Poker News Round-up
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Poker News Round-up: Week #30
The concept of man versus machine match-ups has attracted interest in various games pretty much ever since computers were powerful enough to undertake such tasks. Back in 1979 a computer program was developed that beat the reigning world backgammon champion, and in 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue famously conquered Garry Kasparov, but to date there has not been an equivalent in poker that can outwit the best human players. The main reason for this is that whilst having a massive edge in computational power for games with complete information such as chess, computers struggle with scenarios of incomplete information e.g. in hold’em its opponent’s two hole cards.
Various attempts have been made at creating top class poker bots and two years ago Phil Laak was brought in to play against the winning entry from the World Poker Robot Championship. Laak took victory back then against a program called Poker Probot, and it was back to the drawing board for the computer boffins.
Inevitably a stronger version has been developed since then, and shortly after announcing that they had developed a program that had solved draughts with perfect play at all times, a team from the University Of Alberta unveiled their latest poker offering Polaris. Laak was once again set to represent the human race in a match up against Polaris, although to ensure that a lucky run of cards could not skew the outcome, Laak teamed up with Ali Eslami. Laak and Eslami then played duplicate games in which the same series of cards were dealt in both games with team-mates playing the opposite hands in each game.
The tournament was contested over four 500 hand sessions with a win being awarded if either side ended the session up by a combined total of 25 small bets. Any total less than 25 small bets would result in a tie, which worked in the humans’ favour in the first match as Polaris ended up by 7 small bets for the draw. Session two saw Laak well up in his game but Eslami was absolutely caned by Polaris for 250 small bets and Polaris took the first win of the contest.
Phil Laak wearing shades against his computer opponent
Session three again saw a win for Laak and a loss for Eslami but this time Laak’s total was significantly bigger and intriguingly the contest went to the final session with the scores level. After some strategy based consultation with one another before the final match-up, Laak and Eslami seemed to have hit on a winning strategy as both finished the final session up, thus claiming the victory for mankind.
Both Laak and Eslami were very complimentary of the standard of Polaris’ play, and with a few further improvements plus the benefit of previous hand histories to work with, it would not be surprising to see a computer program win one of these man v machine contests in the near future. It should be noted though that the bots are at their strongest in limit heads up matches. When multiple opponents and no limit betting are introduced, the programs are still no match for the best poker players.
The artificial intelligence programmers behind Polaris would of course agree that poker is a game of skill, although not everyone would agree and this concept has been key to several legal battles lately. The most recent saw president of the Danish Poker Association Fredrik Hostrup in court charged with organising illegal gambling games by running poker tournaments in Denmark in which players were charged an entry fee. Hostrup’s defence argued that these tournaments should not be covered by the laws which would apply to other forms of illegal gambling as poker is a game of skill. The court decided that there was a sufficient level of ability required to succed at poker and acquitted Hostrup on the basis that he was only organising skill based events. That decision alone may not be enough to resolutely establish poker as a game of skill, but it is a legal landmark that may come to play an important part of future rulings in Europe.
In live tournament news, the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour wasted no time after the WSOP was complete in hosting the latest leg of the tour in Newcastle. The £1,000 buy in main event attracted 205 runners, including some well known names such as Surinder Sunar, Micky Wernick and Dave Colclough. Mazhar Nawab emerged as the winner after a very lengthy final table and picked up £66,000 to go with some decent money he earned recently in Vegas at the Bellagio Cup. Nawab also placed 6th in the Brighton leg of this tour and is putting together a very good sequence of results for 2007.
Poacher turned gamekeeper Steve Forte has allegedly reverted to poacher again after being arrested for involvement in a poker cheating scam in New Jersey. Forte is an expert on cheating at many forms of gambling and is president of a consultation company that works with some of the largest casinos in the USA. His own website claims he is the most skilled sleight of hand artist in the world, but he seems to have turned to the dark side by using his powers in private games in a hotel room at the Borgata in Atlantic City. His arrest is based on the charge that along with three accomplices he used concealed cameras to view players’ hole cards. This information was viewed by an external source who then relayed details on to an accomplice in the game with a radio transmitter in his ear.
If found guilty and sentenced to jail, he will have plenty of time on his hands to refine the art of cheating at cards without getting caught (opposition to be provided by some of New Jersey’s most dangerous criminals.)
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