Polls, Damn Polls, and Poker Botting

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A current Two Plus Two poll asks whether poker botters should be banned from the forums:

The poll appears in a thread accusing our friends over at pokerai.org of disseminating botting-related information/advertising on Two Plus Two (which has a long-standing policy, formal or informal, against the promotion of botting-related content on its forums.)

Internet polls are mostly worthless, and small-sample Internet polls are even more worthless, but we can infer from this poll that yes, poker botting still scares the bejesus out of some people. Of course, we already knew that. Online poker has been characterized by a (somewhat irrational) fear of bots since before the millenium.

Witness PokerStove author Andrew Prock's prophetic year 2000 statement in rec.gambling.poker:

Just out of curiosity, how are the robots supposed to interface with the server?  It's not like there are open standards.  Of course it can be done, but it really does require a pretty darn high level of programming competence.  This is actually one of the biggest problems online poker is going to face in the future. 

Automated poker players which can pass this form of "Turing test" are going to be hard to spot, and even harder to beat.  That is if someone has the sophistocation to "break" the communication standard, they'll be able to write a winning bot which can pass the Turing test well enough to get away with this for quite a while.

What's more disturbing is the popularity of the (usually false) blanket assertion that "botting is cheating". Upwards of 70% of people who took the poll included this among their responses. Yet poker botting can really only be considered cheating if it involves...

  • Collusion
  • Hacking the serves for sensitive information (e.g., opponent hole cards) not otherwise available to the player.

The application of artificial intelligence to a real-money game of skill does not, in and of itself, constitute cheating. But if you give a typical player a button that says "poker botting is cheating", of course he's going to press it. A monkey would press it too.

Do we need a poll to tell us this?

No, if you want to get to the bottom of the poker botting vs. poker cheating issue, you have to ask the right questions.

  • Would you consider it cheating to have a friend sit with you at the computer while you play, so you get the benefit of two brains on every hand?
  • Would you consider it cheating to run a poker bot that a) loses money b) doesn't collude c) doesn't hack the servers d) doesn't even have access to one human brain, let alone two?
  • Would you play on a site which openly allowed poker bots, provided you were 100% certain that the vast majority of those bots lost money or broke even in the long run? That each bot was, in essence, a piggy bank?

Because when it comes to polls, phrasing is everything.

Anyway, for all that Two Plus Two almost single-handedly ushered in the poker Renaissance, when it comes to poker automation, most players are still living in the Dark Ages. So gather round the fire, ye superstitious cavemen and nomads, while I spin tales of the poker botting Jabberwocky and other things that go bump in the night...

Tags: poker automation, AI, online poker, poker

34 comment(s)

I'm currently in the process of creating a PokerSite with hosue made bots and and open API for other bot developers. For the average joe poker player, there WILL be notes, that botting is allowed on the site. Playmoney only at stage 1, I'll go through the legimiation process for online gambling sites when everything is up and running.

Although the poll should indicate, there won't be much traffic on the site, I still forecast the opposite.

Weeeeell, the question of whether a bot loses money or not has nothing to do with whether or not running a bot is cheating but other than that, yeah, sure, whatever, most people blow this way out of proportion.

Great find on that Andrew Prock quote...

It would be useful to have an online site to exercise bots against. People would also play (for play money) to exercise their skills against known quality bots. If people want fair games play with friends. As with many human activities only a small number will excel. I know I'll never be a poker pro (although I play a competent game against most people). Therefore I prefer to play with real people for fun and potential for modest wins/losses. Playing with bots would also be fun for the practice/stimulus.

Having poker site to test bots for real money (against other bots and humans) is indeed great idea.

"Cheating" is not the right word, but hopefully you can understand why people would rather NOT play with bots. Sports are supposed to pit people against each other in competition. Adding a computer sort of sullies that notion and takes away the fun and thrill in winning.

I work in the online poker industry.

Your stance on bots isn't progressive or cool.

I'd like to see an online poker site where bots played against bots (and interested humans) for real money. However, given the economies of scale involved in setting up an online poker site, I do not believe such a site would ever establish enough of an external player base (bots OR humans) to be successful.

So keep dreaming, geeks. In another couple years, you won't be able to run your bots anywhere. The time of the online poker bot has come and gone...

Your online poker industry guy is the one who is dreaming. The first thing to realise about bots is that writing a bot is hard. Therefore most bots are fish. A good player should be happy to play them time and time again and they provide a service to sites and players by giving them a game.

The second thing to realise about bots is that detecting them is hard now and potentially impossible. After all, the bot programmer controls the computer the poker client is running on. As a proof of concept of this idea, imagine I stick a dv camera in front of one pc, have another pc that runs the bot software and uses ocr to scrape the dv feed, and usb device that simulates mouse and keypress events. Inefficient but 100% indetectable. There are easier ways for the bot author to be indetectable also.

The authors of Poker clients are programming satan's computer (to use the famous phrase). Ultimately determined bot authors will always beat them because they don't own the hardware.

Oh, and as an aside, note that in my example trusted computing platforms don't help the poker client authors one bit. They will always be p0wnd by the botters.

I do agree with your points about polls being rubbish, people can easily be mislead by phrasing questions differently, and the results dont really mean anything. However I do disagreee about the cheaing issue.

The application of artificial intelligence to a real-money game of skill does not, in and of itself, constitute cheating.

I would definately differ with you on this. Imagine if people started taking odds calculators or bots to the WSOP. Or if people had supercomputers giving them moves in a chess tournament.

Personally I dont mind it, mainly becuase of the reason that the majority of bots are pretty poor (well I would presume so, mine was, i dont even know for sure if i've ever come up against one). I would imagine them to be very tight and incredibly predictable - probably easy to beat.

As for your bolded question: Most people probably wouldnt object to bots so much if they were losing money hand over fist. But almost everyone would object if they were super-sophisticated and could reliably beat top-notch players.

But allowing bots that lose and banning bots that win is just not cricket. A bot is a bot, whether it wins or loses.

I tend to agree with Scott and JB. Even if poker botting isn't cheating, it still sort of takes the fun out of the game. James I think your enthusiasm for the programming side of poker botting is what separates you from the rest of the vultures out there who are just trying to make a quick buck.

You have to understand that as above board as your motivations may be (and your enthusiasm is obvious just reading any of your articles on the subject), the average poker botter is kind of a scumbag. Just look at the number of spam links your blog has been inundated with for bots and poker bots and poker bot guides and all the rest.

Another thing:

Most of the poker botting crowd says "oh bots are hard to program therefore, no worries, we can have as many bots out there and it wont matter."

This makes no sense. There WONT be a lot of bots out there unless those bots are winning bots. No botter is going to continue botting if all his bot does is lose and lose some more.

The more likely result of widespread botting: large numbers of slightly winning, break-even, and slightly losing bots, all of whom profit by rakeback, acting as a net drain on the poker economy.

I love your botting-related posts from a software angle, but let's drop this argument that "bots are good for online poker" which I've seen various commenters make. It's not convincing.

IMO, the cheating part is where you mis-represent the bot as a human. If you want to have any hope of convincing players that it's not cheating then computer players need to be clearly identified. In all other online games (e.g. chess) computer players are identified.

This is a case of situational ethics. It's certainly against the rules you agreed to when you signed up for an account at any of the major poker sites. But if someone pays you to write a poker bot, or you pursue it out of intellectual curiosity or a profit motive, then somehow it's not cheating. Not only is it not cheating, it's the right and proper thing to do, etc. Situational ethics.

back to the poll after indiana was pretty much dominating the thread the 2+2 admins decided not to allow him to talk about bots on 2+2 anymore. so not banned but censored. the poll shows 40% will play on site that allow bots? if the poll is good 40% X 100000 members that is 40000 players

Indiana pushed them too far, in my opinion.

Trying to persuade poker players that bots are good for the game is an uphill battle. A bot is only good for the person who runs it, and only if it can beat the game at a reasonable rate. Nothing wrong with that, but how can it be good for the game?

Similar to trying to persuade religious people that they are being superstitious. Let them figure it out for themselves.

The poll backfired. Move on.

In Japan, there is a saying, "The nail that sticks up will be hammered down."

To the Mr. Online Poker Industry Guy, If someone is clever enough to create artificial intelligence to win at poker, isn't it likely they can hide it from you? Think about it.

I have to go with Sean here. The poker sites are at a disadvantage because they don't own the hardware. Period. This is the whole point of the "programming Satan computer" metaphor.

http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/Papers/satan.pdf

But I also think the poker botting thing gets blown way out of proportion. If bots were going to "take over" online poker they would've done so by now.

So what. Botting is real, it is improving and if it kills online poker that is a good thing.

So a few people have promoted this idea that "bots will only stick around if they are winning bots therefore most bots will be winning bots". Not true for players not true for bots.

Most bots that stick around will be winning bots just like most people who stick around playing poker are winning players. However most people and bots will not stick around.

Bots are no more or less net positive (or negative) for the poker-playing economy than people. They risk money to play poker (a game of skill), accepting a slightly negative mean expectation by giving a rake to the house. The only people with a structurally positive expectation (ie the only people who actually suck money out of the poker playing economy) are the house.

Everyone else who has positive EV from playing poker does so through skill. Skill is rare by definition. There won't ever be a large number of players (human or bot) with positive expectation from playing poker.

People get money by selling something that other people want. The value that the house provides is the venue for the game. That justifies their edge. The value that skillful players provide is a darn good game of poker. If it was all too easy it wouldn't be challenging or fun for anyone. This value is provided by bots and humans and justifies their +EV.

People should stop whining and learn to get better (both at playing and botting).

Oh, and the value that "high frequency" players (bot and human) provide is an opponent you can play with any time of the night or day any day of the week. that's why the house gives them rake back etc. They want people on their site or they die.

So that justifies their existence even when they're just breakeven.

"Oh, and the value that "high frequency" players (bot and human) provide is an opponent you can play with any time of the night or day any day of the week. that's why the house gives them rake back etc. They want people on their site or they die.

So that justifies their existence even when they're just breakeven."

Best argument yet, Sean.

I know plenty of purely recreational players, who don't play very well and have no real interest in becoming better. The fact that they are losing money doesn't really bother them. What they do want is to play against real people. Should bots become allowed on poker sites, these recreational players would become unhappy and probably quit playing. That would make me unhappy, since I thrive mainly on these players.

I don't see why people are so upset about playing against bots! Plenty of programs that guides you through the poker game (decisions about betting, folding etc.) are already allowed on poker sites. For me that is like playing against bots where humans acts as the bot interface!

If you are interested in programming a bot in Lazarus/Pascal and some Python, then send me a mail at pyramidstopp(((AT)))himlen(((DOT)))nu .

Poker is currently my only source of income. And I am absolutely convinced that boats are cheating. BTW, having your friend help you with decisions is cheating, too. Live poker has always had a rule of "one player per hand", and for a good reason.

Imagine for a second that we're playing chess. How would you like to play for considerable money against Deep Fritz on max level while thinking you're playing with Joe Sixpack? Or playing against Joe Sixpack, but now his friend Mr. Kramnik is there to help?

Now, I admit, most poker bots are not yet on the Deep Fritz level (but for heads-up limit and shortstack no-limit, they are very close already). But the important thing to understand here is that bots, while not able to beat good players, are still capable to make money or barely break even against the fish (making money with massive rakeback), thus taking money away from the 5% of winning players. Also, bots are immune to emotional swings and never get tired playing 24 tables at once, both of which are huge limiting factors for human players.

So, yes, bots are cheating.

Bots Bots Bots!!!! Any chance of writing a bot to have a go at horse racing(uk). CODING THE WIND I think bots and people will always fail at online poker for 3 reasons. 1)No matter what skill level you play against,the symmetry of playing will always be disturbed by the bluffer,the unpredictable variable that this creates will negate the most skilled bot or player.

2)Online games are rigged...period.If you do manage to win a few bob,this is clocked and you will find yourself getting dealt some crap deals until your bank disappears quicker than a Mormon in a brothel.This is the cyber equivalent to the bald headed burly no brainers who kick you out of the casino when they discover that your roulette robot is making money.:) :) :) 3)(a variation on 1 really) Self congratulating skilled players tell us that they love looking for fish,well slippery eel would be more appropriate a description because mr(or mrs)(((or badly written bot)is just as capable of sustaining a good game if the cards fall right and the decisions go right,this flash in the pan success will negate mr super cool know it all player and render him(her(bot) useless.

The nature of online poker is that it attracts too great an audience,and to divers a player. The consequences is a complete mess that really is impossible to predict for even the most sophisticated botty. Do I think Bots cheat...who gives a fig...besides how can you cheat against gangsters.Using bots is akin to cheating on the IRS or Inland Revenue.:) Jim
THE BOT RAP hi i am a poker bot and i'm written in C you online poker rooms wont beat me so out of my way i rool the day and i will make full tilt pay pay pay etc written by Bodogbogoff.:)

I would like to comment on this sentence

"What's more disturbing is the popularity of the (usually false) blanket assertion that "botting is cheating". Upwards of 70% of people who took the poll included this among their responses. Yet poker botting can really only be considered cheating if it involves...

* Collusion
* Hacking the serves for sensitive information (e.g., opponent hole cards) not otherwise available to the player."

Pokerbotting is always cheating and can never be anything else either.

It's easy. If botting is not allowed it's cheating.

Anyway how much money would you bet that you beat a car on 400 metres?

Or wouldn't you call it cheating if your opponent sit in one while you run?

There can be a competition between pokerbots like chess.

really nice blog you have here, ive been reading your articles on poker bot development for days now. logo design

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Thank you for sharing the information about poll! That's something that I want to know. adjustable beds

It is really a nice post, it is always great reading such posts, this post is good in regards of both knowledge as well as information. Very fascinating read, thanks for sharing this post here.

I don't personally play poker online but from my experience i think the only way to make bots allowable is to fully disclose them to the other players. Playing against a bot would require a different strategy to playing against a human and thus, presents an unfair advantage if bots are used unknowingly. harry potter box set

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