Texas Hold ‘Em Poker – Can You Beat a Bot?

When I first started to learn the game of chess, I bought a cheap chess playing computer from Radio Shack. I was pretty good at the novice level, but when I moved the setting up a notch or two, I soon realized just how poorly I really played. I never won a game. That was 30 years ago. Computers have come a long way since then.

I mention this because it ties in with an article I recently read about a poker playing Bot. (A poker bot is computer program written to play online poker.) Before I get into that, let me tell you about an experience I had several years ago. A gentleman stopped by my computer store one morning and asked me if I could get him the fastest computer on the market. Then he told me that when an even faster one comes along, he’d buy that one too.

I asked him what he was going to use it for (So I’d know how to set it up.) and he was very hesitant in answering me. Finally, he invited me to his house, saying it would be easier for him to show me than to explain what he was doing.

When I got there, I found two computers setting side by side. One was state-of-the-art, the other was just an average system. After much him-hawing, he finally told me that he was making a ton of money playing Backgammon on the Internet. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.

Here’s what he was doing. He was entering high-stakes online Backgammon tournaments that paid big bucks to the winner. He had an edge. He had purchased a world class Backgammon program and was running it on the “fast” computer while he played the tournament on the slower computer. He would duplicate the ‘live’ game, move by move on the “fast” system, and it would analyze the board positions and tell him what move to make next. Because time was at a premium, he needed the fastest computer he could get to do the analysis. I was amazed.

In the last few years, Texas Hold’em, not Backgammon has become the game of choice. It’s estimated that as many as 2 million Texas Hold’em players ante up online each month. The PPA (Poker Players Alliance) has over 1,000,000 registered members in the United States. I’d guess that most of these players figure their odds of winning online are about the same as they would be if they were playing in a physical casino. That may not be the case.

One problem when doing anything on the Internet is that you can never be sure of who or “what” you might be doing it with. That’s true with chat lines, messaging services, and now, even fellow poker players. There are poker bots you can purchase on-line that are specifically programed to play ‘limit’ Texas Hold’em. They analyze the game in real time. They know the ‘percentage of winning’ as the hand unfolds. They don’t get tired and make mistakes, they play using the most powerful poker strategies available including pot-odds, and they need ‘no’ human intervention at all. Some of them can even play up to eight tables at the same time.

Bots are outlawed in almost every online casino. But because they are so hard to detect, my guess is…many of them are playing right now and the other players at the table have no clue as to what they’re up against! Remembering my experience with the chess computer…I doubt I’d stand a chance against a poker bot. Not in the long run. Of course, they don’t win all the time. There’s still a lot of luck involved in any card game. But if I were a betting man, I’m afraid I’d have to bet on the bot.

A Couch Potato’s Guide to Poker on TV!

I love Poker. I love to play it. I love to read about it. I love to watch other people play it, especially on TV. It’s an inexpensive way to learn from the pros. You can see what they do in real-world situations, not just what they say they would do in their books. Watching Poker helps improve your game. You can learn pot odds, combinations, order of hands and many other basics as well as advanced, psychological strategy such as tells.

I watch a lot of Poker on TV. Yes, I do. Apparently, the networks are taking notice of the TV-viewing public. A lot of us are crazy for Poker. In this article, I’m going to discuss several, TV series that are still running now, that I highly recommend and regularly watch.

1) Celebrity Poker Showdown. This is on Bravo, usually on Thursday nights. Poker Pro Phil Gordon and comedian Dave Foley (Kids in The Hall, News Radio) are the moderators for this light, fluffy show featuring celebrities such as Alex Trebek, Ben Affleck, Rosie O’Donnell and Camryn Manheim. Some of the celebs are really very good. Of course, there is also that wonderfully evil moment when you can watch someone on the D-List or above sink on the river.

Phil gives expert commentary. There’s a short film each week in which the basics of No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em and the betting rules are explained. It’s entertaining TV even for newbies, pros and the star-struck alike.

2) The World Series of Poker. ESPN is currently showing episodes of the 2005 WSOP. The other night, I saw Johnny Chan win his record 10th WSOP bracelet in the Pot Limit Hold ‘Em event. It was awesome. He beat out Phil ‘Unabomber’ Laak to take the lead against Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth, who were both present during the match, for the all-time record bracelet wins. Hey, don’t feel too bad for Mr. Laak. His girlfriend, the beautiful Hollywood actress, Jennifer Tilly, won the Ladies’ Event at the WSOP this year.

A week or two prior to that, I got to see Josh Arieh, a very good player who doesn’t get too much airtime (yet), play – and win – the Omaha tourney. It was great to see Omaha Hold ‘Em played on TV for a change. I loved it.

Even if you’re not a poker junkie like I am, you can appreciate the epic nature of the World Series of Poker with its international field featuring the best of the best – and a few Cinderella stories thrown in for good measure.

3) World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel. Travel the world from your chair and watch pros play in the World Poker Tour. They play in exotic locales such as Aruba and Paris. Host Mike Sexton is so knowledgeable about the game that he makes up for his co-host Vince Van Patten’s shtick. The man tries to give nicknames to any hand combination possible. Some of his groaners include:

QQ – Siegfried & Roy or Paris & Nikki (Hilton)

55 – Sammy Hagar (after the song, ‘I Can’t Drive 55’)

Rounding out the commentator group is the lovely Shana Hiatt. She interviews the pros and showcases different aspects of the poker-playing lifestyle on each episode. The WPT hosts names like Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Howard Lederer and more. It’s a veritable who’s who of Poker and it comes fresh and new into your home each week.

These aren’t the only Poker shows on TV. ESPN has a drama called TILT starring Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) and Eddie Cibrian (Third Watch) which is a fictionalized version of a poker pro’s dirty and dangerous life.

E! Entertainment Network, beginning on St. Patty’s Day 2005, aired several episodes of E!’s Hollywood Hold ‘Em Game. Laura Prepon, of That 70s Show, produced the show and starred in one of the episodes with her live-in love Chris Masterson (Malcolm in the Middle) and some friends, including Chris’ brother and That 70’s show star, Danny Masterson (Hyde). Other episodes had Mila Kunis (Family Guy, That 70s Show), Macauley Culkin – yes, that Macauley Culkin. He’s Mila’s beau – and Shannon Elizabeth. I haven’t seen it on recently; but, I desperately hope that it comes back. It was pretty good poker and Phil Laak was the dealer/mentor/host.

The Game Show Network has Poker Royale. This is a 6-person tournament that runs for several weeks. There are several elimination rounds, then a finale. The first had all pros. It was men vs. women. The men won each individual match; but, the ladies, led by Kathy Liebert, Jennifer Harmon and Cyndy Violette took the final – and decisive match. The second installment had Celebrities vs. Poker Pros. I found it to be a watered-down version of Celebrity Poker Showdown. I missed Phil Gordon and Dave Foley, gotta admit. The third installment, which is currently airing, is the Comedians vs. Poker Pros. I didn’t find this one too fun or funny; but, I’ve had other things to do lately.

Actually, I dropped watching that because the Fall Season picked up; and, well, I’d rather watch the Poker Superstars Invitational on FSN! This is awesome. It’s a turbo tourney – the blinds go up really quick and the play is fast – featuring Johnny Chan, Carlos Mortensen and other luminaries. It’s action-packed, high-stakes poker that goes by in the blink of eye.

If you can’t find a good online or home game, why not sit down and watch one on TV? Chances are – there’s one on the television right now. Go. Watch!