Phil "The Unabomber" Laak
Move over Deep Blue, Polaris is here to take on Texas Hold 'Em poker

One of the best known matches between man and machine at a game is the IBM Deep Blue versus Garry Kasparov chess series. Now researchers from the University of Alberta, Canada, are putting computers up against the pros of Texas Hold 'Em Poker.

At a tournament worth $50,000 to be held July 23 - 24  at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence's annual conference in Vancouver, B.C., poker pros Phil "The Unabomber" Laak and Ali Eslami will go up against Polaris, the reigning world champion computer-poker program.

"This is a world first and, I hope, the beginning of something that will grow and become an annual event," said Jonathan Schaeffer, a team leader of the Polaris program.

Schaeffer believes that making a winning program at poker is very different, and perhaps more difficult, challenge than the one IBM faced with Big Blue. "The difference is that chess is a game of perfect knowledge, meaning there is nothing hidden from the players. In poker you can't see your opponent's hand, and you don't know what cards will be dealt. This makes poker a much harder challenge for computer scientists from an artificial intelligence perspective," Schaeffer said.

The competition will feature four matches between Polaris and the two poker playing professionals. In each match, Laak and Eslami will play simultaneously against Polaris in separate rooms. At the end of each match, the players will combine their chip totals and compare them against Polaris' combined total.

Former World Series of Poker champion and host of the Mojo TV program I Bet You, Phil Laak is taking the challenge against Polaris as no common video game. "I am going to get in the zone. They'll be getting my best game," he said. "I am treating this with all seriousness - it would be very embarrassing if Prince Ali broke even but the Unabomber got whacked. If we have an amazing showing, I want the headline to be a testament to the guys at the U of A - that they designed a program that can play on terms with phenomenal players."

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