Artificial Intelligence Takes Over Poker

Is nothing sacred?

Computer scientist Michael Bowling, a teacher at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, has created a computer program that wins at Texas Hold ’em poker.

Obviously, he has nothing better to do in the midst of a typical Edmonton winter, where the temperature is below freezing 90% of the time in January, than to ruin our fun.

But there’s a surprising upside to his new software. It’s a big leap forward in the world of artificial intelligence, where computers can make choices like humans.

What’s the future?

Bowling has been at work on a program that can beat you at a game called heads-up limit Texas Hold ’em.

The computer won’t beat you every hand, because there are too many variables — the big problem software designers have had with poker is that so many cards are hidden.

However, it will beat you so often that you’ll lose everything you have to the computer.

But that’s not the worst part.

Because of the complexity of betting, Bowling made the game easier for the computer to play — bets are limited, as the name of the game implies, and there are only two players.

Bowling says no matter how many hands you may win against his program, you will never gain the upper hand.

“It was trained against itself, playing the equivalent of more than a billion billion hands of poker,” says Bowling.

His software can bluff, and it is so tricky that it doesn’t always bet the same hand the same way.

Although this seems like the end of magic to me, some poker players say that really good poker software can make you rich.

By practicing against an almost perfect opponent, you get much better at the game. And after all, when you enter a casino, you probably won’t find a computer sitting across the poker table from you, just a typical human.

At least not yet.

To a bright future,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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