Poker researchers betting on world-class software

05/03/04

Despite an unsavory past, poker has exploded onto television screens in North America and a University of Alberta spin-off company is hoping to cash in on the high stakes industry. Spin-off company, BioTools, is using U of A research to launch its online poker game development aimed to help novices and experts improve their playing ability.

"We are getting closer to beating the best players in the world," said Darse Billings, a former professional poker player and U of A PhD student working on the project. "Our current programs can acquit themselves quite well against strong opposition, and they continue to become stronger as the research progresses. I do not believe they are superior to the best humans yet, but I believe that day will come--possible within the next year or two."

The software, marketed as Poki's Poker Academy, learns patterns and adopts to various playing styles. Not just a poker game, the complex learning tool can display odds, variables, can graph results as well as the likelihood of certain poker situations. It forces an opponent to continually change strategies and adapt their play, as it will attempt to exploit any and all weakness or predictability it finds in their playing style. Although, this new poker player never tires or sweats it does hold a crucial tool--the ability to bluff.

The development is taken from artificial intelligence research created by the same U of A group who created a checkers playing program named Chinook. Chinook became the best checkers playing entity on the planet, eventually winning a checkers world championship by defeating competitors in qualifying tournaments and leaving a trail of stunned human players in its wake. The program is based on game theory, a formula developed by Nobel laureate John Nash, the mathematician featured in the movie "A Beautiful Mind." This branch of mathematics studies the interactions between people, companies or countries who are in competition.

The same group was working on a way to develop a program that could play a winning game of Texas Hold' em and years later, Poki's Poker Academy was born. Since launching its product online in December, BioTools has sold more than 400 copies. They have just released their boxed version to be sold in casinos in North America and will soon expand their distribution sites.

"This is for all levels of players," said Mike Fedeyko, sales and marketing manager at BioTools. "Poker has become so popular--this software is for people who don't yet feel comfortable going to a casino and betting money or for top players who want to improve their game. You could take a good player who would have a tough time beating our game."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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