Brains vs AI: Humans Taking a Pounding By Libratus

Posted on: January 24, 2017, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: January 24, 2017, 12:44h.

The Brains vs AI poker contest has reached its halfway point at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh and it doesn’t make pretty reading for humankind.

Jimmy Chou says pokerbot Libratus is better than humans
Jimmy Chou, seen here battling Libratus, admitted this week that the pokerbot was more than a match for its human opponents. “It’s like a tougher version of us,” he said. (Image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

With 60,000 hands played in the match-up between four of poker’s finest and the latest in artificial intelligence from the Carnegie Mellon University, Libratus, the computer, is up $800,000.  

With a seemingly insurmountable task ahead of them, the humans may now no longer be playing their A-games. They may be tilted. Libratus, who is impervious to such frail human emotions, is on course to become the first robot to truly crush the best humanity has to offer at no limit hold’em.

This contest may already be over, and we’re only halfway through, as one of the pros, Jimmy Chou indirectly acknowledged to CMU this week.

“The bot gets better and better every day,” he said. “It’s like a tougher version of us.”

The H-bomb of Poker Bots

No limit hold’em, specifically, was supposed to be the game that robots couldn’t master. Too many variables, a bunch of incomplete information, and lots of scope for human unpredictability made it difficult for computers to wrap their heads around a winning strategy.

Humans were simply able to adapt their play more effectively than computers. In a similar contest in 2015, Libratus’ predecessor, Claudico, came fifth out of five.   

This appears no longer to be the case. But what does this mean for online poker? Are we doomed to a future of robot domination? Will online poker cease to exist?

Well, for a start, Libratus is the H-bomb of pokerbots and isn’t likely to fall into the wrong hands, or even be used to play poker in the long-term.

Its real-world applications in the future are likely to be in the fields of business, the military, medicine or cybersecurity; anywhere a decision must be made based on incomplete information.

Human Behavior

The truth is, pokerbots that can turn a profit online at no limit hold’em do exist and have for some time, although estimates vary about the extent of their proliferation. Most of these are so-called “plug and play” bots and, their sophistication is limited, certainly in comparison to Libratus.

They are also reasonably easy for online poker sites, which scour their games for “non-human” behaviors, to spot.  

Even more rare are bots that have been coded to a high level of sophistication, and require constant tweaks and adjustment from the creator.

These may be programmed to ape human behavior by, for example, randomly sitting out and taking breaks, perhaps even mis-clicking every so often or occasionally typing comments into the chatbox.

AI is certainly a threat to online poker but we’re a long ways away from the day you will be able to buy something like Libratus from an online website.

But as bot technology develops, so must the technology to counter it; it’s up to operators to protect us from the rise of the machines.