Poker tourney pits robot vs. robot - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

Can the best poker robot beat a professional poker player?

That question will be answered during the first World Series of Poker Robots (, scheduled for Tuesday through Friday at Binions in downtown Las Vegas.


The first part of the tournament will pit the top six poker robots from around the world vying for a $100,000 top prize, but dont expect to see R2D2, C3PO, Robby the Robot, or the arm-swinging contraption from "Lost in Space" crowding around the table wearing visors, arm bands and funny glasses.

These robots are actually software programs designed to instantly evaluate poker hands and help make decisions on whether to call, raise or fold. The human elements of emotion, fatigue, tired eyes or dumb mistakes are removed, so the best programmer wins.

Computer monitors will sit atop the draped table, with the programmers own computers sitting below, networked together, along with a server that will deal the virtual cards. Limit Texas Holdem is the game.

Designers from Hong Kong; Madrid; Toronto; Jacksonville, Fla.; Newport Beach, Calif.; and Lafayette, Ind., will play a series of games over 72 hours. Prize money is from event sponsor, a play-for-fun poker and casino site.

Part two of the event will pit the top poker robot against Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, a professional poker player known for his hooded sweatshirt and dark glasses.

Inventor and entrepreneur Ken Mages, one of the events masterminds, said he created the event because he thought it would be fun. "How far can a guy from Madrid with a laptop go against a guy from Indiana? At the end of the day, its about who can write the smartest program, not who has the best computer," he said.

"Some poker purists are so passionate," he said in reply to criticism hes gotten about the event. "It saddens people that a machine can win. I didnt create this problem. There were people making poker robots 10 years ago, before I knew anything about Internet poker.

"I did this because I wanted it to be fun and challenging and to show the online poker casinos that these poker robots are not a threat to them in any way."

Mages believes the event will eclipse the 1997 Deep Blue computer vs. Gary Kasparov chess challenge. "If you look at the time line of events, a lot of people consider that a very depressing day. Weve reached a point where computers are able to beat the best chess mind in the world," Mages said.

"Poker is a different world. You certainly dont know what your opponents cards are, or what the cards in the deck are. To build an effective poker robot requires infinitely more math intelligence and skill than to build a chess robot," he continued.

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