Poker humans (barely) beat computer

Jul 30, 2007 5:30 AM

What would happen if humans squared off against a poker playing computer?

Two professional poker players narrowly beat a computer last week after four tense rounds that scientists called the world’s first man-versus-machine poker championship.

We’re still wondering which one was the donkey.

Phil Laak and Ali Eslami, two poker players from Los Angeles prevailed against a software program named Polaris by just 570 points in the fourth and final game in the match.

Rows of weary-looking computer scientists and a few spectators watched the grueling poker battle in an overheated hotel conference room as it stretched on until 11 at night.

When the humans won, the room erupted in cheers.

"I really am happy it’s over," said Eslami, 30, adding that playing against the computer was more exhausting than any previous game in his career.

Eslami, a former computer consultant, praised the machine and the computer scientists.

"I’m surprised we won ”¦ it’s already so good it will be tough to beat in future" as scientists make further improvements on Polaris’ programming.

Much was riding on the tense last minutes of the fourth match because the previous three games over two days resulted in one draw and one win each for the humans and the machine.

Scientists had billed the competition as a milestone for computer artificial intelligence, similar to the 1997 match in which a computer named Deep Blue beat Russian genius Garry Kimovich Kasparov at chess.

Darse Billings, a one-time professional poker player and lead architect of the Polaris team at the University of Alberta, said even though the program lost in the end it played "brilliantly."

Polaris showed scientists that it is possible for a computer to do well at the essentially psychological game of poker, he said. "I wouldn’t be surprised if we can beat them tomorrow," he predicted.

The competition was held as 1,000 scientists from around the world converged for a conference on artificial intelligence.

"I was expecting a draw," said computer scientist Michael Littman of Rutgers University.

Littman served as the official arbiter of the game and at the end declared the humans "clear winners."

Poker is a special challenge for computers — which can already consistently beat humans at chess, checkers and backgammon — because the gambling game includes deliberate deception, unpredictable emotions of opponents and elements of chance as well as mathematics.

Poker rivals bury the hatchet

The organizers of the World Poker Congress (WPC) were thrilled to announce that Steve Lipscomb, president of the World Poker Tour, and Jeffery Pollack, commissioner of the World Series of Poker, will jointly deliver the opening keynote address at WPC 2007 on November 29 & 30 in St. Julian’s, Malta.

The two veterans at the helms of rival poker institutions will discuss the current state of the game and what the future has in store.

"With Steve Lipscomb and Jeffery Pollack, we will present two of the individuals most responsible for the recent poker boom," says Sue Schneider, president of River City Group, one of the organizers of the World Poker Congress. "With their unique perspective and wisdom, they will examine the global reach of the game and how it is penetrating international markets."

An award-winning producer/director of television and film, Lipscomb has directed the remarkable growth of the WPT, including the 2005 launch of the Professional Players Tour (PPT), international expansion of WPT, and the branding of the WPT with a variety of different licenses including sunglasses and apparel, poker tables and décor, artwork and much more.

As the first commissioner of the World Series of Poker, Pollack has brought a professionalism to the event it never had before. The recently completed WSOP 2007 introduced several cutting-edge innovations that have been hailed by professional players. His sense of branding was developed when he was managing director of broadcasting and new media at NASCAR Digital Entertainment. He is also the founder of the Sports Business Daily.

The World Poker Congress is the first conference to fully explore the synergies between the live and online games. The conference will feature two tracks dedicated to the different forms of the game, as well as plenary and general sessions featuring topics that appeal to each audience. Attendees will join colleagues to discuss issues such as marketing your poker room, player development, legislation and economics in Europe, staging tournaments, building a player base, business strategies for a quickly maturing industry, fraud and security, mergers and acquisitions, and much more.

"The World Poker Congress is the premier conference for the business of poker globally," says Roger Gros, publisher of Global Gaming Business and PokerBIZ magazines, the other producer of WPC. "There is clearly a synergy between online poker rooms and real world poker and the WPC examines how to capitalize on the growth of the game no matter which side of the equation your business operates."

To register, view the program or to get information on sponsorships for the World Poker Congress, go to