Little Bastard: The Computer Poker Machine

A fascinating piece in New York Times Magazine on the advancement of artificial intelligence in how machines play poker:

The machines, called Texas Hold ‘Em Heads Up Poker, play the limit version of the popular game so well that they can be counted on to beat poker-playing customers of most any skill level. Gamblers might win a given hand out of sheer luck, but over an extended period, as the impact of luck evens out, they must overcome carefully trained neural nets that self-learned to play aggressively and unpredictably with the expertise of a skilled professional. Later this month, a new souped-up version of the game, endorsed by Phil Hellmuth, who has won more World Series of Poker tournaments than anyone, will have its debut at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. The machines will then be rolled out into casinos around the world.

They will be placed alongside the pure numbers-crunchers, indifferent to the gambler. But poker is a game of skill and intuition, of bluffs and traps. The familiar adage is that in poker, you play the player, not the cards. This machine does that, responding to opponents’ moves and pursuing optimal strategies. But to compete at the highest levels and beat the best human players, the approach must be impeccable. Gregg Giuffria, whose company, G2 Game Design, developed Texas Hold ‘Em Heads Up Poker, was testing a prototype of the program in his Las Vegas office when he thought he detected a flaw. When he played passively until a hand’s very last card was dealt and then suddenly made a bet, the program folded rather than match his bet and risk losing more money. “I called in all my employees and told them that there’s a problem,” he says. The software seemed to play in an easily exploitable pattern. “Then I played 200 more hands, and he never did anything like that again. That was the point when we nicknamed him Little Bastard.”

Read the rest here.

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