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."