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Technology Exists For Unstoppable Heads-Up No-Limit Hold'em Machine, Says Vegas Gamesmaker

G2 Game Design Tells Card Player About Future Of Poker AI


There’s a popular saying that poker is a game that takes a “day to learn, but a lifetime to master.” However, recent advances in gaming technology, specifically with a heads-up limit-hold’em machine developed and patented this decade by Las Vegas-based G2 Game Design, have shown that compared to artificial intelligence perhaps no human player can ever be considered a master at this crazy game of poker.

While the heads-up machine has been in some Vegas casinos for awhile now, the firm is still looking to refine its proprietary neural net processing, as a September New York Times article highlighted. Card Player had the chance a couple of weeks ago to speak with Gregg Giuffria, owner of G2 Game Design, to talk about what his company is currently working on and what we can look forward to with artificial poker play.

Before becoming a entrepreneur, the 62-year-old Giuffria was a member of the bands Angel and House of Lords. He played the keyboard. In the early 1990s one of his albums achieved a high ranking on the Billboard music charts. Giuffria groups have produced a number of hit singles. In addition to his music career and now developing gaming technology, Giuffria is an owner of the Biloxi Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Mississippi.

Brian Pempus: Where do you see the future of this poker artificial intelligence going?

Gregg Giuffria: Well, we are releasing the Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan models shortly, in the next three of four months. If you read the [New York Times] article you’ll know that you’ll be able to play against the neural-net that has been altered. The Johnny Chan machine will play differently than the Phil Hellmuth machine, and I think people will find all of this interesting.

BP: Was it hard to adapt the AI to a specific human’s playing style?

GG: Yeah, the hard part, and once again I have to be careful not to come across sounding pompous or whatever the word would be…you know we spent three years dumbing this machine down just so it wouldn’t beat someone senseless. I think that was the thing that was met with the most intense barrage of irate people on the Internet. I don’t even go look at blogs or any of that stuff anymore because there are so many people out there who say they know everything. But that was the most difficult part…when we first kind of released, or started talking about the first game three years ago, the Internet blew up with people saying it was ridiculous and no one could put something together that would beat people all the time [at poker], but we did. However, that game is useless. No one would play a game you can’t beat, so we turned it down to the point where it’s enjoyable. You can have winning sessions. No one can beat it over time, but you can go in, like any other game in the casino, and come out ahead.

BP: Do you think there is knowledge to be gained from playing the machine? As in could it help professional poker players hone their own skills?

GG: Absolutely. This thing took on a multitude of lives and reasons, meaning…I’ve had a lot of professionals stop by the office and play it — all the big-name guys. All of them kind of say the same thing: it’s an incredible training tool. So the more hands you play, the better. It’s better for the player and exercises a broader bandwidth of your mind. That’s a plus. If you play the AI on the machine and then eventually sit down at a table at your local casino, your chances are better.

BP: Do you think that there could be a machine that could pick up and interpret the eye movements of its human competition, or you know, other physical tells?

GG: Sure, but remember in the casino environment the machine is not allowed to be capable of adapting to external input. So, let me answer the question outside that of legalized gaming. Oh yeah, there are going to be all sorts of devices as things accelerate. But I don’t think people understand, the words AI and neural-net are thrown around a lot, and you see movies showing a lot of science fiction. To do the simplest task that a human can do is an extremely complex AI-programmed sequence of events. Our patent and what we have done…in fact our code on our machine was never touched by human hands. It was all written by AI. So there wasn’t any code-writer. It was a self-writing program.

BP: Sometimes when I interview poker players they admit that heads-up limit hold’em has been pretty much solved, or figured out, whether by machine or the theorists in the high-stakes poker community. But they say other games like pot-limit Omaha, where you get four cards and the bets aren’t fixed, or other types of card games that are more complex, aren’t really solvable.

GG: No, I had that conversation once with Chris Ferguson and after awhile of talking to him I realized he didn’t know what he was talking about. It was funny. But there are a lot of guys out there who perceive themselves as visionaries or think that they have a pure understanding of this, but they don’t. To answer your question, does it expand the complexities of it? Yes, obviously. Is it doable and more doable through time? Yes, absolutely. Do we have no-limit and pot-limit games ready? Yes we do. Is our AI capable of functioning in those arenas? Yes it is. The flipside that I tell the poker pros, is that do you really want to play this machine in heads-up no-limit? Really? So you go into a casino and the machine is playing with house money and it goes all-in for $10,000, are you ready for that? (laughs). Remember that old saying “you live by the sword and die by the sword.” So I would be careful with challenging the dragon inside the cave until you really understand everything. But it’s all great fun in conversation, as we aren’t ready to release anything like this. Remember this is not something we developed to make people not play. This is all supposed to be entertaining. Maybe you are waiting for a poker table at your local casino and play on this for 45 minutes and find you are improving your skills.

BP: Do you think one day you will have a no-limit machine in a casino somewhere?

GG: Yes. I think it would take some time for people to trust the machine and figure out that you can actually have winning sessions. You can also have a lucky run and get the cards sometimes. We don’t want people going into a casino and loading huge amounts of cash and just getting stunned. That’s not the objective of it. Before that, we’d come out with a pot-limit game with a cap on it.

BP: Well, could we eventually see a scenario where a high-stakes poker pro puts in hundreds of thousands of dollars into one of your machines and sits down for a heads-up no-limit match, with a massive crowd gathering around and loads of drama and excitement?

GG: (Laughs). I wouldn’t say no to that in the future.



almost 8 years ago

"GG: No, I had that conversation once with Chris Ferguson and after awhile of talking to him I realized he didn’t know what he was talking about."

Wrong, what a worthless human remark. Pro poker players don't have to impress you with knowledge of their game. PhD in Computer Science.