Machines have mastered chess, and they’re skilled at checkers, too. But poker? For 16 years a group of artificial intelligence researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, have been working on a program called Polaris that could allow a computer to out-class humans at poker, and they’re starting to see some impressive results. The program, which can run on a normal laptop, recently lost close matches to two of the world’s top poker players.

The researchers say that poker is more difficult than chess, for example, because there is unknown information. On a chess board, everything is right out there in front of it for the computer to see. The machine can take all the information that exists and run algorithms to determine the best strategy based on that information.

But in poker, the other player or players are deliberately withholding critical information – their cards. One thing they won’t have to worry about developing is its poker face, which is already killer. How in the world are you going to guess the strength of a laptop’s hand? —Gregory Mone

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