Friday, March 21, 2008

Rise of the Machines

A "bot" is a program designed to do some automated task usually over the interwebs. It is a robot without the metal shell. They have varying degrees of artificial intelligence ranging from the ability to call up today's weather to carrying on a conversation under the guise of a valley girl. You may have talked to them in you favorite instant messenger, fired at them in your favorite video game, or played against them in your favorite on-line poker room.



Poker bots and the bots of first-person shooters have some similarities. Both use AI to react to the human in an attempt to overcome. They have the ability to perform perfectly within the set of rules given. For example, a bot in the game Unreal can only jump as high or run as fast as the physics of the game allow, but they can exhibit perfect aim consistently if the game is set at the highest difficulty level. Likewise, a poker bot will only win when the cards they need fall, even though they can play with mathematical precision. A poker bot calculates probability, pot odds, implied odds, relative hand strength and the like better than the most pros. That's just how it is.

Best advice: don't play against bots. Unfortunately, you probably won't know when you are, so that advice is useless. Poker bots are prohibited by the poker rooms, but I still find some hacker-types manage to get some use out them before the site shuts them down. The other theory is that the sites themselves employ poker bots from time to time.

However, all is not lost. Humans do not have to submit to the machines. The bots play mathematically, not perfectly. Unlike in chess, humans can still win out. This is because of the intuitive aspect of poker. With a big enough database, the bot can access the one best move for every situation in chess, with poker they can't. Bots have a hard time computing bluffs--both when to execute bluffs and when to call. They have no tells but also can't read yours. Use this to your advantage. A little illogical play never hurts against our digital creations.


  1. The best part about a bot though is that it is predictable. Sure a good bot would incorporate randomness into when it makes its moves just as any good poker player does, but from all the bot cases I've seen so far, they don't. So especially if you have something like PAHUD, it's easy to play against them. The one bot I would fear would be one who would be able to access stats on you, adapt to your play, and include bluffing/betting/any decision randomly depending on the circumstances. But so far I don't believe there is such thing as a bot good enough to beat a winning player in a cash game, most I've seen just take money off the fish. The bot will usually employ a very tight aggressive play, playing only certain hands from certain positions and often just cbetting 100% of the time when called.

    But they are easily detectable, and several have. They already have the software designed to prevent known bots, and they can analyze stats, how you play hands, all using their computers. So if you run an analysis on every single person, the computer should be able to figure out which ones are potentially bots. Then you have real people look at this list to determine for sure. Not exactly sure if they do this or not, but I know they do have software and that bots have been caught. Personally though I'm not afraid of bots. If I'm not better than a computer program, I guess I'm not that good. And if there is an algorithm that can beat the game, any reason you haven't developed it and just used it to tell you what to do and you make the mouse clicks? That's perfectly legal and if it would work I'm sure you could be rich playing the 1000nl tables with that "bot".

    I wouldn't worry about bots at all. I'd guess most bots lose money rather than win money anyway, and the good bots usually get caught pretty easily.

  2. Nice, well-thought-out comment Zach. If you ever want to be a guest poster, let me know.

    Poker Pro Phil Laak helped prove to the world that the best human players can beat the best computers (so far) I'm not debating that. However, just the fact that they play perfect mathematical poker is enough for them to make money. I know that running bots are profitable, that is why they are illegal.

    Actually, I find that the playing style of many good online players are closer to that of a bot's style than that of a classical poker pro. They rely less on tells and psychology and more on cold math, only with more aggression and a higher bluff rate than bots.