Poker Robots Becoming Ever More Sophisticated

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Poker Robots Becoming Ever More Sophisticated

Poker bot use may be against the terms and conditions of online gambling sites, but that hasn’t stopped people from working towards developing smarter and smarter versions of these computer programs. While some have done so for the purpose of cheating and gaining an advantage over their opponents at the virtual gaming tables, others are using poker robots as a way to develop artificial intelligence. After all, as a complex game that combines elements of both luck and skill, poker provides unique opportunities and challenges for software developers looking to create AI programs, yet what researchers have been able to get the latest bots to do is simply astounding.

Early Research

Teaching robots or computers to play complex games is nothing new, and in the 1970s and 1980s some of the most popular early software programs were games where you could play chess against a computer. While the automated opponents could pose a challenge, they didn’t think like humans and were easy to beat, especially if you played often enough. The computer tended to follow certain patterns, which an observant player could learn and anticipate.

Limit Hold Em Success

Today’s poker robots, however, are a far cry from their early game-play predecessors. In 2015, for instance, the University of Alberta made headlines with its poker robot Cepheus, which was able to win heads-up limit versions of Texas Hold Em style poker at a very reliable rate. Because the researchers were not poker experts themselves, they programmed Cepheus to learn on its own using billions of simulated games to develop an equilibrium strategy. In basic terms, this strategy involves flipping the way bets are made and cards are played based on the conditions of the game in order to increase the chances of winning over the long term.

No Limit Developments

Of course, limit Texas Hold Em has a lot of controls in place, making it easier for Cepheus to master the game. The next step in the evolution of the poker bot will be to create a program that can win at the no limit versions of the game. When you can wager an unlimited amount of money, it’s much more difficult for a computer to make smart bets, but that doesn’t mean that poker bots can’t learn to do it.

Already, there are poker bots in development that are able to hold their own at no limit tables. These bots show a keen sense of strategy, one that goes beyond anything that even the most successful professional players are capable of. Even if they are not yet fully developed, the latest bots are fierce competitors, and with every game they play, they hone their skills and become better.

Not only are bots now able to make shrewder bets, but they’re also learning to bluff and fake out their competitors. The programs have mastered this skill on their own, suggesting that much of what we have considered to be the psychology of poker has less to do with human emotion and more to do with an analytical fact, namely that in order to win consistently, you must be able to deceive competitors.

Humans Still Have Advantage

Human players may currently have the advantage over their computer playing opponents, although its fair to say programs such as the one developed by Carnegie Mellon University called “Claudico” would likely still find success against players of average skill. In an experiment that took place between April 24 to May 8, 2015, “Claudico” played no-limit Texas hold’em against four of the top poker players in the world, eventually losing a virtual $732,713 over 80,000 hands. Later commenting on the programs performance, one of the players, Doug Polk had these choice words to say:

“There are spots where it plays well and others where I just don’t understand it. Some of its bets, for instance, were highly unusual. Where a human might place a bet worth half or three-quarters of the pot, ‘Claudico’ would sometimes bet a miserly 10 percent or an over-the-top 1,000 percent. Betting $19,000 to win a $700 pot just isn’t something that a person would do.”


Concerns about the unfair advantage bots can have are likely to keep them banned from the world of online gaming forever. This not only includes their programming, but also the fact that they can play non-stop without tiring, or going on tilt, unlike their human opponents. In the meantime, it’s still amazing to see just what a bot can do.

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