Attracting hundreds of column inches in the mainstream press around the world this week is the unusual University of Alberta project to pit man against its Polaris poker-playing research robot.
So far the results are not exactly conclusive, with Polaris pulling a draw in the first match Monday against poker pros Phil "Unabomber" Laak and his partner Ali Eslami. Although the robot won 7 small bets, anything less than 25 small bets is considered a draw in the "tournament" rules.
In the second round, it appears that Polaris had a more convincing performance, beating both players despite a run of good cards on Laak's part.
Session 3 begins at noon Alberta time Tuesday.
Polaris is described by its university research team creators as the world's most advanced poker-playing computer program, replete with artificial intelligence (AI) and capable of ‘learning' or adapting to the play of its opponents as a game develops.
Put together by an award-winning team of researchers from the University of Alberta, the robot is under extreme test in the project by putting it into contention with two highly experienced and respected poker aces, Laak and Eslami in the first real money series of matches.
The scientists have chosen a high profile time and venue – the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) – for the test now underway in Vancouver, Canada. In order to motivate the human players, a $50 000 prize is reserved for the overall winner.
The research team hopes to have more success this time around than they did back in 2005 when Laak defeated the state-of-the-art poker robot t that time, Poki-X in a much publicised encounter at the World Series of Poker (see previous InfoPowa report) These hopes are based on improvements in technology which the team claims have enabled them to invest the robot with more human qualities – controversially the ability to bluff, trap, check-raise bluff, big lay-down and to read an opponent's style of play and adjust to it.
"This match is extremely important," University of Alberta computing science professor Jonathan Schaeffer told Associated Press, "…because it's the first time there's going to be a man-machine event where there's going to be a scientific component."
The set-up consists of four 500-hand duplicate matches, with Eslami in one room and Laak in another. In each match the same series of cards will be dealt, with teammates playing the opposite hands in each game. So whatever cards Eslami gets in one hand will be the same the computer gets against Laak, and vice-versa. Community cards will be the same for both, and no communication will be allowed.
At the end of each session, the combined bankroll of the human team will be compared to the combined bankroll of the bot team to determine the winner.
If the human team wins by more than 25 small bets in a session, they'll take $5 000. If it's 25 or less (a statistical tie), the players will get $2 500 per session.
The four separate sessions will be played over two days, allowing both teams to learn more about their opponent and adjust their strategy accordingly.