Playing Your Cards Right: Poker Comes out of the Back Room and into the Computer Science Lab

By Peterson, Ivars | Science News, July 18, 1998 | Go to article overview

Playing Your Cards Right: Poker Comes out of the Back Room and into the Computer Science Lab


Peterson, Ivars, Science News


Poker comes out of the back room and into the computer science lab

Darse Billings plays poker for a living. Just a few years ago, he was a computer science student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Interested in games, he had chosen the development of a poker-playing computer program as his thesis topic.

"I discovered that very little work had been done on computer poker despite the many potential benefits of that research," Billings says. Although he did not create a working program, he learned enough about the game along the way to begin playing professionally--which he has done since completing his thesis in 1995.

"Understanding the theory and mathematics of poker gives you a solid foundation," he contends. "This alone can put you ahead of the vast majority of players. Beyond that, you learn methods of analysis. It teaches you how to think about a given poker situation and that enables you to make more effective decisions in the heat of battle."

Billings now also serves as a consultant to a team of researchers at Alberta intent on developing a program that can play poker at the level of the best human players. "It's wonderful working with him because he understands computers and he understands poker," says Jonathan Schaeffer, who heads the group.

In an earlier effort, Schaeffer and his coworkers had created a checker, playing computer program named Chinook, which could beat the world's top players (SN: 7/20/91, p. 40).

The current version of the Alberta poker program--named Loki for the Norse god of mischief and chaos--already plays a strong game, Schaeffer says. "But it isn't ready yet to win a world championship."

The first public demonstration of Loki is scheduled to take place later this month at the Fifteenth National Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Madison, Wisc.

Games have long been an important focus of research in computer science and artificial intelligence. With clearly defined rules and specific goals, "they are wonderful domains for testing ideas," says Matthew L. Ginsberg of the University of Oregon in Eugene.

Researchers have programmed computers to play chess, backgammon, bridge, Go, Othello, Scrabble, and numerous other games--in several instances eventually achieving a world championship level of play (SN: 8/2/97, p. 76; 8/16/97, p. 100).

Poker is an example of a game of incomplete information in which chance plays a role. Whereas a chess player sees the disposition of all the pieces all the time, a poker player sees only some of the cards--drawn or dealt from a shuffled deck--that are in play.

"You don't know what cards your opponent has," Schaeffer says. "All you can do is make educated guesses."

"One of the fundamental problems in computer science is how to deal with information that may be erroneous, unknown, or incomplete," Billings adds. Poker provides an excellent domain for investigating problems of decision making under uncertain conditions. Researchers can study such issues as risk assessment and management (betting strategy), opponent modeling (exploiting weaknesses in an opponent's play), and deception (bluffing).

Early efforts to model poker, some dating back to the 1950s, were generally unrealistic and rather limited, Billings says. Moreover, although there are many commercial poker-playing computer programs now on the market, they range widely in quality and lack the strategic flexibility and learning capability that a world-class player must have.

"Loki is probably better than commercial programs at evaluating the strength and potential of its cards," Billings notes. "Loki is also better at observing each opponent's actions over time and then adjusting its play accordingly."

Hundreds of books have been written about how to play poker. Billings contends that the vast majority give flawed advice on strategy. The typical level of human play is so low, however, that a contender can be highly successful despite serious misconceptions, he argues. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Playing Your Cards Right: Poker Comes out of the Back Room and into the Computer Science Lab
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.