Most of us are guilty of having played those poker games on the windows desktops back in the day without even knowing what we were doing. Did those who figured out what it was all about develop any particular skills that the others don’t have? Is poker just all about the game or is there anything valuable to it?
Poker is more than just a game about luck and skill. It’s a game of decisions. The better decisions you make, the higher the likelihood of winning. Luckily for us econometricians, math is an essential element of succeeding in poker.
Artificial intelligence has been competing at the highest level in strategic games such as checkers and chess for the past couple of years, but poker has remained one of the hardest games for AI to crack. But what actually differentiates games like chess and checkers from games like poker?
In Texas Hold em’, a variation of poker, two or more players are randomly dealt two face-down cards. At the introduction of each new set of public cards, players are asked to bet, hold or abandon the money at stake on the table. Because of the random nature of the game and two initial private cards, players' bets are based on guessing what their opponent might do. So when it comes to poker we have asymmetric information whereas chess and checkers are perfect information games in the sense that both sides know exactly what the other person is working with. The presence of imperfect information makes it extremely difficult to figure out the ideal strategy to take given every possible approach the opponent may be taking.
AI researchers use game theory to find the best strategy given various uncertainties (see, mathematical methods is useful after all!). The techniques used to build a smarter poker-bot could have many practical applications. Game theory has already been applied to research on cybersecurity and robotic motion planning. Researchers are also interested in the business implications of the technology used in poker-bots. For example, an AI that can understand imperfect information scenarios could help determine what the final sale price of a house would be for a buyer before knowing the other bids, allowing that buyer to better plan on a mortgage.
Not only is poker useful in the advancement of AI, but poker skills are valued in various fields of work. Playing poker demands aggressiveness, accurate calculations under pressure, analytical thinking and risk-taking, all of which are very valuable skills. For us econometricians a common example of a job where these skills would come in handy is as a trader. If you’re majoring in or planning on majoring in quantitative finance, then pursuing a career as a trader must have definitely crossed your mind. As a trader you usually have to work in a fast-paced environment and you have to be creative in problem solving and be able to perform well under pressure. Having experience with poker may be beneficial for acquiring these skills. Study has also shown that hedge fund managers who play poker make somewhat better investment decisions than their non-poker-playing counterparts.
In conclusion, there’s more to poker than what meets the eye. If you’re keen on developing valuable skill sets then taking up poker may be of interest to you. Most importantly, you’ll finally be able to understand what that poker game on those windows desktops was all about!