Four Guys Put the Future of No-Limit Hold'em On Hold. For Now.

Humans won this time. But for how long?

It wasn’t long ago when we got the news that Limit Holdem was "solved."

Actually, it was in January this year.

True, it was only Heads Up - added players make it more complicated - but still.

With that said there are bots that are very competitive today.

That could be one reason why Limit Holdem is dead online.

Computer Geeks are Programming Year In, Year Out

Poker bots
Programmers are working relentlessly

No-Limit is a different animal. The fact that you can alter the sum of your bets makes the game extremely more complicated.

But of course it's just a matter of time before the computer will finally prevail. The raw power of calculation will beat all the curveballs a person can throw.

The computer geeks are programming year in and year out, running constant simulations of millions of hands, evaluating and reprogramming until they get it right.

I have played a lot of backgammon. That game was fairly easily solved. It took away all the fun; there were no different styles anymore, just right or wrong.

The learning curve became very fast since anyone could play the computer program Snowie that played perfectly. Obviously backgammon online had no chance of success.

Chess is almost endlessly more complicated than backgammon. I have played a lot of that game too.

I competed for a few years in my teens and back then everybody knew it was just a matter of time before the computer would be better than the world’s best player.

When it happened can be discussed. Read more here if you are interested.

The Most Dynamic Game Ever Invented

In the early years of this millennium I heard a lot of expert poker players claim that a computer could never beat a human.

David Benefield
Mathematically, poker way more complex than chess.

It was pretty ignorant, but actually a reasonable opinion. (Unless you knew what had happened in chess and backgammon.)

After all, poker is the most dynamic game ever invented. Mathematically, poker is much more complicated than chess.

On top of that you add the psychology, the mental stamina, the tells and the luck.

Analysts in the academic world use a tool called “state space,” which is how many different possible positions there are to show the complexity of a game.

Complexity of different games:

Tic-Tac-Toe                3

Limit Holdem            14

Checkers                 20

Backgammon           20

Chess                      50

No-Limit Holdem      140

PokerSnowie Impressed Me

I'm a good Heads-Up player. I have beaten three straight world champions in heads-up matches.

Some other time I’ll write about how I won against Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker and Joe Hachem in the space of six months.

I have played a lot of heads up online as well, even against Viktor Blom back in the day. I have also played against what I was sure was bots.

PokerSnowie profit big
PokerSnowie impressive, but Claudico better.

I say ”a lot,” given my standards that is. I have played nothing compared to the online heads-up experts.

The Internet made the learning curve very fast and now I don’t stand a chance against the best.

They have played minimum a million more hands and risen to the top against all other grinders, so it would be strange otherwise.

I took the PokerSnowie challenge 2.5 years ago during the Battle of Malta when they first put the program to real live testing.

I was the first to play and I beat the computer. The programmer looked a little distressed but gave me my prize of a t-shirt and a smile.

Pokersnowie impressed me and I’m sure I would not stand a chance today if we played a few thousand hands.

But there is a better heads-up computer.

The Computer Has More Calculations to Do

Claudico recently won the yearly Computer Poker Competition. This is what Claudico does according to the programmers:

Polk: Claudico not world-class yet.

”Claudico performs real-time reasoning during a hand. It also improves its strategy during the match by computing continuously on the Blacklight computer.

"The research team built Claudico using algorithms that analyzed poker rules to devise a winning strategy. Claudico is not based on the experience of expert human players, so its strategy for playing can differ markedly from seasoned pros.”

Claudico just took on four of the best online heads-up players in the world. From April 24 to May 8 it played 80,000 hands against Doug Polk, Bjorn Li, Dong Kim and Jason Les.

The match took place at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh where two humans played in the casino and the other two in a private room backstage.

All four were in front of a laptop linked to a mainframe computer running the show.

Everyday the computer got the same hands against two of the players and those two players' hands against the other two humans to make it as fair as possible.

Another special rule was that they started every hand with 200 big blinds. Everybody played 1,500 hands a day between 11am and 10pm.

The humans kicked the computer's butt to the tune of 73,327 big blinds - almost one bb per hand - and proved that the computer has some more calculations to do before it's ready for a rematch.

Chad Batista
Future worse than this?

How I Long for the '90s

According to Doug Polk, the computer is not a world-class player yet.

If he says so, I guess it is so. But I know that Claudico one day will be.

Probably sooner than we think, and would like to.

Then poker will be even more boring than with today’s cloned army of young online grinders.

Oh, how I long for the '90s, where everybody had their own style, and poker had charm and character.

About Ken Lennaárd:

Sweden's most controversial poker blogger Ken Lennaárd has been around the professional poker circuit for almost 20 years. Among his numerous accomplishments are Swedish Championships both live and online, three WSOP final tables and over $1.5m in live earnings. He's now bringing his singular poker voice to the English world via Look for new posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Note: Opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not represent the views of

Best Poker Sites - Editor`s Pick