Two news items about card games caught my attention recently.
One is about a Chinese woman who took away about HK$160 million in winnings from baccarat tables in several casinos in Macau.
The other one is about an artificial intelligence (AI) called Libratus, which managed to beat four of the world’s top Texas poker players and won chips worth US$1.7 million in a 20-day marathon tournament.
With regard to the mystery gambler, casino operators were dumbfounded. “She kept winning over HK$10 million every day, it’s so unusual,” the head of the Macau Frontline Workers Association was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Libratus, a software developed by Carnegie Mellon University students, has spent 11 hours each day to battle with the world’s top four Texas poker players.
Initially the four players were doing fine, but gradually Libratus gained the upper hand and eventually outmaneuvered them all.
It’s a crushing defeat for humans, but another milestone for artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence has already beaten humans in other games, including chess and Go, but those are games with comprehensive information available, meaning all information is open and can be seen from the board.
Poker is more difficult because it’s a game with limited information available as players do not know some of the cards held by their opponents.
With poker, the AI must bluff and correctly interpret misleading information in order to win. That’s the biggest challenge for AI researchers.
Libratus’ victory could be partly explained by human fatigue. As a game drags on, some players may lose their concentration and commit errors of judgment.
Another important point is that a computer can quickly learn from each hand played the style of its rivals and refine its tactics accordingly.
It is totally possible that a gambler can walk into a casino with a smart device like Google Glass, take a picture of the whole gambling process and send images back to a computer, which can analyze the information and immediately suggest the best possible moves.
Casinos can stop such foul methods by banning such devices from the gaming tables.
However, technology keeps advancing. Samsung has come up with smart contact lens, which casino operators may not be able to easily detect, and has applied for a patent.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 3
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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