In the debate of man versus machine, there’s one pastime where the robots definitely have the upper hand: online poker.
The ability of AI-powered bots and software to make the right decisions, from a probabilistic perspective, with every hand makes them the most difficult of opponents to overcome, and the rise of the robots at the most popular online poker sites has driven some human players away from the game.
However, many of the key brands are fighting back, and 888 have announced that they have seized $300,000 (around £240,000) in prize money that has been won by players utilising bots and software, and refunded the more than 1,000 parties affected.
The firm has invested heavily in the tech that can detect bots and so-called Real Time Advisors (RTA), and has even employed the services of poker pros to identify those players that are being aided by artificial intelligence.
PartyPoker did something similar in 2019 and secured more than £110,000 in refunds for players who had been beaten by bots.
America’s Cardroom (ACR) followed suit in 2021, netting more than £150,000 for a staggering 13,900 players that had been beaten by AI, while the Winning Poker Network (the parent company of ACR) have paid out £1.5 million and banned more than 1000 accounts linked to nefarious activities.
Are Poker Bots Illegal?
The slightly-contentious issue here is that using bots in online poker is not actually illegal – but, like card counting in blackjack, it is majorly frowned upon by the various platforms.
These days, if you look in the terms and conditions of the major brands you’ll notice that they explicitly prohibit the use of AI and software, but for a long time they were behind the eight-ball on how some players were winning their money – they were free to build their own bots, or at least pay a programmer to do it for them.
Anyone using a bot won’t face a criminal conviction or be dragged through the courts, but they can have their accounts closed – and, as witnessed in the examples above, they are able to claim back monies made in ways that are against their T&Cs.
Can You Beat a Poker Bot?
By their very nature, poker bots simply play the percentages – they identify the ‘right’ move for each scenario at the table based upon the implied probability of winning the hand. They don’t make mistakes, and therefore weaker players can come unstuck against their relentless ability to play well.
But poker pros and sharper amateurs are able to identify bots thanks to pattern recognition, and once an AI player has been detected it becomes much easier for a human to beat them – after all, they are able to identify the percentage plays that a bot will make, and react accordingly.
When a player makes decisive moves with no delay or thinking time – particularly in hands and situations that are complex and would have the average Joe scratching their head – it’s quite possible they are a bot. These software programmes will also fold when it is the percentage play to do so….regardless of how heavy-handed they have been in a pot previously, or where it is cheap to call or raise.
So the machines have definitely risen….but the good news is that many of the leading poker sites have already started the fightback.