There’s been a seismic shift in the world of poker over the last decade or so. The reason for the shift? Technology and, more specifically, the inexorable rise of the online poker site.
Ever since the first ones started appearing, there has been a steady and rapid advancement in both the games on offer and the sheer convenience of playing them online. Sites like 888poker have taken advantage of both the increasing accessibility of fast wireless networks and the rise of the smartphone. Together, these have also encouraged a whole new type of player to take up the game – including many more women and younger players than ever before.
There are a number of theories about why this has happened, but it’s most likely because the online poker environment is the ideal way to find your feet and learn the game in a less intimidating environment than a live game. In addition, younger players are also likely to be more adept at adopting and using newer technology.
This influx of new players, driven by technological advances, has also created an appetite for faster games that a person can dip in and out of; hence the introduction of the increasingly popular spin-and-go tournaments that offer guaranteed prize pots with fast-moving action.
For poker players who want to combine the convenience of online play with the adrenalin thrill of playing against real opponents, a number of sites are also starting to play live poker. Players are pit against a dealer, and advanced number recognition technology is used to convert the real cards that they hold into digital information for online play.
Another hint into the future of online poker recently came from an experiment in which an artificial intelligence computer called Libratus took on four of the world’s leading poker players in a 20-day Texas hold’em tournament and came out on top, winning the equivalent of $1.7 million worth of chips. Only two years earlier, a similar experiment, using a less sophisticated machine called Claudico, had the opposite result, showing just how fast the technology is developing.
At the moment, all eyes are also firmly fixed on how virtual reality can be harnessed for poker. Now that VR hardware is available at reasonably affordable prices and software is being developed in tandem, the possibilities are exciting. For example, it surely can’t be long before we see virtual tournaments with players from all over the world competing in a virtual space. In addition, VR may soon enable the ordinary online player to experience an even more authentic “live” experience.
These are certainly exciting times for the game, and you’d have to be a great player, or a really fantastic bluffer, to predict where technology will take poker even a few years from now.
To minimize the creepy factor, AI needs to respect its boundaries. For more on this topic, see Empathy: The Killer App for Artificial Intelligence.