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Daily Online Poker Contest Pits Man Against Robot Against Man.

Creator's hobby becomes site where players compete against Robot poker players and try for high scores and prizes.

(Costa Rica) We’re used to reading about grand-master chess players competing against super computers. Is it time for poker to go the same way? If is any indication, this just might be the case one day.                                                                     

The present competition on the site has gone on for over three weeks now. Players from the US and Canada and Australia and the UK and France and Finland and Singapore and a lot of other places besides, are logging in at some time during the day. Then they play their four 5 minute sessions of Texas Hold’em poker against the 8 sunglass-wearing poker bots who sit permanently at their graphically lush basement poker table.

It sounds simple enough. Play 4 sessions of 12 hands each and get a score. Get all 4 of your scores within a winning range of places that increases every day (currently the Top 46) and you can take home the cash prize that also increases every day. (Currently $205).

BUT, after more than 10,000 sessions played by more than 600 players, all of whom found the site by word of mouth, no-one has yet achieved the goal. Some have come close. 12 players have had 3 sessions in the winning range at the end of the day and hundreds more have had three or four at some point in the day….but still no winner.

In the first competition, it took 32 days and over 22,000 sessions before a player in England prevailed and collected $215.

How come it’s such a challenge?

Creator Paul Davis says it is really a surprise as he launched the competition primarily as a minor test vehicle for back-end data in preparation for launching another Tournament format that is now on the back-burner.

“I never expected the Contests to last this long or attract as many players as they have. I think part of the appeal of the game is that even if you are out of the running, your score can still have meaning as you try to block someone else’s score and prevent them from winning. Which of course leaves you another chance at winning tomorrow. In fact, that became such a big part of the game that we had to institute the $1 a day factor to discourage it.”

(Players who pay $1 a day to help support the site can win the whole prize and other prizes for near misses. Free players can still win but only a portion of the actual prize.)

Do the ‘bots actually beat human players?

“Well, yes they do. Some of the time. Of course luck is a big factor in such a small sample as 12 hands per session. Even so, fully half of the sessions result in the human running out of points (or chips) before session’s end but as Davis points out, this has much to do with the nature of the game and humans just trying to bully their silicone opponents into the ground. “Also, the bots are the vehicle for the game, not the game itself but it’s nice that so many tend to underestimate them. They play much better than most assume they will.”

True championship play by a poker bot is still some years away but that wasn’t Davis’ goal anyway. "My goal was always just to have truly credible play that was available to anyone 24 hours a day. Most of us wouldn’t stand a prayer in the long run against a World Champ type poker player even if a computerized one was available. So how much fun would that be? What our robot players do is play a very similar way to the way most of us do. They play well some of the time and not so well other parts of the time. They can be exploited by their human opponents but just often enough to make it interesting, they will turn the table and return the favor. The key was to make them play credibly but not behave the same way in the same situation all the time. (Something which Davis thinks most human players would be well advised to do.) So they’re harder to get a handle on than you might think at first."

Davis has many other Tournament formats he would like to adopt. Already, in addition to the main Contest, he runs a Championship where players scores earn points in a league format and also random TargetScores that players can try to hit to win cash prizes. . “Having the bots available 24/7 gives you a lot of possibilities you wouldn’t otherwise have for different types of Tournaments. You don’t need to rely on other people wanting to play the same time as you”

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