It looks like Phil Hellmuth has met his match. The world poker champion has won the highest number of bracelets at the World Series of Poker. He’s also amassed more cashes at the WSOP, two facts that have no doubt led to him securing a spot in the Poker Hall of Fame.
But it turns out a future Hall of Fame inductee could make Hellmuth look like an absolute amateur. And making matters worse is the fact the person we’re talking about isn’t even a person at all.
The name is Cerpheus, this is the latest poker champion. And he’s a computer. Researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada have created a computer program that can outplay any human at heads-up Limit Hold’em.
The variation of poker that Cerpheus has mastered is the limit version of Hold’em where only two players are present. That means that the number of raises is limited and players can’t go all-in.
Cerpheus doesn’t calculate every single hand it plays. Instead, it simulates a ridiculously high number of hands. We’re talking billions of them. The hands are calculated in advance of the game. Cerpheus then checks the data to figure out the best move based on the billions of hands of poker it’s already played.
With all the information at its disposal, it can figure out if raising, calling, or folding is the best move based on the hand being held and the situation Cerpheus is faced with. Apparently, there are 13.8 trillion different situations that can arise during the course of 2-handed poker game.
Right now the computer can’t accommodate a game with more than two players because things get suddenly more complex with a third player thrown into the mix (not that writing a program to win at poker with just two players is super easy).
If you’re wondering whether the computer could be used to beat people at online poker, don’t worry. It’s not like the app is available to the general public. Nor can it run on an ordinary Mac or PC with a stock 500GB hard drive (or lower, if you’ve got a flash-based Ultrabook).
Cerpheus requires 15 TB of storage just to store the data. What’s more, this is an application made by really smart scientists who see Cerpheus as something that goes way beyond poker.
Poker is all about decision making and Cerpheus proves that it can reliably make the right ones with the least number of implications. The possibilities for helping the medical community, for example, or limitless. We’re betting the University of Alberta can make a lot more money by selling this as an industry improvement tool than it can playing poker.