Friday, May 12, 2006, 2:05 PM

Will Poker Bots Doom Online Poker?

This article by Tim Harford in the Financial Times (thanks to Truth on the Market) discusses the possibility that poker-bots (computer programs trained to play online poker) will one day play better than all human beings, thus threatening the booming online poker industry. Currently, even a novice human player can beat a poker-bot, but many people think it is only a matter of time before the poker-bots take over. The article states:

"I believe that bots will eventually play better than all human beings," predicts [Darse] Billings. [World Series of Poker champion and computer scientist Chris] Ferguson agrees. "If poker robots had a tenth of the resources that were spent on chess, they'd already have beaten us." Many commentators now fear that the robots will destroy the online game that so enthused their creators in the days of IRC poker. Online poker players are thought to wager more than $250m a day - a tempting incentive to write a software program that could be let loose on unsuspecting "fish" all over the world. A decent poker player can make thousands of dollars a month playing the online game, so what if that player was replaced by an unlimited number of copies of a fiendish computer program? Billings is convinced that the risk of this happening soon has been exaggerated. His own SparBot, an academic project, does not play for money, while he dismisses the other programs as simply not good enough. "The fear of bots is a much bigger problem than the threat of bots. There are dozens of poker robots out there on the internet, but all they are doing is contributing money to everyone else." But he admits that it is only a matter of time before anyone will be able to download a free poker robot that will outplay the world champion. At that point, people may not care to risk money online against unidentified opponents.


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