The Second Man-Machine
This year there are several human teams taking on Polaris.
Nick "Stoxtrader" Grudzien left a lucrative Wall Street position in 2005 to pursue a career as a professional poker player full-time. He has since become one of the longest-lasting marquee players in online poker, with well over $1M in cash-game winnings in both limit and no-limit hold'em. In 2006 Nick founded stoxpoker.com, a website which provides economical poker coaching through access to instructional videos and recordings of real online play by some of the world's top pros.
Matt "Hoss_TBF" Hawrilenko is one of the world's most formidable heads-up limit hold'em players, and has spent a large amount of his time in the last couple years sitting at online poker's biggest games waiting for anyone to sit and play him. Matt is very familiar with the mathematical and theoretical aspects of poker and advocates playing a balanced, difficult to exploit style.
IJay "doughnutz" Palansky retired from a career as a litigator in a major law firm to pursue his career as a professional poker player. IJay specializes in limit hold'em, and has won over $1M playing short-handed online cash games. IJay is well known for his aggressive style , often driving his opponents to frustration by forcing them to continually play in unordinary large pots.
Kyle "cottonseed" Hendon is a shorthanded no-limit hold'em specialist with well over $1M in lifetime cash-game winnings. While Kyle may be better known for his no-limit hold'em play he has strong roots in limit hold'em and has been known to occasionally wander back to the limit tables to clobber opponents in high-stakes heads-up games.
Bryce "Freedom25" Paradis is another heads-up limit hold'em specialist with nearly $3M in lifetime cash-game winnings. Bryce retired from poker at the age of 23 to pursue interests in real estate, but is still actively involved in the poker community through his coaching at stoxpoker.com and his work with the Computer Poker Research Group. As Bryce has been directly involved in the development of Polaris he will not be competing in any official matches in the Man vs Machine Poker Championship, but will instead be playing exhibition matches.
The Computer Team
The University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group (CPRG) has been recognized as the world leader in poker-playing programs for more than fifteen years.
Their research has won awards and acclaim from the Artificial Intelligence community for significant contributions to the science of information. They have been encouraging (and winning) friendly competitions between programs since 1998. Some of the past CPRG programs are available to everyone, inside the best poker training software on the market, Poker Academy.
The Alberta team won every heads-up limit event at the world championship for computer poker programs in both 2006 and 2007 held at the annual conference of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. These tournaments take weeks of continuous play to determine the winner, and the U of A won nearly every match they played, thereby adding another title to their long-standing domination.
Their previous programs have already proven to be a worthy challenge for elite players. In 2003, top online pro (and short-handed specialist) Gautam Rao (aka "thecount") played a 7000-hand match against PsOpti-1, but was not able to win by a statistically significant margin.
In 2005, Phil "The Unabomber" Laak played a very short match against Poki-X (an experimental mixture of Sparbot and Vexbot), winning the coin-toss, but not before having his nose bloodied. In one of the match highlights, facing a check-raise on the river, Phil thought for a long time before proclaiming: "If that is a bluff, it's over for humanity". He folded. But it was a stone-cold bluff, from a stone-cold poker face that no human could possibly read.
In 2007, Phil "The Unabomber" Laak and Ali Eslami played a duplicate match consisting of four 500 hand sessions. In the first session, Polaris managed to win by a small amount that was counted a statistical draw. In the second session, Polaris surprised Ali and Phil and gave them a sound defeat. After analyzing their play during the first day, they returned the next day to mount a comeback and defeat Polaris in the next two sessions. Phil and Ali both were relieved after they managed their narrow victory, but they said the program is already very scary.
The CPRG has been working on hard on the next version of Polaris. With a group of 15 researchers and programmers, Polaris has improved by leaps and bounds over the one that played Ali and Phil. The next test for the program lies in Vegas against some of the most money-winning players ever to play limit Texas Hold'em.