Thursday, May 11, 2006

Poker Bots: The Death of Online Poker?

With online poker already showing signs of slowing down, the invasion of "Poker Bots" could forever ruin the multi-billion dollar industry. Concern is growing that these sophisticated card-playing robots are being widely used on commercial gambling sites to take advantage of us flawed homosapiens.

I have been playing online poker for over 3 years. Even in that short span of time, the skill level online has noticeably improved. For any novice player a few years back, the smaller limit games were easy money. But today with more educated players & the ability to play hundreds of hands daily, it's tougher than ever to show a consistent profit.

Thus, it was inevitable that certain players would resort to other (unethical?) means of gaining advantages over their opponents.

Enter the poker bots. The first publicly offered poker bot software,, was introduced back in 2004 by Ray Bornert. In fact, it remains the most popular public program two years later. For only $25, you can purchase a bare-bones setup of their card-analysis program. For an extra $200, you can purchase the full package that is fully programmable to customize your own strategies (although it helps to be fluent in C++).

One of the biggest advantages is that bots have no fear, no shame, no emotional hurdles that humans struggle to overcome. Fatigue is also a non-issue. Set your program to run on autopilot and it wins money while you sleep. Flick on "Team mode" and you can collude with other humans running WinHoldEm at the table.

The University of Alberta’s Computer Poker Research Group has developed an artificially intelligent bot known named “Vex Bot,” capable of playing poker at the master level. Real money tests turned $400,000 into over $4 million (see chart)! Although the program is intended for "educational purposes only", some fear it may become a blueprint for programmers with more sinister motives. (side thought: if the program is indeed for educational purposes only, who pocketed the $3.6 million?)

Poker site operators have allegedly been able to defeat bots by monitoring the sites for suspicious playing patterns and scanning for commercial bots. But users have their own counter-countermeasures, like limiting their time at any one table, having the bot "chat" with humans, & using their software from a remote computer to evade detection by poker sites that scan their hard drives.

According to the website, their software is currently untraceable by such big players as Full Tilt, Pacific Poker, Ultimate Bet & Poker Stars. Party Poker & Paradise Poker have work-arounds that you can employ to remain undetected.

But be careful! If you’re caught using poker bot software by a site, they will close your account without giving you access to your available funds.

Whether these programs actually work over the long-term is up to debate. But the fear itself over the presence of these robots could severely harm the booming popularity of online poker.


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