Unabomber Beats Polaris in World's First Man v Machine Poker Game

It was a hard-fought game, but man just edged it over machine in what was billed as the "First Man-Machine Poker Championship." Phil Laak, also known as the Unabomber, and Ali Eslani battled it out against Polaris, a software program, for a purse of $50,000. Click for a closer view all the details.

The match took place in a Vancouver hotel, at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence's annual meeting. Although not the world's best poker players, Laak and Eslani were chosen because UA's brainboxes felt that their computer know-how would make them more effective opponents against Polaris, which was written by a bunch of AI researchers from the University of Alberta.

Playing Texas Hold 'Em, each team was put in separate rooms, and dealt identical hands, eliminating one of the most important aspects of poker - the tell - when shiftiness and facial tics can give the game away.

After a first-round draw, the humans were comprehensively beaten in the second round, and it was not until the third round, on the following day, when the AI team made a strategic cock-up, choosing a different version of the program that was supposed to add a level of adaptability and "learning."

It cost them the match. The humans came right back at Polaris, winning the final two rounds. Both men said that the computer, which won a pot of $2,400 in the final round when it pitted a royal flush against Eslami's three-of-a-kind, was the hardest opponent they had ever had to play against.

Unlike chess, poker is a harder game to write software for, because of the the unknown element involved in the hidden cards. Programmers also need to factor in the element of bluffing, which means catering for lots of different strategies and algorithms.

Although Polaris came out the loser this time, it is generally thought that it won't be long before the machines will be besting men at poker. One thing that will remain beyond computers, however, is the ability is get 'em off as charmingly as we do in the strip version of the game. [New York Times]