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E-BUSINESS : Why you may one day soon be losing at online poker to a robot.

Byline: CHRIS TOMLINSON

The war between silicon and carbon intelligence has not been going well for our species.

Humans are now routinely being whooped at chess by machines. British grand master Michael Adams recently followed in the footsteps of Kasparov by being outsmarted by a super computer called Hydra.

However, last week human Phil Laak struck a retaliatory blow against the mechanoids by taking the world robot poker champion 'PokerProbot' to the cleaners.

PokerProbot was programmed by a car salesman from Indiana and had previously beaten all other silicon-based players.

But three hundred hands of Texas Hold'em against 'The Unibomber', as Phil is known, and PokerProbot was walking home from the showdown, held in Las Vegas, without its shirt.

Phil got the handle Unibomber because he always plays from behind dark sunglasses and a track suit hood to prevent any giveaway 'tells' being seen by his opponents. It obviously worked as the biggest pot of the evening saw the robot's two kings beaten by a pair of human aces.

What is now clear is that we have been playing supercomputers at the wrong game.

All we need to do is redefine intelligence to include cunning, guile, trickery and deceit - skills we humans have in spades - and we can beat these jumped up calculators. Surprisingly, one in six of us Brits gambles online. Our favourite poker site is www.partypoker.com, which allows humans to play other humans from around the globe.

Purely in the name of research, I have been to the site and had a game of Texas Hold'em with my next door neighbour and a friend in Hong Kong. Give them your credit card number, select an on-line identity and you can be playing poker with international strangers in a matter of minutes.

Party Gaming plc, owners of the Party Poker brand, floated last month on the London Stock Exchange for pounds 5 billion, putting them firmly in the FTSE-100. The flotation was the biggest London had seen for five years.

The human triumph over PokerProbot must come as a relief to Party Gaming share holders and customers alike. What would happen if software could regularly beat humans at poker?

How would you know when playing online, that you were not facing a machine or indeed a human being helped by poker software? All bets would quite literally be off and the ononline poker phenomenon would abruptly end, leading to an even swifter exit for Party Gaming from the FTSE-100 than its entry.

Laak said that he was greatly relieved when his silicon opponent capitulated. He also said that PokerProbot could make a killing online right now, without any upgrades.

He predicts that in only five years robots will learn how to play poker well enough to beat him and he was not keen for a rematch.

So online gamers beware, people may not always be who they say they are online - an in the future they may not even be human Chris is managing director of internet consultancy WebXpress. This and other unedited articles are at www.webxpress.com. E-mail: chris@webxpress.com
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 26, 2005
Words:516
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