A.I. Has Changed Poker, and Maybe Killed Its 'Soul'

'New York Times Magazine' explores the advance of algorithms in the game
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 23, 2022 5:55 PM CST
A.I. Has Changed Poker, and Maybe Killed Its 'Soul'

Some of the top poker players today make moves that would have been seen as foolish even 15 years ago. Back then, they would been seen as "fish," or weak players, and invited to games every night. Today, those unorthodox moves are a good sign that the player has adopted strategies from artificial intelligence, which has revolutionized the game, writes Keith Romer in the New York Times Magazine. In fact, "conquered" is the word used in the headline of the in-depth look at the changes. Players now have access to computer programs such as PioSOLVER, which run through the nearly innumerable possible outcomes of a particular hand in a particular game and suggest the strategy—when to bluff or check, how much to raise and when, etc.—that is most likely to pay off over time. The answers are sometimes surprising to traditional players, but the algorithms don't lie.

Players can't use such tools during an in-person tournament, of course—online games are another story—but they can replay hands on the computer afterward to see whether they did the right thing. "The best players are able to reverse-engineer the A.I.’s strategy and create heuristics that apply to hands and situations similar to the one they’re studying," writes Romer. When he suggests to one top player "that it was like endlessly rereading a 10,000-page book in order to keep as much of it in his head as possible, he immediately corrected me: '100,000-page book. The game is so damn hard.'" Mostly-retired poker pro Doug Polk, for one, doesn't like the shift. “I feel like it kind of killed the soul of the game,” he says, changing poker "from who can be the most creative problem-solver to who can memorize the most stuff and apply it." (Read the full story.)

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