Is Unbeatable Poker Software About to Ruin the Online Game?

Woman folding playing poker

I recently wrote a piece on how anonymous tables were helping curb the negative effects of automatic seating scripts. Well, the premise was that automatic seating scripts – algorithms which calculated the seats most beneficial for the player using them – were being used to give some using online and mobile poker services an unfair advantage over other. Basically, it’s artificial intelligence being used to help win poker.

Of course, seating scripts have drawbacks if you want to win by cheating: they only give you an advantage, so are not a sure fire way to win, and they can be beaten by using anonymous tables, where player data is not available.

There’s a new kid on the artificial intelligence block, however, who doesn’t just give you an advantage if you let him play with you, but is almost certainly going to help you win. His name is Cepheus.

What is Cepheus?

In essence, Cepheus is a computer which – although perhaps isn’t able to win each and every hand it’s dealt – is theoretically unbeatable over the course of a standard game, even by hardened poker professionals.Cepheus Being Built

Cepheus learned poker by playing a billion billion hands (more than you’ve ever played – in fact, more hands of poker than have been played in the entire history of the game by people), and with the help of algorithms which are about a billion billion times more complex than I could ever understand, started to learn every single possible combination of cards, and test out every single possible strategy for any given hand. What came out at the end of the 2 month training session was a machine that was almost unbeatable at poker.

It’s the first time that a computer has been able to master a game with imperfect information – i.e. a game in which it doesn’t know the entire history of the game. Obviously we’re all familiar with computers who can beat masters at chess – but it’s a lot more complicated when the computer is only aware of the cards in its hand and those on the table.

Is Online Poker Ruined?

The real question is, are those same bastards who use automatic seating scripts going to get their hands on Cepheus, and make it impossible for us to win – making online and mobile poker no more fun? Well, probably not, at least not just yet.

All the calculations carried out by Cepheus created over 11 terabytes of information, as it included every combination of folds, raises, and calls that every player in the game could make, multiplied by every combination of cards – which is a lot. It would take a hell of a hard drive to be able to simply contain Cepheus, let alone use him against other players online.

Plus, currently the only copy of the program is in the safe hands of the University of Alberta in Canada, and to make your own version, you’d need to have four thousand computer processors, each handling six billion hands every seconds for two months (this is on top, of course, of a doctorate level understanding of maths. The creators are mindful of how information about Cepheus could be used to cheat in poker, and have been careful to keep it to themselves.

Interesting Though, Right?

Ok, so it’s not the end of online poker, and it’s definitely not the end of the world with the rise of the machines. However, it is interesting to know that the software is now out there to make an unbeatable poker opponent. If you want to try your luck against Cepheus (and remember, his job is to reduce the element of luck in the game) you can head to the University of Alberta’s website and have a game with him.

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