Poker Essays

Poker Bots - Threat or Gold Mine?
By November 2005

"This guy is playing like a machine", amazed poker commentators often burst out when a player demolishes all opposition at the table. In live games it's just a figure of speech, but when you're playing online it could be reality. You might be facing a poker bot - a vicious opponent that will capitalize on your every mistake, but never make any for you to take advantage of. A card counting, calculating monster that feeds on poker chips and only leaves crumbs for its human rivals to share.

The fear of poker bots is spreading rapidly in the Internet poker community. But how realistic are these threats - should we resign, buy poker sets, and start playing home games, or is it safe to keep gambling in cyberspace? The answers to these questions depend on who you ask. Poker room representatives claim to be on top of the issue. The games are "meticulously monitored", and players are blocked, and their accounts closed, if any kind of unusual activity is detected. So, if you ask the poker rooms they will tell you that the Internet is an absolutely secure poker environment.

Providers of poker bots have another story to tell. A number of programs that allegedly will give you an edge in the online poker games are available on the Internet. Of course they have all been "carefully tested" and "have shown great profits". According to one programmer, his poker bot increased its original bankroll by 35% in a test over five days in which the bot played 7,000 hands. In this programmer's opinion the poker rooms should stop working against poker bots, and instead embrace them as a part of online poker. His own program's success is largely dependent on the skill of the user, and he thinks that the poker bots should just be another factor in the game.

The poker rooms do not share this view. The say they have control over the bots, and even if one or two should happen to be playing in their games, they aren't very good. The human players won't have any problems what so ever beating these machines; such is the belief of the poker establishment.

Maybe that's the most important question of all. How good are the poker bots? The people trying to make money of them of course say they're excellent and foolproof, and the poker rooms say they're pretty lousy. But what do more impartial experts have to say? A common view is that the complexity of poker makes it difficult to create successful poker bots. Compared to chess, a game that's all about calculation, poker contains a lot of information that is unavailable to the player. A new "Deep Blue", (the chess computer that defeated the world champion Garri Kasparov) that is able to handle a full poker table, make bluffs, set traps, and so on, is years away at best, according to the authorities on the subject.

The threat of machines cleaning out the online poker tables isn't a real serious one at the moment. However, the programmers won't give up easily, and new versions of poker bots will keep popping up. This might actually be a gold mine for solid poker players. They will have every chance to make money off these more or less failing attempts to beat the games. Bad poker players have to be more careful. On the other hand, bad players will probably lose whether their opponents are humans or machines.

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