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Poker Program Battles Humans In Vegas 312

Posted by timothy
from the leds-blink-when-they're-bluffing dept.
Bridger writes "Poker software called Polaris will play a rematch against human players during the 2008 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Developed by an artificial intelligence group at the University of Alberta in Canada, Polaris will be pitted against several professionals at the Rio Hotel between July 3rd and 6th. 'It's possible, given enough computing power, for computers to play "perfectly," where over a long enough match, the program cannot lose money,"' said associate professor Michael Bowling.'"
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Poker Program Battles Humans In Vegas

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  • by D.McGuiggin (1317705) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:14PM (#24050959)

    Only to find out it's Wii tennis, a very small subset of "tennis"

    The statements made regarding this subject apply only to the subset of poker being played, seven-card limit Texas Hold'em.

  • Zero sum game (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:16PM (#24050975) Journal

    Poker is a zero sum game. Pit two of these 'perfect' players against each other, and one of them will lose money.

  • hmmmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by v_1_r_u_5 (462399) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:19PM (#24051011)

    "It's possible, given enough computing power, for computers to play "perfectly," where over a long enough match, the program cannot lose money,"

    So what happens when you pit two of these against each other?

  • by iONiUM (530420) * on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:21PM (#24051043) Homepage Journal
    You can't lose what you don't put in the middle. But you can't win much either.
  • by taustin (171655) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:22PM (#24051057) Homepage Journal

    professional poker is a psychological game. Unless the computer has the feeling of anxiety it will have an edge.

    Poke is almost entirely a game of skill, not chance, at professional levels. The average dufus at his weekend poker game will play for luck. Professionals play the other players. A computer has no tells, and can't read them in a human player. The computer therefore has a distince edge against the amateur, and a distinct disadvantage against the pro.

    What I find impressive is the fact it lost in the past. It would also be interesting to see what it can do with some sort of lie detector software.

    The only lie detector that has any hope of working - as you should know, if you read /. - is a professional poker player.

  • Re:Zero sum game (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:24PM (#24051069)

    Poker is a zero sum game. Pit two of these 'perfect' players against each other, and one of them will lose money.

    For a single hand, yes. Over time they should average back out to zero.

  • Limit hold'em? No wonder they can write a computer program to play perfectly. Let's see them do no-limit and make the same claim.
  • by InlawBiker (1124825) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:29PM (#24051163)
    The online poker sites are already filled with "bots" that play statistically perfect poker. Or at least perfect enough to earn a profit over time.

    It's not a terribly difficult calculation to know if a bet has sufficient pot odds [wikipedia.org]. Playing against imperfect players a bot is virtually garaunteed to make money.

    Against professionals though it might have trouble winning, since pros also calculate pot odds more or less perfectly, but can change their play to throw off the computer. It's sort of akin to how a chess master might beat a computer.

  • by ragethehotey (1304253) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:33PM (#24051223)
    Because Chess is a game of complete information, and is largely a matter of brute forcing out the best move from tons of choices. Poker is a game of incomplete information (You do not know your opponents hand), as the decisions your opponent will make influence what the "correct" decision for you to make is. Chess was a matter of computing power, whereas poker is a matter of implementing game theory abilities in the AI.
  • by Tragek (772040) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:34PM (#24051237) Journal

    Because as they've said at their page [ualberta.ca] poker has a lot more applications to the real world later. this is all about making intelligent decisions with imperfect information. Chess can simply be brute forced eventually, just like checkers was.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:44PM (#24051365)

    It's also not terribly difficult to decide which cards should come out of the digital deck next. I would never trust an online gambling site without some assurance of legitimacy by an accredited auditing agency.

  • by brady8 (956551) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:54PM (#24051479)

    I was hoping this wouldn't have to be said, but playing Poker isn't gambling if you play it properly. The house takes a small cut from each hand which reduces your winnings by a proportionally small amount, but otherwise it's like anything else requiring skill - over time, the best player will always win more money, and the worst player (skill-wise) will lose the most money.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:54PM (#24051485)
    But if I was running an online poker game I would make the house win like 50% of the time and a "player" which was another bot win 25% of the time leaving the other players to fight over the extra 25%. Also, if you control what comes out of the deck and who it goes to, it is not that hard to win
  • by alrudd1287 (1288914) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:56PM (#24051507)
    Playing perfectly = keeping 100% of your money in your wallet
  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:57PM (#24051513)

    I'm not sure you're entirely correct. Poker is a game of skill, yes, but so is chess. The difference is that poker is based on incomplete information whereas chess is not. That just means you have to play probabilities though.

    The whole tells topic is important in professional poker for increasing your odds against flawed human players. That can give you an edge over the basic statistics. However, if you're playing a computer that doesn't have any tells, my intuition says that the game reduces to basic probability.

    That means the computer, given enough computational resources to play a perfect game, can wipe the floor with amateurs, and will be more closely matched (but never at a disadvantage) with the best players.

    That doesn't mean that the computer would be unbeatable. Since the game is based on probability, you could still beat the computer, but in the limit you could only expect to win as many games as you lost.

    The computer would also be at a disadvantage if it were playing a game with multiple human players. A good psychological poker player could use his advantage over the other humans at the table to take a chip lead, which would be an advantage over the computer.

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @05:58PM (#24051519) Homepage

    That is not akin to how a chess master beats a computer. In chess there is no bluffing and no chance.

  • by javabandit (464204) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @06:07PM (#24051637)

    I'm not sure why anyone thinks this is such a feat. In LIMIT hold'em, bluffing, psychological aspects, and implied odds are diminished to the point of meaning next to nothing. It is almost a purely computational game. So, yes, a computer can play technically "perfect".

    There are already poker "bots" out there that will play pretty much perfectly when it comes to Limit Hold'em. I'm not sure why this is so different.

    I want to see this team of academics write some code that will beat a human at *No-Limit* Hold'em. Or maybe *Pot-Limit* Omaha. NEVER going to happen.

    I don't care how well such a program is coded... it will absolutely buckle under the pressure of a professional who constantly bets half his stack on nothing. The machine would turn into a professional folding station that only plays AA, KK, or AK. Guess what? That strategy isn't winning any games or any period of time in a no-limit or pot-limit world.

  • by brady8 (956551) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @06:10PM (#24051673)

    For people who play professionally, or even amateurs who play often over several years, the chance aspect of the game disappears as the card distribution converges, and skill is all that is left to decide the winnings.

    Over a career playing poker, there's just about the same chance/skill ratio as there is in chess.

  • by Karganeth (1017580) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @06:13PM (#24051707)
    Poker sites are not full of bots. The one I play at is full of terrible players who enjoy throwing their money away.

    No bot plays perfect poker. I'm sure that no bot will be perfect for a very, very long time (way beyond my lifetime). The mathematics behind poker is incredibly complex. A good book about it is the mathematics of poker by Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman. From reading your post it seems to me that you have a very little idea about the problems with solving poker and even how to play poker. You can't just call when you have the odds and fold when you don't. It just doesn't work that way - that strategy is easily exploited. I'm also not sure why you were modded +5 Insightful... I guess there aren't many poker players here at /.
  • by ElizabethGreene (1185405) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @06:14PM (#24051709)

    The whole tells topic is important in professional poker for increasing your odds against flawed human players. That can give you an edge over the basic statistics. However, if you're playing a computer that doesn't have any tells, my intuition says that the game reduces to basic probability.

    The assumption here is that the computer has no tells. That is not a safe assumption. Most tells aren't about whether or not the guy licks the oreo on a bluff (Reference: Rounders), heart rate (a really good tell), pupil diameter, or galvanic skin response. They are about how an opponent plays in a particular situation. After a few rounds you get a feel for the types of starting hands a player will play, and their betting patterns. Unless the software opponent has each and every one of these actions randomized to a good extent, it will be read and played. "Perfect" poker software is not impossible, but it is a harder problem than it looks.

    -ellie

  • by pxc (938367) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @06:20PM (#24051785)

    The chance/skill ratio in chess is 0, because there's no chance in chess. I don't understand how you can say that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2008 @06:21PM (#24051793)

    No offense, but you obviously don't understand poker very well. For example, unless the betting structure is very restrictive (e.g. heads up game with 2x BB stacks) a bot could not possibly play "statistically perfect poker" (an erroneous statement in itself) because it's a game of incomplete information. Perfect poker is only possible when you can see everyone's hole cards. Computers do not have any intrinsic edge in this regard.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2008 @06:32PM (#24051945)
    professional poker is a psychological game. Unless the computer has the feeling of anxiety it will have an edge.

    What I find impressive is the fact it lost in the past. It would also be interesting to see what it can do with some sort of lie detector software.

    yes poker is a psychological game and this is why a computer DOES NOT have an edge. A person can evaluate another persons psychological reactions and make adjustments, a computer can't. Also the computer must rely incredibly heavily on maths and odds for there play, while this makes it an incredibly solid player it also makes it easier to exploit by a human player. In tournaments some of the easiest people to send broke are the ones that play like a computer (ie all maths and no psychology), you just slowly drain them.

  • by raehl (609729) <raehl311@yFREEBSDahoo.com minus bsd> on Thursday July 03, 2008 @06:46PM (#24052079) Homepage

    The Pros will still win, because the Pros have more information than the computer, if the computer is always playing optimally.

    That's what makes the Pros pros. People who play mathematically optimum poker lose, because they are ignoring the information that is important: What cards does the opponent have?

    In fact, I'd wager (hah!) that a computer playing mathematically optimum poker is at a disadvantage, as it makes it much easier for a Pro to determine what cards the computer has.

  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @06:52PM (#24052143)

    It's certainly a hard problem. Computers are VERY good at randomization though, and they can not only calculate the exact effect of a modified bet but they can also track precisely their opponent's betting history.

    The requirement "sufficient computing resources" figures prominently, of course.

  • by JMZero (449047) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @07:36PM (#24052633) Homepage

    And if you leak your source code, anyone who knows they're playing against your bot will have a huge advantage.

    No. Knowing the source code of an ideal poker program would do you no good. You can't win against an agent following the Nash equilibrium for a game. He's going to be choosing from a library of strategies such that for every complete game, whatever strategy you choose, the expected value of the game is zero.

    Naturally such an ideal program is hard to write, but conceptually it's very simple - poker is equivalent to any other zero sum game.

  • by edmazur (958154) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @07:40PM (#24052681) Homepage

    People who play mathematically optimum poker lose, because they are ignoring the information that is important: What cards does the opponent have?

    Who says they're ignoring their opponents' cards? There's more to making optimal decisions than your own cards. I think the general idea is that while you cannot know exactly what your opponent is holding, you can put them on ranges of hands with certain probabilities and then factor that into your calculations. You could say for example that your opponent has a high pocket pair with 40% probability, a drawing hand with 25%, trips with 5%, and garbage with 30%. From there, it's a relatively straight-forward expected value calculation to figure out if you should call that $5 raise on the $20 pot.

    The tricky part is correctly estimating the probabilities of those ranges of hands. Does player A have a tendency to call in late position with suited aces? Does player B always raise with AK/AQ/AJ/AT? Does player C steal blinds a lot? All of these factors and more come into play. Humans are good at pattern matching and after enough hours at the table, you're bound to notice a few recurring profitable sequences of actions. Could computers more accurately assign ranges of hands/probabilities? It's certainly possible.

  • by teh moges (875080) on Thursday July 03, 2008 @08:27PM (#24053231) Homepage
    This is a very ignorant view of what optimal play means. The standard example is Rock-Paper-Scissors (RoShamBo). If I play perfectly randomly, and I tell you that I am going to play perfectly randomly, there is exactly nothing you can do to beat me in the long run. This concept can be extended to poker (and all two player zero-sum games). For a computer to play truely optimal means that it can give you its exact strategy before the match and you still won't be able to beat it. A mathematically optimal play is still the same regardless of what the opponent has. Truely optimal play hides the true nature of the hidden cards from being able to be predicted by the opponent. If, by "mathematically optimum poker", you mean immediate pot odds, then you are right. Its easily beatable, however that is certainly not what mathematically optimal poker is. I suggest reading "The Mathematics of Poker" (http://www.amazon.com/Mathematics-Poker-Bill-Chen/dp/1886070253), it will absolutely change your mind into how mathematics can be used.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2008 @09:26PM (#24053759)

    The machine would turn into a professional folding station that only plays AA, KK, or AK. Guess what? That strategy isn't winning any games or any period of time in a no-limit or pot-limit world.

    Against a loose player, this strategy is ideal actually.

  • by mOdQuArK! (87332) on Friday July 04, 2008 @12:28AM (#24055055)

    Probability has very much to do with potential strategies.

    A more limited form of this is blackjack - although a machine doesn't know exactly what cards are going to come up, and doesn't know exactly what cards its opponents has, by using probabilities over the long-term, it can still beat the house.

    Also, as cards in the deck are used up & the machine learns more about what cards have been used, it can make more precise calculations about what cards other people have or what might be coming up in the draw, and adjust its strategies accordingly.

    This is stuff that the pros do all the time in their heads, and which the pros use to decide THEIR strategies, except that a machine will be able to calculate those probabilities perfectly, without getting tired and without making any mistakes. If a pro could do that, it would give him/her a pretty decent advantage - assuming that they had a large repertoire of strategies that they could use to capitalize on their knowledge.

    Which brings us back to the main weakness of the machine - the machine will only have the repertoire that was programmed into it by its creators (or that it can figure out by heuristics/exhaustive search), and if it is mindless about applying those techniques, or only has a very limited set of techniques available to it, then a pro who figures out its patterns can take advantage of that (just like in chess).

    It would also be very difficult for a machine to make judgements about its opponent's mental state (unless the eggheads make some sort of breakthrough on categorizing mental states through facial recognition).

    Neither of these weaknesses have anything to do with perfect probability calculations being very useful, however.

  • by Xarin (320264) on Friday July 04, 2008 @12:57AM (#24055197)

    The chance/skill ratio in chess is 0, because there's no chance in chess. I don't understand how you can say that.

    There are some elements of chance in chess since players are better prepared for some openings then others. All grandmasters have some novel lines they have developed that they are ready to spring upon their opponent if given the chance and the game is critical enough to reveal it. Since they are on the clock, there is not much time to ponder a response to something that has been worked out over months or years.

  • by thc4k (951561) on Friday July 04, 2008 @04:59AM (#24056463) Homepage

    This is ridiculus. If there are no bots in **online poker**, the only reason for this is that the hosts are too good at detecting them!

    **Online poker** is not real poker. I have been myself playing like a bot would do, with a sheet of paper infront of me, with simple instructions like "if you are xx seat, have cards xy, others did that, so you do this". I did make some profit, but i don't really like the game at all, seeing that it is just that simple. Making a bit of profit in online poker is not about *perfect* play, it is only about beating the newbies. Even the most trivial poker bot can win online if it just can go by undetected.

    Sure, people can and will exploit you with that type of play and it will never work in games with higher wages, but this is all the more reason to belive there have to be bots. A bot can simply track all players it plays against and leave tables when there is someone exploiting them. There are thousand of tables and millions of players, all you have to do is avoid those who know you. At the same time a bot can play all day and night on any number of tables.

    I bet there are alot bots already, undetected and unpublished, generation a steady stream of money for those who wrote them and are not afraid of fraud charges ... Only an idiot would publish such a bot and draw attention from the host. And neither would the poker hosts confirm the existance of a bot, since they absolutely depend on the illusion that the game is fair.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming

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