A computer program that has played more poker than the whole of humanity has ‘solved’ poker, well that is to say in a heads-up, fixed limit, hold’em game anyway. Before you go rushing to see if you can download it online in order to give you an edge at your next Grassroots Poker night at the local, here are the details.

A computer program called Cepheus written by the Computer Poker Research Group of the University of Alberta has been playing HU FL HE poker against itself for 70 days. It took 4,800 processors to allow the program to play the equivalent of a human playing 200 hands of poker an hour for 12 hours a day continuously without a break for 70 years. The developers have told Science Journal that the algorithm has a strategy so close to optimal ‘’it can’t be beaten with statistical significance within a lifetime of human poker playing’’. They are that confident that they have even put the program online and have invited the crème de la crème of poker players that is Grassroots Poker League members to play the Cepheus program (well OK us and anyone else, but one day eh!).

If any of you are interested, you can play against Cepheus here.

We are used to hearing about scientists developing computer programs that take on humans in games, the most famous being ‘Deep Blue’ which was the name of the IBM Supercomputer that in 1997 beat Russian chess Grandmaster and World Champion Gary Kasparov. What is different here is that the chess program was playing a ‘perfect information game’, in other words it knew what moves Gary had made before computing a decision, Cepheus does not know what two hole cards the opponent holds as the cards are face down. The algorithm used by Cepheus (written by Oskari Tammelin from Finland) allowed it to learn from its mistakes, regret them, memorize them and try again over more than a billion, billion hands. Even more hands than Chris Gallagher has played at the Leigh Arms! (Wonder if he has been using Cepheus to hammer the last Grassroots Poker League Season, mmmm.).

No computers on the tables during the final next Sunday please!