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Are Online Poker Bots Profitable?
Online Poker has exploded in recent years, and with it a number of activities parallel to poker.
If you are interested in online poker, you have probably heard of some of them, such as software aids of all kinds, including online poker bots.
Bot stands for robot. These poker bots are software programs designed to entirely replace a human being and play online poker on your behalf. These are 100% automated programs playing poker, with no human intervention needed (once programmed).
This article is about shedding some light on the pro and cons of online poker bots. The main questions are (1) is it legal to use poker bots, and (2) is it profitable to use them.
The legality of Online Poker Bots
First the question of legality. To be honest with you, online poker is a little bit like the Far West in the 19th century. With respect to bots, every online poker site is its own sheriff fighting bots. There is no universal poker bot regulation, and just minimal online poker legislation.
Some rooms such as PokerStars are very obsessed with poker bots . Others are more lenient and do not enforce a strict prohibition. So there is no law with respect to bots, it is just a question of each poker sites authorizing them or not, and how stringent they are with their enforcement and detection systems.
Every online poker room should be strongly opposed to poker bots at least on the surface, because online players do not want to play against disguised bots. They want to play against real humans with all their human weaknesses, not against emotionless machines that do not make errors.
No online poker site can openly say that they encourage bots, or they would suffer a tide of player withdrawals. On the other hand not all bots are invincible, but they all can contribute to table action. So some poker sites may see poker bots as just a subset of their player base bringing additional income, but they cannot be too public about that.
If you are interested in implementing your poker bot, the first thing to do is to determine at which room you will have a better chance to conduct such underground activity. PokerStars and Full Tilt are a big no-no, but other rooms do not attempt to detect bots too systematically.
The complexity of Online Poker Bots
Let me warn you from the onset. It is extremely difficult to develop a sophisticated poker bot, let alone a profitable poker bot. Why is that so?
Developing a poker bot is a little bit like peeling an onion. There are different layers, and the more you peel, the more new layers you discover.
Like in chess, there is no doubt that one day will come when a computer program will be able to defeat all humans. But this day has not yet come and will not come in the foreseeable future, because poker is a much more difficult game to program than chess.
On one hand, chess is a deterministic game, with perfect information and no randomness. On the other hand, poker is a psychological game, with partial information and where chance has a major impact. In poker it is not enough to just evaluate possible future moves, as other levels of abstraction must be considered, such as bluffing or aggression.
The most advanced of all poker bots was developed at the University of Alberta under the name Polaris. This software is the result of many years of research conducted within the University's computer science department and involving many computer scientists.
This program is certainly very advanced, but it can only play heads-up Fixed Limit Texas Hold'em. The reason is that these top-notch researchers know that this is where they have to start if they want to solve the problem. Every year, Polaris competes against some of the best human poker players, and last year it won 3-2-1.
But these results are not statistically significant for deciding a clear winner. All we can say is that this is a very powerful software which can give a hard time to excellent human players, but just in limit holdem, and just in a heads-up format.
There are many other poker bots and commercial program, but let me make it clear that Polaris is one of the most sophisticated, if not the most sophisticated poker bot. Keep this is in mind before buying a program full of promises.
With regard to the complexities involved in programming such a poker application, let us start with the purely logical part. This involves hand evaluation & comparison, scenario analysis, conditional statistics, opponent modeling, etc.
But there is much more than the pure logic to develop the bot. The program must harvest all sort of data from the screen such as the cards displayed, players' actions, etc. The program must send instruction to the poker client such as his next action. All this requires advanced multithreading, synchronization, Windows API programming, etc.
The program must also have a stealth layer enabling it to stay hidden from the online poker room security and forensic processes. The program must act as closely as possible to a human being, as any suspicious behavior such as the lack of chat will alert the other players at the table who may ask the poker room to launch an investigation.
In addition, this software must behave in a way that it appears perfectly human from a database perspective. As players collect hand histories by the millions and scan them in great depth, any unnatural behavior will be flagged. If you are caught using a poker bot, the poker site TOS gives them the right to confiscate your bankroll!
The profitability of Online Poker Bots
This is just a short article so I only scraped the surface of the complexity of programming a poker bot, but you got the general idea. Believe me, this is not a walk in the park.
There are many commercial applications in the market that offer poker bots. Can they help you build a profitable poker bot?
I cannot tell you that the answer is no. Some people have managed to build profitable bots. It is not "impossible", just very hard.
Using some of these commercial packages has the advantage of providing you plenty of the functionalities that would be very tedious to code, such as screen capture, basic poker utilities like hand charts & hand strength as well as stealth technology.
The caveats are that (1) some bots could be profitable until the poker room catches them, or until other players notice them, understand how they play and then make money from them; (2) it is way easier to make a profitable bot at the micro or low limits than at the higher limits; (3) it is harder to make a bot at no-limit hold'em than at limit holdem.
So when you see an advertisement for a quick way to make money, please do not expect to make money with a poker bot without effort. This requires tremendous work. It could be easier to just study & improve your game.
If you want to use software tools to help your game, check our poker aids list. There we review the best poker software to help you play better poker.