TMCnet Feature
April 12, 2021

Are bots set to destroy online poker?

It’s fair to say that the influence of AI stretches into every aspect of our lives. It gives us, in the 21st century, an idea of how people must have felt during the industrial revolution, or more recently, when automation started to appear in factories in the 1970.  

Of course, back then, at least workers could go home and forget about the machines doing things better and faster than them at the end of the day. Now, with AI, the bots are even outsmarting us at games of cards.  

The rise of the poker bot 

Playing games is nothing new in the world of AI. In fact, it has always been something of a proving ground, and the likes of Deep Blue and AlphaGo showcase just how intelligent AI can be. However, as AI has entered the world of poker, it has had to rise to new challenges.  

With a game like chess, the AI isn’t really doing anything beyond what computers have always been designed to do. There are a finite number of possible moves, and a computer can analyze these far faster than a human brain and deliver the move that has the highest probability of success. Deep Blue was capable of evaluating about 200 million positions per second. This allowed it to “think” as many as eight moves ahead and even Garry Kasparov was powerless against it.  

Fast forward a quarter of a century, though, and if Deep Blue was able to log on to Betsafe poker online one fine evening, it would face a whole different sort of challenge. Yes, there are still finite combinations of cards that each player can have, but there are also human factors that cannot be so easily evaluated.  

Bots have proved successful at simpler versions of poker, for example where there are only two players and there is a pot limit, as this keeps the possible bets a little more manageable. However, the latest poker AI, developed at Carnegie Mellon has taken things to the next level. 

It’s called Pluribus and it has demonstrated that it can take on the best players and win at six-player games with no limits. It learns the same way humans do – by practicing. Developers Noam Brown and Tuomas Sandholm remarked that the unique challenge with poker is that it involves “a level of deceit or bluffing” as well as potentially illogical behavior on the part of the other players.  

Implications for human players 

There are implications here that we have seen time and again – the risk of the unscrupulous using bot to game the system for an unfair advantage. Morgan Stanley expressed concern back in 2019 that bots could disrupt the online poker ecosystem. If mediocre players start using bots to enhance their game, the impact on pros who play online poker for a living could be devastating.  

Big-name online poker platforms have reacted by introducing integrity units tasked with identifying and ejecting bots from their poker rooms. But other than that, the only way to be certain we are playing against a human is to take the old-fashioned approach and dust off that old deck of cards.  

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