Man vs. machine: Laak meets Polaris

Phil Laak
Phil Laak to fight machine again

Poker bot developers at University of Alberta bet $50,000 that their poker playing computer program, Polaris, will hold its own against professional players Phil 'Unabomber' Laak and Ali Eslami through 2,000 hands of Texas Holdem.

It has happened in chess and it has happened in backgammon: the computers have definitively defeated the humans. Poker is more complex and so far beyond the grasp of cold machines, but researchers at the University of Alberta are taking the challenge of poker-playing artificial intelligence very seriously.

Phil Laak and Ali Eslami will take on the poker-playing computer during the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Conference in Vancouver on July 23 and 24.

Each match consists of 500 hands played in four sessions. The experiment is designed to neutralize as much as possible of the randomness inherent to poker. At the end of each session, the combined bankroll of the humans will be compared with that of the computer to determine the winner.

Polaris is in fact several co-operating computer programs with different abilities. One is very aggressive, but doesn't take into account the playing style of opponents. Another program learns from the strengths and weaknesses of other players and adjusts its style accordingly.

However, all programs master the most characteristic aspect of poker: bluffing.

"There is a mathematically optimal rate at which you should bluff. Computers can calculate that. If humans bluff too much, you can exploit them and win money," said professor Jonathan Schaeffer at U of A to Edmonton Sun.

In 2005, Phil Laak defeated the best poker robot in the world - at the time - in a heads up match during the 2005 WSOP.

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