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?
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?
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.