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Online Poker Bots

7 April 2009, By Deter Reiter, Staff Writer

It would be very hard to argue that online poker has not been one of the killer applications of the last five years.  The industry has experienced explosive growth in both player number and amounts wagered at online poker rooms.

The phenomenal rise of online poker is well documented.  From humble beginnings in 1998 and relatively modest growth, it wasn't until aggressive operators like Pacific Poker and Party Poker started to leverage WPT worldwide television coverage that the juggernaut really took off.  In 2003 player numbers and amounts bet increased 500% and similar growth has continued.

Online poker has managed to achieve a degree of mainstream credibility that the online casinos, despite PwC and eCOGRA payout ratio audits and all manner of assurances have struggled to earn.  Big name pros have signed up with poker rooms like Full Tilt Poker as sponsored players, giving regular Joes the chance to play heads up against some of the greats.  Phil Helmuth, Jo Hashem, Phil Ivey, and Gus Hansen are amongst a number of poker stars lending their endorsement to online poker rooms.

One of the main attractions of the online poker offering is that you are not playing against a machine.  When you play blackjack at an online casino you are playing against a machine (unless you are playing live dealer games).  Sure outcomes are determined by a random number generator and if the casino is a good one, RTP rates will be audited and published by third party reviewers.  But it is still a machine.  Online poker presented an opportunity for players to play against other real people, all be it via a virtual medium.

But the chatter in poker rooms amongst seasoned players that bots are becoming more prevalent is getting louder and louder.  And this could destroy the 'real player comfort' of many customers.

What's a bot?  It's a computer program that plays the game in place of a real player.  That they have been around for a while now is a certainty, but what is becoming a concern is that they are becoming sophisticated enough to actually consistently beat even experienced players.  It seems poker is a very complicated game to crack and until recently, bots have been relative easy beats.

"In chess everything is visible - one can see the board, there is no information hidden except for the opponent's mind," says Ann Nicholson of Monash University's IT faculty. "But in poker, depending on the version, some of the cards are hidden. There is uncertainty not just in the randomness of the cards in the deck but also in what people have, what actions they are going to take and what strategies they are going to use."

The existence of sophisticated bots and the extent of their use is unknown.  Clearly creators of brilliant poker playing programs who are cleaning up at online poker rooms are unlikely to advertise their success just yet. 

But it is clear that online poker room operators are going to have to be more and more vigilant in detecting bots and blocking them from their rooms.  The last thing poker rooms want is a wide spread belief amongst the playing public that super bots are roaming online poker rooms ready to fleece them of their cash with near unbeatable play.



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