The First Man-Machine
Poker Championship

Laak, Eslami conquer pokerbot

Wednesday, Jul 25, 2007

By Sarah Polson

Even before all the results were in for the fourth and final session pitting Phil Laak and Ali Eslami against Polaris the pokerbot, Darse Billings was predicting a human win. As one of the creators of the project, he would know best.

After a technical draw in the first match where the human team only came in at -$70 after 500 hands of play, and then a loss to Polaris in the second session on Monday, Phil Laak and Ali Eslami had a night to talk strategy and come into Tuesday with guns blazing.

The third session took place Tuesday afternoon and Laak did very well against the computer, more than making up for Eslami's loss. They came out nearly $820 ahead of Polaris, giving them a win.

For the fourth match, Eslami was playing in the public eye and commentating throughout his play while Laak played his duplicate game in a private room, and they pulled out another win for the humans.

All of the matches were played in this duplicate format that meant the hands Laak was getting during a session, Polaris was getting against Eslami, and vice versa.

The format helped take some of the luck factor out of the game to give it more statistical significance according to the University of Alberta team that created Polaris.

During the fourth session, Eslami started out on the winning side, up by $35 after 12 hands, before noting for the audience that he thought Polaris was playing more conservatively.

After some wavering back and forth between winning and losing, Eslami went through a fairly long period of being in the losing end. At one point he was at -$820 before starting his climb back to the positive.

By 222 hands played, Eslami had worked his way back to $100 below the break even point, and by the halfway point at 250 hands, he is up in the positive side at $105.

According to the live updates of the event, Eslami took time out to talk to the audience and press about some of the things he and Laak had discussed about Polaris.

They noted that they've learned from the bot as opposed to learning to play the bot. An example he gives is that he used to play 3-4, 4-5 type hands to bluff and represent big hands. He's had to take this out of his strategy against Polaris.

He also mentioned he sensed that Polaris has a slight vulnerability to king low card and is pushing it harder than he typically would.

The tweaking Laak and Eslami did to their games against Polaris worked. In the end Eslami came out $460 ahead, and when Laak finally wrapped up, he too was in the black with a $110 gain.

Each winning session netted the poker players $5,000 to split between them, and they also received $2,500 for the session that was determined a draw. If they had won all four sessions, they would have received $50,000.

Even after their final win, the poker pros sang the praises of Polaris, saying that the two days of play were grueling against the program, forcing them to play cold and calculated, and they're ready to going back to playing against the much easier human poker players.