Man Against Machine at the Poker Table

by Lou on June 13, 2007

Canada’s University of Alberta, which has been at the forefront of artificial intelligence announced that a poker-playing computer program they built, will play against a pair of poker experts in a $50,000 contest later this summer.

Polaris, their cyber poker star, is slated to play against Phil “The Unabomber” Laak and Ali Eslami at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence’s annual conference, held this year on July 23 and 24 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver B.C.

University of Alberta scientist, Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer, believes the event will be an evolutionary step in a process that began with the 1997 match between IBM’s “Deep Blue” chess program and then world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

“The difference is that chess is a game of perfect knowledge, meaning there is nothing hidden from the players. In poker you can’t see your opponent’s hand and you don’t know what cards will be dealt. This makes poker a much harder challenge for computer scientists from an artificial intelligence perspective,” Schaeffer said.

Four Texas hold’em matches between Polaris and the two poker players will consist of 500 hands each, dealt simultaneously in duplicate poker format. Polaris will receive the same cards in one room that the professional will receive in the other rooms, and vice-versa. The duplicate system will balance out the luck of the cards and emphasize the capabilities of the participants.

At each match’s conclusion, the human players will combine their chip totals and compare them with Polaris’ total, and the human players will earn cash for each match they win.

Schaeffer admitted he’s not quite sure just how well Polaris plays, but hopes to learn a lot about his program in Vancouver this summer. “It’s going to be a lot fun,” he said.

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