How Are Poker Sites Doing in the War Against Bots?

Online Poker Game, Computer Sequence, Keyboard
Online poker rooms have to police their sites to prevent various types of cheating. Colluding and multi-accounting have traditionally taken center stage, because both of these methods give players an unfair advantage.

But more recently, bots have become the main issue at poker sites. The problem is so bad that certain players are now hesitant about online poker.

What are bots, and why are they so bad? Keep reading, as I discuss the issue and what internet poker rooms are doing to combat the problem.

What Are Online Poker Bots?

A poker bot is a computer program that’s created to play online poker. These programs operate based on specific mathematical concepts and game theory, with the end goal of making the best long-term decisions.

A bot is only as good as its programmer’s knowledge on poker and game theory. Therefore, these programs can differ in terms of skill level.

Unlike a human, poker bots have difficulty in “reading” opponents. They instead use systematic play in an attempt to beat opponents.

Poker bots are especially successful with the limit betting structure, which caps wagers to a specific amount on each street. No limit poker, in contrast, has more incomplete information and relies on reads to a greater extent.

As you’ll see later, though, modern bots are programmed so well today that they’re more capable of understanding this incomplete info.

Poker Bots Have Improved Over the Years

Bots were once a novelty in the online poker world. Those who programmed them often had the intent of seeing how their computer creations could perform against human players.

The earliest poker bots struggled to even beat the micro stakes. They weren’t considered a serious threat, especially to no limit players.

Eventually, bots started to become big business. Players would pay programmers to create bots for them, or even design their own.

Person Typing on Laptop Computer, Online Poker Room

These newer programs were able to beat limit Texas hold’em on a regular basis. Bots have become so advanced today that they’ve essentially “solved” limit hold’em.

Again, though, no limit poker involves more complexities than the limit version. Many thought that no limit poker could never become solved.

Bots have put cracks in these notions in more recent times. They now regularly beat micro and mid-stakes games. Some of the best programs are even capable of defeating top high-stakes pros.

Libratus Shows the Potential of Bots

Over the past decade, university programming departments have taken a vested interest in poker. They’ve developed various artificial intelligence (AI) that’s capable of playing the game at a high level.

Their goal isn’t to design a supercomputer that can make huge poker profits. Instead, such universities are merely using the game as a testing ground for greater things (e.g. medicine, war games).

The first efforts by universities weren’t capable of beating top-level professionals. However, this all changed when Carnegie Mellon University developed Libratus.

CMU’s Claudico faced off against a group of no-limit hold’em pros led by Doug Polk in 2015. Thanks to Polk’s dominating play, the team was able to win in the machine vs. man challenge.

However, Carnegie Mellon made some upgrades and came back with a revamped bot in 2017. Libratus was more than up to the NL hold’em challenge and better than the proceeding Claudico.

Facing a team of Jimmy Chou, Jason Les, Dong Kim, and Daniel McAuley, Libratus won handily over the course of 120,000 total hands.

Below, you can see how badly the bot defeated each human opponent:

  • Dong Kim: -$85,649
  • Daniel MacAulay: -$277,657
  • Jimmy Chou: -$522,857
  • Jason Les: -$880,087

One reason why Libratus won so easily is because it has the ability to improve its play overnight. The AI analyzed its play from the previous session and learned how to get better.

Contrast this to human players who need rest and can’t dedicate extensive hours to improving after long sessions. Kim noted the difficulty in competing against this super bot.

“I didn’t realize how good it was until today. I felt like I was playing against someone who was cheating, like it could see my cards. I’m not accusing it of cheating. It was just that good.”

Libratus won at a rate of 14.7 big blinds per 100 hands. This is an astounding win rate in the micros, let alone against the world’s best players at higher stakes.

Why Are Bots Hated in Online Poker?

Few poker bots are anywhere near as good as Libratus. But many are skilled enough to where they’re universally hated by the poker world. Here are some specific reasons for why bots are so disliked.

No Fatigue

The amount of time that one can play online poker varies from person to person. Generally speaking, though, most players can’t go more than four to five hours at peak performance.

Bots differ because they’re merely computer programs. They never tire and can theoretically play 24/7.

Of course, wise bot users log off from time to time to make their sessions look realistic. After all, poker sites look at session multiple times when trying to determine if a user is human or not.

But even if a bot is logged off every four hours or so, they’ll still play at peak levels with no distractions.

Emotionless

Tilt is one of the biggest problems for any poker player. Everybody gets flustered once in a while, causing them to have a more difficult time making decisions clearly.

Guy Thinking With Head Down, Poker Cards Spread

Herein lies another advantage for bots, because they don’t have emotions. Therefore, they never have to worry about getting angry or mentally defeated when they gamble real money online.

No Fear of Risk

Many successful poker players are risk-averse individuals who are willing to take gambles. But higher stakes can sometimes cause one to scale back bets for fear of losing too much.

Programs aren’t scared when it comes to stakes. They make the optimal play based on their programming regardless of the money at hand.

This trait can sometimes backfire for the owner if the bot has bad luck. But overall, forgetting the stakes and concentrating on optimal poker is the ideal way to play.

Built-in HUDs

A Heads-Up Display (HUD) collects useful stats on opponents. These stats eventually reveal your opponents’ tendencies in different situations.

HUDs are banned at some online poker rooms, because they can provide users with a big advantage. Some bots already have these programs built in, meaning they have an advantage on two fronts.

Bots Remain One of the Biggest Issues in Online Poker

As mentioned before, poker bots have become one of the larger problems in the game. They give relevant account holders an edge in many categories.

Not surprisingly, players have complained about these programs. Some have even quit the game entirely over fear that they’re constantly facing bots.

Computer Keyboard, Poker Cards Pile

Certain rooms like PokerStars and Americas Cardroom (ACR) have really struggled with this issue. Popular podcaster Joe Ingram once advised everybody to boycott ACR until they got their massive bot problem fixed.

Taking everything into account, poker sites are doing more than ever to eliminate bots. Some of the world’s biggest online poker rooms have employees who are dedicated to looking for these programs.

Unfortunately, catching every bot is a difficult pursuit. The dilemma still persists to this day in the internet game.

Poker Sites Do a Better Job of Dealing With the Problem

Every poker site is aware of AI to some degree. Certain sites have really stepped up in their efforts to rid themselves of the problem.

Partypoker is one of the best-known examples today.

Following a lengthy investigation, they closed down 277 bot accounts and confiscated $734,582 from the associated accounts.

PokerStars has also improved their efforts to find and close down cheating accounts. They don’t have any newsworthy success stories like Partypoker, but they’re actively working on the issue.

Conclusion

Online poker rooms are still fighting the war against bots with no end in sight. At stake is the legitimacy of the game.

Nobody wants to play online poker when they could potentially be facing an unbeatable AI. That said, the poker world is doing what it can to minimize the problem.

The sites themselves do a fair amount of work to catch bots. After all, they stand to lose business if these AI accounts are shut down.

Sometimes, the players themselves are a big help. They can report suspected cheating accounts. At which point, the site’s employees will follow up on the matter.

Only time will tell if the bot problem can be fixed. It’s not always easy to catch those who are using these programs.

Again, though, the validity of poker is on the line. Sites need to keep catching and banning AI users in order to keep the game fair.