The First Man-Machine
Poker Championship

Poker pros to challenge computer in mind-vs.-metal match

Friday, July, 20, 2007

Kate Webb, The Province

If you think reading the poker faces of your buddies on Texas Hold'em night is tough, try calling the bluff of an opponent with no face at all.

A $50,000 showdown between a poker-playing computer and two of the world's sharpest poker players will take place on Monday in Vancouver, and it's anybody's guess who will take the pot.

The machine, dubbed "Polaris" by its University of Alberta creators, is designed to play to its opponents' weaknesses, seamlessly switching gears from cautious under-betting to aggressive bluffing.

"With poker, the key thing is unpredictability," said Jonathan Schaeffer, one of the lead artificial intelligence researchers on the Polaris project. "A computer is very good at predicting odds . . . it can do that very quickly."

"But in poker, if you play cautiously, then the opponent can pick up on that and they start exploiting that. . . .

So the goal of [Polaris] is to be unpredictable for the human."

The high-stakes tournament is part of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference being held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Spectators will watch professional players Phil Laak and Ali Eslami in a mind-vs.-metal match with the savvy simulator, each with the opportunity to take home $25,000 if they win all four of their games.

Laak recently won NBC's Poker After Dark, and Eslami runs in some of the most elite poker circles in the world.

Although artificial intelligence research has produced computers that are virtually unbeatable in strategic games such as chess and checkers, Polaris may have a tougher time with the role of sheer luck in poker.

"I'm not at all sure that the computer is going to win this thing, precisely because it is so difficult to learn about the style of your opponent," said Oliver Schulte, an SFU cognitive scientist who once worked with the Polaris creators.