved. That is the apparent intent is an inovative product, not secrecy.

There is now software like OpenDV where DV stands for Digital Voice that requires a Digital Modem, that is effectively your PC and it’s sound card. But OpenDV can use any innovative “codec”, “Data Compression”, or “Energy Per Bit(EPB) Equalisation” for “whitening” you care to develop providing that they conform to a certain fairly simple set of APIs.

Now… there is the question of development… a user might want to develop their own “codec”, etc for a whole host of experimental reasons. The FCC ruling means they do not have to make the codec design “freely available” nor does it place a limit on “the price” not even one of reasonability…

Nor do they say when your “development verion” has to become “commercialy available version”[1] if at all[2].

Which is not actuall that surprising when you consider there is a known issue that the more inovative your product, the less likely it is to make it to market[2]. One reason for this is,

“Is there a market yet?”[3]

I’ve seen many good products fail that… later –with slight copyright avoiding variations to them– do became successful if not wildly so (the fiberglass whip antenna for cars being just one example).

So as long as your new codec, data compression, EPB RN equalising “whitening” stays in “innovative development” the side effect will be “privacy”…

Thus the FCC “open for all to listen” is not being broken just “bent” all be it a very long way.

Something “Inovative ICTsec / EmSec proffessionals” should take note of for say the ISM and other bands where the requirment rules can also be bent as badly if not further…

[1] People should remember the statistics of “commercial product develipmebt” they can be quite daunting. The oft quoted “good news” is that 9 in 10 non inovative products never make it to market[2].

The “bad news” you don’t hear mentioned and why the likes of “Dragon’s Den” makes popular watching is that on average less than one in a thousand inovative products ever make it to the point of being considered for the very high price of becoming “commercially available”.

[2] Remember these are “iterative” ideas on existing successfully selling products. As we know “roast peanuts” are popular, we also know that curry is popular, so in theory “Curry flavoured roast peanuts” should be a success. And in the UK the trial run suggested they were. So the company tried them nationally and they failed misserably. It was only later that somebody realised that all the trial runs had been in “university towns”. So the argument came forward that was backed up by bulk purchases by “Student Union Bars” was they were popular only with university students… Back when this happened the number of University Students was realy quite small in the UK, so the “innovative product” was percieved as a failure.

[3] Actually many innovative products are not failure they are just “to early to market”. I actuallt make “Curred Peanuts” from time to time as gifts for peoples parties and they get eaten a lot more than commercial “Dry roasted” or “Ready Salted” so it might be they are popular not just with university students but any “larger/beer drinking types”. Or that now the general market is ready for “Curred Peanuts”.

Tom Ace April 23, 2023 11:57 PM

NPR’s Sunday puzzle challenge from a week ago:

Think of a common 8‑letter word, in which the first three letters spell a word, and the fifth, sixth, and seventh letters also spell a word. These two little words mean the same thing. The fourth letter, when rotated 180°, becomes the eighth letter. What word is this?

Today they revealed their expected solution shepherd and noted Peruvian as an alternate. I submitted hotshots but they didn’t mention it. hotshots isn’t the kind of solution they were expecting but it does satisfy the challenge as described.

Bernie April 25, 2023 9:05 AM

It is sad that there are so many competitive sports/esports where using your brain is considered cheating. You can use your brain to control your body in simple forms, but that’s it. If you display intelligence, you’re in the doghouse (but you may be remembered as a pioneer posthumously).

@ Clive,

Was? But I’m not dead! I demand a recount. No, no. That will not do. I demand rigidly defined areas of meat and pudding.

James McLaren April 26, 2023 6:29 AM

For UK users the analogue is a different Ernie – Ernie Hunt, in 1970. Coventry City v Everton, and the famous “donkey kick” free kick…

The FA banned that one pretty quickly.

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