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The Almighty Buck

Online Poker Bots Becoming Problematic? 613

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 @11:46AM (#10309699)
    'master level' poker-playing bot

    Stop calling me a bot.
  • by theluckyleper ( 758120 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:47AM (#10309722) Homepage
    I don't see what's wrong with it... if I could play against a poker-playing robot at a real casino, I would! People who write smart bots deserve the money, as far as I'm concerned.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:48AM (#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.
    ~
    • A real poker room can force you to wear a specific brand of tie if you want to play in their club, they just choose not to.

      The key point here is that this is a private business establishment, and the owner can establish limits on what goes on in that business. (with the exception of racial, gender, dicrimination, etc) Courts have historically sided with the business owners in establishing what requirements the owner sets forth for participation in their service. Ever see a "no shoes, no shirt, no service

  • by Dr. Smeegee ( 41653 ) * on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:48AM (#10309734) Homepage Journal
    ...with being an ass-hole."

    -- Henry Rollins

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I have little sympathy for the house when someone figures out a way to beat them.
    • by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:54AM (#10309804) Journal
      Except that in this case, it's not the house that's losing, it's the other players.

      Online poker works by taking in a 'rake' from each pot, usually around 10% or so. Therefore if a pokerbot can clean out the 9 other people at the table, the casino will still earn the same profit as if those 9 people had just passed around money amoung themselves.

    • by JudgeFurious ( 455868 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:35PM (#10310349)
      Even though technically they aren't so much beating the house as they're beating other players I agree with your sentiment in general.

      I read "could this proliferation of poker-playing bots undermine the almost $1 billion online gambling industry?" and my first thought was "Fine by me, good riddance to them".

      If it meant I never had to see another online casino pop-up ad then that would be a good thing.
  • cheaters! (Score:5, Funny)

    by theMerovingian ( 722983 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:49AM (#10309740) Journal

    I wouldn't be surprised at this at all - I've even heard rumors of people playing online chess while using Chessmaster to tell them their moves.

    It was, um, a friend of mine...

  • Maple Leaf Forever! (Score:3, Informative)

    by rueger ( 210566 ) * on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:50AM (#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 Flyboy Connor ( 741764 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:00PM (#10309905)
      The University of Alberta does a lot of work on poker programs. One of their aims is to create a program that can compete in the World Series of Poker. However, poker is such a complex game (for computers, that is) that at the moment the research group would be satisfied if their program would survive the first round. You see, poker is more about beating another person, than about calculations. The best poker players win because they can entice their opponents to make mistakes. This is psychology, not math. Computers are notoriously bad at psychology.
      • by sartin ( 238198 ) <sartin@acm.FORTRANorg minus language> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:20PM (#10310165) Homepage
        You: The University of Alberta does a lot of work on poker programs.

        Eliza: Please go on.

        You: One of their aims is to create a program that can compete in the World Series of Poker. However, poker is such a complex game (for computers, that is) that at the moment the research group would be satisfied if their program would survive the first round.

        Eliza: Why do you mention computers?

        You: You see, poker is more about beating another person, than about calculations. The best poker players win because they can entice their opponents to make mistakes.

        Eliza:Oh, i see poker is more about beating another person than about calculations the best poker players win because they can entice their opponents to make mistakes.

        You: This is psychology, not math.

        Eliza: Please go on.

        You: Computers are notoriously bad at psychology.

        Eliza: Why do you mention computers?
  • by ImTwoSlick ( 723185 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:51AM (#10309758)
    until someone accidentally uses an aimbot, and blows a guy's head off.
  • Is This So Wrong? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jchawk ( 127686 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:52AM (#10309773) Homepage Journal
    At first I was thinking that maybe this isn't fair to the other players... But then again if you think about it... As it stands poker is still a game of chance... A bot can only play optimum hands based upon the cards it sees and what it knows is still in the deck... This really isn't any different then a human player. If bots exist that are beating inexperienced players, how is this different from the poker pro who logs 10 hours of online poker a day?

    When you break it down it still takes a skillful poker player to engineer a bot that can perform at a winning level...

    Also the bots are betting someones money...

    There is an inherent risk in online poker that the player at the other end of the connection has tools that he is using to gain a competative advantage, such as tools for counting cards, figuring odds and so on...

    If you're looking for real human vs human action without worrying about cheat tools find a game in your neighborhood and go play there. Even though gambling isn't legal in all 50 states you can always find somewhere to play if you look hard enough.
    • This really isn't any different then a human player

      The overhead of cloning thousands of bots is very low. So a person can spawn off thousands of poker bots and play thousands of tables at one time. A human cannot do this.

    • by gorbachev ( 512743 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:22PM (#10310180) Homepage
      "But then again if you think about it... As it stands poker is still a game of chance."

      I think I would like to play against you.
    • by Sinterklaas ( 729850 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:47PM (#10310511)
      As it stands poker is still a game of chance

      Skill plays a major factor in the long term. If it wouldn't, poker professionals would not be able to exist. But they do exist and they do earn a decent living. The reason why skill is so important is that odds are only part of the equation. Straightforward betting on good hands and folding when the odds are not in your favor is easily exploitable by just not calling the bets and bluffing to get the opponent to fold. So a good player must use deception. That element of deception turns the game into an unstructured game that is very hard to beat algorithmically, so I have my doubt about being able to create world-class bots.

      If bots exist that are beating inexperienced players, how is this different from the poker pro who logs 10 hours of online poker a day?

      The difference is that the bot doesn't have to sleep, eat, pay taxes, etc so there are much lower expenses for a bot and it can work 24 hours a day. That means that if good bots exist, they can be let loose at tables where most people play for fun and where it's currently not worth it for a professional player to play. Then the poker games will split up in very low limit games that nobody plays seriously and the high stakes games where only the best professionals can live. There will be no middle ground, but that is where most money is made for the casino's and where most semi-serious players play. The result might be that online poker loses its appeal to 90% of the players.

      If you're looking for real human vs human action without worrying about cheat tools find a game in your neighborhood and go play there.

      That's not really realistic, is it? First of all, online poker is different from 'live' poker because you don't need a poker face and a lot of players like that. Also, you can play it whenever you want, without having to coordinate schedules with other people. You also don't have to play with the same 9 neighbourhood guys all the time. Then there are more games to pick from online. You can play big tournaments online. You can play freerolls online, where you can win money for free. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Online poker is just a different ball game.
  • it's easy (Score:4, Informative)

    by rayde ( 738949 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:55AM (#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.
    • Re:it's easy (Score:5, Informative)

      by Pulzar ( 81031 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:36PM (#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.
  • Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El ( 94934 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:57AM (#10309851)
    ...you don't trust other players to not be using bots, but you trust the house to not add their own player to every game and fix the host software to guarantee that the house's player wins???
  • by AssProphet ( 757870 ) * on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:57AM (#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]
  • by panxerox ( 575545 ) * on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @11:58AM (#10309874)
    I have come to the conclusion that anything that has to do with money on the internet will eventually be hacked and exploited, why should gambling sites be any different?
  • by phaetonic ( 621542 ) * on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:00PM (#10309912)
    No way! Coming from personal experience, I've played on-line and at the casinos. Bluffing is a big part of strategy in poker, and seeing the facial experssions is key. On-line poker could compete with webcams, but how many people would go through that extent? No one I know. The older folks probably want to get away from their spouse and kids. Also, the atmosphere at the casino is part of the adrenaline rush... hearing the constant noise, seeing tons of people, and getting free drinks. Playing in your pijamas without having to wash up might be alright occasionally, but I believe the vast majority of players will still drive to the casino to fully immerse themselves in the poker pit over.
  • by mpcooke3 ( 306161 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:02PM (#10309943) Homepage
    Hmmm that's why fred#3079-beta1 would never answer any of my questions.

    and explain why I am broke.
  • by PinchDuck ( 199974 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:03PM (#10309956)
    who the 'bots are. Strike up a conversation with your fellow on-line players. Something like...

    Holden: You're in a desert, walking along when - Leon: What one?
    Holden: What?
    Leon: What desert?
    Holden: Doesn't matter what desert it is, it's completely hypothetical.
    Leon: Well, how come I'd be there?
    Holden: Maybe you're fed up. Maybe you just wanted to get away from it all. Anyway. You're in a desert, walking along when you look down and you see a tortoise, Leon. It's crawling toward you. Leon: What's a tortoise?
    Holden: You know what a turtle is?
    Leon: 'Course!
    Holden: Same thing. So you reach down and flip the tortoise over on its back, Leon.
    Leon: Do you make up these questions, Mr. Holden? Or do they write 'em down for you?

    Holden: The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping.

    Leon: WHAT DO YOU MEAN, I'M NOT HELPING?

    Holden: I mean you're not helping, Leon.
  • by SplendidIsolatn ( 468434 ) <splendidisolatn AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:04PM (#10309969)
    Despite what ESPN would have you believe, there are a large number of people who play games other than "No-limit hold 'em'", namely Limit and Omaha. Each of those games are based FAR more on mathematical odds, probability, and having the nuts as opposed to the bluffing and gamesmanship required for No-Limit. It would be much much easier to program a bot that could play Limit and Omaha profitably. No-Limit and preventing collusion are a much more difficult task.
  • by hey ( 83763 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:06PM (#10309989) Journal
    ...so what's the problem?
  • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:09PM (#10310029)
    I really don't care if the bots cheat, as long as they don't friggin spawn camp me.


    Oh wait, this was about poker? Sorry.

  • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:11PM (#10310043)
    I had a debit/ATM card compromised somehow last year. There wasn't very much in the account at the time, so the guy set up an account "for" me at a poker site and tried to gamble my balance up. He lost a few hundred. I noticed the withdrawls a few hours later and called the bank, after finding that my wife and I didn't have enough money to go out to a nice dinner that night. (The charges hadn't posted and were labeled as "ATM/POS activity", so I didn't know how they were spent. I just knew it wasn't me.)
    I called the bank and while I was on the phone with the bank rep, more weird charges were coming in! We were both watching someone gamble away all my money in real time. So he red flagged them all and gave me a claim code.

    The next day the phone rings. "Hello, this is Planet Poker..." and without thinking I say "No thank you" and hang up. The phone rings again a few minutes later. "Planet Poker..." and I say "please take me off your list" and hang up, still thinking it's a telemarketing call. Which sounds stupid given the withdrawls the day before, but I didn't put two and two together. (It was Planet Poker calling me to welcome me as a new degenerate gambler / customer.)

    The phone rings again. "Don't hang up we think someone used your credit card!" she says really fast. I said, oh yeah, I reported those charges to the bank yesterday.

    Then she sounds sullen. "Well... I guess we'll be getting the chargebacks then..."

    I said, "yeah, I guess so!"

    Don't know if the guy was using a program to help him cheat, but he played really badly.
    • by lobsterGun ( 415085 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:43PM (#10310451)
      He was probably losing to himself as a way of laundering the money.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      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 com
  • Cheating (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bs_02_06_02 ( 670476 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:13PM (#10310063)
    While 'bots are a serious topic, there is a solution. Make the "user" periodically enter in some text that has been graphically morphed... something that only a human eye can recognize. It can be done in seconds, and that would eliminate the use of 'bots.

    What I can't figure out is how the gambling industry is going to fight "group cheating". Put 4 or 5 laptops together, and have several people cheat the rest of the table out of their money by sharing their hands. It's not hard to do, and it's impossible to detect. Especially with wireless access.

    I have a couple of friends that refuse to play online because it's impossible to stop this behavior in online poker.
  • Umm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by attam ( 806532 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:14PM (#10310089)
    From the article: argue the complexities of the game and the changing strategies ensure that creation of a program that can "read" opponents' cards using screen scanning techniques and respond in real time is years away at best.

    well considering that my friend and i implemented a system that does just that (over a year ago), i call bullshit on this one. what we did was capture an example of each card off the screen (we use ParadisePoker). then we came up with a best-match algorithm that compares each card to our reference cards to decide which card it is.

    it's the "react in real-time" part that is the bitch of it all... the "read" from the screen is, while i won't say trivial, doable. it took me and my friend less than a week to implement using java's "robot" class (to read pixel values from the screen).

    some guys we know were just trying to put together something that calulated odds for 7-stud on the fly, but found that inputting the cards by hand took too long. so they asked us if we could capture the cards from the screen. we didnt know if we could or couldnt, but we looked into it and it wasnt so hard.

    i also know of more than one person back at school (MIT) who is working on a fully-functioning bot. i dont think they are "years" off from being finished either.
  • by iamdrscience ( 541136 ) <michaelmtripp AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:16PM (#10310113) Homepage
    Really, this won't make a difference. All this thing does is play by the odds. While that works well against unexperienced players, most people who play a lot of poker know how to figure the odds as well (it's not hard) and what makes the game interesting is how loose or tight they play to those odds. So if you're lucky enough to get at a table of suckers in an online casino this would be useful, but really, most online casinos, unlike real casinos, are populated by gambling addicts (most of whom know the odds, if not by numbers than by instinct) or increasingly by people who read articles about calculating the odds and think that they're going to make a killing against all the other suckers.

    Really, if you want to make some money at poker you'd be better off learning to do the odds in your head and going to a real casino to find a table of marks. Or, alternatively, fleece your friends (or your friends' friends) during friendly games of poker, if you don't have any moral objections to that.
    • Actually no (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geekoid ( 135745 )
      There is poker software that will bluff. And it's pretty damn good.

      "Really, if you want to make some money at poker you'd be better off learning to do the odds in your head and going to a real casino to find a table of marks."

      ha,ha,ha thats pretty funny..and niave.

      When you go to a casino, 4 out 5 people at a table are regulars, and the pretty much just sand bag until mister, 'I know the odds' shows up, then the fleece him.

      However, one time I did make a semi-pro player come over the table at me... ahhh t
  • by SlashDread ( 38969 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:24PM (#10310205)
    Seriously.

    Foor the cool factor (Yay! its GNU!) consider "GNU Backgammon", the program uses 3 neural nets and humongous move databases. Backgammon compares well to poker btw, BG is ruled by dice and skill, Poker is ruled by chances and skill too. It is quite likely the strongest BG playing, ehm, thing, in the world.

    Gnu BG plays an astounding 2200 rating on Fibs, if not higher if you get high end hardware, and give the bot a few secs between moves.

    1800 is considered a worldclass human player, 1900 and above are grandmasters.

    Friends, dont play backgammon online for money, and certainly not Poker. Instead if you must, visit tournies in the flesh.

    Or get the bots, and a few spare comps... You will NEVER rob the casino thou, you will rob other suck^D^D^D^Dplayers.

    "/Dread"
  • by mcc ( 14761 ) <amcclure@purdue.edu> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:27PM (#10310239) Homepage
    (I may have this story slightly wrong)

    Charles Babbage, the man who is generally credited with having invented the general-purpose computer, upon finding that he was unable to find people interested in actually financially contributing to research into the construction of such a computer, wound up instead devoting the end of his life to developing a less-general-purpose computing machine specifically designed to pick winning horses in horseraces. The machine never worked and was a financial disaster for babbage.

    150 years later, computer scientists finally get their revenge on the gambling industry.
  • by ph4s3 ( 634087 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:41PM (#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.
  • by spworley ( 121031 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:01PM (#10310703)
    The article mentions in passing one other danger.. "Team Edition". It doesnn't mention details but it clues you to the the obvious way of successfully cheating.

    Imagine the advantage of having two machines side by side EACH playing a hand in the SAME game. Not only would you know more cards in play, but more importantly you could always have the ability to use the stronger hand as your main betting hand, folding the weaker hand to avoid wasting money on it. The mathematical advantage of that must be Very Large.

    Seems like this cheat would be undetectable, easy to do (two internet connections so they can't compare your IP #s), and doesn't require any bot coding at all.. very adaptable to any casino or player changes or questions.

    Summary: you can't trust any online betting activity.
  • by Anita Coney ( 648748 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:14PM (#10310871) Homepage
    I remember the first time I went to Las Vegas. I saw signs bragging about how "loose" each casinos slots were. Some bragged that they paid as high as 97%.

    I just loved it, they ADMITTED that for every dollar you gave, on average you'd get back only 97 cents. To put it another way, you get better odds from a change machine.

    It's my opinion that the stupid and ignorant should not have money. Casinos do a great job at ensuring that.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:17PM (#10310928) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, the same way Internet porn has undermined the stripper industry.
  • by Miaowara_Tomokato ( 757775 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:24PM (#10311007)
    There are a huge number of misconceptions about many aspects of this issue clearly apparent in this discussion. I'm going to go through some of the highest-moderated misunderstandings in hopes of reclaiming some of what this whole discussion is about.

    I'm relatively sure that all of the online gambling sites use either Flash or Java applets to display cards and such. I wouldn't think they'd make it so easy as to give easy access to card names.

    You do not actually need to break into the program in order to use some form of bot. Graphics recognition has advanced to the point where a hand can be analyzed on the fly by a concurrently running program. See Poker Office [pokeroffice.com]. Such programs can then immediately provide feedback based on the information they glean.

    Could this proliferation of poker-playing bots undermine the almost $1 billion online gambling industry?

    The end of the industry is not likely at hand. Poker is just one part of this industry, and the industry will continue EVEN IF bots are the only ones playing. The casino will just take the same percentage of each pot.

    if a pokerbot can clean out the 9 other people at the table

    Quite frankly it is ridiculous to think that a bot with perfect play can clean out any table. Good poker play results in a slow accumulation of profit at a faster rate than losses. A perfect bot will certainly not be playing more than 1 in 5 hands to begin with, and not win more than one in 3 of those. Good players can't just make the right cards appear, no matter what you saw in Maverick. They get the same crappy cards as everyone else, it's how they play them that differs.

    you don't trust other players to not be using bots, but you trust the house to not add their own player to every game and fix the host software to guarantee that the house's player wins?

    Yes, very much so. Contrary to popular opinion, most people are not complete retards. It's not difficult to tell when someone is consistently winning - certainly there are hot streaks, but any whiff of foul play will result in a huge exodus of players from any poker site. They have no reason to do such a thing, as profits are huge from both the rake AND the interest they are collecting on your bankrolled money.

    _______
    Any current bot is very likely for Limit poker - this is the 'easiest' style to play purely by the numbers. The state space required for a bot to make decisions in No Limit poker is absolutely huge- one poorly written part can get your bot cleaned out regularly.

    Personally I would LOVE to be at a table where I have positively ID'ed a player as a bot because I could then run circles around it. There are a number of tactics that would play merry hell with a bot that plays the straight numbers, and even a bot that adjusts to my own play style is not difficult to take advantage of.

    I play regularly online and I do not fear the bot. What I fear most is the bad player that will put all their money on a 20% draw, where any good player (or bot) would fold- because sometimes they hit, and that hurts.

    Once they find a cure for bad players though, that's the end of poker, but I am content that that time is far in the future.
  • Temporary Solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by name_already_in_use ( 604991 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:24PM (#10311015) Homepage
    As a temporary solution couldn't the online poker rooms implement a system that asks the user to input say a 5 digit character code every 10, 20 hands or whatever. That way the bot won't be able to enter the code and is subequently forced to fold/check all hands until it can. This ensures the player is human. Of course it does ensure the human is not cheating in some other way but it is a start.
  • So what (Score:3, Insightful)

    by richard_willey ( 79077 ) <richard_willeyNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:32PM (#10311101)
    I don't see how poker bots present any kind of a unique problem.

    Online casino's exist in order to rake money off the table. They don't care if this comes from bots or humans. Lets assume that the bots get so good that every single human gets replaced by a poker bot.

    What does it really matter? The online casino's will still generate money, only they'll be funded by bad bot writer's rather than bad poker players.

    Think of it as a more intellectual version of battlebots...
  • by vinsci ( 537958 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:39PM (#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? ;-)

  • by foxtrot ( 14140 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:39PM (#10311158)
    I'm basically responding to a whole slew of comments here, so I re-parented it. This is from my perspective of a middle-of-the-road poker player.

    • It's noted in the article that you might be able to get away with writing your own client by claiming you run Linux and there isn't one-- this is a questionable argument, but more importantly, Linux geeks aren't left out of the online poker business. http://www.pokerroom.com's java clients run on Windows, Mac, or Linux.
    • Honestly, I think it would be _trivial_ to write a poker client that could kick the stuffing out of any human player. A simple Q-learner would be excellent for the project. The trouble is twofold: For one, you need an insane amount of space to keep track of the current game state-- not just what's happened in this hand, but in previous hands, because that matters; your play against a bunch of tight aggressive players needs to be different from what you can do against loose passive players. For two, since the state space is so monstrous, training would take a positively mind-boggling amount of time, which would be expensive, since you can't train a poker bot in a funny-money game; the game's too different.
    • On the other hand, you could build a poker bot that played a nice basic strategy. A decent poker player can beat this, but it would take money from the fish. So it's only something you need to worry about if you were going to be losing money at the poker tables anyhow.
    • The poker 'bot not responding to conversation is not a big deal: host it from Abu Dhabi and he just doesn't speak English.
    • Regarding a crooked house: Reputable online poker sites are vetted by third-parties, so whether or not you can trust the house to deal the cards randomly isn't a huge issue. And if the house does use bots as shills, it's effectively the same thing to a decent player as a normal person using a bot. Note that many gaming commissions do require a gaming house to identify shills upon request, but there's no guarantee that the online poker site you play at has such a rule. That said, there's _huge_ money in online poker for the house; there's no odds in it for them for someone to notice the house is rigged/has shill players which would drive off clientele to other sites.
    • More of a thought than a comment: In the higher levels of poker, Mike Caro notes that you're considered to be doing well if you can make one or two big bets an hour-- so if you're playing a $25-50 game, you're doing well if you average $50-$100 an hour. On the other hand, players are less experienced at a $2-4 or a $3-6 game. So where do you put your 'bot? If it's hugely good, do you put it at the 25-50 game? Or is it better off joining a bunch of $3-6 games (since there will be many more of these...) and netting more than one or two big bets an hour from the neophytes?


    (Side note: If anyone is interested in playing some online poker and wants a bonus on their first deposit, drop a reply to this with your name and email address, and I'll send a referral out. We both get a bonus from this.)
    • Honestly, I think it would be _trivial_ to write a poker client that could kick the stuffing out of any human player

      I think this goes right up there with it being trivial to write a perfect operating system or a cypher nobody can crack. Lots of people have tried, and it's never been done, to my knowledge. Remember there's more to it than just figuring out what the other players have and adjusting your strategy to it. Your bot will have tendencies, just like any human player. When other players figure

  • by eisbaer4 ( 195961 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @03:17PM (#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

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