U Alberta Researchers Pit AI Program Against Card Sharks

A team of computer science researchers at the University of Alberta are pitting Polaris, their poker-playing computer program, against two of the best Texas Hold 'em card players in the hemisphere. The purse is $50,000 in the 2,000-hand match between card sharks Phil Laak and Ali Eslami and the Alberta team, led by Jonathan Schaeffer.

Schaefer, who headed the team that created Polaris, said the poker is meant to be fun but also to test the limits of artificial intelligence in the dynamic, idiosyncratic world of card gambling.

"We have developed a format that has helped us factor out luck and make it into a scientific experiment to determine how good humans are relative to the best program in the world," Schaeffer told the Canadian Press. "The goal is to eventually produce a poker program that is stronger than all human players."

The match will be played July 23 and 24 in conjunction with the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Conference in Vancouver.

Polaris represents several computer programs with different characteristics. One variant learns from the strengths and weaknesses of other players and adjusts its tactics--such as bluffing--accordingly.

"There is a mathematically optimal rate at which you should bluff," Schaeffer said. "Computers can calculate that. Humans don't understand the mathematics of poker. If they bluff too much, you can exploit them and win money."

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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