Computer Poker Program Knows When to Hold 'Em

August 6, 2008 By Debra Kain

( -- Texas Hold'em poker has exploded in popularity over the past few years. Its popularity has extended to academic researchers, who are intrigued by the challenges of probabilities and decision-making in the face of uncertainty that players confront when playing the game. Now, poker-playing artificial intelligence systems, developed by a researcher at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, have been released for free use by the public.

A researcher and statistician with UCSD Department of Psychiatry, Ian Fellows, M.S., entered his program, called “Fell Omen 2” in the 2008 Computer Poker Competition sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) at its annual conference last month in Chicago, where it placed second in a three-way tie.

The first computer poker program Fellows developed was named “INOT” (In the Nick of Time) as a last-minute entry for the 2007 AAAI competition. There, Fellows’ program competed against 16 others from universities and individuals around the world and took the second-place prize, behind the University of Albert's renowned computer poker research group, in what Fellows described as a "tight battle of the BOTS."

“Unlike chess, poker is a game of chance,” said Fellows, whose usual job involves designing research studies and analyzing data for the Department of Geriatrics at UC San Diego and who describes himself as a “mediocre” poker player. “Players don’t know what cards they will be dealt, or what cards will be dealt to the board. While techniques for dealing with chance have been well established in the context of other games such as backgammon, what sets poker apart is that it is a game of imperfect information.”

In poker, each player knows only their own cards, and the common board cards. This private information breaks the usual methods (known as game tree search) used to solve chess and backgammon challenges using computer systems.

The field of computer poker has made great strides in recent years. According to Fellows “six years ago, a child could beat the best programs built; now professional poker players would be hard pressed to defeat INOT.”

Fell Omen 2 is INOT’s successor and can beat it handily. The few computer poker programs of similar strength use memory in the gigabytes, where as INOT takes up just 5 megabytes of space, making it suitable for use on a desktop PC. Fell Omen 2 is slightly larger, at 50 megabytes.

“My hope is that people will find these programs useful in improving their poker skills, and their understanding of game theory,” said Fellows.

To download the programs, including source code, go to

Provided by University of California, San Diego

Explore further: Online poker: Legal website launches in Nevada (Update)

Related Stories

Zynga building hub for mobile gadget game play

June 26, 2012

Social games star Zynga on Tuesday celebrated its fifth birthday a week early with a peek at a platform designed to let people play with each other no matter what gadgets they use.

Computer poker program sets its own Texas Hold'em strategy

July 7, 2006

A Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist has demonstrated that you don't necessarily need to know much about poker to create a computer program that can play a winning hand of Texas Hold'Em. A knowledge of game theory, ...

What computer science can teach economics

November 9, 2009

( -- Computer scientists have spent decades developing techniques for answering a single question: How long does a given calculation take to perform? Constantinos Daskalakis, an assistant professor in MIT’s ...

Recommended for you

Making 3-D imaging 1,000 times better

December 1, 2015

MIT researchers have shown that by exploiting the polarization of light—the physical phenomenon behind polarized sunglasses and most 3-D movie systems—they can increase the resolution of conventional 3-D imaging devices ...

US ends bulk collection of phone data

November 30, 2015

The US government has halted its controversial program to collect vast troves of information from Americans' phone calls, a move prompted by the revelations of former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.