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Checkraise: The Bots

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Whenever I get into a conversation about my online poker playing, the issue of poker bots comes up. It seems to be the only concept that people think about with online games — how do you know you are playing against a real person? I do not know but when I am sitting in an offline casino, I do not know whether the guy across the table dropped out of grade school or if he is a numbers cruncher from MIT. I figure I’m gambling and there are certain factors I can’t control.

Still the question persists and it’s worth more serious consideration. A poker bot is a computer program that plays automatically, always folding in some situations and always raising in other situations. Wired magazine recently published an article looking at one such program, Win Holdem. The article was passed on to me by another Blogcritics editor. One who doesn’t even like poker. The interest in bots spreads everywhere. Wired takes the standard view — the bots are bad and the online sites are policing it.

For years, there has been chatter among online players about the coming poker bot infestation. WinHoldEm is turning those rumors into reality, and that is a serious problem for the online gambling business. Players come online seeking a “fair” shot – a contest against other humans, not robots. But an invasion of bots implies a fixed game (even though, like their mortal counterparts, they can and do lose if their hands are bad enough or opponents good enough). So the poker sites loudly proclaim that automated play is no big deal. At the same time, they are fighting back by quietly scanning for and eliminating suspicious accounts. “We’re making sure we never have bots on our site,” says PartyPoker marketing director Vikrant Bhargava.

I have seen other articles taking the same tack. The sites are generally circumspect about what methods they use to detect a bot. After all, once it comes out that the sites are kicking off anyone betting in exactly 1.2 seconds (as an LA Times article reported), the bots will be reprogrammed to vary the response time.

I have my own ways of dealing with bots. I chat them up. If they can’t tell me where they live and what the do for a living, I get suspicious. If bots ever get to be a huge problem, the sites can ask players to recognize one of those twisted words every hour or so.

In a really long, contains-everything-you-ever-thought-of-and-some-you-hadn’t post, Iggy says the real issue with bots is they don’t work and people are wasting their money.

Here are the real facts on WinHoldEm pokerbot for those considering purchasing the product:

1) People using WinHoldEm have had their accounts closed/suspended owners of those accounts may or may not have gotten their money back from their account.
2) Almost all of the Poker Sites have a way of detecting WinHoldEm.
3) After 12 hours of using WinHoldEm you can expect to earn $1.38 an hour at $3/$6 or less than 1/2 BB per Hour. This data was provided by an actual test of the product.
4) It will take you roughly 50 hours just to make the $100 back you spent on the program. If during that time or anytime after the poker site detects your bot your account can be closed and bankroll may be confiscated.

He also quotes a number of poker pros who also express the opinion that they can beat the bots. Indeed, in a recent pro vs. bot faceoff, the human won.

Maudie over at Poker Perspectives looks a little deeper at the next level — the helping programs. These don’t play for you but tell you how to play.

The use of cheating software like WinHoldem is clearly unethical and the people who use it ought to be hung from their proverbial balls, to say nothing of the creator of the software.

* * *

But, WinHoldem and poker-bots aside, I’ve wondered about the use of “non-cheating” aids while playing online poker. I’ve played with Poker Tracker, Hold-Em Winner, Game Time+, and Poker Ace. Of that list, Hold-Em Winner has problably given me the most concern. That software will coach you, giving you your hole cards’ hand ranking, pot odds, opponent stats and cues to bet, raise or fold.

* * *

But is it ethical to use aids online? After all, you don’t have that luxury at a B&M [bricks & mortar]. But then again, what you don’t have online is the benefit of looking your opponent in the eye, chatting him up, watching how he physically places his bet, how closely he’s paying attention…

Maudie did very well playing with Hold-Em Winner but stopped because she felt she was not sharpening her own game.

After reading her blog, I downloaded my own trial version of the souped up version of Hold-Em Winner, No Hands Holdem. The program plays more tightly than I do and I should probably tighten up but there are certain hands that I consistently play and play well that it consistently tells me to fold. It doesn’t take into account facts like the player in seat 4 can’t resist playing a four-flush nor does it tell me how big a raise to make in no-limit.

I try to make my own decision, then look at the recommendation of the program, and learn from the process. I find the interactive method a better way to learn than reading a book. I’m still toying with how to personalize it. Once I get that, it’s hard to see it as anything unethical when it’s repeating my own advice back to me.

What it does do well is remind me of standard opening hands, which by the way, are available at the help section of Party Poker’s website. It also calculates pot odds, which are available in other places on the web. The former I ought to have memorized anyway. The latter doesn’t seem to be a huge secret. What to do with the info still gives the good player the edge.

Checkraise is a regular poker column by Justene Adamec. It appears every other Friday.

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About Justene Adamec

  • Very interesting take on poker aids, Justene: informative, but not helpful if used as a crutch. Vastly different from ‘bots, which I agree are an pit-and-out cheat.

    And I don’t even play poker…

  • Nice.