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Invasion of the Poker Bots: Is No Online Poker Room Safe?

They’re worse than poker sharks. They’ve taken over online poker rooms everywhere. In fact, they’re most likely sitting next to you at the table right now. They probably have most of your chips. Emotion doesn’t get in their way. Neither does greed, exhaustion, or fear.

Their tells are nil and, try as you might, you cannot put them on tilt. They’re poker bots, and rumor has it, they’re fleecing you bare. Poker bots are computer programs set up to play on behalf of (and instead of) an actual human being, according to a consistent and, presumably, proven strategy. Hearing of the possible presence of these borderline cheaters in your online poker rooms could be enough to make online poker players question whether to sit down at the online poker tables at all. So let’s start there.

In a word: yes. Of course you should keep playing poker. As we’ll explain, these poker bots are far from foolproof and even farther from unbeatable. Secondly, online poker rooms are in the process of making it harder and harder for a poker bot to even get through their virtual doors (think: cyber-bouncer). You see, here’s the thing: there are countless poker bots. Countless programmers with dollar signs in their eyes have tried and are trying their hand at pitting technology against humanity. There are so many different types of poker bots to choose from, new ones cropping up on online poker rooms all the time, that it leads to but one crystal clear conclusion: They can’t all be unbeatable. This is both a caution against relying on them and a consolation to those players who fear being unwittingly pitted against them. What about a table with more than one seat occupied by a poker bot? If you think it hasn’t happened, doesn’t in fact happen all the time, then you’re kidding yourself. In an instance like that, some poker bots have got to lose.

In fact, in each hand, only one can win. In truth, each bot is only as good as its programmers. And to be clear, that’s programmers with an “s”: there’s the guy or gal who built the program and you, the user, who must determine the parameters (or settings) by which the poker bot will play. That’s two human variables affecting quite directly the actions of the poker bot. So, let us ask you something: Why not just play the darned game yourself? Another thing to realize is that poker is not suited to mechanical play. It’s a human game. Sure, a poker bot can’t be put on tilt, but neither can a poker bot read a tell nor spot a bluff. It’s questionable at best how beneficial a poker bot can be to one’s game. You’re probably just as well off improving your game the old fashioned way: practice practice practice. But this threat may not be a threat for long.

You might think, why should the poker rooms care, since poker bots make just as much money for online poker rooms as real people? The answer: the real people are getting restless. And at the risk of having their flesh and blood customers retaliate against poker bots by boycotting online poker itself, the online poker rooms are starting to take notice of the problem. Already, may online poker rooms are instituting software that identifies when a player seems to be using too much of a pattern in their play. It’ll be a tricky road, since distinguishing poker bot play from human play is a tricky and therefore risky business. Nobody wants to make false accusations or, worse, take erroneous action, like blocking an innocent user’s account. But they’re working on it. As a new form of competition arises -- namely: who can build the better bot? -- we’ll find more and more online poker rooms hosting bot-only tournaments (don’t laugh, some already have). Hopefully, an increase in this practice will encourage poker bot enthusiasts to create a niche for themselves (surely a profitable niche for the online poker rooms) and leave the rest of us ordinary folk to play against other flesh and blood human beings.


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