For decades Hollywood has been warning of a robot uprising, fuelled by the birth of Artificial Intelligence (AI), that would see our own creations try to wipe humanity from the face of the planet.
From Blade Runner and The Terminator to Ex Machina and The Matrix, the AI menace has always presented a threat to the human hero. But what if instead of annihilating us, they just kept beating us at poker?
Although IBM’s Deep Blue managed to beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1996, AI took almost two decades to turns its attention to casino games. If you had asked the question “Can an AI beat a human at poker?” two years ago, the answer was a resounding ‘no’.
Then in April 2015, computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University (CMG) unleashed a devastating new AI called Claudico at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh in what was the first Brains vs AI tournament. For 13 days the AI battled through heads-up matches against four top Texas Hold‘em poker players, eventually playing a total of 20,000 hands.
And it lost. Big time. The human quartet finished over 732,000 chips above Claudico. So it was back to the drawing board. Almost two years later, the brains at CMG have returned for a new Brains vs AI tournament, bringing along Claudico’s successor, dubbed Libratus, for a rematch.
Two of the original players, Dong Kim and Jason Les, returned to the Rivers Casino to face Libratus, accompanied by Daniel McAulay and Jimmy Chou. Only this time, the machine won. Libratus managed to double the human team’s last win, with a victory of over $1.5 million.
Libratus’ victory represents an important step in the evolution of interconnected systems. While Deep Blue beating a chess pro or IBM’s Watson winning Jeopardy! were impressive feats of engineering, these machines had a very narrow objective – to win at one specific game defined by rules.
The CMG team, led by Professor Tuomas Sandhold and Noam Brown, loaded Libratus’ supercomputer with learning algorithms, which allowed the AI to analyse rules and form a winning strategy against the Brains. The researchers have noted that these are not self-contained within poker.
Poker, like many aspects of life, is a game of skill, not one of luck, and involves playing without all the information available. This definition could apply to many real life situations and systems, from traffic control to emergency response, managing medical supplies or buffeting stock trading. This astounding fact about Libratus makes it a milestone in the creation of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).
Past AI units have been designed to be exceptional at one specific task or game, but an AGI would be a master of everything, adapting to new information with the capability of using that to learn new ways to play. When reflecting upon how Libratus had managed to overcome himself and his human teammates, Jimmy Chou said:
"The first couple of days, we had high hopes. But every time we find a weakness, it learns from us and the weakness disappears the next day."
Although Chou and the rest of his Brain team may be smarting after the heavy losses against Libratus, playing against human players is still the best way to learn. Until the Bridge supercomputers that CMG used to build their winning AI are more readily available, human players will still be the kings of the poker table for some time to come.
Learning the basics is the first step to becoming a poker pro. Thankfully, many online casinos such as partypoker have blogs on the basics of poker, and a poker school section that will help players determine when they should hold or fold. Players can also learn the different styles of poker and the different rules that each brings to the table.
Once players are feeling confident in their abilities, they can join games from the online casino lobby. Many games will be in play at any one time, and players can choose which table to sit at based on the price of the stake, or the skill level of their opponents. There are four main types of game that they can enter online, including:
Cash games are open at any time, while SNG tournaments allow players of all levels to participate in quick and easy competitions that often last around an hour. Tournaments are usually scheduled at a specific time and come with an entry fee, while MTT offer fixed buy-ins with bigger pots and the chance to qualify for other tournaments.
As with all skills, practice makes perfect. The higher players progress, the tougher the competition, but this also means that the stakes are bigger too. Thankfully, Party Poker offer a 100% First Deposit Bonus up to an impressive £500!