Online Poker Bots – Ominous or Overrated?

According to a recent statement from Ian Fellows, developer of the open-source poker bot “Fell Omen”, online poker is destined to fall apart. For years now, online poker players have attempted to use artificial poker bots, but are they really as ominous as Fellows makes them out to be?

“It wasn’t until mid-2000, [when] an algorithm was developed, that [poker bots] could even come close to a competent player. But now, online computer poker playing may become a thing of the past,” Fellows believes.

The general idea is that human players will not be able to successfully compete against the artificial intelligence of online poker bots. However, the general consensus to this claim was tremendously in support of the online poker industry overcoming the ‘poker bot’ epidemic, and I must point out that this came from the players, not the operators.

For starters, poker bot programs are absolutely prohibited at online poker rooms. Should a player get caught using one – and there are tracking devices in place to detect likely poker bot activity – the player’s account is immediately suspended and all assets irreversibly frozen. One player pointed out that using a chess-bot is immediately recognizable to a human opponent, therefore a poker bot would not be much more difficult to identify.

Another important fact that players keyed in on was that Fellows poker bot is only capable of playing heads-up Texas Hold’em, a much less popular form of the game at online poker rooms. However, being an ‘open source’ poker bot, “Fell Omen” could potentially be adapted to other variants by anyone with the appropriate software programming skills to attempt it.

Yet another factor brought up by online poker players is that a poker bot can only work with a single strategy, based on its own predicament. Online poker bots do not detect behavioral patterns, or understand that a player on tilt is more likely to bet on weak hands until his chip stack recovers, or he is eliminated from the table.

There are, of course, a small majority of responders who believe it is ridiculous to play online poker, where your opponent is invisible to you, when you can guarantee the legitimacy of each player in land-based poker rooms.

One response to the theory of online poker’s imminent doom via poker bots came in the form of introducing required web cams for every player. This would allow you to watch your opponent, witnessing his live presence at the keyboard. While an interesting suggestion, this would neither prevent the use of poker bots (just sit and watch and keep your hand on the mouse), nor would online poker rooms ever seriously consider the idea for 100% enforcement. Too many customers would be lost for a string of reasons, doubtfully having anything to do with ‘poker bots’.

While I cannot predict the future, I will say that I agree with the majority of online poker players – poker bots pose no real threat to the future existence or success of online poker rooms, or most players’ desire to participate. As these poker bots become more sophisticated, so does the technology of online poker rooms to detect them.

On a final note, my favorite comment on the subject, both for its entertainment value and likely accuracy, came from “jb” on’s techblog – “Having dabbled in it myself, I’d have to say the US government is more of a threat to online poker than a bot.”

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