Hydra of Texas hold 'em humbled

Man beats machine in poker face-off

Supercomputers may be able to outdo grand masters in strategy games like chess but when it comes to the low cunning and judgment required in games like poker mankind still has the upper hand. Human Phil Laak this week beat PokerProbot, the Hydra of Texas hold 'em, in a face-off at Binion's Gambling Hall, Las Vegas.

Laak, 33, also outsmarted three of the card-playing programs PokerProbot defeated to win the World Poker Robot Championship, an earlier three-day $100,000 competition to find the world's best poker-playing algorithm. Supported by a cheering crowd, Laak bettered PokerProbot's pair of kings with a pair of aces in a key hand and went on to defeat his silicon-powered opponent in the last of 300 hands in a three-hour exhibition match, The Los Angeles Times reports.

PokerProbot was developed by Hilton Givens, 39 - an Indiana car salesman, programmer and sometime poker player - who lost a $100 side bet after Laak outsmarted his algorithm. The end of the encounter left Laak, who also hosts a poker show on cable TV and dates actress Jennifer Tilly, relieved rather than elated. Other card players reckon its only a matter of time before computers undo humans in games of trickery and deceit like poker.

"In three to five years, they're going to win," said Kenneth "The Clone" Jones, a professional poker player and occasional computer programmer.

Casinos bar technological aids but Poker programs are widely suspected of being surrupticiously used in online poker games, which are growing in popularity.

"It [PokerProbot] would for sure make money online," Laak (who's known as "the Unabomber" for his habit of hiding emotions behind sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt). In simpler versions of Texas hold 'em with set betting limits "bots are better than the average person," Laak told the Los Angeles Times. He added that anyone clever enough to program a poker program that can beat a human is smart enough to create a pokerbot that would evade easy detection. ®

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Related links

Don't bet against the poker 'robots', Los Angeles Times (registration required)

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