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The Almighty Buck

Online Poker Bots Becoming Problematic? 613

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the robo-flushed dept.
scumbucket writes "MSNBC has a story about how poker bots have started to appear on internet gambling sites and the implications. It also talks about how a 'master level' poker-playing bot already exists. Could this proliferation of poker-playing bots undermine the almost $1 billion online gambling industry?"
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Online Poker Bots Becoming Problematic?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:48PM (#10309732)
    Here is the original post I sent on twoplustwo, as quoted at
    the end of the news. Despite the desperate tone of the article,
    I'm not depressed (;-) and I'd be interested to see bots fighting
    on the poker server (Free Software) I work on at http://gna.org/projects/underware/.

    ---
    Disclaimer: I do not favor bots, I do not develop bots, I won't
    be happy if there are more bots than humans in online poker rooms.

    From a technical point of view, no poker client will ever be able to
    detect a bot that analyzes the window layout (to find cards, bet
    amounts, player names etc). It could attempt this detection when the
    bot runs on the same machine although it is likely to require frequent
    updates (think anti-virus software). However, if the bot runs on
    another machine and watches the display remotely, it is just
    impossible (VNC is a example software that watches a display from a
    remote machine).

    From a legal point of view, international and national laws in most
    countries (+200 of them, including US and all Europe) strongly
    protects interoperability between programs. It means that the author
    of a program whose sole purpose is to encode/decode the protocols or
    file formats used by another program can never be sued on this basis.

    Online poker rooms can forbid the use of any computerized assistance
    (except the mouse, the screen and the operating system ;-) in the
    terms and conditions that each player accepts when registering. A
    contract is a powerful tool to attempt to force people to forfeit
    rights that cannot be taken from them. Although the poker room may win
    a lawsuit against a player using a bot that plays on his behalf, there
    are more cases where they would lose.

    For instance, if my only machine is running GNU/Linux, the court may
    rule that I'm entitled to use my own client because there does not
    exist a client except for Windows. Ruling otherwise would mean that
    the poker room can force me to become a Microsoft customer. A real
    world poker room can force you to wear a tie but cannot force you to
    wear a tie of a given brand. This can have precedence over contract
    terms and conditions. Furthermore, the features provided by my client
    software (such as automated play or statistics gathering) cannot be
    restricted by contract. No matter what is written, no third party can
    legitimately control or restrict the software you run on your own
    machine. If that was the case, no doubt a large software publisher
    would state in its operating system license contract that all software
    running on top of it must be purchased from them.

    Summary:

    . Bots can't be detected.

    . Bots can't be outlawed.

    . Poker room terms and conditions are inefficient to forbid bot
    usage.

    Will there ever be a widely spread bot able to beat most players
    currently playing in online poker rooms ? I think so. It may already
    exist but is kept secret. It's only a matter of time before a talented
    poker player who also happens to be a good developer decides she or he
    wants to be remembered as the author of the first bot that changed
    online poker forever.
    ~
  • Re:Good? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jumpingfred (244629) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:49PM (#10309743)
    Well black jack is different than poker. In poker you are not taking the casino's money you are taking the other players money. It is a problem for the online casinos only if nobody plays because it is to hard.
  • Maple Leaf Forever! (Score:3, Informative)

    by rueger (210566) * on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:50PM (#10309750) Homepage
    "The University of Alberta's Computer Poker Research Group [ualberta.ca] has developed an artificially intelligent (poker playing) automaton known as "Vex Bot," "

    At last! We Canadians have a piece of technology that can make us as proud as the mighty Canadarm [space.gc.ca]!
  • by strictfoo (805322) <strictfoo-signup@yaho o . com> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:50PM (#10309751) Journal
    I've used the program. It's available at pretty much every torrent site. It's not so much a bot as something that tells you the odds of what you have a chance at getting versus what it thinks the other players might have. It then recommends what your next step should be.

    It's not like this thing wins games for you. It basically does what the good poker player can do, look at their cards, look at the cards on the table, and then compute odds.

    It's less useful than the article makes it sound.
  • it's easy (Score:4, Informative)

    by rayde (738949) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:55PM (#10309820) Homepage
    it's easy to find software that is designed to follow along with the current game, giving you the statistically best move based on what is known, such as the face-up cards, who is on the button, and what your cards are. They also give you a gauge making it easier to decide whether to call or fold a hand. After seeing this type of program in action, it's turned me completely off of putting any real money into online poker.
  • by agentkhaki (92172) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:56PM (#10309842) Homepage
    I'd say your reply is slightly uninformed. Casinos don't adjust the payoff of any given game. Rather, they play the odds.

    Look at it this way -- on any given night, in any given casino, there might be one or two players who play extremely well, several more who are pretty good, and literally hundreds who play like crap. The casinos make most of their money on that last group, and dole out a relatively small sum (compared to what they're taking in) to the truely gifted players.

    The fact of the matter is, the odds aren't in your (the proverbial your) favor. Odds are, you (proverbial) play like crap, or in a game where there is a human element (poker), the dealer plays better than you do. If you happen to get lucky, or happen to be good, well, there are a hundred other people who aren't, and who don't.
  • by AssProphet (757870) * on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:57PM (#10309855) Homepage Journal
    Recently I was browsing www.suprnova.org for obscure torrents in their misc area, and I found this "ebook" on how to win texas hold 'em. I downloaded it hoping that it was some kind of strategy guide or an odds list or something
    turns out it was just some product promotion for a company that makes gambling bots.
    I downloaded the software trial out of curiosity (I've never played online poker before, I just wanted to see how the program was set up.)

    The way it worked (or claimed to, I never tried it) it would monitor my poker game and make calculations based on other people's bids checks or folds and give me tips about whether I should fold, check, bid, or bid high. It kept a percentage rating for probability of wining and stuff like that.
    Basically it claimed to play the game for me, which would suck as I was looking for a strategy guide instead. I can't remember which one it was that I downloaded.
    here's a link to one of them [holdem-winner.com]
  • Casino 101 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:12PM (#10310057)
    Casinos are out to make a buck, with little regard for the welfare of future of the players. They don't care if an addict comes in with all of his life savings, and blows it all in one sitting.

    Actually, yes, they do...greatly. Casinos are based on gaming as entertainment and repeat business. They want to people to get hooked and then go to the casino once a month or once a year and keep spending money in their casino. Problem gamblers are regularly blacklisted since they drive away paying customers.

    Sure, but problematic for whom? The casinos are notorious for putting a winning blackjack player on a blacklist, and not letting them in. Why? Did they cheat? No, they just won, and casinos hate to lose money

    Casinos generate the majority of their profit from their interest on their cash reserves, not from actual gaming. The take on gambling alone would barely covering operating the average casino. They generate their revenue on the interest of their cash, an adequate reserve of which must be maintained to pay out all outstanding bets at anytime. The more bet, the more reserve, the more interest. The take from gaming is actually secondary now.

    Blacklisting is reserved for cheaters and addicts, not winners. Casinos want winners to keep playing and turn their money over in the casino, game the system and bad things happen.
  • Software Scanning... (Score:2, Informative)

    by djrok212 (801670) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:13PM (#10310074)
    If you read the TOS for any of these online poker sites (ie, partypoker.com) they make it very clear that their software scans your machine for software that may aid you in playing the game. This includes anything that determines odds, anything that plays hands for you, etc... And They have the ability to update there list of known software as new pieces are releases.
  • Re:Is This So Wrong? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dr. Sp0ng (24354) <mspong@nosPAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:13PM (#10310075) Homepage
    Is online poker set up in such a way that card counting can actually work?

    No, counting cards doesn't apply to poker, just blackjack.
  • Re:Is This So Wrong? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jchawk (127686) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:14PM (#10310092) Homepage Journal
    Casino's do not use multiple decks in poker, it would break the way the game is supposed to be played... I think you are thinking of blackjack...

    Online and Offline the deck of cards is reshuffled everytime. If you only have 52 cards you can calculate odds based upon what you see on the table and what you have in your hand...
  • by Mynister (738512) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:15PM (#10310103) Homepage
    I have often wondered about this.

    Here is a website for Texas Holdem [aces-wired.com] where people can review the different online casinos and discuss their experiences to help others out.

  • by Master Ben (811962) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:23PM (#10310197)
    If you wrote the program yourself then that list don't mean anything. Provided you didn't decide to start spreading your software around then the site wouldn't know about it.
  • by TopShelf (92521) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:24PM (#10310209) Homepage Journal
    I would also recommend poker-strategy.org as well, it has info regarding bonuses and rake rebates.
  • Re:Is This So Wrong? (Score:3, Informative)

    by gorbachev (512743) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:36PM (#10310359) Homepage
    Playing the odds in a poker table will only beat low level poker players. That's why the "rules" for an amateur or a low stakes game are very different from a pro or high stakes game.

    You're completely discounting the role of betting, bluffing and player reputation in a game of poker.
  • Re:it's easy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pulzar (81031) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:36PM (#10310360)
    it's easy to find software that is designed to follow along with the current game, giving you the statistically best move based on what is known, such as the face-up cards, who is on the button, and what your cards are.

    That's a very misinformed statement, coming from somebody who probably doesn't play much poker himself.

    A large part of figuring out the "statistically" best move is having a good idea of what the opponent might be holding in his hand. That's the very difficult part.

    Here's a quick example. Say you're holding KK, the you raise preflop and get reraised. Flop comes AK5. You bet, and you get raised again. Stats will tell you that you can beat 99% of the hands out there, so raise away, right? Most good players will consider that the opponent might have AA since he reraised you preflop and would adjust their strategy accordingly. A simple stat bot would raise until he's out of money.

    Visit the UofA's poker research pages for more details on where the trouble spots in poker AI research are.
  • by ph4s3 (634087) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:41PM (#10310426)
    First of all, the house doesn't care in poker, because they get a share of the pot and aren't in an adversarial role. The only reason they might care is if this type of thing scares off real players and reduces the overall take in the course of an evening's play.

    Secondly, depending on the casino, you can ask the dealer what the odds are, what the house's play would be, or you can even ask the dealer to play your entire hand as the house would. This varies from game to game and casino to casino.

    Lastly, the house allows you to have certain materials available when playing. In Vegas, there are "player cards" or cheat sheets for black jack and other games that are about the size of an actual card, but show the plays that you should make based on certain stats (what you have, what the dealer/other players have, etc). Last I went to Vegas the only rule was that you had to set it down on the table before play began. As long as you weren't sitting next to some idiot that messed up the card distribution then it usually panned out. I believe there are some casinos that don't allow them, but most do, although you can't use them at the high minimum bet (>$50 or so) tables.

    Basically I don't see the problem as long as this "bot" is really just a tool and the player is still interacting with the game, i.e., not automated play. I see it as a way to even the odds a bit and help the noobs not make so many stupid mistakes. Can't you remember a time when you just glanced at your cards and thought you had a certain hand and as you tossed them down in triumph you realized you misread the hand?... I can. Preventing those kinds of mistakes would save everyone some grief. Although I suppose poker wouldn't be the game it is if everyone didn't have a great story about a few hands.
  • Re:Is This So Wrong? (Score:2, Informative)

    by menacing_cheese (687890) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:42PM (#10310430)
    In a blackjack sense, no card counting doesn't work with poker. But it can be very advantagious to know what the odds of picking up a fifth heart on the river if you flopped a heart flush draw. Then comparing the odds of that with the ratio of the money in the pot to the money in your stack. All of that can be done by a person with some practice. But it would be much easier for an average player to win if he had a program doing all those calculations for him. Most pro poker players (and even good amateurs) make the majority of their money off of weak players. Programs like these would just level the playing field a little. I'm much more concerned about the possibility of collusion between two or more players at an internet table. All this would require would be two computers, some phones, and willing participants. Knowing what cards your teammates have would be a HUGE advantage.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:44PM (#10310461)
    Don't know if the guy was using a program to help him cheat, but he played really badly.

    Which was probably intended. The way these scams work is:
    1. a credit card number is somehow acquired
    2. the fraudster creates a poker account and loads up the account with the credit card
    3. the fraudster plays poker at a table with a friend, trying to dump as much money to the friend as possible
    4. the account gets suspended and the victim has the credit card charges reversed

    Either the poker room or the credit card company gets stuck with the charge and the following the money to the friend is difficult to follow. That's why you usually get a call from the poker room *before* they charge the credit card.
  • by nsayer (86181) <nsayer@kfu.COUGARcom minus cat> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @02:02PM (#10310710) Homepage
    In Poker, the house has no interest in the outcome (presuming the game is not crooked - that the dealer and a shill are not in cohoots). The house gets their money by raking the pot (taking a percentage) or charging a time payment from one of the players (each hand the person paying rotates). That's why Poker is about the only form of gambling where you as a player have a fair shot (notwithstanding the story of the MIT Blackjack team).

    I can't imagine trusting online Poker play. Even if the site/house is honest, players can share information secretly or use aids to calculate pot odds perfectly. They can do that in offline games as well, but it is much more difficult to get away with it.
  • by CodeWanker (534624) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @02:07PM (#10310784) Journal
    I did look into this a while back because I (like a lot of other folks) thought I could build a card-counting blackjack bot. So the online prevent this by shuffling after every hand, and use a multideck shoe so that there is never enough info on the table (even with other players there) to give you a good count in the middle of the one hand you get before they reshuffle. Crafty. They have made sure the only games where skill will give you the advantage are games like poker where the house gets paid no matter what.
  • by Politburo (640618) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @02:37PM (#10311142)
    For Paradise Poker, the image reading would be easy. If you look in the Paradise Poker install directory, you'll find all the bitmaps the program uses to draw the graphics. Simply compare what's on the screen against the saved bitmaps until you hit a match. Identifying the edges of the cards would be the hardest task, imo, and that would also be pretty simple as the cards always appear at the same locations.
  • by vinsci (537958) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @02:39PM (#10311153) Journal
    For many years now, automatic trading systems have been "playing" the stock market - making the decision on their own on what to sell, buy and when to do it.

    Some random links on the subject:

    1. Cracking Wall Street - Wired, July 1994 [wired.com]
    2. Predict - one of the companies mentioned in the above article [predict.com]
    3. and a random company link (haven't read this one):

    4. Introduction to Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) and their Applicability to the Prediction of Stock Market Trends [it-careernet.com]

    Why settle for the poker table, when the markets are much bigger? Playing the markets is probably more difficult, but you're the best coder around, aren't you? ;-)

  • Re:Good? (Score:3, Informative)

    by dillon_rinker (17944) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @02:45PM (#10311220) Homepage
    "some state-specific lotteries claim that their profits pay toward education costs"

    Specifically, Missouri (where I live) made this claim. It is 100% true. Furthermore, as the state's gambling revenues went up, the state disbursed less tax revenue to education. Education funding didn't change, but the source did. I suspect that other states are similar.
  • by eisbaer4 (195961) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @04:17PM (#10312356) Homepage
    Here is an excerpt of my e-mail exchange with Mike Brunker (the author of the MSNBC article) prior to our phone interview. It might provide some interesting information on the topic.

    - Darse.

    [begin excerpt]

    (1) It is not easy to write a good poker-playing program.

    It took us (the Computer Poker Research Group at the U of A, http://games.cs.ualberta.ca/poker/) a few years to develop a program that could win consistently in higher-level games against opponents who took the game seriously. It has been successful against human players of average skill for many years now, but it is the only known program that can make that claim.

    We operate a free poker server where people can play against our bots. Hobbyist programmers can also have their programs connect to the server and play in those games, and more than a hundred programs have participated over the past few years. None of them has come close to being a winning player, so it is clearly not a trivial task.

    (2) Is it *possible* to write a very strong poker program?

    Absolutely.

    Poker is a challenging and rewarding field for research in Artificial Intelligence (AI). There are many aspects of the game that make it more difficult and more interesting than games like chess and checkers.

    It isn't simply a matter of computing probabilities and other numbers. A good program has to *think* about the game in the right way. Master-level poker requires an understanding of how each opponent plays the game -- you must observe and adapt as you play, and that turns out to be a rather difficult learning problem.

    Nevertheless, these problems will be solved eventually, and the technology will become available for others to use. It took more than 20 years for chess programs to finally become a serious threat to the best players. It won't take that long before we see elite poker-playing programs, but it still might be a number of years before they participate in online games.

    Of course, a practical program doesn't have to be as good as the best players -- it only needs to beat a game with average players in order to win money.

    (3) Are bots playing in online games now?

    I expect there are a few now, yes. Perhaps more than a few. But are they a threat? Probably not. Many of them will be losing players, at least for a while. Their authors will either lose interest, or have to invest a lot of time and effort to improve their programs.

    If someone does succeed in writing a program that can grind out a small win, what difference should it make? It will be like any other solid player -- playing a conservative style (only good cards and good situations), and slowly extracting a tax from the weak players.

    Look at it this way. Most people who play online poker lose money. That's an unavoidable mathematical fact. Considering the house cut (the rake), perhaps 30% of players can stay in the black, maybe less. Many of the losing players will lose slowly, so the cost is a fair trade-off for the entertainment value they receive. Some will lose much more rapidly, and they really shouldn't be playing at all (unless they happen to be independently wealthy).

    Of the players on the winning side, most will only eek out a small win rate. A winning poker bot would just be another solid player at the table. Probably less than 10% of all players have enough knowledge and skill to win a significant amount of money, and I doubt there will be any poker programs in that category for quite some time.

    Will the existence of good bots radically change online poker? I doubt it. Look at casinos (real and online) that offer the traditional gambling games like craps and roulette. Those games cannot be beaten -- there is no skill that can be applied to avoid losing in the long run. But that fact doesn't seem to harm the popularity of their business.

    Instead of fearing bots, people should use them to help learn more about the game. Our research program is com
  • by fulana_lover (652004) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @04:18PM (#10312365)
    the good online poker sites (partypoker, etc) automatically monitor players and tables, and if they notice collision will autoban users. with 1000s of players online simultaneousely, its very rare for 2 people to randomly be in the same poker table more than once a day or whatever.
  • Re:A few facts (Score:3, Informative)

    by ChuckleBug (5201) * on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @04:40PM (#10312633) Journal
    Blackjack is not 100% luck.

    Depends on what you mean by that. Winning at BJ IS 100% luck. Losing is a certainty (in the long run, without counting cards).

    There are hit/stand/double down tables crafted by those who play it. For example (a fake one): if the dealer has XYZ cards and you have 14, always hit.

    The fact that there are optimal strategies doesn't make it deterministic. If you play perfect basic strategy, you merely reduce the margin by which you are losing. So you keep your money a little longer, but you'll still lose it.

    Only using those "tables" can you closely acheive some kind of winning capacity.

    Sorry, but this is wrong. The rules are set up so the players can't win. You can only move from losing by a small margin to winning by a small margin by counting cards, something impossible online (they "shuffle" after each hand) and very hard in casinos nowadays, with the 6+ deck shoes and low penetration.

    It's all about odds, they figure that if you hit, or stand, at certain cards your *odds* of winning that hand are higher.

    Yes, but they're still losing. For example, if you have a K6 (16) vs. a 10 showing, you have to hit. You're very likely to bust, but by doing this, you lose less often. BJ basic strategy, which is what you're talking about, is all about losing less often.

    This is no different than with the Poker bots.

    Yes it is. It is fundamentally different, because BJ has no element of deception. The dealer plays according to an unvarying algorithm that makes it possible to calculate odds of winning precisely. The only information you have in Poker is any upcards and the way the player bets, which is varied intentionally for the purpose of deception.

    There is no resemblance between poker and BJ except that they're played with cards and chips and such. This superficial resemblance is why some idiot TV execs figured they could cash in on the poker craze by showing the "World Series of Blackjack." I like blackjack, but watching it on TV is horrible. The commentary always boils down to the idiot announcer complaining that someone's taking an extra card screws up the rest of the table. There just isn't any real strategizing necessary to play the game. The correct strategy can be written on a 4x5 card.
  • by infochuck (468115) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @05:26PM (#10313094)
    It's obvious this jackass is plugging his own site - it's crap, and nobody but the site's owner would give it a thumbs-up. Unless this "Mynister" idiot (ooooh... he spells his nayme witha "y" - how c00l is he?) actually considers a site with a small handful of sites reviewed by ONE person each "robust". I don't know who's more of a jag-off - Mynister, or the morons who modded him up.
  • by yore (30985) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @07:06PM (#10314092)
    I did not prove what you were saying. You said it was a bad idea to chase a draw or flush. I said there are circumstances in which it is a very good idea. There are also bad cases such as the one you pointed out.

    Anyway, you completely ignored the first part of my post. To repeat: you cannot play strictly by the odds and win at poker. You need to consider other player's betting patterns and behavior in order to win at poker.

    If I know you always fold when the pot odds are against you I will clean you out. I know you only call/raise strong hands so I won't try to bluff with my weak hand. When you check on the flop that is an instant tell that your "good" start failed to improve.

    If you still disagree please explain how you will win money by strictly playing the odds.

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