America’s Poker-Playing A.I. Goes To China To Match Off With Pros

The computer already beat U.S. players and now it will see what China has to offer

Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
Apr 07, 2017 at 9:44 AM ET

Nearly three months after Carnegie Mellon University’s artificial intelligence Libratus bested four of the world’s most renowned professional poker players at Heads-Up, No-Limit Texas Hold’em, its cousin is preparing to do the same, this time against the best China has to offer.

From April 6 to 10 in Hainan City, China, the AI robot named Lengpudashi, or “cold poker master,” will square off against the six-person Team Dragons in what’s being billed as a friendly sparring session. The two sides will play for ten hours a day, with the humans being allowed to play two hands at once. By event’s end, it’s expected 36,000 hands will be played.

“This is an exhibition, not a match, challenge or competition,” said Tuomas Sandholm, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon and one of the co-creators behind both AIs, in a statement. “We are running a relatively small number of hands, so this is not a scientific experiment like the Brains vs. AI competition in January.”

That competition saw Libratus play 120,000 hands over twenty days. Though AIs have beaten the best of us for decades now in a variety of games, Libratus’s victory was the first to prove that a AI could learn how to win a game that relies on less than perfect information, unlike chess. The AI steadily learned how to bluff its hands as well as recognize when others were bluffing, and it ultimately led the losing players by $1,766,250 in chips (the humans split $200,000 depending on how well they lost). Not to be outdone, another research team published research in March showing that their AI Deepstack had beaten ten top players over the course of 45,000 games.

Aside from the sheer novelty of creating a poker champ from scratch, researchers hope that AIs like Deepstack and Libratus can provide them further insights on how to craft more complex AIs capable of navigating everything from disease detection to military defense.

As with Libratus, Lengpudashi will run on the Bridges supercomputer developed by the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (a research collaboration between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh). Meanwhile, the human squad will be led by 48-year-old Alan (Yue) Du, who won the World Series of Poker $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Event in 2016.

The 5-day exhibition is being streamed via 30 broadcasting partners, according to Carnegie Mellon, and it’s expected at least 30 million in China will tune in to see Lengpudashi in action.