The First Man-Machine
Poker Championship

For the first time ever, a poker-playing computer program challenged two top-level poker professionals in a controlled scientific experiment with real money on the line.

A team of researchers from the University of Alberta improved on their reigning world champion poker software, and took it to the next level

The program, Polaris, took on two of the sharpest poker players in the world - Phil "The Unabomber" Laak and Ali Eslami.

The $50,000 match took place in Vancouver, Canada, in conjunction with the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), July 23 and 24.

The competition consisted of four 500-hand duplicate matches. In each duplicate match, the same series of cards were dealt in two parallel Man versus Machine matches, with teammates playing the opposite hands in each game. At the end of the match, the total number of chips won or lost by each team was added together to determine the winning team. This format was used to reduce the element of random luck to a minimum, and get a much better indication of the differences in skill.

The competition was extremely exciting. In the first session, Ali won $390 from Polaris. Phil, however, lost $465. The small $70 difference was counted a statisticial tie. In the second match, Phil ended up being ahead $1570. After Ali returned though, he reported some bad news for their cause. He had lost $2495, which meant that Polaris had the first win in the compeition. Session 3 began on the next day, and the humans regrouped to pull out an impressive victory. Phil won $1455 from Polaris while Ali only lost $625. The stage was set for a dramatic fourth and deciding session. In that session, both Ali and Phil ended up winning a small amount and won the competition with a record of 2-1-1.

The match was a success in many ways. Polaris proved that it was able to compete with some of the best poker players in the world. In fact, the 2-1-1 record of the humans is a little misleading. The actual difference in monetary outcome was just $395 which is a very small amount. The format of the match did a great deal to reduce the large variance in the game of poker, but it does not remove it all. The $395 sum could be as few as one or two hands where Polaris decided to fold when the human who got the same cards decided to continue. For this reason, a future match should prove particularly interesting, as the bot continues to develop in strength.

The match is over, but this webpage will continue to receive updates. Post-match analysis is yet to come, and should be added to the webpage in the next little while. We will be working hard to add additional video and other post-match content in the coming weeks. In the meantime, hand histories from the match are available for you to do your own analysis.

News

  • October 26, 2007 - The highlihgt reel from the fourth and final session is now up on the Results page. This is the last video of the series. I hope you enjoyed watching these highlights from the man-machine poker match!
  • October 19, 2007 - The highlight reel from the third session is now up on the Results page. Stay tuned for next the final session video which should be available next week!
  • October 12, 2007 - A second highlight reel from the second session is up now on the Results page. Check it out! And be sure to visit again next week for the third installment.
  • October 5, 2007 - A highlight reel of quotes from Ali is now available under the Video heading of the Results page. Videos from each of the sessions will be available on a week by week basis each friday in October. Be sure to come back to see the additional content!
  • September 19, 2007 - The main page has been updated to reflect that the match is now history. Match summaries, post-analysis, and videos are being worked on and will be uploaded when they are ready.
  • August 13, 2007 - Hand Histories are now available on the Results page. Currently, the logs are available in a format viewable in Poker Academy Prospector. Additional formats will become available in the near future. Also, if you would like to challenge Polaris, you can play against it on Poker Academy Online. Also, another news article has been linked to on the Press page.
  • August 7, 2007 - The Gallery is now ready for viewing. There are quite a few photos there of the match competitors, the team of programmers, the audience, and the various members of the media that attended the event.

  • August 6, 2007 - The gallery is almost ready for release. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, ESPN has joined the media frenzy following the event. The article is now linked to on the Press page.

  • August 2, 2007 - There continues to be a flurry of post match coverage. Several more articles have been added to the Press page. Several members of the team have returned from holidays and are now working on producing post match content. Stay tuned to this site for all the updates!

  • For Archived News, click here