The Second Man-Machine
Poker Competition

U of A computer wins poker competition

Polaris II beats seven human players in online weekend marathon
Clara Ho, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Monday, July 07

EDMONTON - A computer created by a group of U of A programmers changed the face of poker Sunday night, when it defeated some of the best players in the world.

In the second man-versus-machine competition held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas over the weekend, Polaris II narrowly defeated seven players from the online poker training site

"We're very excited," said Michael Bowling, head of the U of A team.

"I think there's no question that we're playing on the level of the absolute best human players in the world at the game of heads-up limit hold 'em."

The computer emerged from the weekend with a record of three wins, two losses and a draw.

Last year, in the first silicon-versus-grey matter competition in Vancouver, Polaris was narrowly defeated by two top poker players.

To prepare for Vegas, Bowling's team made modifications to the computer's ability to reason. They also altered its capacity to learn and adapt to its human opponents.

IJay Palansky, who played in the last two matches, enjoyed taking on the computer but said it made some bizarre moves that a human would never make.

Matt Hawrilenko, who played in the final match, also enjoyed himself but found Polaris II's win scary for the future of head-to-head poker.

"For those of us who make our incomes largely from playing heads-up games, whether (computers) are ready to beat us or not, they're certainly ready to beat some of our opponents," Hawrilenko said. "They might win some of our money away."

Bowling said he recognizes there is still a lot for his team to improve on, particularly tinkering with the computer's ability to learn and adapt. But he called Polaris II's victory a "crossing point" in the poker world where computer poker programs can be considered equal to the best human players.

"It's going to take a bit of time for the poker world to digest," he said.

Bowling said his team needs to do some post-game and statistical analysis before taking on the next man-versus-machine competition, but he's looking forward to it.

In fact, he said he has seen some interest from many other world-class players, who were in Las Vegas competing in the World Series of Poker.

Palansky, for one, said he can't wait to compete again.

"Now that we've lost, I'm itching for a rematch."