Poker Bots: Are They Cleverer Than You?

testing out Cepheus' poker skills
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Poker is a game of skill with a healthy dose of luck thrown in. That’s if you’re pretty good. For most casual online players it’s a game with plenty of upswings and downswings and a long-term Return On Investment (ROI) that will do nicely for a few extra Christmas presents.

But just as tracking software has given players the edge over their opponents, so bots are threatening to take things up a notch or three.

Where tracking software was once the ultimate tool for online players, the bots have taken things to a whole new level. And the software is getting smarter.

Better software and data availability has led to a rise in predictive methods for everything from sportsbetting and the stock market to buying up concert tickets. Unsurprisingly that has now stretched to a few hands of No Limit Hold’em.

But can software ever replicate the psychology of a Will Kassouf needle or a large dose of Phil Ivey aggression? Can you really get rich playing online with a bot?

How Poker Bots Work

Futurama poker bot Bender vs human Fry
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Poker bots are pieces of software used on online poker sites (usually) by players who cannot beat the game normally. Bots are computers that use mathematics and player knowledge to attempt to beat real-life human players.

Bots run in the background and as standalone programs alongside the client you’re running. Primarily, they track the hands that have been played and make observations that the human eye may not be able to see.

It’s like a HUD (Heads-Up Display) but it actually plays for you too. Running a bot is pretty easy, as long as they are permitted by the poker site you’re playing at. They’re just downloadable programs and they come with clear instruction manuals.

There are plenty of bots for sale on the open market. They can tackle cash, MTTs or Omaha but none guarantee a winning run over the long term.

That hasn’t stopped some sites cracking down on them though. PokerStars were investigating a suspected high-profile case of bots in last year’s Turbo Championship of Online Poker. The player was eventually found to be human.

Later it also emerged that a group of Russian players had used bots to win over $1.5 million on PLO cash games on ‘Stars’ site.

The world’s largest poker room later made changes to ban all third-party software from its tables. Earlier this year they also froze several accounts amidst fears of bot usage.

“…We want to make clear that the line will be drawn to preserve poker as a battle of wits and a test of heart.” PokerStars and Amaya Corporate Communications chief, Eric Hollreiser.

Pokerstars corporate communication chief Eric Hollreiser
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The New Generation of Bot

Researchers are busy developing new bots that are effectively better than people. Not only do they play optimum strategy in particular situations but they can also bet hard and, most importantly, bluff just like humans.

A bot known as Baby Tartanian 8 won the Annual Computer Poker Competition earlier this year. It is believed to be the ‘best poker bot’ ever invented.

While other bots have been able to crack Limit Hold’em, with its strict and fairly basic betting patterns, Baby Tartanian 8 has been proven to beat No Limit.

No Limit has so many more facets to the game than Limit: the all-in raise, betting for value, the sheer range of moves on each turn card. That’s why the BT8 bot has been creating such a buzz. Its algorithms have been set up to deal with the “unknowns” of Hold’em (i.e. you don’t know your opponents’ cards).

award winning robot poker software Tartanian 8
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BT8’s creators call it “asymmetric information” and want the bot to be used for things like business negotiations, in which one or both sides are always holding their cards very closely to their chest.

In a test against players like Doug Polk in 2015, over 80,000 hands the humans won by over $730,000. The bots, it seems, aren’t quite in the Ivey league just yet.

Beating The Bots: Teaming Up

The new generation of bots can handle many more hand scenarios than the original bots, which just had the capacity to call, fold, or go all-in. The downside is they are expensive and difficult to develop, and getting hold of one is also tricky. Aside from that,  most poker sites have banned them entirely.

Carl Sampson is a trainer and poker pro who is well-known in the gambling world. For him, having a strong team of players around you is a great way of beating the software.

Cheats and colluders have existed in online poker since the first games appeared. Individual players are at a distinct disadvantage because they work and play alone, and can’t share information on suspicious behaviour.

With a team of players helping each other spot the cheats – or in this case, bots – Sampson believes the bots can be weeded out.

Just like financial traders work together to improve their results, players need to start working as a collective to beat the game. Indeed, with the online game getting tougher and tougher, it’s vital that players share information and work together to plug the leaks.

Spot The Bot: 5 Handy Tips

how to identify a poker bot
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Identical Times For Decisions: Is that opponent taking 32 seconds on each and every decision? If so, that coincidence might be just be a bots programming.

Identical Bet Sizes: Just because the bets are the same time and time again, it doesn’t mean your opponent is a multi-tabling god who just doesn’t have time to talk to you.

Check The HUD Lines: Lots of poker bots feed off tracking software stats and make decisions accordingly. But it swings both ways: if you can use a HUD on your site, do your own research on them. If you find several players at the table with identical pre-flop bet stats over a long period of time, you could be under attack from more than one bot.

If you notice a player is making the same fold to your 6bb raise, make it a regular move. The bot won’t back off in fear, remember. It will just fold. Try a cheeky re-raise with any two cards for several hands in a row and see if it does the trick.

Chat? What Chat?: Despite repeated attempts to talk to your opponent in the chatbox, you don’t get a reply.

Call Security: Most major poker sites have an integrity unit whose job is to weed out bots and put a stop to the accounts.

Make Lots Of Adjustments: If you suspect your opponent is a bot, you can make slight and regular adjustments to your play to throw it/he/she off the scent.