If you're the sort of person who prefers to play online poker rather than traditional seated casino poker, then you should be aware of the phenomenon of poker bots. They're on the rise at the moment, and poker sites are working extremely hard to eliminate the problem.
What is a poker bot?
A poker bot is a piece of software that plays poker. In a sense, it is just like any human player in that it knows the rules of poker, and has a basic set of strategies which it employs to try and earn as much money as possible.
A poker bot could be sat at an online poker table next to you, and you would not notice. It calls, folds and raises just like a person would.
In the early days of poker bots, they were quite rudimentary – just decision making logic. People who had access to them would have to punch in the hand data that was coming up in front of them in real time, and hope they could stay on top of the action as it unfolded, using the poker bot's decisions to give themselves an edge.
However, poker bots are now far more sophisticated. They are able to log onto poker sites all on their own. They are able to see the screen as we would, and read the cards as we would, and make their own actions. They no longer require human interaction to play.
Are they an unbeatable force?
In some senses, a poker bot is superior to a human. From the moment it is let loose on a table, it starts building a near encyclopaedic profile of each player it encounters, which it draws on when making decisions about how to react to each play. Few humans have such complete memories of every opponent, even if they make notes.
A lot of people's fear about poker bots is that because they think with the speed of a computer, they must therefore be invincible opponents. But this simply isn't the case. In fact, their virtual nature is their greatest weakness.
You see, a poker bot is designed by a human. When it plays poker, it must operate according to a series of rules and formulae which a human designs for it. It cannot improvise outside of these rules. And in this way, it is just like any other player at the table. It reads people well, but it reacts in a pattern which will ultimately be discernible and exploitable once you've spotted it.
Therefore, a single poker bot opponent at a table does not represent a threat to a good poker player. The nature of how poker works means that they're just another opponent. This isn't chess where the winner is the person who can think the most moves ahead. It's poker. It's about the hand in front of you and how you play it.
Sneaky sneaky sneaky
However, the real problem with poker bots, and the reason so many sites ban them outright, is that they cheat. They are, without putting too fine a point on it, filthy little sneaks.
You see, recently we've seen a rise in poker bots that use collusion to bilk money from real players. Collusion, in case you don't know, is a unique cheating situation that can only occur online. Basically, players at the same table share their hand data with each other. It's like five players at a table all showing each other their cards every hand, without anyone at the table realising. They then use this knowledge to defeat the other players at the table.
It doesn't matter which of the five players win or lose a hand, since they all share the money they make.
Now, when poker bots do this, they use an external server to share their hand data with each other. And they use each other's hand data to make playing decisions – for example, one bot with a weak hand might raise to another bot's strong hand in the hopes of drawing a real player into a pot that looks too delicious to miss.
No matter how skilled a poker player you are, faced with a collusion scenario you will eventually lose all your chips.