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Wired 13.09: On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Bot
In the booming world of online poker, anyone can win. Especially with an autoplaying robot ace in the hole. Are you in, human?
It’s late one Wednesday afternoon, and CptPokr is logged on to PartyPoker.com and ready to play. Onscreen, the captain exudes a certain brash charisma – broad shoulders, immaculate brown hair, restless animatronic eyes. He looks like he should be playing synth in Kraftwerk. Instead, he is seated at a virtual table with nine other avatars, wagering on limit Texas hold ’em.
There’s plenty at stake. An estimated 1.8 million gamblers around the world ante up for online poker every month. Last year, poker sites raked in an estimated $1.4 billion, an amount expected to double in 2005.
Ever since the aptly named accountant Chris Moneymaker parlayed a $40 Internet tournament buy-in into a $2.5 million championship at the World Series of Poker in 2003, card shark wannabes have been chasing their fantasies onto the Net. Some even quit their day jobs and try to make a living at online poker. And why not? This shadowy world is driven by no less a force than the great American dream. As the tournament’s motto goes, “Anyone can win.” There’s one problem, though, as CptPokr is about to demonstrate: The rules of the game are different online.
CptPokr is a robot. Unlike the other icons at the table, there is no human placing his bets and playing his cards. He is controlled by WinHoldEm, the first commercially available autoplaying poker software. Seat him at the table and he will apply strategy gleaned from decades of research. While carbon-based players munch Ding Dongs, yawn, guzzle beer, reply to email, take phone calls, and chat on IM, CptPokr (a pseudonym) is running the numbers so it will know, statistically, when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.