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Kevin Smith

Poker Bot Debate Heats Up As Tourney Nears

5 July 2005

Organizers of a new poker tournament are hoping that some of the leading computer programmers from around the world will be able to match up against the top professional players and create a buzz similar to the one created in 1997 when the Chess world was turned upside down when a computer defeated its top human player.

But not everyone in the industry is excited about the World Series of Poker Robots, and still others question if a computer can compete with the world's top players.

The event will take place from July 12-15 in Las Vegas and be held in conjunction with the World Series of Poker's main event.

Organizers of the robot tournament are hoping to have their winner go head-to-head with the winner of the human tournament to see who is the best.

But many online poker room operators aren't crazy about the idea of publicizing the role that robots play in poker, especially online, where many of the programmers for the "bot" competition have honed and tweaked their systems.

But that hasn't stopped one online poker room operator,, from stepping up as the title sponsor for the event. Even though Golden Palace prohibits the use of bots on its site, the publicity-craved company couldn't pass up the chance to be associated with an event that is expected to garner lots of media attention in the coming weeks.

The World Series of Poker Robots will pit eight software programmers against each other in a tournament that is expected to run 72 hours. While the computers do battle against each other, the event has created enormous debate in the industry.

Unlike chess, a game that is pure skill and programs can be written to include nearly every possible scenario, poker is a game that combines a great deal of skill along with luck, and of course the element of the bluff.

Most in the industry agree that computer could be programmed to recognize when a amateur or lower-level player is bluffing by picking up on his tendencies from previous hands. Whether or not a computer could be trained to pick up those same tendencies and traits in a highly skilled professional remains in doubt.

Steve Latham, who along with his now deceased twin brother founded Chartwell Technology (a software supplier for the interactive gaming industry), is helping to organize and promote the bot tournament. He said online poker rooms should embrace poker bots instead of banishing them.

"If I were an operator I would have separate rooms for the bots so their owners could have bragging rights and if highly skilled players wanted to take them on they could do so as well," he said. "Right now players are skeptical about whether they are playing a real person or a bot, so why not deal with it head on?"

Some online poker room operators don't see it that way. A spokesperson for a leading poker network provider said his company invests a lot of money and labor in banishing bots from their sites and promoting the activity through tournaments like the bot World Series, only adds fuel to the fire.

"It has taken this industry so long to get to where we are now and build up confidence and trust among our players," the operator said, who spoke to IGN on the condition of anonymity. "I am not going to sit here and say we don't have bots on our sites, but we go out of our way to minimize them and this is only going to bring the issue to the forefront."

Brian Edwards of Florida is one of the bot designers that will be taking part in the tournament. He told the Associated Press that just like in chess, when IBM's Big Blue beat World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov for his first career loss, bots will eventually beat the best human poker players.

"In the future, bots are going to take over," he said. "Even though there is still some fine-tuning to be done on the programs, with luck on its side, a bot could beat a human for a few thousand hands. But up against a world champion, that's a different matter."

The key to any successful computer to compete in a poker game will be the ability to know when a player is bluffing, a trait that on the surface seems like one only a human could master.

To keep their competitors on their toes players will often vary their bets from hand to hand. On one hand if a player is dealt a good starting hand he might bet $1,000 and on the next he might bet $200 because he has a poor starting hand. If he switches his betting pattern up and bets $1,000 on a week starting hand, many wonder if a computer will be able to recognize the player is bluffing or will it assume from previous betting habits that he has a good starting hand.

Designers will be coming from Canada, India, the U.S., Spain, and Hong Kong to test out their systems and to see if they can beat the top human players. The winner of the bot tournament will take home a $100,000 grand prize, and will certainly garner the attention of poker room operators everywhere.

Latham is hopeful the publicity that will be generated from the event will help change perspectives in the industry towards poker bots.

"If I am an operator what do I care if I have humans or bots playing on my site?" he asked. "I am going to take my rake not matter what. But I know some players are leery about playing against bots, but others see it as another notch they can put in their belt, if they can beat a robot. So why not embrace them and let players know if they are playing against bots or not. If they want to play against them have a place for them, if they want to have some 'bot-free' rooms on their site, they can have them too."

Poker Bot Debate Heats Up As Tourney Nears is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith