Many players today are worried they may be playing against computers instead of people. These ‘Bots’ are programs which are designed to always make the right decision and take advantage of weaknesses in their opponent’s play. Do these programs exist and are they being used?
A recent article by Mike Brunker suggests perhaps this should be a real concern for online poker players. If there are not players currently using these programs to play online, there are certainly programmers working on making them a reality. “Widespread use of bots capable of beating your average player would pose a significant problem for the red-hot online poker sector, which has grown exponentially in recent years and is expected to top the $1 billion revenue mark this year.” (Brunker, 2004)
As a programmer myself I have often thought of ways to win more money playing poker using programs. I have even developed a program I use and sell to collect opposing player’s stats. The program does not make decisions for me, but simply provides me with additional statistics so I can make the most informed decision. This gives me a technological advantage over the other players at the table, but I still have to make my own choices.
For years, computers have been pitted against the best chess players in the world to see if it is possible to design a program to beat a human. This has been accomplished only relatively recently, but poker poses a whole new set of problems not encountered in chess. After all, there is not way to bluff in chess or read the tells of a chess player. For these reasons I do not believe there is a poker “Bot” out there that is capable of beating the best human poker players. Unfortunately, the program does not have to be that good to beat the average online player.
Think about the possibilities of a program capable of winning an average of $10 an hour at a no-limit $100 table. Now imagine this program playing simultaneously at three tables on eight different poker sites. This comes to $240 per hour; well over $5000 per day. I can assure you the programmers of these “Bots” are not looking to win $10 an hour. They are interested in playing at the big money tables. The income would be tremendous.
There is not much the sites can do to catch these programs. They do not break into the system and look at the other player’s cards. They do not work in collusion with other players at the table. All they do is make the most logical decision in every situation. Many very good players make the same decisions. The sites may not even be very interested in catching these automated players. They pay the rake the same as every other player on the site. Every site will claim to attempt to catch these “Bots,” but I imagine very few will succeed.
A program that can beat very good poker players already exists, but it is only designed to play against one other opponent. It is called “Vex Bot” and was developed by The University of Alberta’s Poker Research Group (Brunker, 2004). It is currently only a research tool, but programmers with bad intentions may use it as a model to build a successful Bot.
The lesson for the entire online poker community is to play well and do not play with money you cannot afford to lose. Players who are wild or overly predictable are in danger of being taken advantage of by the poker Bots being used now or in the very near future. If you suspect you are playing against a Bot, be sure to report the player to the site. The administrators may be able to monitor the player’s activity and catch the program.