Let's get the legal stuff out of the way first. Using automated software to play poker while you are not at the computer is against the site rules. This is not something unique to 888poker. Using a “poker bot” - a form of poker computer - is against the terms of conditions of all online poker sites.
Okay great, so we can stop reading this article right now and move on? Unfortunately, no. Despite bots being illegal, they are a common sight in many online games. We'd be foolish if we just closed our eyes and pretended they didn't exist while they slowly take all of our money.
Bots are Weak
For the most part, bots are weak, but we want to qualify this statement. Not all bots are weak, some are very strong. Examples crop up in the news on a semi-regular basis where a bot ring is exposed after taking several million USD from the mid-stakes games. These bots are clearly getting the best of even very good players.
However before you start panicking and resolve to never play online poker again there are a couple of important things to understand.
- Bots beating mid or high limit games are an extremely small proportion of all bots.
- If we realise our opponent is a bot we can usually make winning adjustments.
- Any poker site with integrity will have a security team which actively tracks down and freezes bot accounts.
Despite the majority of bots being very weak, this also does not automatically mean that they are worse than a bad human player. They are usually a lot stronger in fact (assuming we haven't realised they are a bot yet). So even if we can beat a bot who is at our table, this doesn't mean that our winrate wouldn't be higher if that bot had been banned and there was now a weaker human player sitting in its place.
Recognizing a Bot
There is actually a pretty good chance we'll lose to a bad bot before we realise it's a bot. This is typically because bots will take very strong lines which the average player at a certain limit mainly takes for value. Perhaps they will make use of pot-sized-bets or check-raise flops very aggressively. However as soon as we identify that our opponent is a bot, the tables can turn drastically.
So how can we recognize our opponent is a bot?
- Repeated use of identical bet-sizings (some humans have this trait also)
- Repeated use of certain lines (especially uncommon lines)
- Relentless aggression in certain spots (bots have HUD's too!)
- Identical timing on each decision
- Will not respond in chat
- Might sit out at predictable times (perhaps table gets short-handed)
- Will join a new table very quickly when there are more than a certain amount of players
- Will often operate as part of a bot-ring rather than an individual
The above features can be very hard to identify. But, assuming the bot is operating as part of a ring, it can get very obvious very quickly. A whole bunch of guys using exactly the same bet-sizings with exactly the same timing. We also might notice that they have extremely similar HUD stats over a large sample.
This is even more noticeable when one of the stats is very different from the average population. For example, the average micro-limit player raises the flop about 6% of the time. Now imagine we are sitting down at a table and 3 of our opponents have identical looking stats including a 25% raise flop stat. Coincidence? I don't think so. We have likely uncovered a bot ring.
The extra scary part is that another site rule is potentially being broken here. These bots are clearly working as part of a team, which means they could also potentially be collaborating in other ways such as sharing hole-card information to gain an additional edge.
Beating a Bot
Programming a decent bot is hard. This means that unless the programmer spends thousands or even tens-of-thousands of hours working on the bot, it's going to have some huge holes. It's our job to probe the bot's strategy for these holes and exploit them.
Many of the bots we find at the tables these days are “profile bots”. This essentially means they keep a profile on what their opponents are doing. Essentially, they are making use of some sort of HUD. So let's say we fold way too much to 3bets, perhaps the bot will start 3betting us a ton. If we can establish what the bot thinks of us we can begin to play on the next level. If the bot is 3betting us with any 2-cards, we should usually start 4bet bluffing.
Most bots are not sensitive to sizing and this is something we can use to our advantage. So in many cases the programmer has coded open-raising ranges, call-vs-3bet ranges, 4bet-ranges etc. But he hasn't necessarily inserted code to deal with the various different sizings he might face. Perhaps, the bot opens to 3bb and then folds the same range when we min-3bet to 5bb. This is highly exploitable. We can probably 3bet any 2 cards for 5bb and then 3bet super big when we have a premium. The bot will have no clue. When the bot begins to 4bet us a ton after realising we are 3betting light we can start to click-it-back min-4bet and watch him fold every time.
We are not saying for a minute that all bots are exploitable in the same ways and that the above method will work on all bots. But if we can analyse how the bot “thinks” and what type of poker strategy it's using we can attempt to break that strategy. And if we can break a bot there is a very real chance that we can print money faster than we have ever done so before.
Are Bots Inherently Bad?
We'll just finish with an interesting question regarding morality. Are poker bots bad? What do you think?
The only reason we actually consider them as bad is because they are against the rules of the poker site. Assuming a poker site decides to put in big letters on their web page that they allow poker robots then there is nothing inherently wrong with this.
Players would now know there is a chance they are playing against bots and wouldn't be upset when they found one. The site would also generate additional rake, because bots are great at putting in huge volume and never tilting.
It's essentially up to every poker site to make the decision. At this stage, all choose to not allow bots presumably because it may discourage recreational players from hitting the tables. Many players would not like the idea that they are not playing a human......but instead an emotionless robot, who never tilts and can perform lightning fast calculations.