19/01/2015

Cepheus: The Beginning of the End of Online Poker

Lee Davy

I have a question for the team at the University of Alberta that has told the world’s press that they have ‘solved’ Limit Heads-Up poker.

“Did you know that there are thousands of human beings that rely on online poker as a form of income?”

If you did know, then why are you trying to take away their livelihood?

The Cepheus story, and the success of the University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group, has hit the worldwide media hubs with the speed and ferocity of a bush fire.

Poker has not been thrust onto the shelves of worldwide non-poker related news stations with such alacrity since Dan Colman won a zillion quid, and then reacted by pulling a face a 10-year old, who had just had his PlayStation placed on top of the kitchen cupboard, would have worn.

Normally, I am happy that poker gets such widespread coverage. Promotion of poker is a good thing for the community. It’s helps our longevity, but not on this occasion. I think it’s very damaging for poker; very damaging indeed.

Once upon a time online poker was a wonderful place to be. Most people in the world could play the game, professions were spun, and smiles spread readily over faces hidden by hoods.

Then the spoilsports in the USA changed everything. They banned online poker and since then it’s been an uphill battle to prove to those same men, and women, that they should change their minds.

With a federal law change seeming as unlikely as a month of celibacy by Christian Grey, it’s been left to the individual states to drag regulation in by the short and curlies. Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey are up and running, but the landmasses are too small for liquidity to make their emergence game changing.

California is a different kettle of fish. Online poker in California is a target market for nearly 40 million people. Now we are talking. Real numbers. Real games. Real money.

It isn’t going to be that simple. California has had its fair share of online poker bills, and so far they have all ended up in the tray marked ‘recycled’. The lawmakers are edgy. They need reassurances that online poker isn’t the cancer that Sheldon Adelson says it is.

Lawmakers need to be convinced that children won’t hack their parents accounts, gambling addicts won’t go all-in with their kids college funds, and the environment is a safe and secure place to play. And now they know that there is a Poker Research team in the University of Alberta who has created artificial intelligence that can beat any human being alive in the game of Limit Heads-Up Texas Hold’em.

Online poker rooms around the world can start closing down this game as an option to its customers. It’s solved. There is now the potential for a robot to be taking your money over the long run.

So what do poker’s Frankenstein builders do next?

I doubt the Poker Research Group is going to disband. They seem like a lively and excitable bunch. Why not go the whole hog, instead of just eating the apple? Why not try and solve more and more games of poker?

Physicist Sean Carroll wrote a blog post about the Cepheus story, and had this to say on the matter: “It’s not impossible to imagine that No-Limit will be ‘essentially solved’ in the foreseeable future.”

I suddenly have a question to ask James Hartigan at Inside PokerStars.

“What protection does PokerStars have against A.I that can beat human beings, being managed by a human, to take advantage of other humans playing on the site?”

Because right now, knowing there are people trying to create A.I to take over our online poker games is pretty frightening.

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