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Poker News | Casino Poker | Tournament Reports

Man V. Machine – World Champion Poker Bot takes on the Unabomber

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Phil Laak has played in the biggest cash games and tournaments in the world, but he's never met an opponent that's harder to read than Polaris. Polaris isn't a new poker pro, or an internet whiz kid, Polaris is a computer program developed to play poker at the University of Alberta by their Computer Poker Research group. And Phil Laak and Ali Eslami came back from a rough first day to beat the computer 2-1-1 in a $50,000 heads-up limit poker match this weekend in Vancouver.

The $50,000 match took place as part of the annual conference for the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. The competition consisted of four 500-hand duplicate matches, and the format was a limit cash game, with the blinds remaining the same throughout the match. Duplicate matches are chosen to make the experiment more scientific in nature, and to minimize the luck factor in poker. In each duplicate match, the same series of cards will be dealt in the same order in each of two heads-up Man versus Machine matches. Teammates will play opposite hands in each game to maximize the skill demonstrated by the players, so the hand dealt to Phil Laak in one room was dealt to the computer playing against Ali Eslami in the other room.

When the 500-hand match was over, the total number of chips won or lost was added together to determine which team won the match. A tie was declared if there was only a small margin of victory for either side (+/- 25 BB). Four separate duplicate matches were played over two days, allowing the players to learn and adapt to their opponents. No communication was allowed between teammates during the matches. Laak and Eslami won $5,000 for every match they win by more than 25 BB, and $2,500 for every tie (less than 25BB victory or loss).

After the first day, the human team wasn't feeling so great about their chances, netting one tie and one big loss to the computer program. After Day 1, Eslami remarked "Polaris was beating me like a drum."

But on day two, when the computer team made some adjustments to the program to better simulate a learning AI program, Laak and Eslami were able to win handily. Rather than having one consistent computerized player or "bot," the computer program shuffled bots in and out of play to change up styles against their opponents on Day 2. Laak and Eslami were better able to compete against the computer after studying the hand logs from the previous day's play, and defeated Polaris in two straight matches to win the contest.

The match was part of the AAAI conference, which last year crowned the University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group the winner of the World Series of Poker Bots, and set the stage for the CPRG to face Laak and Eslami this year. This year's competition expanded, to allow for no-limit bots as well as limit bots. The 2007 competition had 28 teams participating and will feature two limit heads-up contests, as well as one no-limit heads-up contest. Programmers submitted their best poker bot to compete in a round-robin format against other poker bots to determine the world champion bot.

Each match in the limit contest consisted of 3,000 hands of $10/$20 Limit Hold ‘Em. In one contest, the bot with the most chips at the end of 3,000 hands was the winner, and earns points. In the other limit contest, the bot with the largest bankroll at the end of the contests wins, to determine which bot has the greatest capacity for learning while playing (and the most ability to exploit other bots' weaknesses for more money).

The No-Limit matches are actually a spread limit format, where the maximum bet is 500x BB. Each contest was to last 1,000 hands and a winner was determined by which bot has the greatest bankroll at the end of the round-robin contest.

As programmers get better and better, and bots get sharper and sharper, the question of having bots playing against humans online becomes unavoidable, Laak and Eslami had their work cut out for them playing against the best of the bots, but what problems lurk around the corner for small-time players facing the fruits of unscrupulous programming labor across the virtual felt?

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