Will Bots Take Over Online Poker?
Technology has always been used to simplify difficult tasks and help humans get better results in various endeavors, and poker is not an exception. It is a complex game that many players find difficult when playing against competent opponents, but with plenty of money on the line, there is always someone looking for a way around it.
Creating software that could beat real players at the game would be hugely profitable for the one who owns it, so it is no surprise that many try to go this path.
While simpler poker games like Limit Hold 'em have been solved for a while, creating a successful No-Limit Hold 'em bot has been a real challenge.
However, in the more recent years, great strides have been made in this area as well, begging the question of whether poker bots are coming for the online game altogether and whether online poker can survive the bot wave.
I have looked into poker bots that currently exist and how they have done against real humans, as well as what industry insiders expect to see in the near future to answer the question of whether the bots will take over online poker or not?!
How Poker Bots Work
At its most basic level, poker is a complex mathematical game that doesn't really have anything to do with emotions, tells, and other things humans commonly associate it with.
Instead, poker can be solved on a purely mathematical level, which many human players have been attempting to do with the use of special software called "solvers." These programs are designed to provide optimal mathematical solutions for various situations that occur in poker.
Poker bots work very similarly to solvers and can apply mathematically perfect plays to actual online games at various sites.
A bot will take the available information and use a series of mathematical principles and theorems to develop the best possible solution within its parameters.
The more complex the poker bot, the more optimal its solutions will be, and the more difficult it will become for any human opponent to actually beat them in the long run.
Limit Hold'em Bots
Limit Hold 'em is a much simpler game than its No-Limit counterpart, simply because there are way fewer variables on every street of every hand that is dealt out.
With all bets limited in size, the bots find it much easier to consider all possible scenarios and come up with the perfect play. This is exactly why Limit Hold 'em is essentially a solved game by this point, especially when only two opponents are playing.
Back in 2015, the Computer Poker Research Group of the University of Alberta launched Heads Up Limit Hold 'em bot named Cepheus, which solved the game and defeated multiple live human opponents without much trouble.
Can Poker Bots Beat No-Limit?
Creating a computer algorithm to beat any mathematical game is certainly possible, but No-Limit Hold 'em is an extremely complex game, making it very difficult for programs such as bots.
That said, several amazing attempts have been made to date.
Back in 2017, it was the Libratus poker bot that defeated a series of live opponents at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh in heads up No-Limit Hold 'em for $800.000 in cash.
The same team from the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science went even further and developed Libratus' big brother Pluribus. This time around, Pluribus would go ahead and play real opponents in online six-max cash games, a format previously believed to be beyond a bot's ability.
Pluribus managed to win in very tough lineups of professional poker players in two separate experiments, achieving win rates as high as 4.8bb/100 over 10.000, which is considered high even for great players.
The likes of Chris Ferguson and Darren Elias, who are most certainly very good at poker, could not beat Pluribus, so one has to ask whether anyone can stop the bots from taking over online poker.
Will Poker Bots Be Legal in Online Poker?
At this time, all major poker sites ban bots from their platforms, and they don't allow the use of any software that automates play.
However, with bots becoming more sophisticated by the day, so are the ways in which people are implementing them and using them in real games.
At the end of the day, a player could use a bot to come up with optimal plays and then play the hands out himself, which would still give them a massive edge over real players.
The poker sites are becoming better at detecting and banning bots, but the bot developers are also becoming more cunning at avoiding detection.
It is not likely that poker bots will ever become fully legal and allowed by the poker sites, but a point may very well come when poker bots become indistinguishable from real players.
Can We Stop the Bots?
Whether we like it or not, poker bots are here to stay, and they are coming for online poker. In a recent interview, poker legend Tom Dwan talked openly and in detail about his concerns over poker bots taking over online poker, as well as some potential solutions.
If we are to save poker from the infestation of bots, the game has to change and evolve faster than bots can catch up.
Whether this means turning to new games such as 6-Plus Hold 'em or using new game formats to keep the game engaging and keep the bots away remains to be seen.
While sophisticated bots require enormous computing power today, the one thing that seems completely inevitable is that winning poker bots that anyone can install on their PC will become a reality within the next decade.
Unfortunately, this could mean the end of online poker as we know it today.
What comes next is up to poker players and industry insiders who have every option available to them and have to choose which course to go to avoid poker becoming a game in which bots are playing against bots, and human players are completely outclassed.