Saturday, October 10, 2009

Are Poker Cheat Bots the Real Deal?

It is well known that strategy games have been an interesting and challenging domain for computer science research over the decades. Beginning with Tic-Tac-Toe, computer researchers have used games to develop and teach artificial intelligence the application of theoretical concepts to practical situations. The use of games to to develop artificial intelligence was brought to the fore in the 80’s in the movie WarGames, staring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.

Long argued as a game of skill, the game of poker is a prime candidate for study because it is a conceptually simple yet strategically complex game that offers more dimensions than the one-on-one games such as chess, checkers, and other well-studied games. Therefore, it was only logical for the University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group (“UACRG”) to set out and develop the adaptive software program named “Polaris” the poker playing robot. Used solely for scientific study, Polaris has been matched up against some of the best players in the world, in controlled environments. And while Polaris has been able to win a game or two in specific scientific settings, it is a work in progress. More importantly, Polaris is the proprietary scientific property of the UACRG and its artificial intelligence programming is not available to the general public.

Since poker players are always looking to get a leg-up in an effort to minimize losses and give poker players an edge, the development and sale of plug-in/add-on poker software has become big business. Typing the words, “Poker Robot” into your search engine of choice will produce several websites with statistics about the use of Poker Bots while advertising their software purported to give the purchaser an upper-hand over other players and other robots. While there are several legitimate programs and services that assist players in tracking play and calculating odds to aid in improving one’s game, any website purporting to sell robot software or other similar “cheating” programs should be overlooked as either illegal or a potential scam.

Poker bots are banned from almost all gaming websites. While they may be increasingly common they are really just poker calculators that run on auto pilot continuously, calling, folding, and or betting based on preset scenarios. While hardly artificial intelligence, the advantage is that the software never tires and can play consistently for days on end in multiple games and sometimes even multiple sites, therefore giving the user an unfair advantage over legitimate players.

Internet forums and social websites are chock-full of postings from disgruntled on-line poker players complaining about bad beats, rigged scenarios, and the suspected use of cheat software. However, the majority of the comments are unfounded criticisms based more in frustration than actual factual evidence so it is difficult to tell if a loss is truly the result of an unfair or illegal advantage. Besides, it is practically a rite of passage for a poker player to take the most unimaginable bad-beat possible by having a monster hand cracked on the last street. Like fishermen and their big-fish stories, poker players gather to compare their losses and eventually learn to wear them as a badge of honor, having survived to tell the tale and play again. And while the majority of the worst bad-beat stories seem to be the result of an on-line experience, given the number of hands per minute played on-line as opposed to in live play, overall the odds should remain the same.

Case-in-point, the 2008 World Series of Poker - Championship Event, when pocket Aces were beat by a lesser starting hand that resulted in quad Aces begin cracked by the rarest hand in the game, a royal flush.