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Photo via University of Alberta
Photo via University of Alberta

As throngs of CES goers blearily make their way out of the casinos toward home, they may want to take this into consideration: Scientists have devised a computer program that can beat you at two-player Texas hold’em poker.

A game that has been exceedingly hard for computers to dominate, computer scientists at the University of Alberta (they actually have a Computer Poker Research Group) published news of their program, called Cepheus, in Science magazine.

Why was poker so hard to solve?

“Poker is a family of games that exhibit imperfect information, where players do not have full knowledge of past events,” they write. “Whereas many perfect-information games have been solved (e.g., Connect Four and checkers), no nontrivial imperfect-information game played competitively by humans has previously been solved. Here, we announce that heads-up limit Texas hold’em is now essentially weakly solved.”

So there you have it: the last puzzle piece — that Maverick human element — has been “weakly solved.” The researchers continue to explain that it’s been harder for computers to play because cards are private, not open pieces to read like on a chessboard, making it more difficult for computers to calculate their next move.

So how does Cepheus outwit its human opponent? The computer searches its “database of pre-computed game situations to find the most optimal move at any given moment,” the scientists told The Verge. The program started out knowing the basic rules of poker, and as it “played itself, it got better, and updated its strategy.”

They report that their program is now playing “so close to optimal that, at the pace a human plays poker, it cannot be beaten with statistical significance in a lifetime,” according to their Science article.

Maybe it’s only a matter of time until your next poker game at CES will be against a computer. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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