Man vs. Poker Machine follow-up

Last post I talked about how, for the second year in a row, pro poker players will take on the card-playing machine known as Polaris 2 at the Las Vegas Rio on July 3rd.  During the post, I mentioned former World Chess Champion [[Garry_Kasparov|Gary Kasparov]] and how he was beaten the second time he played the chess-playing computer Deep Blue.

I also made a connection to how the professional online poker players who square off against Polaris 2 might want to avoid being beaten by the machine or they’ll be “humiliated” like Kasparov.  Well one of the programmers for [[Polaris_(poker_bot)|Polaris 2]], Mike Johanson, came across the post and wanted to point out that they’re not trying to humiliate anybody with this poker robot.

Instead he says that the Polaris 2 project deals with learning things about AI outside of games, boasting some friendly competition, and having fun in the process.  His comments are pretty insightful and posted below along with my response to him.  And for the record,  I think what the University of Alberta is doing with Polaris 2 is really cool and that’s why I wanted to post about it.

(Mike’s comments)


My name is Mike Johanson – I’m one of the programmers on the Polaris project. I found your blog while I was procrastinating this morning before starting on the day’s bot-coding :^D

I think the attitudes of the competitors play a large role in determining how everyone looks back on the event. The second match between Kasparov and Deep Blue didn’t end well – Kasparov was convinced the IBM team had cheated by having humans intervene during the match. He said Deep Blue had made “human” moves, that only a human (and never a computer) would make. There just isn’t any such thing – and likewise, Grundy is wrong about the psychology of bluffing being a human phenomenon. Bluffing is actually the easiest part for us, because the mathematics of game theory tells you how often to bluff and slowplay.

So, Kasparov insisted that IBM had cheated, and whether it was true or not (and I’m sure it isn’t, but hey – I’m on the computer’s side, right?), it looked like sour grapes. If he was “humiliated”, then that was a big part of it.

Poker has been different so far. The work we’ve done in poker over the last 14 years has turned up a lot of knowledge about the game that humans are able to use to improve their game. I think the pros we’ve played against (Laak, Eslami, Paradis) have learned just as much from the matches as we have. If this improves their game when they play against other humans, then I think it’s a win-win situation.

We’re certainly not out to try to humiliate anyone. By doing this research, we’re learning things about AI that apply outside of Poker and outside of games. The friendly competition we get from playing against poker pros is a) really motivating, b) good for research, and c) awesome and fun. I think the pros feel the same way.

(My response)

Hi Mike,

You make a very good point about the attitudes of the competitors playing a big role in how the event will be perceived later on. Kasparov didn’t have the best attitude after losing and I agree that it’s doubtful IBM had humans intervene (and if they did shouldn’t Kasparov been able to beat them since he was a World Champ?).

By saying “humiliated” I meant that, instead of being recognized as one of the greatest chess champions of all time, he was instead presented through the mainstream media as the chess champ who lost to a computer.

Maybe if Kasparov would have been more gracious in defeat, he wouldn’t have been shown in that light. By accusing IBM of cheating, Kasparov may have brought on plenty more negative attention.  If your poker machine does beat Paradis and the rest of the online pros, hopefully they’ll take defeat a lot better. From the quotes I’ve read by Paradis, he seems to be taking this competition in a friendly manner.

And about Grundy’s comment, I’m sure you know plenty about what Polaris is capable of since you’re one of the programmers and I believe what you say about the bluffing aspect. But, before reading your comments, I would have been in the same boat as Grundy in thinking that a computer wouldn’t be able to handle situational play such as bluffing, slowplaying, and profiling opponents.

Anyways, good luck with the competition and I look forward to seeing how it turns out.

One thought on “Man vs. Poker Machine follow-up

  1. Mike Johanson

    Thanks! If you or any of your readers have any questions about Polaris or about the match, fire away – I’ll answer what I can.

    If you’re interested in playing against last year’s Polaris bot that Phil Laak and Ali Eslami played against, we have them running on Poker Academy Online. I think they have a free demo that gives you access to Poker Academy Online, where you’ll want to look for the Polaris Challenge rooms.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *