Rise Of The Machines: Poker Bots And The Online Game

When something is difficult, people will find a way to cut corners.

  • Avatar for the CardsChat Editorial TeamWritten by  the CardsChat Editorial Team

Since the game first exploded in the early 2000s, players have been trying to find an ‘automatic’ shortcut to online poker success. For all the hardworking grinders happy to hone their craft, there are others who’d rather let someone else do the graft.

And so, the poker bot was born.

poker bot
Poker bots would be easier to spot at the table if they really looked like this.

What Are Poker Bots?

So what exactly are poker bots, and how do they work?

Essentially, bots are computer programs that have been designed to play the game against human opponents or other pieces of software. Their use is prohibited at all real money online poker sites, where teams of game integrity investigators actively patrol the tables, seeking out poker bots and banning their accounts.

Once activated, a poker bot will play a game that is underpinned by certain mathematical concepts with a view to making profitable long-term decisions.

The primary factor for defining a bot is whether or not the computer program can interface with a poker client without the assistance of a human operator (i.e. play by itself). If so, it is treated as a bot regardless of how well it plays poker or how much money it is capable of making per 100 poker hands.

As poker is a game of incomplete information, it is impossible even for a computer to deduce the final outcome of any given hand. Instead, poker bots must rely on algorithms and pre-determined poker strategies. These all have their limitations, however.

Who Uses Poker Bots?

In practice, there are two types of people who might use poker bots:

1. Those who do so for profit

Poker bots tend to be employed at lower, rather than higher stakes. This is because while bots may be capable of following set strategies, few if any are able to adjust to the nuances and psychological context of high level poker play.

What’s more, the type of player encountered at high stakes is more likely to spot a bot due to their capacity for high level thinking – as well as it being a fact that there are fewer players generally at higher stakes, so the bots would ‘stick out’ much more.

Turning a significant profit at low stakes can be time-consuming, but unlike human players bots do not need to rest or sleep. As explained above, most if not all online poker sites employ expert teams to spot bot activity, and unusual patterns of play (such as never taking time off) are a major red flag to these investigators.

2. Those who do so for the challenge

There is a certain amount of prestige associated with ‘solving’ a game with as many variables as poker, and some of the brightest minds on the planet regularly enter their bots in competitions or pit them against professional opposition.

How to Spot a Poker Bot

Bots have some obvious advantages over human players, including:

  • They do not tire or make poor decisions when fatigued
  • They have no emotions and are therefore unaffected by tilt
  • Similarly, they don’t feel the value of money or fear taking risks
  • All of their decisions are based on sound mathematical theory

However, bots are not so sophisticated that they cannot be spotted, even by non-expert players. Some telltale signs can include:

  • Repeated use of identical bet-sizing (although some human players also play in this way)
  • Repeated use of uncommon lines like check-raising rivers or 5-bet folding pre-flop
  • Identical timing for all decisions
  • Inability to respond in the chatbox (although this is also not uncommon among some human players!)

If you suspect you may be seated at a cash game table with a poker bot, the simplest thing to do is to find another table – after all, one of the great advantages of online poker is the wide choice of different games to play.

And of course, if you are able to collect evidence that you feel points strongly to a player being a bot, make sure you share it with the operator. Profits made by confirmed bot accounts have been known to be seized by operators and funds re-distributed to those players the bots cheated.