The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012

August 30, 2005

Online poker bots – right or wrong?

The online poker bot world has now grown a little more active. Revolutionary Paradigm points out this story in Wired. It seems that we now have a commercially-available poker bot called WinHoldEm.

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.

That’s an impossible promise to keep, says Ray E. Bornert II, WinHoldEm’s elusive creator. He’s trying to flood the online world with his bot – and make a killing in the process. Bornert offers an elaborate justification for what many view as outright cheating: Online poker is already rife with computer-assisted card sharks and – thanks to him – a growing number of outright bots. Players should get wise and arm themselves with the best bot available, which is, of course, WinHoldEm.

So far, I fail to see a problem. Poker is a game not only of mathematics, and thus cannot truly be relegated to a set of simple rules. Against poor competition at low limits, a simple mathematical system can win money. But at higher limits, certain problems become more apparent.

Poker is a game of mathematics and of feel. For example, in Hold’Em, if you’re holding a king and a 5 suited, and two cards of that suit come up on the flop. You know that you have about 4:1 odds (20% chance) of catching your flush on the next card, and about 2:1 odds (33% chance) of catching your flush by the river. This gives you simple ways to determine whether you should call, IF MAKING YOUR FLUSH WILL BE THE BEST HAND. You may be up against a player with an ace and 3 of that same suit, and if you make your flush, he will make a bigger flush and beat you. You may be up against a player with a pocket pair that flopped his set, and your flush might pair the board, giving him a full house. You may not have the odds to call an opponent (more common in no-limit games), but he may be bluffing at the pot, and your K-5 might stand up on its own. A computer cannot make these decisions, and thus a computer will be unable to beat an expert poker player.

Thus, for now, I don’t see any reason to oppose this. It may mean that suckers in low-limit games are going to get creamed. That’s certainly possible, but if you can get beat that easily by a computer running a mathematical system, I’d have to say you deserve to.

But there is something sinister at work here, and it is truly nasty.

Set it to run on autopilot and it wins real money while you sleep. Flick on Team mode and you can collude with other humans running WinHoldEm at the table.

For $200, you can buy the full package: a one-year subscription to the team edition, which includes the autoplaying bot and a card-sharing module that allows multiple players to communicate during a game.

Here’s the problem. It’s obvious that in online poker, collusion is an issue that needs to be watched for and sorted out. Collusion between players goes beyond any semblance of fairness, whether you’re in a casino, home game, or online. It allows players, as a group, to have a big edge over players not part of the “group”, and an expert player cannot beat a table full of others working together to scam him.

In the online poker world, collusion can only be done as a hit-and-run operation. Software tracking allows the major poker sites to analyze the play of their members. If you’re constantly playing with the same friends online, it triggers one red flag. Then, the play is analyzed for patterns consistent with collusion. If you’re found out, you’ll get yourself banned from the site and your winnings will be taken away. With WinHoldEm, you can collude with players you’ve never met and will never play alongside again. This makes it nearly impossible for the online sites to detect the collusion, and destroys their credibility at keeping their sites free of cheating.

Unfortunately, this isn’t going away anytime soon. And if this sort of behavior really takes off, it will destroy online poker completely. Either the online poker sites need to get serious and start finding better ways to fight this, or their days are numbered. For now, if I’m going to play at all anymore, I will stick to no-limit tournaments. Mathematical systems are most advantageous in limit poker, and particularly cash games. Any advantage I have can be easily erased at a table where 2-3 players are playing perfect mathematical poker while colluding with each other. No-limit is much more based on human evaluation of events, and tournament strategy is much more psychological than mathematical.

But more than likely, there will be no online poker in my near future. This is a good time to sit and wait it out.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 10:53 am || Permalink || Comments (3) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


  1. I don’t see a problem, though I do see an opportunity for a site that ran bot-free to charge a premium.

    Comment by Quincy — August 30, 2005 @ 7:52 pm
  2. Quincy,
    The problem is that the bots are very difficult to detect. And while I don’t have a problem with bots in general, I do have a problem with collusion. If this sort of undetectable collusion persists, online poker will soon be no more.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — August 30, 2005 @ 8:02 pm
  3. The money would be in finding a way to detect/defeat the bots. Something like Bad Behavior for WordPress, maybe.

    Comment by Quincy — August 31, 2005 @ 12:32 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.