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Phil Laak plays poker as actress Jennifer Tilly keeps watch  (Source: University of Alberta)
Humans barely edge computer in Texas Hold 'Em tournament

At a tournament worth $50,000 held earlier this week  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 went up against Polaris, the reigning world champion computer-poker program.

The two poker pros were sat in different rooms, where each sat in front of a laptop to play Texas Hold ‘Em. The competition featured four matches, 500 hands each, between Polaris and the two poker playing professionals.

At the end of the first round, Polaris had a slightly higher chip count, though the total winnings difference was so small that the round was considered a draw (due to statistical variation). The second round – and the last for Monday – went in strong favor to Polaris.

The humans made a comeback the next day. At the end of the two day showdown, the two poker players came out $570 ahead – just enough to claim a small victory over the computer program.

"I really am happy it's over," said Eslami. "I'm surprised we won.... it's already so good it will be tough to beat in future."

The programmers behind Polaris used several different programs throughout its poker play to test which would be most effective. Phil Laak described one named Mr. Pink as a "careful, reasonable, disciplined, thoughtful player," while he called another one named Agent Orange as being "like a crazed, cocaine-driven maniac with an ax."

"The subtlety to the whole thing is, we won, not by a significant amount, and the bots are closing in," Laak told MSNBC. "That's the true summary."





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