Saturday, September 20, 2008

Why gambling on online Poker sites is a bad idea

On top of being forbidden by law in many countries, gambling online is not the smartest idea one may have.

Poker is meant to be played in real life: you're supposed to see, even feel, your opponents. This process implies close surveillance: would you allow your real-life Poker friends to have their 'Poker maths' and 'Poker stats for dummies' at arm's reach. I'd certainly not.

When you're playing online, you may or may not be cheated in such ways. How would you? For instance, I know two people playing Hold'em together online, exchanging their hands over IM and sharing their profit. OK, it's far from organized crime... but we could easily imagine programs analyzing the board, eventually exchanging information with other programs playing at the same table, and reaching a decision together in an automated fashion.

Simpler, a bot could easily analyze the board, compute winning odds, and give the human player a decision hint.

For fun (and NOT profit), I coded a proof-of-concept program. It's meant to analyze tables of a well- known online Texas Hold'em program, compute and display odds. Inoffensive, but this would be the first and most important step of a "poker bot".

I prefer not to give names here... Anybody familiar with online poker will easily figure them out anyways. Here's the table (with many elements blurred out or removed):

The analyzer program output is:

Here, I'm triggering an analysis manually. Primitive OCR routines read table information, such as player positions, who's got the button, private cards, common cards, etc. Then, a separate component simulates thousands of games based on the information fed by the OCR component, and finally displays more or less useful statistics.

In our example, we have As,6h, the stage is (River;9s,Ad,4s,Tc,Jc) and we're competing against 3 other players. The estimated odds are 24.6% (for an average 25% since we're 4 players). This ratio may be used as a hint by a human player, or, if the program is extended (pot and players' stacks analysis, etc.), could be used as a building block for a fully automated poker-playing program...

This is a basic PoC code, nothing exceptionnal here. We could easily imagine that bad guys have poker bots in place; now, how would you feel being the sucker competing against 9 bots exchanging cards... play money's fine, real money's a different story.

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