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Poker News | World Poker News

Man vs. Machine, Round 2 Set for 2008 Gaming Life Expo at the Rio

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The second Man vs. Machine Poker Championship is set to take place at the 2008 Gaming Life Expo at the Rio in Las Vegas. Polaris 2 will take on a collection of poker players in an attempt to test its technology in the second round of its series of competitions.

It began in 2007 when the University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group won the World Series of Poker Bots with a competition wherein 28 teams participated to determine which programmers could design the best poker bot, which is computer software designed to play online poker without human assistance. The experiment has been ongoing for several years as part of the annual Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) conference.

In the summer of 2007, an interesting experiment was held in Vancouver that became known as the Man vs. Machine Poker Championship. Polaris was the name of the artificial intelligence (AI) software created by the Computer Poker Research Group after years of development, and Polaris came face to face in a $50,000 match against two highly skilled human poker players – Phil Laak and Ali Eslami.

Each round of the 2007 competition consisted of a 500-duplicate hand match, with the same series of cards was dealt to both players against Polaris. The total number of chips won or lost by each team determined the winner, and the final score for the Laak/Eslami team was two wins, one loss, and one statistical tie.

After some further development, the Computer Poker Research Group of the University of Alberta has designed Polaris 2. And the AI program is ready for the 2008 Man vs. Machine Poker Championship at the 2008 Gaming Life Expo, located in the convention center of the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, just down the hall from the 2008 World Series of Poker. The competition will take place from July 3-6, with one duplicate match between Polaris 2 and a pair of human opponents each day.

The human players have yet to be announced, but they are said to be professional poker coaches and/or contributors to the online poker training site Stox Poker. Lead coach Bryce Paradis said, “Against the current AI in Polaris 2, the average poker player would be completely dominated. The Polaris 2 team has made incredible improvements since the match last year. The most powerful change is that the AI will now learn from and adapt to its opponents’ play as the match progresses. This year’s Man vs. Machine match is going to push out ream to their limit.”

Stox Poker team members and contributors Nick Grudzien, IJay Palansky, and Matt Hawrilenko all boast over $1 million in lifetime cash game limit hold’em winnings and believe they are prepared for the matches, should they be included in the human team. The website will also post the match results, provide updates, and simulcast some of the matches.

According to Michael Bowling, who currently leads the University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group, the list of participants is still being worked out. We had the opportunity to ask him a few other questions about the upcoming competition.

PokerWorks: Can you give me more details on the matches, such as the games, limits, etc.?

Michael Bowling: The matches will be duplicate matches of 500 hands of heads-up limit hold'em. Each match will involve two separate human opponents playing simultaneously against Polaris. The same hands (hole cards and board cards) will be used in both matches but the humans will be dealt opposite sides of the cards. So if on the first hand one of the humans is dealt aces on the button, then Polaris will be dealt aces on the button in the first hand against the other human. If one player gets lucky in the 500 hands, their partner necessarily will be getting bad luck in their 500 hands, helping reduce to the luck factor in deciding a winner. The winner is determined by adding together the teams' winnings (or losses). If either side won by 25 small bets or more in total, then they are the winner, otherwise it is considered a draw.

PW: Why should the poker playing public want to witness this competition?

MB: We know from last year's competition duplicate man-machine matches are both very entertaining and very educational. It is a rare opportunity to witness a world-class poker player given the opportunity to think out loud as they play. Since Polaris is not listening, watching, or even timing its opponent, the human player is free to talk about their hand, how they're playing, what they think the computer has, or trash talk all without giving away their hand. It's a bit like television poker, but the player's themselves can narrate the hand rather than announcers having to guess the player's thoughts. It is effectively a free lesson in heads-up limit hold'em from world-class players and coaches. In addition, Polaris is educational by itself. For those more mathematically minded players, Polaris takes game theoretic reasoning to its extreme. Phil Laak and Ali Eslami last year both felt they walked away having learned something from Polaris.

In addition, this is a historic opportunity to see the continuing battle of humans versus machine in games of intelligence. Computers can play a perfect game of checkers and they are superior to all humans at chess; the next round is poker. But poker is a very different game. The game is full of uncertainty that doesn't arise in chess or checkers: uncertainty in future cards, uncertainty in what your opponent holds, uncertainty in how your opponent plays. These are the reasons that computer poker programs haven't yet conquered their expert human counterparts. However, much has changed in the past two years. We believe that we are close to overtaking the best human players at heads-up limit games and this is our chance to prove it. In summary, these matches are like the historic battles of Deep Blue versus Kasparov in 1996 and 1997.

PW: What do you hope to accomplish through this experiment?

MB: Computers are getting more powerful and their algorithms are getting more sophisticated. In particular, recently we (along with the entire artificial intelligence community) have been pioneering new techniques to address many different kinds of uncertainty faced when making real-life decisions, such as those appearing in poker. How far have these techniques come along? Poker is a long-studied game. The top players have devoted years of their life to playing and studying the game. Have we reached the point where computers can play these games, and reason about these uncertainties, better than the best humans which have had years of experience plus benefited from decades of collective human expertise? This is what we hope to answer.

In summary, having machines win against their human counterparts is a milestone. It demonstrates how far the technology has progressed and helps establish in what sorts of problems do computers excel, and where does more work need to be done.

More specifically, this year Polaris will be equipped with the ability to learn about its opponent. As it plays it will be adapting its play, looking for and exploiting holes in its opponent's play. This is an exciting new advancement, with broad application far beyond just poker, that we hope to demonstrate and evaluate in this competition.

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