Would you pay for a poker-playing robot program that may help you win in Texas Hold’em?
Texas Hold’em is a variation of a game of poker where there are four betting rounds: two cards are dealt face down to each player and five cards, “community cards” are dealt face up, the first three community cards are dealt in what is called “the flop”, an additional card is dealt in what is called “the turn”, and the last card is “the river”. A player, during his turn, can choose to raise, fold, or call any bets at each round.
Michael Bowling, a professor of computer science at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, developed a poker-playing robot program that gives a player his best response in a game of Texas Hold’em. Although this is a significant breakthrough marking “the largest game of its kind to be solved by an algorithm” (there are 319 trillion possible moves), the research concluded that the robot can be defeated in an actual game and that the first player or the dealer has a greater advantage because he also makes the last move. The reason is, unlike a game of chess where there is perfect information, players do not have all the information they need; you never know what cards your opponents are holding until you come to that final faceoff. You can memorize your opponents betting history and rely on that information to make your next move, and pray that luck is on your side.
It boils down to this: like most card games, luck is a factor in your chance of winning. There can even be 8 to 9 players in a game of Hold’em, which makes it difficult to memorize opponents betting history. Your ability to bluff also matters. Regardless, I find it remarkable that a program was developed with the best response for a game with imperfect information. I was not able to retrieve the results of the study from Science because I am not a member, but to all avid players of Hold’em, your best bet is to check out the findings because it may help you win the pot the next time you play.
(Disclaimer: Please note that the game Bowling weakly solved for is only one variation of Hold’em; other Hold’em games have different rules.)