The Future of Poker Bots

Created By: Sean Lind
15 September 2009
Posted in: Positively Nerd Street, Poker Gadgets and Technology
pokerbot

There are hundreds of misconceptions and rumors about poker bots around, including what they are, how they work and if you should be worried about them at the tables.

Poker bots are nothing new. The concept of artificial opponents was originally developed for the game of chess. Over time, programmers were able to create computerized opponents that can defeat the world's greatest chess-playing humans.

But, luckily for us humans, No-Limit Hold'em is a far more complicated game to teach an A.I. than chess.

Limit Hold'em, however, thanks to its primarily mathematical nature, is a bit easier for bots to wrap their silicon heads around. Programmers at the University of Alberta are well known for creating Polaris, the first bot that can actually give humans some real competition in this variant.

But as of yet, no programmer has managed to create a truly competitive and competent bot for No-Limit Hold'em.

Rob Turner, the owner of www.pokerbotbasics.com (a site dedicated to the creation and legitimization of poker bots on commercial poker sites) is doubtful of such a feat, telling PokerListings, "It could be years before we see poker bots being unbeatable at the table. Maybe never."

What is a Poker Bot?

Mike Matusow
Mike Matusow is not a bot fan.

At its core, a poker bot is a very simple program:

It reads the poker table window as an image, and each part of the table with information specific to the hand is analyzed and recorded for computation.

Once the computer is asked for input (meaning the action is on the bot), it uses its programmed logic to pick the best course of action.

Of course, the "best" action is extremely subjective.

This will depend on the programmer's own poker skill, along with his ability to predict the scenario and create strong enough code for the computer to make the correct choice.

Are Poker Bots Out There?

There is some speculation whether poker bots are being used in earnest at all. The answer is a definite yes.

"Poker bots are already out there," says Turner, "lurking at many sites where people play, silently making their masters a few dollars every day.

"Every once in a while you can spot them - that time player768 went all-in except for a dollar on the turn, and then folded on the river? That was a poker bot that needed some fine tuning."

Once it's accepted that poker bots are in fact on the tables, it becomes a question of whether or not the bots are actually making money. According to Turner, the best bots make a marginal profit, if any at all.

"I've seen my bot win some great hands only to turn around and hand over hard earned chips to a housewife in Kansas."

Why do People Write Bots?

Much like any other programming quest, the goal is as much artistic as academic. As Turner explains, poker is a dream environment for such a creative endeavor.

"An online table comes complete with a pre-defined set of rules and all the information in one graphic," says Turner.  "What your bot can do boils down to three moves: fold, call, or raise.

"As a hobbyist you can build a simple bot that makes a random play, or a complicated one that carefully watches players and evaluates their playing ability over time."

Andy Black
Andy Black wants no bot action.

The true reasons for writing a poker bot don't come from the malicious intent of swindling human players out of money, but from the genuine challenge of creating a bot that can be a contender.

Can a Poker Room Ban Bots?

If a poker room wanted to completely ban bots from its tables it would be fairly easy to do. Known as bot-busting technology, the premise is very simple:

If all poker bots function by analyzing specific areas of the images on screen, the poker software needs to randomly make small changes to how the screen displays information.

For example, if instead of printing "King of Clubs" the software suddenly prints "K ing of Clubs," the code will break.

"Make a small change once every 20 minutes and you'll see bots freeze up, frustrating their owners, and driving bots from a bot-busting site to sites with tables that are easier to program for," advises Turner.

Should Poker Bots be Allowed?

This is the million-dollar question and there's fierce opposition on both sides. Since it's obvious which side of the fence the programmers stand on, PokerListings decided to put the question to some of the world's predominant poker professionals.

Some players, like Mike Matusow and Andy Black, feel bots have no place in the world of poker. High-stakes veteran and team Poker Stars pro Barry Greenstein, however, has a different view on the matter.

"I believe that poker sites should allow bots, but only on clearly defined tables. Players should know who the bots are, and have the choice if they would like to play them or not," says Greenstein.

Even though Greenstein feels bots should be allowed, he has no intention of playing them himself as a computer operating on a finite set of rules will make far fewer mistakes than a human playing with distractions and emotion.

Will Bots Ever Be Mainstream?

Barry Greenstein
Players should have the choice to play bots or not.

In 2005 Las Vegas hosted the first, and possibly only, poker-bot competition, where players sat their personally coded bots at the tables and had them play out until a winner.

With sites such as www.pokerbotbasics.com, which gives detailed tutorials on how to create your own bot, poker bots may become more mainstream.

In an effort to fast-track this movement, the owner of Pokerbot Basics has even pledged to pay any poker site $10,000 if they will openly allow bots at their tables.

As I write this article, no site has accepted this offer.

Many thanks to Rob Turner for his expertise on the subject and for supplying the picture for this article.

If you're interested in the nitty-gritty details of how poker bots function, head to his site and take a look around.

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Bob Villa 2014-09-15 03:34:30

What about the Shanky Poker bot? Been around for years and everyone -- including the poker rooms -- turns a blind eye to it. Maybe a site should openly allow them and have bot wars.

Babidi 2012-09-15 14:43:38

One thing this article neglects to mention is how bots can make collusion much easier. Bots could actually win if they played in colluding teams.

Theresa 2012-01-25 15:10:27

i tried to donate for a bot on pokerbot.proboards.com and your right mick is a douche! i got an email from someone names wiper say go here for the free version 2 mins later got one from mick saying wiper was a scammer and if i downloaded his bot it would hack my computer and steal my paypal information.. is any of this possible.?? i know nothing about computers what so ever all i do know is i was hacked on zynga for 1.4bil and zynga will not restore them i have been seraching for a bot that works since this happened to get my chips back for me but all im getting is virus's do any of you know where to actually get a working one?

Ivan M 2011-12-18 02:41:48

pokerbot.proboards.com is a scam, you pay for bot and you get a non working shitty programing app which doesnt do anything and author, Mick Nickson is a imbecil who insults every person on the board who comes with a problem . Mick You idiot, you better learn how to program a bot and stop cheating with your donations to get a bot. This way you cant file a paypal claim and you have nothing, like someone would pay for this shitty forum.

dont buy/donate there

WILL SAMS 2010-06-21 02:19:43

MAN I'VE MADE MILLIONS WITH MY BOT PROGRAM thats how pokerstars have so many SUPERNOVAS LOL

Rob Turner 2009-10-11 21:13:00

Good point Phil, unless the bot is programmed for controlled aggressive play. The more difficult trick will be to read the opponent and adjust play accordingly.

Programming a bot that plays like you is probably the best solution.

ROB.T.

DoverPro 2009-09-19 04:54:00

Bring on the BOTS! Anytime, I love them when I can spot them at the table, even the better ones are fairly easy to defeat.

An older site, Duplicate Poker, now defunct, used some pretty good bots to fill tables, and they played well in that type of highly structured format, but again, all you had to do was take them on. In this case, they had problems learning when to foldem, lol.

Gotta love that in a bot.

Phil Ivey 2009-09-17 16:30:00

Bots are not a threat...they are defeated the same way you defeat nits....controlled aggressive play....they don't play hands with sub-par starting hands and rarely call large bets w/o the nuts or strong draws to the nuts

fr34k99 2009-09-15 20:03:00

I agree with Barry. Bots should be allowed, but only where players can have a choice of playing them or not.

Nick 2009-09-15 16:29:00

Poker bots are like your parents having sex. You know it happens and you cringe every time you think about it.

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