Poker Replaces Chess as Favorite Intellectual Pastime

In the last years it seems like the classic intellectual game of chess has come into a kind of backwater. Young, bright kids no longer see chess as the natural arena to u nfold their mastery of logic and competitiveness.

Chess as a game without open issues

This tendency might be due to the game having become so thoroughly taken apart and almost “closed” to further speculations, its mass of received knowledge forcing players into long and tedious studies of opening catalogues, end-game positions and so on, thereby perhaps killing off some of the original excitement. It can also be claimed that chess has lost its attraction after mankind definitely lost the battle against machine in the end of 2006 when chess computer Deep Fritz beat human world champion Vladimir Kramnik over six games.

The broader challenge involved in poker

Another factor that might very well be at work in the demise of chess is the booming popularity of another classical game: poker. Poker, and not least online poker, has grown tremendously over the last three or four years and it’s a game that largely attracts the same people as chess. Poker is a lot like chess in that under its seemingly simple surface lurks a deep sea of advanced theoretical concepts that give skilled players a great advantage over occasional ones. Even more interesting for the intellectual breed, poker lends itself perfectly to a wide range of mathematical devices. This is evident by the large number of mathematical doctors and masters who can be seen shoving chips around the high stakes poker tables today.

Poker the new area for artificial intelligence research

However, online poker isn’t only tempting to people who would otherwise play chess. With the demise of the human world champion in chess, the same people who developed super-smart chess computers now ogle the intellectuals’ new favorite pastime in their search for renewed challenges. Poker is a much harder task than chess for programmers. Computers excel in performing large numbers of strictly logical computations without errors, but they have little or no natural understanding for the fuzzy, impalpable factors that come into play in poker, such as human psychology and imperfect information – in poker, the game position of your opponent is not known. Nevertheless, basic poker bots are not hard to design, and poker sites are always on the watch out to keep any poker bots away from their online poker tables.

The new (and conclusive?) race against machine

Lately, artificial intelligence researchers have thrown themselves over the challenge of developing poker intelligence, and not only for the challenge of beating mankind to the huge amounts of cash involved in poker. They are also in it for the benefit of their research area, seeing that in poker a lot of very complex real-world problem areas are available for hands-on experimentation within a well-defined set of rules and conditions, where results can be correctly interpreted and experiments repeatedly refined.So, all ingredients are in place for a new colossal race between human kind and machines. In 20 years from now, will the WSOP final tables be populated by stone faced parallel computers? Maybe, but not before they have assimilated some really effective table talk algorithms.

Author: Bruno Berenguer

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