Monday, November 01, 2004

Whispers In The Dark

Imagine you are driving down a road which is pitch black aside from the light emitting from the car headlights. No street-lighting, just darkness. The unknown completely engulfing you.

Most poker players I’ve encountered over the past three years seem to lack vision. The worst are those who can’t even see beyond the end of their noses. They concentrate only on the cards they hold and are not even remotely aware of any other players at the table. The slightly better players see the road ahead of them, but don’t know where it’s going. When they reach a junction, they don’t know which way to turn. The good players carry a map, have pre-planned the route before even starting up the engine, and know exactly where they want to be. Even still, the majority of people don’t consider what’s on the horizon… Or beyond it.

When I first posted the previous article “The Demise Of Online Poker” many months ago, it was met with derision and scorn from a significant portion of the poker community, mainly from the 2+2 forum. Initially, I didn’t want any of my writings posted there but a friend asked if she could post it, and reluctantly I agreed. I find many of the people who post there have their heads stuck so far up their own arses. Some of the comments I received only confirmed my suspicions. Rather than address the point I was trying to make, they decided to nit-pick at finer details at a level I can only describe as anal. The discussion quickly strayed off the topic of online poker and into the territory of chess, and of how difficult is was to write a computer programme to beat that game. Chess is a game based upon complete information whereas poker is not. If it was so difficult to write a piece of software to overcome a game where you have all the pieces in place, surely it must be much more difficult to write a winning programme when information is lacking? The argument is a good one, but still it misses the point. A BOT doesn’t have to be unbeatable on a hand per hand basis. It just needs to have a slight advantage, an edge, over the majority of players to seriously affect online poker forever.

It was interesting to note that some of the more serious players shared a similar perspective to me.


In a related article “Are poker ‘bots’ raking online pots?”
also posted on a forum, I responded with the following….

Now all they have to do is combine a BOT like this to PokerTracker, and it will have access to thousands, if not millions, of hands in an instant. It doesn't even need it actually play those hands to determine any players betting pattern, as players already share imported databases with each other.

Do you still fancy your chances playing against an opponent which has a flawless memory of the most profitable method of playing each individual opponent? .... because I don't.

The online casinos might be able to prevent the use of known bots, but some will be good enough to remain undetectable.

It isn't a question of whether you can beat an opponent in one particular hand. Everyone can be beaten, even world class players. Winning at poker involves long term strategy and having a small edge over your opponents.

So how are you going to combat a BOT? Your best play is full of leaks and flaws. Everyone has them. A human using PokerTracker is still going to make mistakes. But a computer won't. The result will be a rapid shift from humans to bots competing at online poker. The whole playing arena will be revolutionized within months. It could also precipitate a crash in the industry, as human players lose confidence in playing online, especially when they figure out that even when playing at their best, they are still at a disadvantage.

Either the online cardrooms find out a method of banning the use of such programmes, or the future of poker, for anyone actually willing to play the game, belongs on the green felt rather than in front of the computer screen.

I've added a link to a video made be the discovery channel, which will be of interest. Click on the link on the right which says video ---> under the title "Finding the perfect poker player"


Since writing those posts, my outlook has changed slightly. By an off-chance, I happened to log onto one of the larger well-known online poker rooms. I carefully made my table selection for a ring game, and added my name to the waiting list. Whilst waiting, I decided to watch the $100/200 Limit Hold Em game, and compare how the big boys and girls played. There were a couple of familiar names seated there with $5000+ stacks. They were chatting about a third person who was also seated at the table. What was unusual was that this third person remained remarkably quiet, even though the other two players where obviously talking about him. Well, it would be unusual aside from the suspicion that this third person wasn’t actually a real person at all, but allegedly a BOT.

People have said before that if BOTS are being used, they will probably stick to $2/4 and lower, but would never play at the higher limits. This was $100/200 limit! The highest available online to date. Whoever wrote the programming for that BOT must be pretty confident in it’s abilities to show a profit in the long run.

The allegation that this was indeed a BOT came from one of the human players at this table, after many hours of play against this opponent, and he described some of the latest methods used by programmers to foil the casinos. When they were first introduced, BOTS would play their hands quickly and silently, which made then easier to detect. Now, they have scripts within their programmes to pause sometimes, as though they are making a difficult decision. Occasionally, they will type “nh” or “brb” before sitting out for a few hands, and then re-enter the game. All of this is to create an illusion that you are playing a human opponent. They do have an Achilles’ Heel though . The programming cannot compensate for when something unexpected occurs, like an internet disconnection for instance. Also, the fact that one of the players continued to play against the BOT, suggests a fair degree of confidence by that player that he feels he can outplay the computer, at least over a short duration. But remember, we are talking of the crème de la crème here, some of the best poker players in the world. I feel that the average poker player is at a reasonable disadvantage. Also of note was that the other human opponent refused to play, but elected to sit out and just chat.

The more knowledgeable of these two players continued…. He had also witnessed on another site a whole table of BOTS playing against each other. There was not a single human being at the table. Whilst he thought it was rather amusing, it paints a very grim picture for human players.

The casinos say that they forbid the use of BOTS once they are detected. But realistically, why should they? BOTS are automatic rake generating machines for the online card rooms. They never complain about bad beats or insult any of the other players. They just sit there playing poker non-stop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, generating huge chunks of money for the casino. The only reason poker sites try to reassure the punters, is to maintain their integrity. The latest BOTS are increasing in sophistication and proving to become more and more difficult to detect.


Blogger Ignatious said...

interesting post.

i have to say, tho, i've been reading about online poker bots for five years now. there's too many players right now for it to be an issue....

2:24 am  
Blogger JohnnyHarp said...

Nice post. And site.

With your permission I'll link to you, I like your writing very much, keep it up.

9:57 pm  
Blogger Eyeofsauron said...

Thank you for your kind words! As with anyone else who feels the need to link my blog to their site, you have my permission. I am honoured and humbled.

How do you link other sites to a blog anyway? I've been wanting to do this myself, but haven't had the chance to work it out just yet.

8:29 pm  
Blogger JohnnyHarp said...

In answer to your link question, the short version is I don't know.

The long version is that I use blogger. I went to the script for another blog that had links, stole that section, placed it in my template, and crossed my fingers.

It worked. So I changed the names and titles of the links (to the ones I wanted).

But I sort of got lucky, it will work no matter what to copy and paste the script but the placement may be off....good luck and keep blogging!

10:22 pm  
Blogger hectorjelly said...

Interesting points made, but I would be carefull not to consider some players suspicons of bots playing to be strong evidence, players believe all types of crazy crap

And this " The more knowledgeable of these two players continued…. He had also witnessed on another site a whole table of BOTS playing against each other." is just scare mongering. So he saw a quiet table! Some people dont like to talk.

All of that is not to dismiss you fears at all.

12:17 am  
Blogger SirFWALGMan said...

Bots are very possible, and if someone had a good playing algorythm the bot could do well. For instance the one used in Texas Holdem Simulator which teaches you how to play. I beleive I have heard that it plays very well on the tough levels.

The other advantage of Bots is I could have a bank of computers playing 2-3 tables each on different Empire/Party/whatever accounts and be able to make a ton of money!

The aspect of joining a conversation with your bot would not be too hard either. There have been AI parsers that can handle short, single sentance conversations for years. Remember Eliza? She was funny. It was one of the first voice AIs and would take your conversation and ask you questions about it.
If I was to ever write a bot I would absolutely have it say things like "nh hand jackass", and "I can not beleive you sucked me out again you loser!".

A bot could figure out it was disconnected and re-connect to the server pretty easily. The programs usually bring you back to your table. Besides I have comcast and in 6-months of playing online I have only been knocked off once.

Anyway excellent post. I do not think Bots will be the end of Poker. I think most of the fish out there are too introverted to notice the play of people on there table, let alone suspect a bot. I do not assume if someone is not talking that they are a bot. Some people like to turn chat off. Keep up the good posts. They are obviously intellegent and well thought out and presented unlike my Blog where I am lucky if I get the spelling part down! heh.

9:28 pm  
Blogger F-Train said...

When I come across a silent player at a table, I just assume they have the chat turned off (a feature I sometimes take advantage of).

Can you turn the chat off at Stars? I've never tried. It's quite easy to do at Party.

9:57 pm  
Blogger Eyeofsauron said...

Hello, and welcome to my blog! (Well it's a blog of sorts!)

Thanks to everyone for their replies. It is very encouraging. I'm sorry for the recent lack of posts. It isn't because I have nothing to write about. I have plenty of subjects I want to cover in the future. I'm just a little mowed out at present! Plus when I do write, I want to do a proper job!

To answer your question about blocking chat on Stars..... Yes, it is possible to do. Simply right click on the offending person/people and select "Block Chat".

10:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say how nice it was to come across a UK poker blog for a change, keep it up.

1:40 am  
Blogger SirFWALGMan said...

Oh My God! I love Lord Foul The Despiser! Ok. So the series ending was a tiny bit dissapointing but that was a great series! You go White Gold Weilder!

2:46 am  
Blogger jon said...

We are trying to find good movie gallery to take the kids this weekend. Good movie gallery reviews are hard to find

I just stumbled onto your blog while looking. Seems to happen to me a lot since I am a knowledge mooch LOL


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12:20 am  

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