The game of poker has just a few simple rules, but it can be fiendishly complex to play. The big challenge of poker is working out what to do in the absence of vital information. You cannot see what is in your opponent’s hand, and you cannot know which cards will be dealt next. Some expert players succeed against the odds, even though so many factors remain unknown. It’s not just the element of strategy that experienced players bring to the game, it’s also their grasp of human psychology. They can read a range of tells, and they can bluff other players, while calculating the odds of each hand. Even in online poker games, professional players can interpret a host of subtle signs to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition round the table. For a long time, it was thought that artificial intelligence, or AI, could never match the skill and sophistication of professional poker players. It seems now, however, that the power of AI is beginning to challenge the supremacy of human players after all.
Introducing Libratus software – The system that can outsmart even the best human players
Scientists have been working on a new poker AI that is designed to learn from its mistakes. It is called Libratus and was created at Carnegie Mellon University with the aim of figuring out how to beat human players at no-limit Texas Hold’em poker. This popular poker variety was chosen because it blends short term calculations with long-term strategies in a highly complex way. Human players make decisions such as how much to raise, or when to bluff, in ways that are not necessarily logical, and therefore very hard to predict. Libratus was programmed to play against itself and review its performance. This way, the system’s skills and strategies are designed to evolve gradually and continuously, making it better and better as time goes on. In recent trials with some of the best professional players in the world, Libratus achieved a decisive victory over its human opponents.
What is Libratus AI, and what can it do?
Computer programmes for poker players have been around for a long time, but the Libratus software takes AI to a whole new level. Its secret lies in the ability to deploy several technologies simultaneously over the course of a tournament. One system will calculate the strength of the player’s hand at each round of play, while another will devise end-game strategies to improve both the chances of winning, and the value of the chips that are won. Combining these different types of software, and a facility for reviewing and learning from past hands, gives the Libratus software an edge over human players.
Is it possible to play online poker with Libratus right now?
You might think that Libratus would be an ideal tool to use when playing online poker. Who wouldn’t want to use a very smart AI package that can beat the world’s best poker champions? The truth is, however, that the Libratus software has a great deal to offer at the theoretical level. It could be used to devise training aids, for example, which could help players analyse their weaknesses and improve their skills. Unfortunately, at the practical level, this sophisticated software is not coming to an online poker platform anytime soon. The astronomical computing power required to run the software makes it far too costly for anyone operating outside major research computing labs. Also, the use of software for online poker in the UK is governed by strict rules, for obvious reasons. It remains to be seen what future developments will emerge from the work on this programme so far, but it is likely that applications in other areas of complex decision making will follow very soon. For now, you can’t play poker with or against Libratus, but it’s still an awesome achievement that demonstrates just how smart poker AI has become today.