Robots Vie for Poker Champ Title

In this week's "Cybershake," we have some disturbing news for poker gamblers: the next great card shark might be a robot. Plus, we note that there's a Web site that brings a high-tech twist to figuring out if you're popular or not.

Robots That Are Really Card Sharks

When it comes to the age-old rivalry between man and machines, humankind may be slowly losing ground. Powerful computers with clever programming have already beaten grand masters such as Gary Kasparov at chess. And various companies and research groups have built humanoid robots that proved more than capable of playing soccer at last week's international Robocup competition in Japan.

But in the latest arena of competition, computer programmers say their artificial creations may soon -- and literally -- deal humans a very humbling blow.

Last week in Las Vegas, six software engineers competed in the World Poker Robot Championship to prove how far their computer programs, or "bots," have come in playing Texas Hold 'em poker.

The six programs -- with names such as "Poki-X," developed by a team of computer scientists from the University of Alberta in Canada -- first played against each other for title of "world champ." The winner, Poker Probot, nabbed its creator, Hilton Givens, a cool $100,000.

More importantly, it gave Givens, a 37-year-old car salesman from Indiana, a chance to play against Phil Laak, a professional poker player and World Poker champ.

During the three-hour limited game, Given's Poker Probot initially took an early lead against the 33-year-old poker champ.

"It's nerve wracking," said Givens. "I mean, all you can do is sit and watch there and hope for the best."

But the computer program's success was short lived. After more than 300 hands, Laak bested the machine with a pair of aces over the Probot's pair of kings. Laak walked away from the exhibition game, winning just $100 (a side bet with Givens) and a hug from girlfriend, Jennifer Tilly, an actress who won more than $150,000 in a recent World Series of Poker event herself.

Laak admitted that it was a tough tournament and he believes that the software will eventually improve enough that it will beat the best human players eventually.

"There's no doubt in my mind," says Laak.

The bots pose no threat to established poker players who gamble at casinos since gaming halls bar high-tech, electronic aids. However, computer programmers say such bots could be surreptitiously used in online poker games and at Internet gambling sites typically located off-shore of the United States.

That's why many players and online casinos -- such as, which sponsored the robot poker game -- are taking a hard look at the bots. Many programmers, such as Givens, say that within three to four years, poker bots could become unbeatable by human players.

And that, they say, is no bluff.

-- Al Mancini, ABC News

Online 'Pop' Quiz

It's a question that haunts teenagers and vain "grown-ups" constantly: "Am I popular?"

In the digital age, the estimated 50 millions users of America Online's Instant Messenger service have a quick and easy way to perform that self-esteem check online.

At AOL's, AIM users merely enter their "screen name" and that of their rivals and then click on the "fight" button. Within seconds, the site produces a numerical score that shows who's pop and who's not.

AOL's site reportedly figures out these popularity ratings by essentially searching all the "buddy lists" for the two names.

Of course, the more AIM users who have your particular screen name on their list of friends, the more popular you are online. However, AOL says the site also uses "complicated algorithms" to perform its vanity calculations to the "third degree."

In essence, it takes into account not just the number of buddy lists but the quality as well.

For example, you have two online friends that have you on their list of friends. But one friend has only four names on her buddy list while your other pal has 28 on his list. The site would calculate that the "value" of the latter is higher than the former since he has more names on his buddy list -- and thus more popular himself.

So when it comes to online popularity, the quality of your connections is just as important as the quantity.

-- Cheri Preston, ABC News

Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.