Is it man or a machine? This question isn’t one out of the Terminator movies. Many players have this experience in the world of online poker.

Much of the industry works to eliminate “bots”. They can be a nuisance and create player security issues and the idea that a game indeed features real players.

There have been plenty of efforts to combat poker bots at most mainstream poker sites. And they remain vigilant in the fight against them.

Here’s a complete guide on this underground aspect of online poker for those who may not know the ins and outs of this poker anomaly.

Table of Contents

What Are Poker Bots?

A poker bot is a computer program designed with poker in mind, functioning as a real player. It can play against human opponents or other computer opponents.

Using a poker bot is a way to utilise software instead of an actual player. In most cases, this is cheating and not accepted by most legitimate poker sites.

  • There is some debate about the level of computer assistance a player can legitimately use while playing. Any software that can function without an actual player is generally considered a bot.
  • These offer an unfair advantage by the use of algorithms, artificial intelligence, and other software.
  • They also can play seemingly endless hours a day – something human competitors can’t do.

The bot also doesn't experience the weaknesses and struggles after long playing times at the tables.

How Good Are Poker Bots? What’s Their Strategy?

The strategy behind a poker bot may depend on the following – 

  1. The level of design behind the software
  2. The use of artificial intelligence

More simplified bots may not have advanced techniques and can’t adapt during a game.

Many bots use a basic strategy and tend to be slight winners over the long run. But that’s generally the goal for anyone employing a bot. 

A bot can theoretically generate profits over long periods. But it will generally do so without much dynamic play.

Poker bots don’t face challenges like fatigue after hours and hours of play. But there are some challenges they face against human players. 

  • They tend to struggle reading bluffs.
  • They don’t have much ability to adapt to other players’ moves and strategy at the table.

That may not be the case, as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more widespread. AI allows bots to adapt and “learn” about opponents. 

This technology offers the chance for a bot to improve throughout play and gain insight into opponents.

How to Spot Online Poker Bots

So how would you know when that player with a funny username might be a software program? 

Here are a few things to look for in a bot:

  1. Similar actions over and over again – A bot should pretty much use the same amount of time for every action. Bots don’t go into the tank to think about a decision. These computerised players do as they’re told or programmed to do, in this case.
  2. This player is a poker machine –Bots literally play like a machine – spending long hours at the tables. A poker bot won’t have to worry about restroom breaks, paying for pizza delivery, or chit-chatting. If this player seems like a robot– it’s a likely possibility.
  1. It’s a multi-tasking machine – While many players may be able to play a few tables at once, a poker bot ramps this up even more. If “RoboRounder” seems to be at almost every table, that “player” might be a bot.

What to Do If a Bot Is at Your Table?

When battling it out at the poker tables, you may come across a player you suspect is using AI rather than his brain

There are a few options when it comes to playing a poker bot:

  1. The first option may be to do nothing. Some bots aren’t great players. You may be able to exploit that and score some winnings.
  2. Another option is to move to a different table.

Whether you pick either of those options, it’s wise to report the suspected bot to the site’s security. 

The site can determine if that account is indeed a bot and protect that account’s privacy if it is a human player and not poker software.

Alerting security to potential bots also helps the site with its own protocols in detecting bots. Keeping bots from the tables is in the interest of all in the online poker industry.

How Do Online Poker Sites Fight Against Bots?

Most poker sites work to prevent the use of bots and ban them in their terms of service (including 888poker). While it may not be fool-proof, many sites use security measures to filter out bots.

Once located, these sites block them from using the platform.

  • Some sites make use of security measures embedded within the poker software.
  • The poker client can then detect accounts not using an actual human to play at the virtual tables.

Poker operators can cancel these jeopardised accounts. A site can even confiscate player funds if it’s determined an account made use of a bot. 

Multi-accounting may also be an issue where parties use more than one bot.

Accepted Uses of Poker Bots to Advance Technology

Poker bots engaged in online poker may be against the ethics of the game. But creating poker software to challenge players has some positive aspects and developments.

In the 1990s, the same kind of programming went into developing chess poker programs to compete against the game’s best players.

That carried over to poker as well and has now expanded into the use of artificial intelligence. 

In 2017, four top poker players took part in a challenge dubbed “Brains Vs Artificial Intelligence: Upping the Ante” at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.

  • The challenge saw the “Libratus,” created by the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University, battle the pros for 20 days.

After 120,000 hands of heads-up No-Limit Hold’em Libratus, led by a collective $1.8 million. Using games like poker and chess is a means of learning and advancing technology.

The challenge allowed scientists to see that AI can be used in various situations when there is incomplete information. 

  • Using poker, analysts can advance AI in the process. Libratus was quite an achievement.

Possible uses in the future could include business negotiation, military strategy, cybersecurity, and medical treatment. All this from a poker bot.

“The computer can’t win at poker if it can’t bluff,” Carnegie Mellon, head of the Computer Science Department Frank Pfenning, told the university’s news bureau afterwards. 

“Developing an AI that can do that successfully is a tremendous step forward scientifically and has numerous applications. Imagine that your smartphone will someday be able to negotiate the best price on a new car for you. That’s just the beginning.”

Carnegie Mellon isn’t the only university to use poker as a means to advance technology. 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hosts an annual poker bots tournament.

The event pits programming teams against each other. Each team designs their own bot to play in a virtual tournament.

“As a game of incomplete information and uncertainty, poker is a prime application of the game theory concepts and decision-making skills essential to trading,” the tournament site notes.

“While traders make risk decisions based on the limited information they get from the markets, poker players make decisions based on hidden information as well, taking into account factors such as expected value and probability distributions.

Competitors are also charged with “applying concepts in economics, mathematics, and computer science not normally developed together in academic settings in order to conquer their opponents and emerge victorious.”

Poker bots may be seen as a scourge in the online poker world. 

But, in specific environments, they may yet bring some big rewards for the world as a whole.

Poker Bots Summary

Bots are computer software programs meant to play online and score profits over a long period.

  • Their skills levels vary, but players will notice they generally act in the same amount of time for each action.
  • They also don’t chat and can play several tables for long periods without taking a break.
  • Poker bots within a game are viewed as cheating and violating terms of service. But they can serve a scientific and educational purpose. 
  • Many bots a player sees at a poker table aren’t as advanced as those designed by major scientific institutions.
Sean Chaffin is a poker writer who appears in numerous websites and publications. He is also the host of the True Gambling Stories podcast