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.