Thursday, October 06, 2011

To Bot or Not to Bot

Bots Playing PokerYou might’ve noticed something this week about a brouhaha having cropped up involving the William Hill poker site, one of the skins on the iPoker network. Did you hear about that? ’Bout bots?

Checking over at PokerScout, iPoker is currently challenging PartyPoker for second in terms of online poker traffic worldwide, though both remain well behind PokerStars. (Like PokerStars and Party, the iPoker sites don’t allow U.S. players.)

From what I’ve gathered, the fuss appears to have begun following a weird exchange between a player and customer support at William Hill, an exchange that led the player to believe the site not only allows “bots” -- i.e., the running of software programs that can play the games without further human input -- but in fact that the site used bots themselves sort of like “prop” players to help get games going and fill empty seats.

It appears the support person was well off the mark here, although could be partly forgiven since the William Hill Casino site does in fact apparently reserve the right to employ “bots” in some of its other games. In fact, the terms and conditions over on the WillIam Hill Casino site explicitly state how “in games offered via the Website which benefit from more players or greater liquidity we may deploy electronic players (known as robots, and whose usernames will be ‘bot’) who are pre programmed to play and join in with the game in order to assist the liquidity or the number of players gaming.” Meanwhile, over in the poker TOC, “the use of automated players (sometimes known as ‘bots')” is expressly forbidden.

William Hill PokerHaving read the statement in the Casino TOC, a player who thought it might have applied to the poker games asked about it, and it sounds like the not-too-well-informed support person mistakenly confirmed that the site was in fact filling out seats in the poker games with its own bots.

The story blew up surprisingly quickly, with many rushing in to damn the site, the iPoker network, and online poker, generally speaking. Eventually iPoker responded with a statement clarifying the matter, although some continue to harbor doubts about the existence of actual bots (not “in-house” ones) on the site.

Had a couple of thoughts about all of this as I read about the controversy. One was to note how so many immediately assumed that an online poker site was in fact using its own bots. Then, when some of the accounts with “bot” in their usernames were scrutinized and it was discovered some among them were winning players, that fueled even more outrage. Not only was the site using bots, said some, but beating its customers with them, too!

Assuming that it really was all just a misunderstanding -- and setting aside the possibility that there really are some folks getting away with using bots on the site -- it definitely says something about our collective experience with online poker over the last decade or so when such a possibility can be so readily believed by so many.

We’ve been screwed in every way imaginable so far, think many (understandably). Why not this way, too?

Infinite EdgeThe other thought I had kind of anticipated a question I saw @InfiniteEdgeKim ask on Twitter earlier today: “What's so bad about bots in online poker?”

To be more precise (and honest), my earlier thought was to think about the idea of having “prop” players, and wonder whether or not it would really matter in the online environment if those props were bots rather than humans. It didn’t take long for me to decide it would be quite wrong for a site to do so. Players are already forced to trust sites aren’t “rigged” in other ways; having non-human props at the table would only cram a further wedge of doubt into the proceedings.

In response to Kim’s question, I chimed in to point out that online poker was already less than 100% human interaction, with the introduction of bots only lessening the human element even further. Thus, a person’s answer to the question would probably be swayed by how important the human element is to him or her.

To me, the human element is quite important, though I have to admit not so essential that I cannot enjoy the mediated type of interaction the online game allows. Still, I know I don’t want to play against bots. Not for real money, anyway.

Still following the Twitter conversation Kim began. Hoping perhaps a post comes out of it over on Infinite Edge. (EDIT [added 10/10/11]: Kim did write an interesting post on the subject, collecting a lot of what was said in the Twitter conversation and presenting his own argument that there may well be some instances where bots might have a place in online poker.)

Meanwhile, what do you think about playing against bots?

And please, no automated spam replies.

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Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

For starters, you nailed it with your statement that everything else bad has happened to us so far in connection with online poker, so of course people would believe that bots would be playing on the sites. In fact that's not even close to as bad as several of the larger scandals in online poker over the years.

Regarding bots, I must be the only one, but I don't mind the thought of playing against them from time to time. Do I want to be sitting at a table full of bots? Of course not. The human element is important, and I want to feel like I can glean some information from getting my opponent to chat a little, or like that guy across the table might be making a tilt-push now because I just bad beat him out of half his roll on the last hand, etc., which is just not the kind of human reaction and interaction you get with bots. But at the end of the day, I guess I am just not convinced that a bot here or there could play consistently good enough poker against me to make a noticeable difference -- in particular since I tend to focus on mtt's -- and I am quite sure that some bots' very non-human and non-thinking nature would make them easier to exploit in many circumstances, again especially in tournaments which I expect would be particularly hard to program effectively for.

While I am sure that sitting down at a poker table full of electronic bots would be neither fun nor profitable over the long-term, I've always assumed I run its bots from time to time in both cash games and mtt's online, and I am fine with it as long as they are not somehow overrunning the site's traffic.

10/07/2011 8:25 AM  

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