Poker pros defeated by machine

Technology scored a decisive win against mankind on Sunday in the second Man-Machine Poker Competition in Las Vegas, as a computer defeated a team of seasoned poker experts at their own game.

Designed by a team of programmers from the University of Alberta, the computer, christened Polaris 2.0, went head-to-head in four rounds of 500 hands against two human opponents. All players were coaches on the prominent poker coaching website, including Nick Grudzien, a million dollar poker contest winner and the website’s founder, but despite their experience, the computer’s skills proved too much for them.

“There are two really big changes in Polaris over last year,” commented Professor Michael Bowling, explaining the machine’s victory. “First of all, our poker model is much expanded over last year—it’s much harder for humans to exploit weaknesses. And secondly, we have added an element of learning, where Polaris identifies which common poker strategy a human is using and switches its own strategy to counter. This complicated the human player’s ability to compare notes, since Polaris chose a different strategy to use against each of the humans it played,”

Indeed, the machine’s ability to learn certainly goes a long way to explain the contrast with the previous year’s results, which had seen an earlier version of Polaris score a draw and a win in the first two rounds, before losing the last two. With the changes, however, the tables were dramatically turned, and despite suffering a loss and a draw as this year’s match, Polaris quickly adapted to its opponent’s strategies, making a shift in tactics that led to two wins in the closing games.

The team behind Polaris now anticipate many more challenges from various sceptics among the world’s top players, and also look forward to improving the machine’s AI and even expanding it to be able to play other variations of poker.